Autumn Crunch Pasta Salad

November 9th, 2015

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Here is another great idea for Thanksgiving.  Salads are not usually a big part of the holiday feast, but why not?  With the heavy stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and green beans slathered in cream of mushroom soup and french onion rings, something a little lighter should be a welcomed addition.

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The components of this salad are all about Fall; apples, oranges, pecans, baby spinach and dried cranberries.  The pasta is just a small addition that gives the salad body.  I even amped the flavor up by making my sweet Bourbon pecans. This is a refreshing salad for the holidays.  The citrus dressing is light and delightful.

I saw this recipe on Facebook.  It was posted by my DIL’s Mom, Darla.  Since we will all be together for Thanksgiving I think this would be a great dish for our shared table.  Thanksgiving will be at Michael (Our Son) and Kristen’s (Our DIL) home.  They just moved into a new and bigger home that will accommodate all of the family.  We are looking forward to it.  The original recipe, and a much better picture can be found here.

 

Florence skyscape

A few more pictures of Italy.  We spent four days in Tuscany with a much too short trip into Florence.  But there is so much to do in the region that we were happy with our short trip into this historic city on the Arno River.

DAY 12 - San gimignagno 071

We stopped in San Gimignano, the epitome of a Tuscan hill town.  It still has 14 medieval towers standing out of the original 72.  Family towers were important in the 13th century.  The feuding noble families ran the hill towns and expressed their power by how tall their towers were.  Not much has changed over the years has it?  Although we enjoyed visiting the town, it was a tourist trap.

DAY 12 - San gimignagno 030

Our intrepid tour guide groveled to a new low to please us with a good picture. (although the picture is a little crooked). Notice all of the people eating Gelato around us!

Laurent oh my

But Laurent got his shot of us.  It was just one of many of his professional studies.  We were lucky to have this dear friend as our guide through Italy.  Thank you Laurent and Carole for starting your touring company and allowing us to be your test guests.  You are the best.  If you are interested in traveling in France or Italy by motorcycle or scotters, they will treat you so well. Here is the link.  Ride in Tours is the real thing.

 

AUTUMN CRUNCH PASTA SALAD

  • 5 ounces fresh spinach (half a 10 ounce bag)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry small pasta
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 can (15 ounces) mandarin oranges
  • 1 large Granny Smith Apple
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • Optional: Feta cheese
Dressing
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2-4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon each: paprika, onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon poppyseeds
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the dressing. In a food processor or blender combine the oil (the vegetable oil yields a richer and in my opinion better taste, but the olive oil is healthier and still tastes great), apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sugar, (adjust — more or less to personal preference, we like a less sweet dressing and use about 2 tablespoons) paprika, and onion powder. Pulse or blend for about 10 seconds. Stir in the poppy seeds.
  3. Drain the pasta once it’s cooked through and immediately toss a few tablespoons of the dressing with the pasta. This helps the pasta soak in the dressing and the flavor.
  4. Chill the dressed pasta in the fridge.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the (washed and de-stemmed) spinach with the chopped celery in a large bowl. Add in the cranberries and a can of drained mandarine oranges.
  6. If desired peel the apple (We like to leave on the peel!) and then slice into thin slices. Toss with lemon juice and then add to the salad.
  7. Pour dressing over the salad and toss. Add in the completely cooled pasta and toss with the rest of the salad.
  8. If you want to toast the pecans, place them in a single layer in a dry saucepan (don’t add anything) over medium heat. Stir constantly until the nuts are barely fragrant — just a couple of minutes. Watch carefully as the nuts are VERY easily scorched/burned.
  9. Alternatively, you can candy the pecans if desired. Check the link in the last paragraph of the blog text for how to candy pecans.
  10. Top the salad with the pecans and feta cheese.
  11. Enjoy immediately.
NOTES
This salad (like most) aren’t very great leftover. If you aren’t eating this immediately, keep the ingredients separate from the dressing and only toss with the dressing right before eating. Top with pecans and feta after dressing the salad.

 

 

The Magic of Venice

October 28th, 2015

Venice close-up of gondola

Venice is like no other vacation destination.  This decadent, elegantly decaying city is uniquely grand.  From the Grand Canal to the alleyways and waterway tributaries, it is a delight to the senses.  Getting lost in Venice is a good thing.  You never know what you will find around the next corner.

Venice gondoliersWe wandered from the main thoroughfare of the Grand Canal to alleys so small we had to walk single file.

Venice AlleyBut every path led to a view of water, piazzas, and ancient buildings.  I was also on a quest in Venice.  I wanted to find a restaurant that my blogging buddy, Penny of The Comforts of Home, told me about.  While she and her hubby and another couple were in Venice a few years ago, they found a charming restaurant while wandering, but they found it through the back (or kitchen) entrance.  Not having any idea how to get back to their hotel through the front door, they departed through the kitchen and applauded the kitchen staff for a fine meal as they left.   So with the name of the restaurant, Poste Vecie, and the loose directions of “near the Rialto Fish Market”, we found it!

DAY 7 - VEnise 191

We took a little break from our group and had a quiet lunch together while our friends did other things.  As much as you love your traveling companions, it is good to have a break now and then.  It gave us time to shop for family and look at sights that were of particular interest to us.

Posta Vecie Sunroom 2

 

We had a great meal on the patio of Poste Vecie.  The interior of the trattoria has a timeless warmth.

Poste Vecie Interior

Poste Vecie Fish Soup 2

 

David’s seafood stew was wonderful, as was my Sole Meuniere.

Assumption of the Virgin

 

After lunch we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.  It features the work of three great Renaissance masters: Donatello, Bellini and Titian.  Above, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin was called the most beautiful picture in the world by Canova.

Venice at night

We ended our two day tour of Venice with an evening Vaporetto boat tour of the Grand Canal.  Venice after dark presents an even more charming face.  Our next destination – Tuscany.

The Dolomites

October 18th, 2015

DAY 5 - GUDON 007

“According to legend, there once was a haunted castle hidden between the jagged peaks of Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. A farmer found the castle and discovered a cellar packed with barrels of the most delicious wine he had ever known. The farmer started to collect some of the wine in a leather pouch but suddenly three ghosts appeared. They told the terrified farmer that if he swore to keep the location of the cellar a secret, he could take as much wine as he’d like. A few nights later, the farmer drank too much at a local tavern and revealed the location of the mysterious cellar. His drinking companions went to the spot, and as they approached, the castle dissolved into thin air.

The legend persists to this day; ask about the castle and you’ll be told that it still exists somewhere in these mountains, but you will not find anyone willing to reveal its location.” ( Quoted from The Wine Enthusiast).

I think we found that castle right across the valley from where we were staying.  On a foggy morning we captured several picture like the one above that gave this particular castle an ethereal, mystical aura.  The Dolomites are the roof top of Italy, sitting on the Swiss and Austrian borders.  Dolomite, a pink granite, forms craggy peaks and changes color from orange to purple to pink as the day progresses.  In the native Ladin language of the isolated people of this region they have a word for the dolomite color; enrosdadira, meaning becoming pink.

 

DAY 5 - GUDON 009

 

Alpine meadows dot the landscape with charming villages clustered together in verdant fields.

Dolomites in Snow

But getting there was a hair pin drive in snowy conditions.  You can tell by the look on my face that I am not in my natural element.  Trying to smile but . . . .

DAY 5 - GUDON 011

This was our final destination.

DAY 6 - Dolomites à venise 047

It was a most welcoming Tyrolean chalet on a hillside overlooking the meadows.  The name of our chalet was Schonblick.  Most chalets have names. This region retains its Austrian Alpine roots and many of the Swiss style houses are adorned with flower pots on the terrace and the feeling that at any minute someone is going to break out in song to “The hills are alive with the sound of music”.

Stelvio Pass Peaks

The reason we were in the Dolomites was because the guys wanted to ride the Stelvio Pass.  It is a famous curvy road loved by motorcyclists the world over.  Unfortunately the weather conditions were too dangerous for them to attempt it.

Stelvio Pass David

But they enjoyed lots of other interesting roads.  Tulin and I took a safer route in the car, but were still challenged by the drive. We all ended up at Schonblick in the late afternoon, settled into our comfortable house and had dinner in the village.  Gudon is a very small village.  It has one restaurant and one Pizzeria.  The food in this area is heavily influenced by Austria and Germany. The local Ladin people have embraced food from Austria, Germany and Italy, creating an interesting cuisine.  It is heavy on pork products like speck and sausages.  Our dinner was an extravaganza of meats. I thought we had pictures of the meal, but could not find them amongst the myriad pictures that we took.

But David made an excellent sausage and savoy cabbage dinner for us when we got home.  I am not doing much of the cooking right now.  After a fabulous vacation in Italy, I went to the hospital and had surgery to remove plates and pins from my leg; something I have been putting off for a long time.  My dear artist friend Carole sent me this card and it just about sums it up, although my leg is only taped.  I will be back in the kitchen soon!

Carole's card

As a nod to the food of The Dolomites, David made this Seared Savoy Cabbage with Mixed Sausages.  Enjoy before a roaring fire.

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SEARED SAVOY CABBAGE WITH MIXED SAUSAGES (Epicurious)

Kosher salt
1 1 1/2-pound head savoy cabbage, cut into 8 wedges with some core attached
1 cup 1″ crustless bread cubes
1 teaspoon mustard powder
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds mixed sausages 9such as sweet Italian, kielbasa, and smoked garlic)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.  Season heavily with salt.  Cook cabbage wedges until crisp-tender but not falling apart, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Pulse bread cubes in a food processor until coarse crumbs form; transfer to a medium bowl.  Add mustard powder and stir to coat.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add breadcrumbs; stir frequently until golden, 4-5 minutes.  Season with salt and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool.

Whisk 3 tablespoons oil, Dijon mustard, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl.  Season mustard vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking.  Working in 2 batches and adding remaining 1 tablespoon oil between batches, sear cabbage wedges until dark and crispy edges form on both cut sides, 3-4 minutes per side.

Cook sausages in a large skillet over medium heat until browned and cooked through 9time will vary depending on variety and whether fresh or fully cooked).

Transfer cabbage to a platter; arrange sausages around.  Scatter breadcrumbs and tarragon over.  Serve mustard vinaigrette on the side.

Printable Recipe

The Cinque Terre or The Italian Riviera

October 11th, 2015

Cinque Terre 1

The Cinque Terre region of Italy is not usually on people’s top 10 list of places to visit.  It is a string of five centuries old villages on the rugged coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  The colorful houses and ancient terraced vineyards provide awe inspiring vistas. Fishing boats bob in the harbor.  Historically, fishing was the livelihood of the residents of this region.  The colorful houses originated because fishermen out in the water liked to look back and spot their own dwellings by their distinctive colors.

Cinque Terre 2

The roads into the villages are winding and scenic.  This is a perfect drive on a motorcycle or in a convertible, although the roads do not always go directly into the villages.  There are parking areas outside of each village.  Walking trails bring you into the hub of towns.  The whole area is connected to the country by way of railroads and a ferry system.

Cinque Terre

The local people have cultivated the terraced mountainous terrain for centuries.  The main crops are grapes and olives.  But the region is also the birthplace of pesto.  Basil, which thrives in the temperate Ligurian climate is mixed with Parmigiano and/or Pecorino, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts to make the pungent and delicious emulsion.  Served on spaghetti or bruschetta, it is popular the world over.

Cinque Terre Tulin and Me

Tulin and I sat at a bistro overlooking the sea, perusing the limited menu.  One of the best things on the menu was a tomato and basil topped large toasted bruschetta.  Unfortunately I did not get a picture of it.  It was delicious and I am attempting to duplicate it here.

Cinque Terre T and P

The views from the village of Manarola were breathtaking.

Cinque Terre 4

We were in Manarola on Monday.  It was wash day.  What was so charming about these small villages is the lack of pretension.  Real people live here, going about their daily lives.  It is so different from the posh French Riviera.

Cinque Terre village scene

It is the time of year to harvest what is left of the basil plants here at home.  My basil has become leggy and much too tall.

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With thoughts of the lunch that I had in Manarola in the Cinque Terre, I made pesto and a bruschetta similar to what I had experienced there.  It made a delicious lunch here at home.

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Here are some general recipes and instructions.

BASIL PESTO FROM LIGURIA (The Four Seasons of Pasta)

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups
2 packed cup0s whole, tender young basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, plus more to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino sardo or pecorino toscano
2 plump garlic cloves, crushed and minced

Working delicately, rinse and thoroughly dry the basil leaves and set aside.  In the bowl of the food processor, combine the rinsed and dried basil, the pine nuts, and salt.  Pulse until the mixture is coarse and grainy.  With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream.  Add the parmigiano and pecorino, processing just enough to mix well.  If the sauce is too dry, add a little more oil; if it’s too liquid, stir in a little more cheese and/or pine nuts.  Finally, add the garlic and process briefly, just to mix.  Taste and add more cheese or salt, if desired.

BRUSCHETTA WITH TOMATOES AND BASIL

Brush sliced Italian bread with olive oil.  Bake until lightly browned.  Smear the tops with basil pesto.  Pile on diced tomatoes, more dollops of pesto, grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and sliced fresh basil leaves.

Printable Recipe

Thanks to Laurent of Ride in Tours for several of the photos

© Penny Klett, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. All rights reserved.