From 2010-2011 Culinary Fellow Andrea Blum:

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup with Cardamom, Kale and Sorrel

Serves 2

  • 1 1/2-cup matzo meal
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat or olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons chicken stock or sparkling water
  • ¼ teaspoon of hand ground cardamom
  • 1 cup finely chopped Russian kale

Lightly beat the eggs then in a separate bowl; mix all matzo ball ingredients together. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Roll the balls in your hand and drop into boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes. When ready, drop them into a hot pot of home made chicken broth and serve with a sprinkle of sorrel leaves.

Selected recipes from former Culinary Fellow Jessica Theroux's travel memoir/cookbook Cooking with Italian Grandmothers

Calabrian Bread Salad

Calabrian Bread Salad

Throughout Italy, it is common to find bread salads prepared with dry, leftover loaves. Less common, but in my opinion more delicious, is the taste of toasted, fresh bread incorporated into a ripe vegetable salad. Here, large chunks of bread are tossed with olive oil and roasted until crispy in the oven, then added to a typical Tropean salad made from tomatoes, red onions, peppers, and basil.

  • 1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 - 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar (15 minute maceration)
  • 3/4 pound cherry tomatoes
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon very finely diced fresh hot red pepper
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/3 pound crustless artisan sourdough bread (about 1/2 loaf)
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • A small handful of fresh basil leaves

Preheat your oven to 450/475 degrees F.

Mix the onions and vinegar together in a large bowl. Set aside to macerate for 10-20 minutes, to soften the pungency of the onions. While the onions are macerating, prepare the other ingredients for the bread salad.

Wash the cherry tomatoes, and slice them lengthwise into quarters. Wash the green pepper, and de-stem and seed it. Tear the green pepper into very small, bite-size pieces. Add the tomatoes, green pepper, and diced hot pepper, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the onion mixture. Stir to combine.

Tear the bread into 1-inch cubes, and toss it with the clove of garlic and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until lightly browned and crunchy on the outside, 15 to 25 minutes. Remove the clove of garlic and let the bread cool slightly before mixing with the salad.

Ten to fifteen minutes before serving, add the bread and a small handful of torn basil to the vegetable mixture. The bread will absorb some of the juices from the vegetables, allowing it to slightly soften, creating a crunchy-chewy texture.

Two Breakfast Toasts

Two Breakfast Toasts

These two toasts were inspired by Maria's preferred early-morning breakfast: thick, fire-grilled toast with warm ricotta and sugar. The plain ricotta is a simple place to start; the coffe-honey ricotta is more exotic, tasting almost like a nutty milk chocolate spread. Both ricottas are well suited to toast made with a plain, walnut, or fruit-and-nut bread. They are also delicious used as a filling for cannoli, or as a spread for plain tea biscuits.

Fluffed Ricotta and Crunchy Sugar

Serves 2

  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 2 slices artisan bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 teaspoon crunchy sugar: turbinado or cane crystals

Lightly fluff the ricotta by scrambling it with a fork. Toast the bread until browned to your preference. Onto each piece of toast, spoon 1/4 cup ricotta and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.

Ricotta al Caffe (Ricotta with Coffee and Honey)

Serves 2

  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee (I use Turkish coffee)
  • 2 slices artisan bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick

Sieve the ricotta through a fine-mesh strainer. Mix it with the sugar, honey, and coffee. If the mixture seems grainy, sieve again. While you can eat the ricotta right away, the flavors come together wonderfully if left to chill for at least a couple of hours. The coffee ricotta will keep in the fridge for a few days.

To serve on toast, toast the bread to your preference and spread 1/3 cup of the ricotta on top. This ricotta is also perfect with simple biscuits and coffee or, in a larger quantity, as a filling for cannoli.

Roasted green cauliflower

Roasted Green Cauliflower with Saffron, Currants, and Ricotta Salata

Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish

Ustica was the first place that I saw the spiky green cauliflower commonly known as Romanesco. Marguerita and her mother roasted it for me for lunch one day, shaving slices of Maria's ricotta salata (a pressed and salted ricotta) over the top. I like to add saffron to this dish, and also currants; adding the currants midway through cooking lends the dish an unexpected, welcome crispiness.

  • 2 generous pinches of saffron threads, about 1/4 teaspoon
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds Romanesco or regular cauliflower
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of crumbled peperoncino
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 ounces ricotta salata, shaved

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a baking dish large enough to roast the cauliflower in a single layer.

Toast the saffron in a skillet over medium-low heat just until it becomes crumbly and aromatic. Crush in a mortar and mix with olive oil.

Trim the cauliflower of its stem and any leaves, then cut it lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss the cauliflower with the saffron oil, salt, and peperoncino and lay it in a single layer in the roasting pan. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is cooked through and begins to brown at its edges. Remove the pan from the overn and add the currants and almonds. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the cauliflower is nicely caramelized and the almonds are toasted.

Serve either hot or at room temperature. Add a squeeze of lemon and salt to taste. Garnish with generous shavings of ricotta salata.

Gnocchi di semola

Gnocchi di Semola (Semolina Flour Gnocchi)

Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a starter

I was shocked to watch Irene make these ancient gnocchi on my first Sunday in Bra; until that moment I had only known gnocchi to be a potato-based dish. In keeping with the dish's Roman roots, Irene makes hers from coarsely ground semolina flour, hot milk, and eggs. To form the gnocchi, a rich polenta-like paste is prepared, cooled, and then cut into disks using the wet rim of a small glass. The disks are then sprinkled with Parmesan and bread crumbs, and baked in a hot oven to puff them up.

  • 1 quart milk
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • 7 ounces semolina flour (just over 1 cup)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs

Heat the milk and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. When the milk starts to simmer, slowly sprinkle in the semolina flour, whisking constantly to make sure that lumps do not form. Once all the flour has been added, reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to whisk for 7 to 10 more minutes, until the batter has become thick and velvety.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, the eggs, and the butter. Pour the batter into a large, shallow baking dish, spreading it out to make a layer of even thickness (roughly 1/2 an inch high). Set aside (in the fridge if there is room) for about an hour, to cool and become firm.

Cut the semolina into gnocchi using the mouth of a glass about 2 inches wide, or a cookie cutter. Dip the glass into water between each press to prevent the dough from sticking. Lay the gnocchi on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, making sure to leave at least 1/2 inches between them so that their edges can completely caramelize.

Sprinkle the tops of the gnocchi with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the bread crumbs. Bake at 400 degrees F until golden brown, slightly puffed, and crispy around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes.