Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pasta alla Norma

By: The Food Hunter


Sicilian dishes rely on three things: the fertile volcanic soil from the landmark Mount Etna, the surrounding bodies of sea water and the influence of the many cultures that have conquered the region over time.

If you’re wondering which dishes you should eat for a true taste of the local cuisine I would suggest: Eggplant Timballo, Sicilian Pizza, Limoncello Zabaglione, Caponata, Arancini (deep fried rice balls), Tuna Carpacio and of course, Pasta alla Norma.

Although pasta is popular throughout Italy, it’s Sicily that features it with eggplant in the classic Pasta alla Norma; one of the region’s most well-known vegetarian pasta dishes. Originating in the town of Catania, it is rumored that the name of the dish derived from Vincenzo Bellini’s well-loved opera ‘Norma’. Pasta alla Norma  is typically served with short hollow pasta, which allows the silky sauce, loaded with aubergine, to cling beautifully.

Although every family across Italy has their on version of this classic Sicilian dish, the basic ingredients are the same: Sicily’s ever-popular aubergine, fresh basil and salty ricotta salata.

Debates on whose recipe is better stem over: how to cut and cook the eggplant, to whether adding crushed chili is appropriate (I say yes). In this version the eggplant is diced and sautéd with onions to bring out the delicate flavors of both.

After being tossed with sauce and fresh basil, the dish is finished off with shavings of ricotta salata…a hard, dry type of ricotta cheese.

Pasta alla Norma

  • 2 medium eggplants cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp coarse salt plus additional for cooking pasta
  • 5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • peperoncini flakes
  • 2 14½- oz cans whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • shaved ricotta salata
    1. Place eggplant cubes in colander and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Let eggplant drain 15 minutes. Pat dry, removing excess salt.

    2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add peperoncini and tomatoes with juice; cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Remove tomato sauce from heat.

    3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in another heavy large skillet over high heat. Working in 3 batches and adding 1 tablespoon olive oil for each batch, cook eggplant until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to tomato sauce in skillet.

    4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water. Add cooking water to sauce; bring to boil. Add pasta and basil to sauce and toss to coat.

    5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl; top with ricotta salata and serve.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Spaghetti alla Nerano

 By: The Food Hunter

This is a simple dish made with just three main ingredients: pasta, zucchini and Provolone cheese. What makes it delicious is the quality of ingredients and the secret cooking technique of frying the zucchini.

With such a few ingredients quality is key. Italians will often use home-grown zucchini also known as Cucuzza. Although, not easy to find in stores outside of Italy, many Italian Americans grow their own on vines in the backyard.

As the name suggests, spaghetti is the best choice of pasta for this recipe. The thick creamy cheese sauce coats the long strands nicely, but if you don’t have on hand you could use another long-strand noodle like fettuccine or bucatini.


Spaghetti alla Nerano

  • 6 medium-sized zucchini, sliced to about ¼′′ thick
  • ½ cup of Provolone cheese, finely grated
  • 1 lb of pasta
  • 2 Tbsp of Butter
  • 2 clove garlic
  • Basil
    1. Fry zucchini pieces in plenty of hot oil, a few slices at a time. They're done as soon as they turn a golden. Drain on a paper towel as they are ready. Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and torn basil leaves.

    2. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water and strain once al dente, setting aside two cups of pasta water.

    3. Sauté the garlic clove in a pan with a bit of oil and the butter. Remove the garlic and add the zucchini, pasta, 1 cup of the cooking water, and half the provolone.

    4. Finish cooking the pasta over med heat, adding the remaining provolone.

    5. Mix until it forms a creamy sauce.

    6. Serve immediately with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Melissa Weller's Ricotta Pound Cake

By: The Food Hunter

I recently got this awesome cookbook called: A Good Bake written by Melissa Weller.  Seriously, this cookbook has been in my hands every day as I plan the next thing I want to try. This week I decided to give her Ricotta Chocolate Chip Pound Cake a try. 

To give you a bit of background....Gina Depalma's Ricotta Pound Cake has been my favorite for many years (I even made a chocolate version)...and since Melissa worked under Gina I knew I needed to try her version. That being said I wanted to compare apples to apples so I left the chocolate chips out.

The verdict: I loved it....Although very different from Gina's in both texture and was amazing none the less.


Ricotta Pound Cake
1 23 cups (200 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder
1 23 cups (367 grams) whole milk ricotta
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks, or 170 grams) unsalted butter, cubed, softened
1 ½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
3 (150 grams) large eggs
1 tablespoon (15 grams) pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt

Cut a piece of parchment paper to 8- by 12-inches. And line a 9- by 4-inch loaf pan with the parchment so it covers the bottom as well as goes up the longer sides of the pan.

To make the batter, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer set with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Working one at a time, add the eggs, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions. Add the vanilla extract and mix it in, and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the ricotta and mix on medium-low until it is blended in. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the bowl, and add the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until only traces of flour remain visible.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and use a small offset spatula to smooth and level out the top. Place the cake on the center rack of the oven to bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until a digital thermometer registers 200 degrees when inserted into the center. 

Remove the cake from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan by lifting up on the ends of parchment paper and return to the rack to cool completely.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Blondies Topped with Sea Salt

 By: The Food Hunter

A Good Bake, by Melissa Weller is my new favorite cookbook. I am loving everything I've tried so far. These bars were inspired by one of her Milk Chocolate Raspberry Blondies. I halved the original recipe, used chopped dark chocolate instead of milk and added slightly less sugar.  The results were out of this world. 

Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Blondies Topped with Sea Salt

(inspired by Melissa Weller)

1 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, (such as Maldon), for sprinkling

Arrange the oven racks so one is in the center position. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Prepare a 9- x 9-inch baking pan with butter.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl and set aside.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces.

Combine the brown sugar and egg in a medium bowl and whisk until the mixture is smooth and lightened in color. Gradually add the butter, stirring with the whisk. Use the whisk to stir in the vanilla. 

Add the flour mixture and fold it in with a rubber spatula until almost no flour is visible. Add the chocolate and fold it in until the chocolate is evenly distributed and no flour is visible.

Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Making sure it is smooth to the corners of the pan. Drop the jam in teaspoon-size drops, distributing it over the surface of the batter. Draw a small paring knife back and forth through the batter, running it through the jam across the length of the pan and then back across the sides. Sprinkle the salt, if you are using it, over the top.

Place the blondies on the center rack of the oven to bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter has puffed up, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time. Remove the pan from the oven and put it on a cooling rack; let the blondies cool to room temperature in the pan.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Zucchini Cheddar Bites

 By: The Food Hunter

A delicious, easy-to-make snack or appetizer featuring one of my favorite vegetables: zucchini. These small bites can be eaten alone; but I prefer them served with a simple sour cream and basil dip.

Zucchini Cheddar Bites

(makes about 30 small bites)

1 pound of zucchini, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 cup bread crumb
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 egg
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

Evenly salt the grated zucchini in a colander and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Squeeze out as much of the remaining liquid as possible from the zucchini.

Combine the zucchini and remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Scoop a tablespoon of the zucchini mixture on the baking sheet. Gently press down on the tops of the zucchini bites to slightly flatten them.

Bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through until browned on both sides.

Sour Cream & Basil Dip 

1/4 cup of sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
garlic minced
crushed red pepper

Mix together and serve