Recipes from Lithuania


OK, so Lithuania was a strange combination of failure and triumph. It was like the Wide World of Sports of blog nights. You know, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Yes, I am old enough that I remember that.


Lithuania, as you may know, is one of those European nations that is sort of on the fringes of the continent. It's one of three Baltic nations (the other two are Estonia and Latvia), which means that it borders the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. Despite the northernliness of it, I was surprised to learn that Lithuania actually has a pretty mild climate--it never really gets any warmer than 70 degrees, even in July, and it doesn't get much colder than 20 degrees (though those are averages, of course). My husband would love it there.

 Castle of Trakai, Lithuania. Photo by SU.

Lithuania is a former Soviet state--today it is kind of a funky democracy. It has a president, but much like the Queen of England, the office is largely ceremonial, though the president does have some foreign affairs and national security powers. She also appoints the prime minister and a bunch of other offices, and those are the people who do the actual running-of-the-country stuff.


Lithuanian cuisine is pretty similar to eastern European fare, at least in my mind. They eat a lot of barley and potatoes and other stuff that grows in cool climates, like beets and mushrooms. Influences range from Polish and Jewish to German culinary traditions (you'll find dumplings, crepes and kugel on Lithuanian menus). Here are the dishes I chose:

Baked Pork in Mushroom Sauce (Kepta kiauliena grybø padaþe) 
(from The Anthology of Lithuanian Ethnoculture)
  • 2 lbs pork, any cut 
  • Juice of 1 lemon 
  • Powdered bay leaves 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil or butter  
  • 3 oz dried mushrooms 
  • 2 onions, finely chopped 
  • 1 cup mushroom cooking juice 
  • 2 tbsp sour cream 
  • 1 tbsp flour 
  • 4 tbsp butter 
Vedarai (Potato Sausage)
(from Eastern European Food)

For the sausage:
  • 12 medium peeled russet potatoes, finely grated
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter or 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hog casings, rinsed three times
For the gravy:
  • 1/2 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Black pepper to taste
Beets with Horseradish
(also from The Anthology of Lithuanian Ethnoculture

  • 4 beets, cooked, finely grated 
  • 1 cup grated horseradish root 
  • 1/4 tsp pepper 
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon 
  • Salt to taste
Lithuanian Honey Cake  
(from Natasha's Kitchen)

For the cake:
  • 1/4 honey
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs, beaten with a fork
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
For the cream:
  • 5 cups crème fraiche
  • 5-7 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 3-6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 lemons, zest
For the candied orange peel:
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
So I'm going to start with the sausage, because it was the most disastrous part of the meal. Now, here's me thinking that because I made sausage that one time, back in Belgium, that I would just be able to whip it up again, no problem. After all it's not even real sausage, it's potato sausage. I guess I overestimated myself.

Anyway, first you're supposed saute the onion in the butter, or with the bacon (that's what I did). When the onion is soft, take it off the heat and let it come back to room temperature. Now mix the grated potatoes with the onion and add the eggs, marjoram, salt and pepper. The thickness of the mixture should be roughly equal to the thickness of ground pork. If it isn't, add some flour.

So I did all that after I dug out my meat grinder, which I've used exactly that one time, and I frustrated myself mightily trying to remember how to put it together and use it. Now, the unfortunate thing about my meat grinder is that the clamp that secures it to the work surface doesn't actually open wide enough to fit on my counter, or my dining room table for that matter. In fact the only surface that it will go on is one of those stupid little folding TV stands. So I set my TV stand up in the living room, because I figured that's where I could sit most comfortably and make sausages, and I attached the meat grinder to it and here's what happened:

As per the instructions, I stuffed the potato mixture into the grinder and turned the handle, and liquid went everywhere. It dripped out of every single crevasse in the machine and spilled all over the wobbly TV tray and onto the floor. It was an absolute mess, and by the time I filled all the casings I'd also soaked an entire beach towel in potato water.

Anyway, I twisted the casings to make links, pricked them and then boiled them in salted water, which is not what I should have done because they promptly untwisted and I was left with one giant sausage instead of a bunch of small ones (the recipe also says you can bake them at 350 degrees). Either way they should take roughly 1 hour to finish.

I kind of tried to twist them back, with limited success.

While the sausages are cooking, fry the rest of the bacon with the onion until the onion is translucent and the bacon is cooked through. Drain off the fat and then mix in the sour cream and black pepper. If the sauce is too thick, add a little bit of milk. Serve the sausages with the sour cream sauce poured over.

On to the pork:

First rub the meat all over with lemon juice, then sprinkle with the salt, pepper and powdered bay leaf. Now put the oil and meat into a casserole and bake at 350 degrees, basting occasionally. The meat is done when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.

Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms in boiling water and remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water. Melt the butter in a medium sized pot and julienne the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms and onions to the melted butter, then whisk in the flour. Add the mushroom juice, sour cream, salt and pepper while continuing to whisk. Turn down the heat and let the sauce thicken.

Slice the pork and pour the sauce over to serve.

OK now for the easy part, the beets:

First roast your boats in a hot oven until soft. Peel them and grate them.

Now grate the horseradish, then mix everything together. Done!

Now, for the cake. First, do some deep breathing. If you're into yoga, do that, too. This cake is complex and labor intensive. By the time I was done making it, I vowed I would never do it again ... Until my kids made it clear to me that they would quite happily eat that cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Here goes.

First, you're going to be making some candied orange peel. To do this, you need to peel the oranges and then cut off as much of the pith as you can (that's the bitter white part). I actually scraped mine down so I could only see orange.

It kind of took a while but it was worth it. In fact I might actually make my own candied peel next year for the Christmas cake, instead of buying it. It tasted much nicer than that uber-expensive packaged stuff.

Now boil two cups of the water and add the peel. Let it soften up for a few minutes and then drain and set aside. Next, bring the other two cups of the water to a boil and add the sugar. Reduce heat, then drop in the peel and let simmer until the peel is translucent. This should take about 30 minutes. Drain and transfer to a drying rack (I used my pizza screen because it has smaller holes so the peel wouldn't fall through). Let dry for three to four hours, then chop fine. Reserve the syrup it cooked in, not because the recipe said to but because it's yummy.


OK now mix the crème fraiche* with the lemon zest, sugar and lemon juice. Please note: don't use an electric mixer. That's what I did and my crème fraiche curdled. It was awful, though my husband did manage to save most of it by straining it. So don't use an electric mixer, instead just fold it all together. Keep tasting it until it's to your liking. It should be a little bit sour with a hint of sweet. Finally, fold in the candied peel.


*Note: Crème fraiche is super expensive, and super easy to make. The day before you make this cake, mix 5 cups of heavy cream with 2/3 cup of buttermilk. Cover it with a clean towel and let it sit out overnight in a warm place. In about 12 to 18 hours, you will have crème fraiche.

OK now put the sugar, honey and butter in a medium pan and heat gently until melted and blended. Use a low flame so you don't scorch the ingredients. Remove from the heat and add the eggs, but keep whisking as they go in, otherwise the heat from the melted butter will scramble them.

Now whisk in the baking soda until well incorporated, then add the flour in 1/2 cup increments. Fold it in gently--when the texture is a bit like Play Dough it's ready.

Cut the dough into 8 equal sized portions. It's important to do this while it's warm. Trust me on this one, because I didn't believe the author when she said that and I let mine cool down. When cool, it's really difficult to roll out.

Which brings me to the next part: rolling out. Flour a rolling pin and a large surface and roll each piece out into a circle with about a quarter inch thickness. Use a nine inch plate as a template to make sure all the circles are exactly the right size. Save all those trimmings--you'll be using them later. Unless you literally can't make your circles large enough because you were dumb and tried to do all of this with cold dough.

Are you tired yet? Next you'll be baking each circle at 350 degrees for four or five minutes on a sheet of waxed paper, until golden. When done each circle should resemble a sort of large, thick tortilla. Let them cool separately on a wire rack. Keep going until you've baked them all.

Now bake all those little scraps, if you have any little scraps. Put them in a food processor and pulse until you get some fine crumbs.

The home stretch: spread 1/3 cup of the crème fraiche mixture on each cake piece. Top with the next piece, pressing down, and repeat. Keep going until you're out of layers, then frost the sides with the leftover crème fraiche mixture, unless you curdled all yours and don't really have enough left over to do that.


 Now dust with the breadcrumbs and refrigerate overnight. Or don't--it's a lot moister once it's absorbed some of the crème fraiche, but pretty delicious the day you make it, too.

I didn't have enough crème fraiche to frost the whole thing.

Here's what we thought. But wait, first I have to say that between grating potatoes and grating beets and grating horseradish by the time I was done with this my arms ached so badly I could hardly lift them. So now that you know just how out of shape I actually am:

Beets are my new favorite thing, so I loved the beet salad with the grated horseradish. Yum. And I enjoyed the pork, too, with the mushroom sauce. It was basic, but basic in a nice, hearty way. The sausage was, meh. It had a lot of potential but it was an awful lot of mess and trouble for what basically amounted to some mashed potatoes in a sausage casing. If I did this again, I would definitely use more bacon. A lot more bacon.

Now, I bet you wanted to know what we thought of the cake. It was a ton of work and like I said I swore I would never do it again, but you know what? I would totally do it again. It was that good, and worth the work for sure. Anyway now that I got all the kinks worked out I'm pretty sure I could make it a lot more quickly next time. And I promised my kids there would definitely be a next time.

Next week: Luxembourg
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Recipes from Lorraine and Alsace, France (Part Two)


OK, so the bad news is, I missed last week's posting because of spring break. So I am officially about five weeks behind in actually posting all the meals that I cook. Gah.


The good news is, I already told you about Lorraine and Alsace, France in the last posting. Because remember? This was a two part entry. The whole "I cooked that meal two years ago and forgot about it" thing.

Paysage de l'Aisne, France. Photo by Franck Vervial.

So instead of telling you more things about Lorraine and Alsace, France (if you missed the info you can check out the last entry), I'm just going to dive right into what I cooked:

Coq a Riesling 
(from Interfrance)
  • 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 shallots
  • 4  garlic cloves
  • 1 cup Riesling wine,
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 lb large mushrooms, quartered 
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or creme fraische
  • 1 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Alsatian Cheese Tart
(from Epicurious)
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • 1/2 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 6 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Alsatian Apple Tart
(also from Interfrance


For the dough:
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour,
  • 1/2 cup cold margarine,
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp baker's sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • Pinch of salt.
For the filling:
  • 2 lbs Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup bakers sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 pinches cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
To make the chicken, first season the pieces with salt and pepper. Now melt 4 tbsp of the butter in a heavy skillet over a medium flame and saute the chicken until golden on all sides.

Pour off most of the fat and add the shallots and garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add the brandy and set it on fire. Shake the pan gently until the flames die down. Try real, real, hard not to burn your kitchen down.*

Now add the mushrooms, wine and chicken stock. Let the liquid start to boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 degrees (165 is a safe temperature, but I think the texture of dark meat is really unpleasant if you only cook it to 165).

OK now take the chicken out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place it on a serving platter. Turn up the heat and let the cooking liquid boil. When it has reduced down to about a half cup, add the cream and stir until the sauce thickens a little. You can also add a tablespoon of melted butter mixed with some flour if it doesn't thicken up enough. Serve the chicken over egg noodles and top with the sauce.

* Please note that I almost burned my kitchen down. The flames were really big and I was trying to take pictures of them with one hand and shake the damned pot with the other. Even though this is a pretty standard French cooking technique, I do not condone or recommend actually lighting your food on fire unless you really know what you're doing, because if you burn your kitchen down you will blame me. You have been warned.

OK now for the cheese tart:

First heat your oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry sheet until it is about 12 inches square. Place on a baking sheet (I also crimped the edges of the dough so the cheese mixture would stay put).

Put the cottage cheese, sour cream, salt and pepper into a blender and pulse until smooth.

Now cook the bacon over a medium flame until it begins to brown. Don't let it get crispy. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spread the cheese mixture over the pastry like you would with a marinara sauce if you were making a pizza. Leave about 1 inch around all four edges.

Now scatter the onions over the tart, sprinkle the bacon on top, then add the Parmesan cheese.

Put the tart in the oven and bake until golden (20 to 25 minutes). Cut up into pieces and serve.

And finally, the apple tart.

First blend all the pastry ingredients except the water with your fingers until the mixture looks like fine bread crumbs.

Gradually add the water until the mixture starts to turn into a crumbly dough. Don't overdo it, but eventually you should have a smooth ball. Dust it with a little bit of flour and wrap it in plastic wrap, then place it in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 and butter a 10 inch tart pan. Lightly flour a surface and the roll the dough out until it's a large circle. Line the pan with the dough and prick it all over with a fork. Return to the fridge for another 10 minutes.

Now cut each apple quarter into four slices and place neatly over the pastry, overlapping the slices as you go. Your tart should look something like this:

Bake for 15 minutes. While the tart is baking, make the filling:

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Add the cream. When the tart has finished baking for 15 minutes, pour the filling over the top of it and return to the oven.

Bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes. When the apples are tender, the tart is done.

So I'm sure you'd like to know if I preferred this to the frog's legs, and since I do enjoy trying new foods but I'm not a snob about it, I will not pretend that I liked the frog's legs any better than the chicken. I mean, they were the legs of a slimy creature who lives stagnant water, right? I did like the flavor of them, but when you eat frog's legs there's always that voice in the back of your head that goes, "ew."

Anyway I liked the chicken, and yes I would probably choose it over frog's legs in the future. It had a sweet flavor from the Riesling and like many French dishes, was pretty mild in flavor, but quite rich. The cheese tart was yummy--I guess it was basically just a French pizza--but my kids missed the red sauce. And cottage cheese isn't really their thing, even though it was cleverly disguised.

The apple tart was yummy and looked very pretty when it was done. Again, not really different than a lot of other apple desserts I've had, but still yummy.

OK onwards.

Next week: Lithuania
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Recipes from Lorraine and Alsace, France


OK so here's a funny thing. I cooked a meal from Lorraine and Alsace, France a long time ago. Like, almost two years ago. The main reason I went so far down the alphabet was because a few months before that I found some frog's legs at a local deli that carries the occasional package of exotic meat (I got some alligator filets there, too). I mainly just bought them because I wanted to try frog's legs. Or possibly because they were on that dumb Facebook list "The Food List Challenge" (yeah the alligator was on that list too). Anyway they sat in my freezer for a long time because I had no idea what to do with them. Finally, Martin told me I should really use up the frog's legs because they were taking up space.

 
The problem is it really seemed like a wasted opportunity to not use the frog's legs for Travel by Stove. So I skipped way, way ahead and prepared them for Lorraine and Alsace, France. But here's the funny part, it was so long ago now that I actually forgot that I did it, and so a couple of weeks ago I cooked another meal from Lorraine and Alsace, France. That's two meals from the same region. Hmmm.

So here's what I'm going to do, I'm going to post the frog's legs entry today, and you just need to pretend like you don't know I wrote it two years ago. And then next week, I'm going to post part two. Because I don't want to waste a good blog meal by not writing about it. OK, so here's part one:

Gare, Strasbourg, Alsace. Photo by grego1402.
Lorraine and Alsace are two of France's easternmost regions, bordering Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg. and Belgium. The largest city in Alsace is Strasbourg, which is widely considered to be one of the most important regions in the European Union; it is the seat of more than 20 different European institutions, including the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. You may also know Lorraine as the birthplace of Joan of Arc.

Culinarily-speaking, Lorraine and Alsace are often grouped together since the cuisines of that region are similar—the region's proximity to Germany of course means that there is a strong Germanic influence in many of the traditional recipes. Alsace in particular is famous for its foie gras (which is highly controversial and is actually now illegal in California, sort of--I think the whole mess is now in the courts) and is known for its vineyards.


All of my recipes came from a book recommended by a reader: The Roux Brothers French Country Cooking . This book is no longer in print, but it isn't difficult to find used copies, and it's a very good resource if you're looking for French recipes grouped by region (as I am). So for Lorraine and Alsace I chose the following three Roux Brothers Recipes:

Grenouilles à la Vitelloise
(Frogs' legs with mushrooms and herbs)
  • 48 medium frogs' legs (I cut this recipe back considerably)
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup clarified butter
  • 7 oz button mushrooms, diced  small
  • 3 oz slightly stale white bread, crusts removed and diced small
  • 2 tbsp mixed herbs (tarragon, chives, Italian parsley), chopped
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, quartered
A side dish:

Pommes de Terre Roncin
(New potatoes with a fromage blanc sauce)
  • 1 1/2 lb new potatoes
  • 11 oz semi-salted fromage blanc
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • pinch nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
And for dessert:

Kouglof

For the cake:
  • 28 grams fresh yeast or 2 2/3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
For the filling:
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 3 tbsp rum (I used a dark rum)
  • 1/3 cup whole almonds, blanched and lightly toasted
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • powdered sugar for dusting
You will also need a kouglof mold, but if you don't have one I really wouldn't spend the money, unless you've had kouglof and can see yourself eating it all the time. I used a bundt pan for mine. It was the wrong shape, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't make a difference to the flavor.

So of course after I settled on this menu, I tried to find fromage blanc locally. Naturally, I was unable to, because that would have been too easy. I did find some on iGourmet.com for $5 but it was $25 to ship, so forget that. So guess what I did? You'll never guess. I made some fromage blanc using a culture I found at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

 
I've made cheese before but it was much more complicated than making fromage blanc—to make fromage blanc you just need to heat your milk to 86 degrees, add the culture, stir and let sit overnight. Then you put the curds in a piece of cheesecloth and hang them up for a few hours. When you're done, you have fromage blanc, which by the way makes an awesome cheesecake.

So anyway if you're going to cook up this meal keep in mind that you need to start from five or six hours to one day in advance. I, of course, being me, did not know this because I didn't bother to read the recipe ahead of time. But you've read this blog, so you know better. Here's how to get started on the kouglof, which takes the most time:

Mix the ingredients together to make a dough. It's going to be a pretty wet dough (I added extra flour to mine because it seemed too wet). After chilling you will need to be able to roll the dough out so you won't want it to be too sticky. Add flour if you need too, but not too much.

 
Now put the dough in the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 24.

Meanwhile, mix the raisins with the rum and let soak for a few hours, until the raisins are plump and most of the rum is absorbed.

 
Butter your pan and put about 1/3 of the almonds in the bottom, then chop the rest and set aside.

 
Turn the chilled dough out on a floured surface and roll it into a long rectangle shape. Scatter the raisins and chopped almonds over the dough and then roll it lengthwise, pressing the edges of the dough together to seal.

 
Transfer the dough to your kouglof pan, pressing down lightly. Seal the edges with a little bit of the egg wash, then let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (because the dough started out cold, it will take a little longer to rise than most bread dough will).

 
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and bake the kouglof for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 35. Note: in my oven this was way too long. My kouglof burned. Watch yours carefully so this doesn't happen. You can cover it with greaseproof paper if it starts getting brown too early in the process.

 
I skipped this step because I wasn't using a kouglof mold, but if you are take your kouglof out of the oven and remove it from the mold onto a wire rack. Return it to the oven for another five minutes, which will give the center time to cook. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Dust the kouglof with powdered sugar and serve.

 
OK now the potatoes:

Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Add a little salt and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender, then remove from the heat but don't drain. Just let them sit in the cooking water.

 
Now add the fromage blanc to a saucepan and heat gently until it melts. Keep stirring so it doesn't stick. Meanwhile, beat the eggs together with the cream and flour. When the cheese is melted , add the egg and cream mixture and whisk. Keep whisking for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove from heat and add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

 
Drain the potatoes and pour the sauce over them. Serve.
 
Finally, the frogs' legs. Mine came trimmed, but if yours didn't you will need to cut off the "fingers" (ew!!) and a small part of the backs. Now put the legs in a bowl and pour the milk over. Let soak in the fridge for two hours.

 
After the legs have soaked take the out of the fridge and pat dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Melt the clarified butter over high heat and then add the frog's legs, searing for 3 minutes or so or until they are golden. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

 
Now reduce heat to medium and add the mushrooms and diced bread. Let cook for 5 more minutes, add salt and pepper and cover the pan. Let simmer for 2 minutes more.

 
 Remove from heat and scatter the herbs over the legs. Serve hot garnished with a lemon quarter.

 
So, if you're the sort of person who would not eat frogs' legs because, you know, ew, let me reassure you that they actually taste pretty good, if you can get past that "ew" factor. They are not slimy or bizarrely textured, they are just little pieces of meat (though I did find them a little stringy). I did have an awful lot of fun dangling them in front of my horrified children, though.

Frogs' legs taste a little bit like chicken but there is a definite fresh-water fish flavor to them as well. Mine were a little dry—I don't know if that's because I overcooked them (I really wanted them to be done, because though I am familiar with the bacteria that haunts pork and chicken I have no idea what kind of bacteria can be found in frogs) or if it was just because they were in my freezer for too long. But they were really good with the herbs and mushrooms, which I think kind of softened the whole "you are eating frog" blow.

The potatoes with homemade fromage blanc were super-tasty. The fromage blanc is a little bit tangy and the sauce reflected this. I'm glad I made a pretty small portion because I don't think I would have been able to eat a whole lot of that very rich sauce.

My kouglof, as I mentioned, was burned. I still liked it, though. I wish it hadn't burned, but the inside was really tasty and had a nice texture that was somewhere between a bread and a cake. It wasn't overly sweet like an American dessert and the almonds gave it a nice crunch.

Well, that was easy! I should cook stuff two years early more often, haha.

Next week: Lorraine and Alsace, France, part II
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Recipes from Lombardy, Italy


Are you sick of Italian food yet? Of course not, no one ever gets sick of Italian food, even though we really have a kind of bastardized version of it over here on this side of the pond. Anyway this is my third week in a row of doing an Italian menu--this week we're in Lombardy.


Milan is in Lombardy; that's where a large number of Italy's art galleries and museums are located. If you want to see The Last Supper, The Brera Madonna or Correggio's Adoration of the Magi, you go to Milan.

Besides being a Mecca of Italian art, Lombardy is the most populous and the wealthiest region in Italy--home to 1/6th of the population and responsible for about 1/5th of the entire nation's GDP.

Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy. Photo by Eric Hossinger.

When Americans think of Italian food, the first thing that usually comes to mind is pasta--but in Lombardy rice is often favored. With that in mind, I chose a popular risotto recipe:

Risotto Milanese
(from The Italian Chef)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 cups risotto rice, such as arborio
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
And although I've often served risotto as a main course, I kind of wanted some protein to go with it. So this is the second recipe I chose:

Skillet Perch with Lemon and Capers
(from Jovina Cooks Italian)
  • 1 1/2 cups each: flour, fine cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 lbs lake perch fillets, skinned*
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1 lemon, sliced (for garnish)
* I often have to find subs for fish when cooking for TbS. This time I used red snapper.

And I found this one for dessert:

Crostata
(from Italian Addiction)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 11 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • jam or nutella (I used black cherry jam)
For this meal you do have to multi-task a little, since the risotto and the fish both need to be cooking at the same time. So let's start with the crostata just to get that out of the way.

First make that volcano that pastry recipes are always wanting you to make, and add some yeast and a pinch of salt. Add the eggs, sugar and room-temperature butter to the flour and mix well (you may need to use your hands). Don't overmix because then the butter might actually start to melt.

When the dough is smooth, move it to the fridge and let it rest there for 15 minutes or so. Then take it out and roll it to a thickness of about a third of an inch.

Now put your cake pan on top of the dough and draw around it with a sharp knife, leaving a border of about 2/3rds of an inch all the way around. Don't toss the dough you cut off, instead set it aside.

Line the cake pan with some waxed paper and put the dough on top of that, so the edges come up the side of the pan.

Now add your filling (the black cherry jam was really good, but you could also use chocolate or a different kind of jam). Finally, use those extra pieces of dough to make the basket-weave top, like in the photo below: 

Fold the edges down to meet the edges of the weave, then bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

 
OK, let's do the risotto next. First heat the broth to a simmer. In a separate pan, cook the onion in the olive oil and two tablespoons of the butter over a medium flame. When the onions are translucent, add the saffron and stir for one minute. Now add the rice and give the whole pot a good stir until each grain of rice is coated in oil.

Add the wine, and then pour in one ladle of the simmering broth. Stir until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Continue to add one ladle at a time--don't add another ladle until there isn't any more liquid in the pan. Repeat until all the broth is gone. The rice should be tender but firm, and the texture should be creamy.

Finally, add the rest of the butter and the cheese. Let the lid sit on the pot for a couple of minutes, then stir one more time and serve.

OK now on to the fish. First mix together the flour with the cornmeal, paprika, salt and pepper. In a second bowl, mix together the eggs and milk.

First dip the fish filets in the egg mixture, letting the excess drip off. Now dip in the four and cornmeal mixture. Give each filet a shake to get any loose mixture to fall off.

Now cover the bottom of a large skillet with oil and heat. Fry the filets in the hot oil for about two or three minutes on both sides, or until golden. When done, drain on paper towels and transfer to a warm oven to keep warm.

To make the sauce, drain the oil from the skillet and add the lemon juice and capers. Cook for one minute or until the mixture starts to bubble up. Now add the chives, salt and pepper. Transfer the filets to plates and top with the caper sauce. Garnish with the lemon slices and serve.

I thought this meal was delicious. The fish was quite simple but I like simple, as long as it's got flavor. The risotto wasn't the best risotto I've ever made, but it was still good. Martin complained a little because it tasted too much like the canned beef broth, and he was right. When you make this dish in Lombardy, you use a stock made from beef marrow, which of course isn't the sort of thing you can buy at Safeway. Though in retrospect, I think I've bought marrow bones there before so I probably could have done a less lazy job at this if I'd thought it through.

The crostata was really good with the black cherry jam. It was actually a lot like a scone in texture and flavor, but who doesn't like scones? It was my kids' favorite part of the meal (of course) and easy to make, too. In fact I'd have to say the whole meal was pretty low stress, as TbS meals go.

Next week we're going east, to Lithuania. I had some fun (haha) with that one and am looking forward to telling you about it.
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