Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ingredient: BACON

Sometimes when things are too popular I retaliate by refusing to engage with the trend. Examples? For the longest time as a child I obstinately refused to pick up the Lord of the Rings books, despite the fact that they were/are totally up my alley. (Thank God I had no such quibbles with Harry Potter. Though it’s probably because I got a tip-off from a Librarian friend and happened to read the first one when it was still pretty unknown.) I never got a beeper, I still don’t have an iPhone, and I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans (to wear clandestinely under boots.) I’m not saying I never fall prey to trends (er, Uggs are just comfortable, I swear!) which means it’s even more unexplainable why I get irrationally angry at certain fads in particular.

Like bacon. When Bacon Mania hit the U.S. I wasn’t really primed to enjoy it, being as I was, yes, a vegetarian. But while I changed my eating habits, the people of the United States did not. They loved their bacon more and more, putting it in everything from ice cream to cocktails. Now that I can partake of the pig, I decided to look into this super star of all ingredients.

First off, bacon is a cured meat, usually from pork. Grocery stores will tell you that there is such a thing as turkey bacon or even lamb bacon, but I beg to differ. Bacon means pig, just like cheese can’t mean tofu. Let’s proceed.

Bacon can be made from various cuts of pig though most countries cure their bacon from the side or back meat where the meat is particularly meaty. For example, in Italy un-smoked pieces of pig back are cubed and called pancetta. Yet--surprising no one-- the U.S. decided to shun all culinary trends and use the fattiest part of the pig instead, namely the stomach. Another thing that sets American bacon apart is that it is typically smoked, and other flavorings such as maple syrup aren’t uncommon. To be clear, I’m not dismissing American bacon. The fact that you can render a shocking amount of fat from a few strips of bacon comes in mighty handy when cooking. Plus when bacon crisps up it tastes savory and salty and not necessarily fatty at all.

I’m also not dismissing bacon because I’d become a breakfast pariah. You can’t order toast in this town without bacon ending up somewhere on your plate. Even my favorite, my old stand-by, oatmeal, has been affected. And fleeing abroad would do me no better: the Brits include bacon as part of their traditional breakfast, and though Canadian bacon looks like what we’d simply call ham, it’s all over their pancakes. Even in Japan this summer I saw those tell-tale hammy strips. The English transliteration read “bēkon.” It was kind of awesome.

Do I think that this country has become a wee bit baconed out? Yes. Still that didn’t stop me from making these cookies. Sometimes a girl just wants to fit in.

Dark Chocolate Bacon Pecan Cookies

Last weekend I was invited over to reap the spoils of a few friends most recent cooking exploits. They were making a porchetta, spaghetti with broccoli rabe pesto, and turnips. It was a wonderful menu and if I could add anything it would be dessert. The problem was that a stint on Jury Duty had totally messed with my work schedule and I was still trying to catch up. Plus there was some business to attend to with my student loans and a really good soccer game was on. I was stuck in this place where I wanted to bring something exciting (you don’t bring vanilla cake to end a meal of porchetta) but I didn’t have time to find a recipe or construct anything elaborate. And then it struck me. All that pork talk must have gotten into my brain because I decided that I wanted to make a bacon dessert. Then I decided I wanted to make chocolate chip bacon pecan cookies.

I know.

I know! It’s the very type of recipe I have resisted for so long! It’s the very type of recipe that I have mercilessly mocked and constantly chagrined as being ridiculous, disgusting, or passé! Having almost ridden out this bacon fad with nary a bizarre bacon experiment under my belt (I did play witness to the creation of a Bacon Explosion but I didn’t even try a bite) why did I decide, out of the blue, to make bacon cookies of all things? God only knows. Sometimes I don’t understand myself.

Well. I was both happy and disappointed to find that the bacon cookies were a huge, huge hit. (Ah! Bacon you win again!) I'll admit that it's pretty amazing how the rich dark chocolate plays against the fatty, salty bacon, and the pecans add a nutty crunch. Though, personally, I’d like to think I still won’t be a mindless bacon follower, ordering any pork product on the menu just because foodies tell me to.

Now excuse me while I go drink my coconut water and eat some nostalgic comfort food. And where did I put my jeggings?

Makes about 18 cookies

8 strips center cut bacon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup best dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
coarse sea salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie trays with parchment paper.

In a skillet over medium high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and let cool. Dice into ¼ inch pieces, discarding any flabby, not crisp pieces.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and kosher salt.

In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture in two additions, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Stir in chocolate, bacon, and pecans.

Drop 1 ½ inch balls of dough onto prepared cookie sheets. Let dough rest in fridge for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the top of each cookie with sea salt. Bake cookies for 12 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ingredient: PISTACHIOS

Growing up I wasn’t big on nuts, often wondering why people would want to ruin the smooth texture of their brownie with walnuts or, gasp, overpower the sublime flavor of jam with peanut butter. However there was always one big exception: pistachios. I loved pistachios with their salty-sweet flavor and pretty green hue. My only complaint with this nut was that it’s difficult to find them sold both raw and shelled, so what with the trouble of having to crack every nut, it feels almost impossible to get enough pistachio flavor at once. I have the same problem with cherries and their pits. Sometimes life is hard.

I’ll have to admit that pistachio farmers may have a more legitimate gripe than being unable to fulfill their gluttony as fast as they’d like: pistachio trees don’t bear a significant amount of nuts until they are at least seven years old, with peak production coming when they’re twenty. Once mature, however, pistachio trees can produce 25,000 nuts a year. This might explain why pistachios have been popular since they were first cultivated in Iran in ancient times, why the Queen of Sheba reserved pistachios for royal use, and why King Nebuchadnezzar made sure pistachio trees were always growing in his garden. Or it could be because pistachios look like they’re smiling.

Thanks to their durability, pistachios are quite the world travelers. The nuts were high protein, no spoil snacks carried by travelers across the Silk Road that ran between China and Europe. The trees themselves were soon planted outside their native region because they are able to withstand great temperature variations (14 to 104 degrees F) and extremely saline soil.

Pistachios became popular in the United States in the 1880s with an influx of immigrants of Middle Eastern descent. Apparently the nuts were most often sold in vending machines (one day I’ll write Americans and Automats: A Love Story), after having been dyed red to garner them some attention. These days pistachios don't need any false advertising and you can buy them in all their natural glory. Just as healthy as other nuts, a serving of pistachios has 20% of your daily vitamin B6, in addition to notable levels of thiamin, copper, and manganese. For those of you looking to add fiber to your diet, try pistachios. They have twice the amount of fiber per serving as walnuts. For those of you more interested in cookies than calories, I think pistachios are a particularly nice nut to use in baking because their unique, mellow taste plays well with sugar.

Sicilian Pistachio Cookies
Adapted from Dolce Italiano

Sometime last year I started dreaming about Sicily. I think it was around Easter, when my local Italian bakery always sells ricotta filled Easter pies and forms marzipan into the shape of bunnies. I would close my eyes to the gray New York winter and picture long stretches of blue-green sea, waving fields of almond trees, and nets of freshly caught fish. As even the last squash began to go out of season, my bored taste buds wanted the flavors of Sicily: olives, wine, lemons, tomatoes, almonds. And I’ve always been partial to southern Italian cooking with its emphasis on fresh produce, seafood, and sweets.

In fact I was so stuck on Sicily that it played a huge role in my graduate school thesis. A thesis requires a lot of research and luckily, I took that to mean cooking. I made batches of panelle with olive tapenade, bowls of pasta bursting with tomato sauce, and swordfish steaks garnished with raisins, pine nuts, and lemon. Many of the recipes I made in the name of “research” made it into my cooking repertoire, and these pistachio cookies are one of them. Buttery, crumbly, salty, and sweet, these cookies are almost like a thin shortbread topped with pistachios.

Being completely partial to cookies of any kind, I recently decided to put these to a harder test: my friends. My friends not only know what tastes good and what doesn't, but they're only too happy to tell you the difference. But don't worry, it was a victory for the pistachio cookies! (And not just because the judges were already far into the accompanying Sicilian wine.) Now I wonder if they'd like cassata?

Makes about 24 cookies


2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups shelled, unsalted pistachios (aprox 16 ounces whole pistachios)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tsp sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
zest of one lemon

I'll admit this was annoying


Preheat oven to 325. Line a 13" by 18" rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper with butter.

Place 1 cup of shelled pistachios in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not powder, approximately 20 pulses. In a medium bowl, mix flour and salt. Mix pistachios into flour mixture. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with 1 1/4 cups sugar until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs. Scrape down sides of bowl, then beat in vanilla and almond extracts and lemon zest.

Beat flour mixture into sugar mixture in two additions. The dough will be soft. Use a spatula to spread the dough evenly across the baking sheet.

Roughly chop remaining cup of pistachios and sprinkle them over the dough. Sprinkle remaining two teaspoons of sugar over the dough.

Bake dough for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it turns golden brown at the edges. Allow dough to cool on wire rack for 35 minutes, then cut into wedges.

party plate!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

ingredient: ANCHOVIES

What do Worcestershire sauce, nước mắm, remoulade, puttanesca, and Caesar dressing all have in common? That’s right! Anchovies! I knew you’d guess it.

Anchovies are small, oily, salt water fish related to other small, oily salt water fish such as the herring. They can be found in oceans around the world and are a staple of many cuisines. For example, in Asia, anchovies often appear in fish sauces such as nước mắm (Vietnam), nam pla (Thailand), and bagoon (Phillipines). In southern India, they enjoy both fresh and fried anchovies, and Morocco leads the world in canned anchovy production. The Spanish like their anchovies cured in olive oil and sometimes a little vinegar, as do the French, and the Italians often add anchovies to pasta sauces.

You know who else loves anchovies? All types of seabirds and fish. Ever thought you’d share the same tastes as a shark? Maybe. What about a halibut? I know; the food chain is a funny thing. Even more bizarre is that despite their bad rap as smelly old fish, the anchovy is one of the world’s most popular species.

Love for anchovies goes back a long time. They were highly prized in Roman times because they were the main component of garum. Though it sounds like bat poop, this fermented fish sauce cost as much as expensive perfumes and was considered an aphrodisiac (though honestly, what didn’t turn the Romans on?)

What exactly is the allure of these little fish? Anchovies are said to have umami, that elusive fifth taste that basically embodies the word "savory." (MSG, parmesan cheese, and truffles all have umami as well.) The issue with anchovies is that they have to be dried, packed in oil or salt, or canned almost right after they've been taken out of the water. The flavor of anchovies intensifies in the preservation process, and even more when you cook them (which is why anchovy pizza can easily get out of control.) The easiest way to deal with this problem is to buy quality anchovies. I like to buy Spanish or Sicilian anchovies, because these countries have access to large populations of the fish and have been practicing the art of anchovy preserving for many, many years.

Cod and Green Beans with Anchoïade

Lately, I’ve been reading a book of letters between Julia Child and Avis de Voto. When I'm done I'll write a review, so I’m pleased to say that I’ve been enjoying the book immensely. In particular, the letters have made me think three things. One: Well written letters are an art and damn email for making this age old past-time disappear. Who will remember my witty quips and unfortunate foibles? What exactly is my electronic footprint? Two: I need to learn how to cook French food. Somehow French food has never been very high on my list of cuisines to master. The big stumbling block has been my resistance to cream. But France is a great big country (culinarily speaking) and there are definitely recipes worth making, and more than that, recipes I would enjoy. Learning to cook French food has moved towards the top of my list of things to do.

Most of all, however, I’ve thought about how I want to do a road trip through the south of France. Julia Child lived in Marseille for a year in 1954 when her husband was stationed there, and she's convinced me it should be a life goal to eat really good Bouillabaisse à la Marseillaise. I am lucky enough to have been to the South of France- to Nice, Antibes, and Monte Carlo (yes, yes, technically that’s Monaco) and it was gorgeous and wonderful, but I need to go back with a culinary mind. And I need to make it to Provence. I grew up reading everything Peter Mayle ever wrote. I’ve dreamed of lavender covered hills and open air cafes where old men play boules at your feet and argue over pastis.

Well, we can’t always get what we want when we want it. I'll have to wait for the trip, but thanks to global commerce, I can recreate the flavors of Provence at home. So the other night I made cod and green beans with anchoïade. Anchoïade is a Provençal puree of anchovies, garlic and olive oil. It’s rich and a bit spicy and it can go on almost anything. Bread, raw and cooked veggies, fish. Thanks to the food processor it's also insanely easy to make. You literally just throw the ingredients into the machine, give it a whirl, and you have the sauce. It's fantastique!

Serves four


2 lbs cod fillets, rinsed and patted dry
1 lb green beans, cleaned and trimmed
7 ounces anchovies packed in olive oil, drained
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus one tbsp for grilling
one loaf crust bread, cut into slices (optional, except not really)

Put anchovies, garlic, capers, and olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until almost smooth, about 15 to 20 pulses.

Scoop out anchoiade and set aside.

Season cod with salt and pepper (I also have bay seasoning on hand, so I used a little.)

Put a grill pan over medium high heat and grease with tablespoon of olive oil. Put the fish on the grill pan and cook until opaque and just flaking, about 3-4 minutes per side. *Fish should be cooked for about 10 minutes per inch, so depending on how thick your cod is, cooking times will vary slightly.*

While cod is cooking, heat a large sauce pan over medium high heat with two inches of water. Place a steamer basket on top of the sauce pan. Place the green beans in the steamer basket. Cook until bright green but al dente, about 5 minutes.

Plate the cooked cod and the green beans. Drizzle each with anchoiade. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


You all probably know by now that white chocolate isn't really chocolate. There certainly used to be a time when people didn’t care about such loose labels: Velveeta “Cheese”; Miracle Whip “Mayo”; George W. Bush “Ivy League-Educated.” But alas standards have risen. Now to be called chocolate the product must contain a minimum of twenty five percent cocoa solids.

So then what is white chocolate? White chocolate is a mixture of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and vanilla. It’s important to note that cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, meaning there is a real connection between white chocolate and regular chocolate. The problem is that before 2004 companies snuck all sorts of unappealing items (such as hydrogenated vegetable oil) into white chocolate and it began to lose its cred. Luckily the Food and Drug Administration finally created some standards for white chocolate, which is now required to contain at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% total milk solids, and 3.5% milk fat, with no more than 55% sugar or other sweeteners.

How would my giant white chocolate Easter bunnies of yore have held up to these standards? Probably not well. Still, I loved them and their over-the-top sweetness and admittedly slightly bizarre tongue coating effect.

Lately people have become quite obsessed with dark chocolate. I’m on board. I love dark chocolate just as much as the next woman who’s overjoyed that she's suddenly “allowed” to eat chocolate. But chocolate is meant to be delicious, not healthy. I’ve tried chocolate bars that are over 90% cacao and let me tell you, they taste like dirt. More to the point, I'm afraid that with all this hoopla over dark chocolate, white chocolate doesn’t get enough respect. Good white chocolate is a gourmet creation. When Nestlé first began producing white chocolate in the 1930s, it was a luxury item which cost more to produce than regular chocolate. Its creamy, subtle vanilla taste was enjoyed for what it was, not for what it wasn’t (i.e milk or dark chocolate).

And what would the world be without white chocolate macadamia cookies? Or white chocolate dipped strawberries or white chocolate covered pretzels? Life without Hershey’s Hugs or Cookies‘n’Creme bars? Ridiculous. Let’s start a new campaign: White Chocolate, Good for the Soul.

White Chocolate Dipped Lemon-Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Giada at Home

Valentine’s Day is coming up. I’m not a big box-of-chocolates kind of gal. And while I always have a bar of yes, dark chocolate on hand (preferably Chocolove’s Ginger Crystallized in 65 % Dark Chocolate) I’m not too big on candy bars either because I always think, why would I have a candy bar when I could have a cookie?

It’s a family thing. My father, my sister, even my mother: we all love us some cookies. To this day, my father won't go to bed without having some cookies for dessert (maybe to balance out that oatmeal.) When I meet my sister for coffee it’s really for coffee-and-cookies (if we can we go to One Girl Cookies in Brooklyn. Delicious!) and sometimes I wonder if my mother and I took our Italian class just to have an excuse to go afterwards to Rocco’s and get an assortment of biscotti.

It’s no surprise, then, that my Grammy is equally a fan. I thought for Valentine’s Day I’d send her a box of lemon-almond biscotti dipped in white chocolate. These cookies are intensely lemony, which is nice at this time of year. The almonds do their part to try and give these a true Italian biscotti profile, which, truthfully, the white chocolate coating cancels out. These are Italian biscotti by way of America, meaning they’re bigger and sweeter and perfect for a special treat. While I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t bake them just because, if you’re looking for a homemade gift or something to serve with coffee at a dinner party, these will do the trick.

makes about 20 (large) biscotti
2 cups flour
¾ cup fine yellow cornmeal
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I always use kosher while baking)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 ½ tbsp grated lemon zest (Giada uses three tbsp. I thought this kind of overpowered the almonds, but if you're a lemon lover, go for it)
¾ cup almonds, roughly chopped
18 ounces best white chocolate (I used Ghiradelli baking bars)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silipat.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder until combined.

In large bowl, beat together the eggs and the sugar until light yellow in color, about 3 minutes.

Beat in the lemon zest. Beat in the flour mixture (I did this in three additions, mixing each time until just combined. You don’t want to overwork the dough.) Stir in the almonds. Let the dough sit for 5 minutes.

Because the dough is pretty sticky, just moisten your hands under the tap. Then divide the dough into two balls. Place the balls on your baking sheet. Shape each half into a log that is about nine inches long and three inches wide.

Bake the logs for 35 minutes, at which point they will be soft and lightly browned. Let them cool for 5 minutes.

Use a serrated or otherwise sharp knife (I use my big serrated bread knife) to cut the logs into approximately ¾ inch thick slices. Try to do this a little on the diagonal because then they’ll get that pretty biscotti look.

Lay the biscotti cut side up on the baking sheet and bake for another 25 minutes, at which point they should be a little golden and dry. Let the biscotti cool.

Set a wire rack over a layer of paper towels or a baking sheet. Melt the chocolate in a double a boiler. Dip one end of each biscotti in the melted white chocolate and then lay it on the wire rack. The paper towels/baking sheet will take care of any drippings.

the set up: wire rack/baking sheet, cookies, melted chocolate

Let the biscotti sit until the chocolate has hardened, then enjoy, dunked in espresso or not, according to your whims.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ingredient: CARROTS

One of the most shocking things I ever saw on TV as a child was a group of people whose skin had turned orange because they ate too many carrots. I was totally freaked out that a simple vegetable could be slowly leading these people to Oompa Loompa land. Of course these days no TV channel would show any adverse affects of vegetables thanks to the wrath of the Parents Television Council. But from that day forward, for me, carrots were a powerful, magical thing.

When I was young, someone also told me that eating carrots could actually make you see in the dark. Who doesn’t want that power? It took me a long time to learn that this is a grossly exaggerated fact, and I’ll admit that I hopefully ate my carrots for a long, long time. To my credit, this urban legend has been around since World War Two. It started because British RAF pilots were particularly good at night attacks, and while the real key to their success was radar technology, those sneaky Brits circulated the rumor that it was because their pilots ate a lot of carrots. Civilians in Briton and Germany began to eat carrots for their eyesight. Forty years later I did the same, proving the unfortunate truth that rumors never die.

However there does just seem to be a strong relationship between carrots and childhood. It’s a starter vegetable. It’s a little sweet. It’s a little crunchy. Throw in a side of ranch dressing, or these days, hummus, and it’s a favorite “healthy snack” for parents to give their kids. Perhaps in honor of their former after-school snack, adults usually continue to eat their carrots raw, and rightfully so: carrots are a salad stalwart and baby carrots have the bonus of being ready-to-eat. But actually only three percent of carrot’s much touted beta carotene is digested when we eat them raw; whereas pulping or cooking carrots makes thirty nine percent available. In Battle Carrots, it’s chefs: 1; raw foodists: 0.

Of course carrots are beneficial for more than their beta carotene quotient. One cup contains 686.3% of your required daily vitamin A. Eating a lot of Vitamin A each day has been shown to decrease your chances of postmenopausal breast cancer by 20% and cut incidences of esophagus, larynx, prostate, bladder, colon, and cervix cancers by 50%.

If you want to sex-up a plate of childish carrots, look for purple, red, or even white varieties. And if you’re wondering how to get your maximum beta-carotene intake, try making the following soup.

Carrot Ginger Soup

Carrots appear in most soups. But usually they show up in the beginning steps, chopped with some celery and onions, as part of the flavor base called mirepoix. I wanted more carrot. More bright flavor. More vitamin A.

And ginger.

I wanted ginger. I wanted spice. I wanted heat. I wanted to eat something that warmed me up and made me less miserable about the fact that my weekend trip to sunny California was over. I love New York, but it was seventy degrees in Palo Alto on Monday. Seventy.

Yeah. I needed more than just ginger. I needed some cumin and turmeric, and a little cream to smooth things out. I needed a few dashes of sherry vinegar to give everything an acidic zip.

Really, I needed one of those lamps they give to people with S.A.D but I made this simple soup instead. And you know, along with an original James Bond movie, it helped.

That’ll do soup, that’ll do.

serves 6


2 tsp butter
1 onion chopped
1 stick celery chopped
1 med potato chopped
1.5 lbs carrots, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger chopped
5 cups chicken stock
5 tsp whipping cream
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp turmeric
*I put this soup over some cooked farro. But it's fine on it's own, or over some white rice. Depends on how hungry/lazy you're feeling. Ex: 1 cup of uncooked white rice will make enough for a little bit of rice in the soup, 2 cups will give everyone a substantial amount.

In a large pot over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the carrots, potato, ginger, and stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for twenty minutes.

If you're adding cooked farro or cooked white rice, make it now.

After twenty minutes the carrots should be soft. Puree the soup in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Put it back in the pot if you’ve taken it out, and stir in the cream, vinegar, cumin, ground ginger, and turmeric. Season with a good amount of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ingredient: MORTADELLA

Please don’t call it bologna.

Because while American Oscar Myer-style lunch box sandwich “boloney” is admittedly a distant cousin of authentic mortadella, they’re actually about as similar as J-Woww and Sofia Loren. I mean you just don’t know where the American version has been.

Real mortadella is a type of cured meat which falls under the umbrella of salume (not to be confused with salami). What sets mortadella apart from other Italian pork sausages like salami, salsiccia, prosciutto, and bresaola is its smooth, pink texture and large cubes of juicy fat. Yes, mortadella is pork meat purposely injected with fat. Yet a slice of mortadella doesn’t taste fatty; it tastes porky and a little nutty. How do they do it? The key is probably that mortadella isn’t injected with just any fat; this is an Italian specialty we’re talking about after all. There are rules, and these rules stipulate that fifteen percent of any log of mortadella must be cubes of “prime neck fat" from pigs.

The idea to season pork meat with neck fat started with the excess all-stars: the Romans. In fact mortadella was named after the way this salume was made in Roman times, which was by grinding up pork meat with a mortar (mortario) before stuffing it into a pork casing. When the empire fell, the process was taken over by the pork capital of the world, Bologna, which is how the bastardized American version got its name.

The basic recipe for mortadella is the same. Grind up pork meat (though probably no longer with an actual mortar) then add pork fat and spices such as anise, pepper, or coriander. Pistachios are a common addition, as is some wine. Then the seasoned meat is stuffed into a pork or beef casing (read: cleaned intestinal lining), gently cooked, cooled, and sliced for sammies.

Today Bologna holds a D.O.C for Mortadella di Bologna, but you’ll find variations on the theme all over Italy. For example, Tuscans add garlic and some towns use olives. Mortadella di Amatrice is a famous version from a town in the Apennine Mountains which uses cloves and cinnamon. Each variation of mortadella promises a smooth, porky flavor with the subtlest hints of spice. Italians eat mortadella plain, on sandwiches, or possibly adorning a plate of antipasti. The genius people of Bologna even stuff it in tortellini.

You know what this means don’t you? Mortadella tour 2011. Who’s with me?

Pizza Rustica
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess

As you can see, this is not a pizza in any corner-slice or even Domino's sense of the word. There’s no tomato sauce. It's got two crusts. So what is it then? Pizza Rustica is essentially a large meat and cheese pie. It's traditionally eaten around Easter time in Italy, which makes sense because there is a bit of assembly required and this dish definitely feeds a crowd.

This recipe appealed to me for many reasons. The first was that I love pie crust. Hell, I love pies, be they sweet, savory, hot, or cold. Give me pies or give me death!

Second to my love of pies is my love of anything that you can make in one big pan and know that it will serve a crowd. Or in this case, 6-8 people. The third appeal was the list of ingredients: anything that has mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, and ricotta cheeses, in addition to prosciutto, mortadella and sausage sounds good to me.


1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup cold (cold is very important) unsalted butter cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons iced water
1 heaped teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

1 8 inch spring form pan buttered (a deep dish pie dish will work)


2 ounces luganega or mild pure pork sausage, skinned
1 tablespoon olive oil
“generous” 8 ounces ricotta
2 ounces provolone, diced
4 ounces Italian mozzarella, diced
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp crushed dried red chillies, or more to taste
4 ounces prosciutto, diced
4 ounces mortadella, diced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs


1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt


To make the crust:

Put the flour, butter, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse to combine, but just until it comes together, probably about 10 pulses. Pour in the egg yolks, water, and salt into the food processor. Pulse until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about another 10 or 15 more pulses. Take the dough out and wrap it in some plastic wrap and stick it in your fridge.

Make the filling:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan, fry the sausage in the olive oil until its just cooked through, about four minutes. Transfer it to a large bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients for the filling to the bowl and mix well.

Take the crust out of the fridge and cut it into two pieces, with one piece slightly bigger than the other.

Roll out the bigger piece of dough. Transfer it to your springform pan so it comes up and hangs over the side. Pour in the filling.

Roll out the other piece of dough and then transfer it to the top of the pie, where it will act as the lid. Crimp together the two pieces of dough to make sure nothing oozes out.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk, salt, and milk to make the egg wash. Brush the wash over the top of the pie. Use a fork to poke a few holes in the top of the pie so that steam can escape.

Bake the pie at 400 for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes.

When it’s done, the top should be a nice golden brown. Nigella says to let the pie rest for 25 minutes before serving, and there is something about letting it rest that helps meld all the flavors. In fact, if you’re having this at a dinner party there is no reason not to make it the night before. And while I like it cold as well, there is something about the way the cheeses all goo when it’s hot that I just can’t pass up. So I serve this hot, with a side salad, and a cold beer.