Friday, March 27, 2009

Chicken Parmesan with a Twist

I like chicken parm just as much as the next person; maybe even more. But when my husband asked me to make it for dinner last night I couldn't help but add my own little twist.

I breaded and fried the chicken cutlets as I normally would. Then in order to get some veggies in I added a layer of fresh baby spinach. I prefer the sweetness of baby spinach over regular spinach.

I topped it with tomato sauce, AKA, "gravy" and for more of a twist I melted Fontina cheese over the spinach; instead of the traditional mozzarella. Fontina is one of my favorite Italian cheeses. I just love the slight nutty flavor.

Enough breaking away from tradition; it just wouldn't be chicken parm to me without a side of spaghetti.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Calabria Deli in Downtown Phoenix

My husband and I decided to take a half day last Friday and enjoy a leisurely lunch together in downtown Phoenix.

Of course, being the Food Hunter, it was my job to find the perfect place. I was looking for somewhere that we hadn't been and that had outdoor seating. I came up with a few ideas but ultimately decided on Calabria Deli.

Calabria is a small shop specializing in Italian fare. There's about seven pasta dishes on the menu and twice as many sandwiches. Everything from Italian deli meat to a stuffed eggplant sandwich; all served on crusty Italian bread. They also sell Italian meats, cheeses and olives by the pound.

We decided to split the Panino; which was prosciutto,fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers. It was delicious. The bread was perfectly drizzled with an olive oil and balsamic mix and the peppers and cheese were sprinkled with oregano. It was just bursting with flavor.

The best part about Calabria was the small court yard they had out back. Set with tables and umbrellas it was like a private oasis in the midst of downtown. Calabria was the perfect way to spend our afternoon together.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Citrus Glazed Polenta Cake from Dolce Italiano

Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano is by far my favorite cookbook for desserts. Everything I've made from it has truly been delicious. One of the things I really like about this book is the detailed description given of each dessert. It really helps give you a better idea of the finished product.

So when I was asked to come up with a dessert for a dinner party this past weekend of course it was Dolce Italiano I turned to. Flipping through I came across the Citrus Glazed Polenta Cake and decided to give it a try. The citrus flavors in this cake really stood out. The book suggests serving it with espresso cinnamon gelato, which I thought was a good call. Although, I enjoyed both on their own the combination of flavors in the cake and gelato were incredible.

The cake was pretty easy to make once I got past the whole debate on whether to use corn meal or corn flour for the "fine" polenta. I went with the corn meal and it turned out perfect.

Citrus Glazed Polenta Cake (adapted from Dolce Italiano)

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange
3/4 cup fine polenta
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat over to 325 degrees and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease a 9" springform pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray, dust the pan with flour, and tap to knock out the excess.

Grate the zest from the lemon, lime, and orange, setting the zests aside for the cake batter and reserving the fruit for the glaze.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and granulated sugar together on med-high speed until they are pale yellow and have tripled in volume, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in reserved citrus zests.

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the olive oil to the egg mixture; begin with one third of the dry ingredients, then add half the oil, followed by another third of the dry ingredients, beating only until each addition is incorporated. Stop the mixer and briefly scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the remaining olive oil, followed by the last third of the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating it 180 degrees halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning.

The cake is down when it springs back lightly when touched and pulls away from the sides of the pan, and when a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 12 to 15 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan and allow the cake to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the glaze: Sift 2 cups confectioners' sugar into a large bowl. Squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice from each of the reserved citrus fruits. Add the citrus juices to the bowl and whisk until smooth. If the glaze seems too thick, add a few drops and whisk until smooth. If the glaze seems too thick, add a few drops of water until it falls easily from a spoon. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow it to set until it is completely dry.

Carefully remove the bottom of the springform pan with an offset spatula and transfer the cake to a serving plate. If desired, dust the cake with additional confectioner's sugar before serving. Any leftover cake may be wrapped in plastic and served the following the day.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Open for only 2 months the Autostrada is a relatively new restaurant located on Market Street in Scottsdale's DC Ranch. Serving up straightforward, delicious Italian food at reasonable prices makes it a welcome addition to the area.

Although I was very impressed by the food and happy with the service the restaurant's atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired. The dining area is a long narrow room with connected bench style seating along one wall and a semi exposed kitchen along the other. Not very romantic or comfortable. It's saving grace is a large outdoor patio seating area.

I'm a firm believer that there's nothing good food and wine can't fix. And what the Autostrada lacks in atmosphere it more than makes up for with the food.

Nothing on the menu is priced over $18 and portions are sized accordingly. This is not to say that they are small; but more on the line of what a portion size should be. To me the menu promotes sharing; which is exactly what my husband and I decided to do on our recent visit.

We started with the Italian cheese plate. Along with hunks of 5 different cheeses there were also two fruit mostardo's, a bowl of green olives, some fresh fruit and nuts. I loved the variety of the cheese; from smoked mozzarella, to ricotta salata, to a creamy taleggio there was something on the plate for all tastes.

Next we shared a bowl of orecchiette pasta that was baked in a pork sugo with peas and sprinkled with pecorino nero. With it's sharp nutty almost floral flavor the pecorino nero really came through in this dish.

After that we shared the braised veal entree. We were served four melt in your mouth veal cheeks cooked in a Marsala sauce; layered on top of the creamiest polenta I've ever tasted; and mixed with wild mushrooms. This dish was stellar.

For dessert we shared a mascarpone tart. The tart was topped with fresh berries and was delicately place on top of homemade zabaglione. It was delicious.

My husband and I both really enjoyed the food at Autostrada and will definitely make a return trip. However, next time we will dine outside.

Autostrada, 20825 N. Pima Road (Market Street at DC Ranch), Scottsdale. 480-513-2886

Monday, March 9, 2009

What To Do With Leftover Tart Dough...Sweet Ricotta Turnovers

Over the past year I've made several different tarts using Gina Depalma's recipe for the sweet tart dough. The nice thing about her recipe is that it makes enough for 1 1/2 tarts and it can be frozen for about a month. So technically if you make two tarts you'll have enough dough to make a third. In reality I've never had this work. Making three tarts in a month's time is a lot; even for me. So I usually end up throwing out the extra dough.

Two weeks ago I made a lemon tart and this time I was determined to do something with the extra dough. Since there wasn't enough for a regular sized tart I thought about doing mini tarts. The fact that I don't have mini tart pans kind of spoiled that idea for me. So I decided on doing a sort of Italian pop-over. I had something similar from Termini's a few months back and I thought I could easily replicate it.

On Saturday I bought some whole milk ricotta and left it to strain overnight. I also began defrosting my sweet tart dough. Sunday morning I whipped the ricotta with some sugar, vanilla, grated lemon rind and mini chocolate chips.

I rolled out the dough to very uneven 4x6 rectangles and placed about a tablespoon of the cheese mixture in the middle of each one. I folded them in half and sealed them with a fork. they baked for about 15 minutes at 425. After they were cooled I sprinkled with some powdered sugar.

I'll admit they didn't taste nearly as good as what I had from Terminis but they were still delicious and a great way to use up that extra tart dough.

I'm submitting this to Marie over at Proud Italian Cook for her Festa Italiana event.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sunday Gravy

This past Sunday, like just about every other Sunday, I got up early to start making dinner. For as long as I can remember Sunday dinner with my family has always been an all day affair. My mother before me and my grandmother before her would always start the meal in the early morning; most often before the rest of the family was even awake.

I always do the meatballs first; mixing, shaping and frying. Then I move on to browning the rest of the meat. The chicken legs and thighs; then the pork ribs and sausage; last the beef ribs.

After all the meat is browned they are added to a large pot of tomato puree along with most of the browning oil (it's flavor), some cheese rinds (either Parmesan, pecorino or locatelli whatever is available) and some salt, pepper and garlic powder. I let this cook for hours and then right before it's time to eat I add some fresh basil.

In our house we call this "Sunday gravy". I'm not going to get into the whole gravy vs sauce debate. It is what it is and in our house it's gravy.

A funny thing happened this past Sunday as I was making the "gravy". My husband was in his office with the windows open (yes, it's hot enough here in Phoenix to have the windows open). He heard a car pull up in front of the "for sale" house across the street. He heard the Realtor asking his clients if they smelled something good? "Yes," they replied "it smells like Sunday gravy"

My husband called me over to the window but by the time I got there they were gone. Who were these people in the middle of Phoenix that knew about Sunday Gravy...and please let them move in.