Sunday, May 15, 2011



Our very first From Plate to Page workshop is approaching like a speeding train coming at us head on and we are tied to the tracks (though no Damsels in Distress, we four!)! I have been neck deep in conversation and preparation with Ilva, Meeta and Jeanne, tying up loose ends, planning the menus, dealing (happily) with our fabulous sponsors and finalizing details for our own writing workshop sessions with Jeanne so I have had very little time to devote to my own blog and my own dear readers. Bear with me for just a little while longer then hopefully I will be back with you a little more often.

Today I want to share a tale of two girlfriends who met across oceans and cyberspace, meeting somewhere in the middle. At first we tiptoed around each other, curious but hesitant, nervous yet intrigued, feeling the tug of compassion and interest yet not sure how fast to move forward. But we had too much in common and found that friendship grew in spite of our timidity. We were just two nice Jewish girls who had married Europeans, lovely, creative, talented men each. We share a peculiar subtle, intellectual yet wickedly sly sense of humor. We are both somewhat innocently naïve about people and the world at large and I can only hope and pray that I am half as generous and kindhearted as she. We each harbor a passion for travel and culture, a love of great food and feeding others and a joy of family. We are both passionate writers, loving the magic of the word, the beauty of black on white and the potential power contained in each word, phrase, story. And we both love Italy. Yes, of course, these two women are Lael and myself.

But I must backpedal a bit first. Lael was far from the first of her family whose notice was brought to my attention. It was actually in Italy about 15 years ago that I first learned of the illustrious name of Hazan. Living in the center of Milan, there was never a doubt that such a reader as I would not rapidly discover the tiny, dark English bookstore barely off the beaten track, slightly askew from the main stretch of road that rambled and bustled through my part of the city. I would spend hours in that warm, homey space, heaven for the book passionate, my fingers skimming softly along rows of book spines, murmuring titles softly under my breath. Occasionally, one would call to me, luring me into the pages between an intriguing cover or arousing my curiosity with a catchy title. I would carefully pull it from amongst the others, slide my hand down the cover as against a lover’s bare skin, hold it up to my nose and, eyes closed, breathe in the luxurious bouquet like a fine wine, the new book aroma making me dizzy with thoughts of quiet childhood moments nestled in an armchair or in the branches of a favorite tree, hidden from the world, losing myself in an adventure. Or I, already fascinated by food and cooking and the magic of a great cookbook, would wander over to the cookbook shelves and scan the meager offerings. And there it was, Marcella Hazan, the name veritably jumped out into my waiting hands, book after beautiful book on, yes, Italian cuisine. But as new a cook as I was, it was all too overwhelming for me and, losing all confidence, I always came to the conclusion that I simply could not live up to her recipes, my novice to her master, and sadly I would walk away, back out into the harsh Italian sunlight and find my way back home with yet one more Charles Dickens carefully tucked under my arm.

Many, many years later, traveling through space and time and happily ensconced in my new life, somewhat more confident in my cooking abilities, albeit much more secure in my talent as a writer than ever a cook I could be, I published my first articles on The Huffington Post. And lo and behold, the appearance of the second illustrious Hazan in my life: Giuliano left a warm, exuberant comment on one of those pieces I had written. And contact was made, Facebook and Twitter, such a charming, friendly man. And this connection followed quickly by an introduction to his wife, Lael. Oh we found each other without his help but the excuse was there to meet. And meet we did and slowly but surely a friendship bloomed across the miles, flying over that wide expanse of ocean. And finally, finally I bought a cookbook by a Hazan, Giuliano.

Far from Italy now, much too far for my own good, flipping through Every Night Italian brought all the sights and sounds, odors and flavors of my fabulous years in that marvelous country, a country where I truly learned the value of good food, ingredients straight from the dirt, simple cooking that turned those basic ingredients into something delectable, homey yet luxurious all at once. Arrosto, spezzatino, carciofi, budino and crostata, words that jump out at me from the page, are words heavy with memories for me, the first language of food for my baby boys, words infused with our seven years in Italy. My courage now stronger after years of experimenting and learning, I decided that it was time to delve into this book and….cook. And cook I did.

I began with Ossobuco in Agrodolce, Sweet and Sour Braised Veal Shanks, a twist on the traditional Ossobuco that I love so well, a favorite family meal. Normally I would serve this with a traditional Risotto alla Milanese, yellow saffron risotto, but selected instead Giuliano’s Risotto ai Pepperoni e Pomodoro Fresco, Red and Yellow Pepper Risotto, just to try two of his recipes at once. The meal was such an incredible success that several days later I made Pollo alle Olive Verdi, Chicken with Green Olives which, he explains, was actually first published in Marcella’s Italian Kitchen!

Well, friend or no friend, I warned Lael that I would be brutally honest – as friends should be – in my review of this book and the recipes. Well, to be totally upfront, I have to say that the food was stunning, amazing and simply fabulous! Each of the recipes was so simple to put together, even for the frazzled and less-than-confident such as me! And JP and I couldn’t get enough! The Ossobuco with the exotic flavors of a sweet and sour dish was probably one of the best meals we have eaten, although I will admit a simpler risotto would highlight the complex flavors of the Ossobuco much better. The Chicken with Green Olives was fabulous and maybe JP preferred this one of the two, yet I knew that both of these dishes were so heavenly, so flavorful and, yes, delicious, that each would become a part of my repertoire of family meals. All I know is that I had fallen in love with a cookbook and I will be making many, many meals out of it.

And an exchange of birthday gifts between Lael and me, who happen to both have birthdays in January, and I became the thrilled owner of How to Cook Italian, Giuliano’s third cookbook. Well, the book quickly filled up with tiny yellow stick-its bookmarking so many must-make recipes that it was truly hard to choose. But I settled on one filled with memories, a family favorite from Italy, Torta di Ricotta, a simple but far-from-humble Ricotta Tart, a special treat ordered after so many meals in so many Italian restaurants during those heady Italian years in Milan. And how was it? I must admit here that I had trouble with his pie crust, possibly because I had no food processor and it didn’t quite come together by hand (I felt it needed more butter), so I fell back on my own Sweet Pastry Crust. But the filling was a snap to put together, baked up beautifully, and created a simple yet luxurious, light yet creamy and just perfectly, tenderly sweetened ricotta tart and one that I most definitely will be making over and over again. JP swooned in delight and satisfaction with each mouthful, a sure sign of a great recipe in my home!

I already have so many recipes bookmarked that I will most definitely be making: the Torta della Nonna, Grandmother’s Custard Tart, Fettuccine or Risotto with Artichokes and of course Lael has heartily suggested that I make Giuliano’s Tiramisu and compare it to my son’s, all recipes from How to Cook Italian and his stunning Crostata all’Arancia, a Sicilian Orange Tart, and an incredible-sounding Semifreddo al Caffé from Every Night Italian. Do I have your attention yet?

Now, don’t think that I am going to give you every recipe from his wonderful books. No, no, you must go and find at least one of Giuliano’s Italian cookbooks very soon and make it your own to caress, ogle, stroke, read in the privacy of your own home. And cook. And cook. And cook. He offers us Italy in between the covers, simple, clean, flavorful dishes redolent of tradition and home.

Here is one recipe from each book, just enough for you to try and be tempted once you discover how easy and how fabulous they are. And if you are hungry for more delightful, delectable, thoroughly Italian recipes, visit Lael and Giuliano’s own blog The Educated Palate where you can also savor and enjoy Lael’s wonderful writing, her tales of family life and family cooking with some travel stories and fascinating facts and information thrown in. Thanks and a hug to Lael for being such a wonderful friend and to Giuliano for bringing me back to Italy in my own kitchen.

OSSOBUCO IN AGRODOLCE (Sweet and Sour Ossobuco)
From Every Night Italian by Giuliano Hazan

As Giuliano writes, this is a “different approach to the usual ossobuco… It is cooked with vinegar and raisins, whose sweet and sour flavors…complement the richness of veal shanks splendidly.” I say this is a stunning dish whose complex flavors and succulent, fall-off–the-bone-tender veal are my version of heaven.

¼ cup golden raisins
2 cups yellow onion, very thinly sliced crosswise
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 Tbs vegetable oil
About ½ cup flour, or enough to coat the veal
Four 1 ½-inch-thick pieces veal shank or veal for ossobuco
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small beef bouillon cube (I use chicken)
1 Tbs shredded fresh basil leaves
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with warm water.

Put the onion slices and the olive oil in a heavy braising pan large enough to hold all the veal in a single layer (I used my large Le Creuset Dutch oven). Place it over medium heat and sprinkle the onion lightly with salt. Cook until the onion turns a light caramel color. It may be necessary to raise the heat at the end to get the onion to color.

While the onion is cooking, put enough vegetable oil in a large skillet to come about ¼ inch up the sides and place it over high heat. Place the flour on a plate, roll the veal shanks in it and shake off the excess. When the oil is hot, carefully slip in the meat and brown it on both sides. Transfer to a platter and season with salt and pepper.

Once the onion is colored, raise the heat to medium-high. Add the vinegar and let it bubble for about 30 seconds. Put in the browned veal shanks. Add enough water to come halfway up the shanks and add the bouillon cube. Add the basil, thyme and lemon zest. Lift the raisins out of the water, squeeze out the excess water and add them to the pan. Cover and cook at a moderate but steady simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours, turning the veal occasionally. Add more water if the water evaporates before the veal is done; you want to end up with a thick sauce. If the sauce is too watery at the end, remove the meat, raise the heat and reduce the sauce until thick enough to coat a spoon. Serve hot with Saffron Risotto.

This is one of those long-simmered dishes that gets better over time, improving as the flavors meld and the meat tenderizes in the sauce over a day or two. Simply reheat the veal in the sauce, adding a bit of water if necessary, over moderate heat.

From How to Cook Italian by Giuliano Hazan

Lusciously creamy yet light and almost mousse-like, Giuliano adds chopped candied citron or lemon to the filling which I left out. Instead, inspired by my love of chopped chocolate bits in the rich ricotta filling of my Cannoli, I simply drizzled the top of the chilled tart with melted chocolate which solidifies as it hits the top of the cold ricotta filling and adds that fabulous crunch and a hint of slightly bitter chocolate flavor to the tart’s creaminess as you are eating it.

1 pre-baked Sweet Pastry Crust

1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup flour
3 Tbs confectioner’s or powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole milk
2 cups (1 lb/500 g) whole-milk ricotta
2 Tbs chopped candied citron, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly but thoroughly butter a deep dish 9-inch pie pan, pie dish or springform pan.

Prepare the Sweet Pastry Pie Crust following my directions found here then line the prepared pie dish. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough fitted and crimped into the dish and weigh down with pastry weights or dried beans. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes. Very carefully pull the pie plate out of the oven and lift out the parchment and beans then return the pie crust to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until very lightly browned and completely set. If using a glass pie plate, you’ll be able to see that the underside of the crust is uniformly golden brown. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack or hotplate.

After the crust is done, raise the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C).

Prepare the ricotta filling while the Sweet Pastry Pie Crust is baking:

Whip the egg, the yolk and the granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is smooth, thick and creamy and pale yellow. Add the flour, confectioner’s/powdered sugar and the vanilla and mix just until homogenous. Slowly pour in the milk while whisking on medium-low speed. Add the ricotta and blend thoroughly. If adding candied citron, stir it in now.

Pour the ricotta filling into the pie crust and bake until the filling is firm and begins to brown on top, 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Test by jiggling the pan gently. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving. Serve chilled, drizzled with a bit of melted chocolate, if desired.

The pie will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.


Nisrine Merzouki said...

Oh yum! I need to get Giuliano's book. The ossobucco and the tart both look out-of-this-world good.

Marnely Rodriguez said...

I can't read your posts in the morning, I now need some ossobuco for breakfast! and a slice of Ricotta pie...yum!

A Canadian Foodie said...

We love osso bucco but it really is difficult to find the cut here and doubly difficult to find it with ethically raised meat. Your photos are mouthwatering... the title, hilarious. I was wondering how in the world you were going to make an osso bucco tart! What an incredible ode to a very unusual friendship that has clearly blossomed into an intimate closeness enriching your heart and your kitchen. Just an amazing story - and then, I realized - it is a book review. NO! That is how skillfully you wove the relationship with your love of food and their work.Incredible piece of writing - and I particularly enjoyed your description of Italian food drawing flavour right from the dirt.
Great Sunday morning inspiration.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

two fabulous Italian recipes! The kind of food I crave and enjoy. As usual, your posts are always delightful. I'd love to sit at your table...



Linda Harding said...

Your writing is so beautiful Jamie!

I am simply craving that ossobuco now as a direct result of your gorgeous photos. And don't get me started on that velvety beauty that is your ricotta tart!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

Oh my, that tart. If it weren't for another I am finishing today from an Abby Dodge recipe I would be all over making that in my kitchen right NOW.

I've been lucky to get to know Lael as well and love this post about your long distance but growing relationship. My kids look at me with that glance I assume children give their parents who are showing signs of senility whenever I mention the word Twitter...they simply don't get it and I'm OK with's my space and my friends and that surely includes you and Lael!

I recently was fortunate to win some of their AMAZING olive oil and I did not want to make a dish that was not worthy. I hope you won't mind a link to the recipe that Giuliano gave me; it was the most simple and most amazing piece of steak I think I have ever had:

Lael knows this. I love her but that affection is transcended to Giuliano too...that man can cook!

To long distance girlfriends!

Lana said...

I laugh at myself when I remember my junior year essay which predicted the demise of close human relationships due to the infestation of computers and technology.
But where would we be now without the Internet? I cannot imagine not reading your articles:)
Enjoyed every word of this post, and the recipes look amazing.
Have fun at the conference! I wish we could swap places for a couple of hours, but even without it, I know it will be a wonderful experience.
Cheers to online friendships!

Carolyn Jung said...

Marcella's recipes are so bold and comforting. The ricotta tart is truly calling out to me. ;) said...

That ricotta tart looks absolutely delicious, Jamie. Beautiful writing and photography, as always. xoxo

Laurel said...

Sounds so delicious. I will definitely look for his books next time I'm at a bookseller. You are a gifted writer!

WiseMóna said...

I love Osso Bucco. It is impossible to find veal on our island. People just won't eat it. Imagine?
Looking forward to meeting you in person and very hopeful that Ricotta pie will be in the line up ;0)

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

We love osso bucco but veal is almost impossible to find where we live in the mountains. Fortunately I can get it in Florida in the winter when we're there. I must get this book. It sounds like I would be bookmarking every page.

A Thought For Food said...

Both of these look to die for! But seeing that I don't eat meat and that cheesecake may be my favorite food in the world, I have particularly strong feelings for that tart.

Nuts about food said...

I am happy to see you post about savory food again and love the recipes, especially the take on the sweet and sour ossobuco. Your post made me wish you were still in Milan, so we could perhaps meet over coffee and ricotta tart. It is wonderful you have made such solid friendships with your writing and posting.

khana pakana in urdu said...

Very good recipe! Good combination of sweet & sour!! You really made my day..

Barbara Bakes said...

After reading this post, I'm a bit jealous of your time spent living in Italy. The food looks fabulous. Love the chocolate drizzle on the tart. I'll have to look for the cookbooks.

cream chargers said...

It looks so yum.
Can't wait to taste it.
Will be trying it today itself

Lisa said...

I loved reading about your meeting with Lael. I have two Marcella cookbooks, and have yet to cook from them (I can't believe it myself, but cookbooks always end up in my bookcase gathering dust until I have food block), but now I'm tempted to buy Giuliano's also, if only for that ricotta tart! Come to to think of it, I haven't had Osso Bucco in quite some time. Now my mouth is watering, so I need to x out - light eating still in effect lol

Cathy said...

I'm thrilled to have your ricotta tart recipe, Jamie. I had the most delicious tart in a cafe in Paris and would love to be able to duplicate it at home. This looks like it might be close. I can almost taste it when I look at your beautiful photos.

Rambling Tart said...

It makes me happy to know you two found each other in this big world, Jamie. :-) You both inspire and delight me and renew my love of good things. xo

OysterCulture said...

I've been the kitchen pronto to make this yummy meal. It sounds just amazing. What a wonderful way to celebrate Memorial Day here in the US, now if I can get my hands on some missing ingredients.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

The name Hazan is magic in the Italian culinary sphere. So I'm not surprised this book is so terrific. I'm going to get it and have lots of fun making these recipes, especially that ricotta tart. Your photos are delectable.

asiangrrl said...

Jamie, this post is jam-packed with so many delectable morsels, both in the storytelling and in the recipes. I savor every word and picture.


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