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


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.


Recipes from Liguria, Italy


Hey guess what, I achieved a Travel by Stove first this week! That's right, I nearly burned down my kitchen. Not only was it a Travel by Stove first, it was also the first time I've ever done anything like that at all, ever.

I know you're wondering what happened, but first I have to talk about Liguria, Italy.

Liguria is a narrow strip of land that borders the Ligurian Sea. On the other side of that narrow strip of land are the Alps and the Apennines, so there's a lot of mountainous land in the region. Much of the coastline is rocky, and in some places the cliffs and mountains rise right out of the sea.

The capitol of this part of Italy is Genoa, which has a long and sordid history, starting with its role as an important port city in the first crusade (for a fee, Genoese ships would carry European knights and troops the the Middle East). After that it became heavily involved in the the spice trade, which explains why hometown hero Christopher Columbus was so interested in finding a faster route to the East Indies.  

You probably already guessed that a lot of the food in Liguria is seafood-based, which is what you would expect from a land that's pretty much all coastline. Seafood isn't the only thing going there, though, in fact Ligurian tastes cover the gamut from fish to poultry to beef to cheese to vegetables. So if food is your thing and you were thinking of visiting Italiy, Liguria should definitely be one of your stops.

Portofino, Liguria, Italy. Photo by Callum Moy.

And here's another fun fact: pesto was invented in Liguria. Which was perfect for me, really, because I have a basil garden growing out of control in my office and I really needed a reason to use some of it up. So with that in mind, here's my menu:

Trenette with Pesto
(from Academia Barilla)
  • 1 lb trenette pasta*
  • 1 oz basil
  • 1/2 oz pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 1/2 oz grated Pecorino cheese**
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
*Trenette is similar to linguine. I couldn't find trenette because it's a little bit obscure in California, so I just used linguine for mine.

** Pecorino is widely available in California supermarkets, unless I'm looking for it. I had to sub some of last week's montasio cheese and some romano for the pecorino, and I honestly don't know how good a sub that was. Tasted delicious, though. Anyway the next time I was a the grocery store I found pecorino cheese, which was annoying.

Some focaccia:

La Focaccia alla Genovese di Roberto
(from Rustico Cooking)
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup water
And a dessert:

Almond and Chocolate Torta
(from Channeling Nonna)
  • 5 oz butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp light extra virgin olive oil or an additional 5 oz butter
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Let's make the dessert first, since I'm sure you are still dying to know how I nearly burned down my kitchen:

First put the oil, butter and sugar (or just the butter and sugar, which is what I did) into your mixer and beat until fluffy. Then add the eggs and mix for another minute, but take care not to let the eggs curdle.

Now add the zest, vanilla flavoring and the almond flour.

Mix until just combined. Finally, add the all-purpose flower, salt and baking powder. Turn your mixer down to low and mix just enough to get a smooth batter, but not too much more than that. Finally, add the chocolate chips.

When the chips are distributed throughout the batter, get out your fire extinguisher because you might need it. Now transfer the batter to a springform pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden (put a toothpick in the center if you're not sure, if it comes out clean it's done). Cool, then serve.

Now here's what happened when I made this--there was so much butter in this thing, that it actually started leaking out of the seams of the springform pan, and then it landed on the bottom of the oven and burst into flames. Fortunately I didn't have to extinguish the thing because after hearing my screams of panic my husband came running and reassured me that it would burn itself out and I was not in fact about to burn the house down, though I still don't believe him. Anyway it did burn itself out and my cake came out slightly smoked, though that was not the only problem with it. More on that later.

Next make the bread. First combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of salt and the sugar in an electric mixer. Now add the water and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Stir until the dough starts to come together, then either use a dough hook or knead it by hand (I used my bread machine, because I'm a cheater that way).

You may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky, or a little more water if the dough is too dry. Now add the yeast and keep kneading. The final product should be smooth and easy to work.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Now move the dough to a pizza pan and press it into the pan. Cover and let rest for another 30 minutes. Dimple the dough with your fingers, taking care not to tear it. Cover again and let rise for another 30 minutes. 

Mix the rest of the olive oil with the rest of the salt and the 1/4 cup of water.  Pour over the dough. Bake at 475 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden and slightly crisp. Serve.

And finally, the pesto pasta:

Put the basil, garlic and pine nuts into a food processor. Pulse, adding the oil slowly.  

When the mixture is creamy, add the cheese. Keep pulsing until you get a lovely green paste. Add the salt to taste.

Now, my pesto was a little bitter, probably because my basil leaves were on the large side and you're really supposed to use younger leaves for pesto. So I added more cheese, pine nuts and salt to help counter the bitterness, and in the end I had delicious pesto. Make sure that you taste yours and adjust, because all basil is not created equal. 

Now cook the trenette (or linguine) in salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss with the pesto. You can dilute the pesto with a little bit of that pasta water, if you need to. Top with a little bit of grated parmesan and serve. 


The pesto pasta was by far the most delicious part of this meal. I suppose all that really fresh basil had something to do with it but yes, it was really good. Even my kids loved it, which is saying something since they won't normally go near anything that's green, even if it's frosting on a St. Patrick's Day cake. The focaccia was also very good--it was salty, crispy and soft all at the same time. The cake, unfortunately, hmm. It was really oily, which shouldn't surprise you considering that it set the oven on fire. It was so oily that when you bit into it the grease kind of pooled up in your mouth, which really wasn't very nice at all. I'm giving the recipe the benefit of the doubt, though. Maybe that extra five ounces of butter wasn't a very good substitution for the oil. Or maybe some other measurement was totally off. At any rate, I wouldn't recommend this recipe as printed above. Normally I love butter, but when there's that much of it you might as well be eating it by the stick.

So we're on a trifecta of Italian provinces, culminating next week with Lombardy, Italy. See you then!





Recipes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy


So after last week, I needed to restore my faith in cheese. I'm pretty sure I can still smell that appenzeller. Blech.

Anyway, what better place to look for a wonderful, non-stinky new cheese than Italy? I've still got a few regions leftover from earlier in the alphabet, so it's time to backtrack. This week we're going to Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia borders Slovenia and Austria and is located on the back cuff of the boot, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Historically, the region was an important one, and I don't mean to the people of Italy. The Germanic and Slavic people in particular liked Friuli-Venezia Giulia, because as a region it is the most accessible from outside of Italy. Which means of course that those Germanic and Slavic invaders used it as a place to launch invasions. Imagine how annoying that must have been if you lived in Friuli-Venezia Giulia--"Oh good lord, here comes that damned Germanic army again."

It may surprise you to learn (as it did me) that Italian isn't the primary language spoken in this part of Italy. Much of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (especially the people who live in rural areas) speaks Friulan, which has roots in Aquileian Latin and pre-Roman languages like Gualish and Venetic. There are 300,000 native speakers of Friulan, most of whom also speak Italian.

Udine, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy. Photo by Andrea.
        
As might be expected, the cuisine in Friuli-Venezia Giula is heavily influenced by those Germanic and Slavic neighbors--you will find dishes like sauerkraut and strudel there, and lots of those heavier dishes containing potatoes, beans and cabbage that are so popular in the eastern European nations. As for me personally, I just wanted to find some nice cheese. It wasn't hard, because Friuli-Venezia Giulia has one cheese in particular that seems to crop up in a lot of different dishes: Montasio, which is a cow's milk cheese that originated in the region. Most famously, it's used in a dish called Frico, which is essentially a chip made out of cheese. You had me at "chip made out of cheese."

Anyway, here's the menu I selected this week:

Gnocchi in a Montasio cheese sauce with poppy seeds 
(from Snaidero-usa.com)
  • 1 lb of gnocchi
  • 1/2 lb semi-aged Montasio cheese
  • 2 tbsp of grated aged Montasio or Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup light cream or whole milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds, pounded or crushed
Cevapcici con Ajvar
(from Simple Italy)

For the cevapici:
  • 8 oz ground beef
  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped onion, plus extra for serving
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper
For the ajvar:
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Dash cayenne pepper
and of course:

Frico (Cheese Chips)
(from Lidia's Italy)
  • 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 lb Montasio cheese, shredded
And finally:

Cavolo Verza Arrosto con Pancetta Croccante
(from Rustico Cooking)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored, and cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 lb bacon, defatted and cubed
I started with the cabbage. First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 9x12 roasting pan. First arrange the cabbage on the bottom of the pan, then drizzle with the chicken broth and olive oil. 
 

Top with the spices and toss it all together with the garlic. Sprinkle the chunks of bacon on top.

Transfer to the oven and let roast for 45 minutes. Check on it a couple of times and give it a stir. When it's golden and starting to turn crispy, it's ready.

Now for the cevapcici. You may recall I did a dish a lot like this one with a similar name back in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in fact it may be too similar to this one though it was served differently and without the addition of the ajvar. Anyway the rest of my menu is varied enough that I didn't feel too bad about the repeat. Here's how to make:

First do the ajvar. Cut the bell pepper into strips and place it skin side up in a 400 degree oven (I lightly sprayed mine with some olive oil to help the roasting process). Put the eggplant in there too (I cut mine up but I don't think you need to). Roast until the skins begin to brown, which should take a half hour to 40 minutes. Move the bell pepper into a tupperware and seal for 10 minutes or so (this makes it a lot easier to get the skin off). Remove the stem, seeds and skin. Scoop out the soft flesh of the eggplant and then transfer both to a food processor. Add the remaining ajvar ingredients and puree until smooth. Add salt to taste.

Now mix together all the ingredients for the cevapcici. Roll the mixture into little cylinder-shaped sausages--they should be about 3 inches long and 3/4 of an inch around.

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame and cook on all sides until brown (this should take roughly five or six minutes).

Now for the gnocchi, which really couldn't be simpler:

Grate the cheeses. Meanwhile, heat the cream slowly until it reaches a simmer. Add the cheeses and stir until they melt. 

While you're making the sauce, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi. When they start to rise to the top of the pot remove them with a slotted spoon; they're done.  

Toss the gnocchi with the sauce until well-incorporated, then add the poppy seeds. Stir to combine and serve.

And finally, those cheese chips:

Melt the butter in a small skillet over a moderate to low flame, then sprinkle two tablespoons of cheese into the pan. Spread evenly and cook until golden on one side, then flip and cook for a few minutes longer. Let drain on paper towels. Keep going until you run out of cheese.

OK so first I want to say that I'm pretty sure I overcooked the cheese chips, because they were just a little bit too golden and maybe a bit chewy. But I liked them. Fried cheese, what's not to like? Warning: don't do this with appenzeller. I mean, I don't know if you can do it with appenzeller but I can just imagine what your kitchen would smell like.

Loved those little sausages and I thought the ajvar was really tasty, even though I don't generally like eggplant. It really added some interest to those otherwise basic sausages. The gnocchi was delicious too, because it was really just gnocchi in cheese sauce. It wasn't really unusual, but you know, it was gnocchi in cheese sauce. And I was actually quite fond of the cabbage, mainly because it's a vegetable that I like in most incarnations and one we don't eat a lot of, so it made for a nice change.

My husband enjoyed this meal too, though he's always wishing for things that are really interesting and unusual. Of course even the smaller areas of places like Italy have been done and done here in America, so I'm not sure what he expected. Good food is good food, it doesn't always have to be exotic.

You can guess what my kids thought of the food. Well, they ate the sausages because they're sausages, but everything else ... more for me. And yes, I did successfully restore my faith in cheese.

Next week we're still in Italy, but this time: Liguria
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy





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