Wild Mushroom Pizza

I took Victoria, my bicycle, out for her first ride of the season last week since I had not ridden her for months. Last fall I stored her in a safe bike rack close to the door of my building’s underground parking lot. That way I was able to see her and wave to her as I drove out of the lot or could check on her from time to time over the winter.

Now that spring is here it was time to take her out for a tune up and cleaning so she will be ready for the season.

I will admit I was a little nervous that I had forgotten all that I learned last season. I wondered if I would be able to ride as well, or as far. Thankfully; I was fine. The feeling of freedom as we made our way down to the lake on the bike trails was invigorating. I had not lost my ability to ride and I felt alive and excited to be out with Victoria again.

I look forward to a new season of adventures on Toronto’s bike trails, parks and beaches.

I also look forward to being able to go to the local outdoor farmer’s markets again. There are a number of markets held across the city where local farmers bring their fresh produce, meats and cheeses each week. It is a wonderful treat to pick up some fresh vegetables and take them home for the evening meal. Many of the local farmers bring organic foods, which I prefer.

I adapted this Wild Mushroom Pizza from a few different recipes and a few of my own ideas. I hope you enjoy it.

Mushroom-Pizza-Uncooked
Wild Mushroom Pizza

Ingredients:
1 tsp. sugar
1 package quick-rise yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cornmeal
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
2 cups thinly mixed wild mushrooms such as oyster, king oyster, enoki, cremini, and chanterelle
2 1/4 cups fontina cheese, diced
1½ cups fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Dissolve the sugar and yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 1 1/4 cups flour and 1/4 tsp. salt to yeast mixture, and stir until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).
Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size. Punch dough down; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; sprinkle with cornmeal.

Roll dough into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface. Place dough on prepared baking sheet and let rise 10 minutes.

Mushroom-Pizza-Cooked

Preheat oven to 475°F.
While dough rises, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1/4 tsp. salt and mushrooms, and cook 7 minutes or until mushrooms are soft.
Sprinkle 1 cup of the fontina and ricotta evenly over dough, and arrange the mushroom mixture evenly over fontina. Sprinkle remaining fontina and Parmesan cheese evenly over top.

Bake at 475°F for 15 minutes or until crust is lightly browned.

Remove to cutting board, and season with sea salt and pepper.

Cut into slices. Serve immediately.

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Poppy Seed Crêpes with Lemon Ricotta and Asparagus

A crêpe is a very thin, cooked pancake usually made from wheat flour. The word, like the pancake itself, is of French origin, deriving from the Latin crispa, meaning “curled.” Crêpes originate from the Brittany region in the northwest of France although crêperies can be found on many street corners in Paris. Whenever I am in Paris I enjoy a Crêpe Chantilly made with sugar and whipped cream.

I remember when they became popular in North America in the early 1970s. Julia Child had begun her quest to of teach American housewives to cook French food. When her books and TV shows came to Canada, Canadian housewives were very excited about trying out new and interesting recipes. At that time Crêpes Suzette was considered an elegant dessert to serve at a dinner party. I remember my mother making them for our guests. Since then we have tried numerous different fillings and flavours.

In Canada there are numerous crêperies, especially in the province of Quebec where the cuisine has been influenced by the French Canadian culture. We eat crêpes at any type of meal be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a dessert.

This recipe has a fresh, creamy taste with the lemon ricotta and would be perfect for a brunch or lunch dish.

Poppy Seed Crêpes with Lemon Ricotta and Asparagus

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup water
¼ cup melted butter
1 tbsp. sugar
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

Ricotta filling:

500g ricotta cheese
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. finely grated lemon rind
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed to 5 inch pieces
1 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Crêpe Batter

In a blender, combine eggs, milk, warm butter, sugar and salt. blend until smooth.  Add flour and blend until smooth, scraping down side of blender if needed.

Once smooth, pour batter into a bowl and stir in poppy seed; cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Ricotta Filling

In a bowl, stir together ricotta, olive oil, lemon rind, nutmeg, pepper and salt until combined, set aside.

Steam or boil asparagus for about 4 minutes or until tender. Immediately rinse in cold water until chilled; set aside.

To make crêpes, heat a lightly greased 6-inch non-stick pan over medium heat. Add ¼ cup of the batter to pan and swirl pan to coat the base. Cook for about 1 minute or until edges are very lightly golden and surface of crêpe seams dry. Flip crêpe and cook second side for another 30 seconds. Repeat until all of the crêpes are cooked, lightly greasing the pan as needed.

To assemble crêpes, spread 1 tbsp. of the ricotta mixture on the bottom half of each crêpe. Place one piece of asparagus and 2 basil leaves in the middle of the top half of the crêpe with the top peeking out. Fold the crêpe up and over the asparagus then fold in half. Roll this piece in cigar style. Continue with remaining crêpes and serve at room temperature.

Recipe from Longos Experience Magazine

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Ricotta Tart

My favourite vegetables are tomatoes. I know technically tomatoes are a fruit but in the culinary world they are referred to as vegetables. When the fresh heirloom tomatoes start to show up in the markets during the summer I am in heaven. I love tasting all of the colourful varieties in various shapes and sizes. When you bite into a freshly picked tomato you taste a burst of flavour that makes you smile from the inside out.

Just add a little salt and pepper, a touch of good olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic glaze and you have heaven on a plate.

This Tomato, Goat Cheese and Ricotta Tart has a great mix of flavours from the herbed ricotta and goat cheese layered with fresh tomatoes and baked on a light fluffy, puffed pastry crust. It would make a wonderful appetizer or a great lunch tart served with a green salad.

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Ricotta Tart

Tomatoe-tarts-on-a-pizza-board

Ingredients

½ lb. (225 G) ready rolled puff pastry, thawed (1/2 package)
3 tbsp. roasted pine nuts
2 tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. large leaf basil, chopped
5 oz. (150 g) ricotta cheese, drained
4 oz. (100 g) crumbly goat cheese
4-6 assorted seasonal or heirloom tomatoes, sliced (look for a variety of colours and sizes)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the pastry into 2 pieces and lay on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Turn the edges over by 1/3 inch to make a rough border. Scatter the crust with pine nuts and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Put the ricotta in a small bowl, mix in the herbs and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spoon the mixture onto the pastries. Crumble the goat cheese over the ricotta mixture. Lay the tomatoes over the cheese mixture arranging the colours around for variety. Sprinkle with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and the cheese golden. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Food and Travel Magazine

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A Taste of Sicily-Cannoli

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

Photography by Lisa Spinello

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

The island of Sicily is nestled between the Calabria region of Italy and the African coast. It has changed ownership many times over the past centuries being ruled by Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Islamics, Normans, Hohenstaufen, Catalans and Spaniards. Each of these rulers has left an indelible mark on her history and culture. Sicily is rich with beautiful archeological sites, modern cities and glorious beaches. Although it is classed as an autonomous state, it has been part of Italy since 1860.

The Sicilian people are very proud of their island and their cuisine. The island is rich with agriculture producing olive oil, wine, citrus fruit, figs, artichokes, and pistachios. She also has a thriving fishing industry. Sicilian cuisine, like all Italian cuisine, is centred around the freshest fruits and vegetables accompanied by veal, chicken and fish. Octopus and squid are very popular holiday dishes.

Life in small town Sicily is still very simple compared to her large cities. Many of the small town shops still close from 1:30 to 4:00PM each so that the owners can enjoy a mid day meal and a siesta before opening for a few hours in the evening. Often the large meal of the day is the mid day meal followed by a light supper in the evening.

One of the best desserts in Sicily has become popular in North America. Cannoli are considered to be lucky so they are often served during celebrations. They are one of my favourite desserts. I love the rich, creamy filling of ricotta and cheese surrounded by a crunchy shell flavoured with cocoa and cinnamon.

Sicilian Cannoli

Makes 10 servings 

Ingredients 

For cannoli shells

1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 lb cold lard
2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
1 large egg, separated
About 3 cups vegetable oil

For filling

1 lb fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 oz soft mild goat cheese
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon minced candied orange peel
1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water (also called orange-blossom water)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (not dyed red), chopped
2 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped (1/2 cup)

Special equipment: a pasta maker; a 4- to 4 1/4-inch round cookie cutter; a deep-fat thermometer; 6 (roughly 5 5/8- by 5/8-inch) metal cannoli tubes; 2  heavy-duty oven mitts; a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch plain tip

Garnish: confectioners sugar

Directions
Make dough for shells:
Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Add 2 tablespoons lard and blend in with your fingertips until combined. Add wine and yolk and stir until a dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Form dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Make filling while dough stands:
Beat together ricotta, goat cheese, confectioners sugar, orange peel, orange-flower water, and cinnamon in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed 1 minute (do not overbeat). Fold in nuts and chocolate until combined and chill.

Make shells:
Set smooth rollers of pasta maker at widest setting. Unwrap dough and cut in half, then lightly flour 1 piece (keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap). Flatten floured dough into an oval and feed through rollers. Turn dial down 2 notches and feed dough through rollers again. Continue to feed dough through rollers, making space between rollers narrower by 2 notches each time, until narrowest setting is used.

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Transfer rolled dough to a lightly floured surface and cut out 4 or 5 rounds with floured cutter. Transfer rounds to baking sheet and keep covered with more plastic wrap. Roll out remaining dough and cut rounds in same manner. Gather scraps and let stand 10 minutes. Roll out scraps and cut in same manner.

Heat remaining lard with 1 1/4 inches oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 350°F on thermometer.

Meanwhile, lightly oil cannoli tubes. Lightly beat egg white, then brush bottom edge of 1 dough round with egg white. Wrap dough around a tube, overlapping ends (egg-white edge should go on top), then press edges together to seal. Make 5 more shells in same manner (keep remaining rounds covered with plastic).

Fry dough on tubes 1 at a time, turning with metal tongs, until 1 shade darker, about 45 seconds. Wearing oven mitts, clamp end of hot tubes, 1 at a time, with tongs and, holding tube vertically, allow shell to slide off tube onto paper towels, gently shaking tube and wiggling shell as needed to loosen. (If you allow shell to cool it will stick to tube and shatter when you try to remove it.) Transfer shells to paper towels to drain and cool tubes before reusing. Wrap remaining dough around tubes and fry in same manner.

Spoon filling into pastry bag and pipe some into 1 end of a cannoli shell, filling shell halfway, then pipe into other end. Repeat with remaining shells.

Cooks’ notes:

Dough can be made 1 day before frying shells and chilled. Let dough stand at room temperature 1 hour before rolling.
Shells can be fried 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept, layered between paper towels, in an airtight container at room temperature

Recipe from Epicurious.com

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna- A Taste of Florence

Both times that I have been to Florence I was only there for a day. Of all of the places in the world that you want to explore, Florence is in the top 10.

I promise myself that I will go back and I will stay for a few at least a week.

I will return to her open air markets that wind through her streets for miles. I will barter with the vendors over fine leather goods and treasures from local artisans. I will spend at least one day touring the Uffizi Museum to see the amazing sculptures. I will spend hours studying the Florentine architecture.

I will also spend time in the local restaurants and cafes enjoying some of Italy’s best cuisine.This recipe reminds me of Florence and the Florentine style of cooking.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Ingredients

For the filling:
1-1/2 lb. (about 3 cups) whole milk ricotta
2 lb. fresh spinach, or 2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 oz. (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To assemble:
3/4 lb. fresh lasagne noodle
1 jar of tomato sauce
1 recipe Basic Cream Sauce (see below)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 oz. (1 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Directions

Make the filling:

Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl for 1 hour, or longer if the ricotta is very wet.

If using fresh spinach, stem and rinse it well; don’t dry the leaves. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, cook the spinach until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the excess moisture, and chop finely. If using thawed frozen spinach, squeeze it dry.

Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the spinach and toss it for 1 or 2 minutes to coat it with the butter. Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well. You should have about 4-1/2 cups.

Cook the noodles:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Slip the noodles, two or three at a time, into the boiling water and cook them until they’re tender and pale, 3 to 5 minutes (thinner noodles will cook more quickly). To make sure they’re done, taste a small piece. If it’s still tough, it needs a little more cooking (fresh pasta should not be cooked al dente like dried pasta).

Carefully scoop the noodles out of the pot with a large wire skimmer and slide them into the ice water to stop the cooking. When they’re cool, layer them between clean dish towels until you’re ready to assemble the lasagne (The noodles will keep this way for up to 2 hours).

Assemble the lasagne:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Choose a baking dish that’s about 9×12 inches and 3 inches deep, or about 10×14 inches and 2 inches deep. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in a sparse layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill the gaps. With a spatula, spread one-third of the spinach and ricotta filling (about 1-1/2 cups) over the first layer of noodles. Then spread one-third of the remaining tomato sauce (about 1-1/3 cups) and one-third (1/2 cup) of the cream sauce over the filling. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano on top. Add a new layer of noodles, overlapping them slightly, and repeat the layers as instructed above, using all of the filling and ending with the Parmigiano, to make a total of three layers (you may not need all the pasta). Dot the top with the butter cubes. Cover with foil.

Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and bubbling at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Basic Cream Sauce (Beciamella)

Ingredients

1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened to a creamy, gravy-like consistency and no longer tastes of raw flour, 6 to 8 minutes for a single batch, 10 to 12 minutes for a double batch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. If not using right away, transfer to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to keep a skin from forming. Plan to use the sauce within 30 minutes because it thickens if it’s left to sit for too long. If that should happen, add a little warm milk and whisk well to thin it.

Recipe from The Best of Fine Cooking- Pasta

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Blackberries

When travelling through Tuscany, you really want to make sure you see the town of Pisa. It is not just a tourist place with a bell tower that leans quite severely. It is a cute little spot to grab lunch and see the more than 20 historical buildings and churches that accompany the tower. I think these churches are an excellent example of the beautiful architecture of this region.

This recipe is very popular in Tuscany. Ricotta cheese is one of my favourites. This light, fluffy cheese is made from the whey of buffalo mozzarella. It is so delicious!

We used to drive to a cheese factory in Northern Ontario to taste the fresh cheese as it was just finished. We had to get up very early in the morning but it was worth it. If you ever get the chance to taste Ricotta that is freshly made, you will be surprised at how light and flavourful it is. There is nothing like the taste of freshly made, warm ricotta cheese.

Ricotta cheese is the centre of so many Italian recipes because it is so versatile. It makes great fillings and wonderful cheesecakes.

I added the whipped cream and blackberries to this recipe. You could easily change the berries to strawberries or blueberries, if you prefer. I just love the way the tart blackberries compliment the lemon flavours in the cheesecake.

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Blackberries

Ingredients

For the crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into ¾ inch pieces
¼ cup heavy (double) cream

For the filling:

2 cups ricotta cheese
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cups heavy (double) cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 3 lemons

For the topping:

2 cups whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 pints fresh blackberries

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Pulse until mixed. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks crumbly. Pour into the cream and continue to pulse until the mixture is light yellow, but still crumbly. Do not pulse too long or the mixture will come together into a dough.

Measure out 1 cup of the crust mixture for the topping and set aside in a bowl in the freezer until needed. Pour the remaining crust mixture into a 9-inch springform pan. Using your hand, press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Place the crust in the refrigerator while you making the filling.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, preheat to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling, combine the ricotta and the sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is creamy. Add the eggs, cream, vanilla, flour, cinnamon and lemon zest and pulse to mix well.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator and immediately pour the filling into it, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of it into the pan. Sprinkle the frozen crust crumbs evenly over the surface. Bake the cheesecake until the crust is golden, the filling puffs up slightly, and the centre jiggles very slightly when the pan is gently shaken, 45-50 minutes. If the centre looks soupy, continue to bake for a few more minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To unmold, set the cheesecake on an inverted tall, narrow can or bowl. Release the pan sides, opening them widely and carefully so that they fall way from the cake.

Whip the cream for the topping and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Using a spatula, smooth the whipped cream over the top of the cooled cake. Place blackberries into cream with the ends facing up.

Keep refrigerated until serving.

Recipe adapted from Essentials of Baking from Williams-Sonoma