Torta Pasqualina

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i was lucky to travel to italy many years back when i was still in school. i was there over the spring and had the pleasure of experiencing easter mass at the vatican. it was a mass filled with traditions. italy is full of tradition and when it comes to food there is no exception. it was while i was in italy that i really began my true passion for food. i was lucky enough to take a cooking class as part of my studies, and being that it was the easter (pasqua in italian) season we learned to make torta pasqualina. it is traditionally served during this time of year and is a savory flan filled with green vegetables, ricotta, and eggs. in fact it is seen as luck if you cut into it and get an egg in your slice. 

Crust Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups flour (600g)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbls olive oil

Filling Ingredients:

  • 500 g spinach (2 large pre-washed spinach)
  • 1 leek (diced)
  • 1 small onion (diced)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 4 sprigs of thyme (leaves only)
  • 2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese (grated)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 8 sage leaves
  • nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 egg yolks and 6 egg whites

Equipment:

  • springform pan
  • stand mixer with dough hook
  • kitchen scale
  • large pot or dutch oven

Directions:

in a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine flour and salt and mix slightly. add water and mix slightly to incorporate some water into the flour then add the oil and let mix for a minute or two until a dough ball starts to form. remove dough and begin to need on a large well floured surface for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. cut the dough into 4 parts, with two of the pieces being slightly larger. a kitchen scale comes in handy for this, as you want the large pieces to be about 300 grams and the smaller pieces to be about 185 grams. cover with a damp cloth and let rest for about 1 hour (this give you time to make the filling).

dice up the leek (after washing it well to remove all the dirt trapped between the blades), onion and garlic. in a very large stock pot or large dutch oven, heat some oil and add the leeks. cook for a few minutes to let the soften, then add the onion, garlic, and thyme leaves. season with some salt and pepper and cook the onion until it begins to become translucent (about 4 minutes). begin to add handfuls of spinach to the pot and keep adding more as it wilts down until all the spinach has been added. stir continuously until all the spinach has wilted. add more salt and pepper to taste. place out the spinach filling onto a sheet tray to cool.

in a bowl combine ricotta and 1 cup parmigiano cheese. chop up the sage leaves and add it to the cheese mixture, along with a healthy grating of nutmeg, pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. mix well and taste to see if it needs more nutmeg, or salt. add in two eggs and mix well.

once the spinach is cool enough to touch and handle, grab a handful at a time and squeeze into a ball over the sink to try and squeeze out the moisture. wrap the ball in a paper towel and squeeze again to get as much moisture out. set the small ball onto a cutting board and repeat with the remaining spinach. dice up each ball of spinach and place into a bowl. add 1 cup parmigiano and 1 egg and mix well. 

pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. oil a spring form pan and set aside. flour a large surface area to roll out the dough. grab one of the larger pieces of dough and begin to roll it out until it is thin and approximately 2 feet in diameter. gently place the thin layer into the spring form pan so that it creates a flat surface, then runs up the sides of the pan and drapes over the edge. brush this layer with oil and repeat with the second piece of dough. once the two have been draped it's now time to fill in the torta. spoon in the spinach first creating a smooth even layer. then spoon in the ricotta cheese on top. create 5 evenly distributed dimples into the ricotta cheese and place an egg yolk in each dimple (you should have 1 egg yolk remaining). whip the egg whites slightly and then pour on top of the ricotta and egg yolks.  roll out one of the smaller pieces of dough into a thin layer about 1 1/2 feet in diameter and drape over the torta, sealing in the filling. brush with oil and repeat with the last piece of dough. trim the draped dough by cutting along the top of the spring form pan, then roll the dough onto the top of the torta. whip the remaining egg yolk and brush it over the top of the torta. bake for 1 hour. after an hour, if the top is not lightly brown and cooked through, brush with oil and cook for another 10-15 minutes. let cool slightly before cutting into it. 

Tortillas

Corn Tortillas

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups masa harina
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/8 cup warm water

Equipment:

  • Tortilla press (you can find a cheap one for about $25 online)
  • Tortilla warming dish (again, you can find cheap ones online)

Directions:

mix masa harina and salt together in a stand mixer on medium low setting. add in water and mix until incorporated. take out of mixer and begin to kneed. add more water if needed, as you want the dough to be as soft and moist, but not sticking to your hands. if it is sticking to your hands kneed in a bit more masa. if it's too dry you will see it forming cracks when you lightly squeeze it. kneed into a ball and cover with a damp towel while you heat up your pan on medium high heat (this can be a cast iron, or a non stick frying pan).

cut the dough into 12 equal pieces and then genitally roll each piece into a small ball (about the size of a ping pong ball). again, cover these with a damp cloth, taking one out at a time to press. place a piece of parchment paper down on the bottom of the press and place a ball of dough down, genitally flattening it a bit. place another piece of parchment paper on top and close the press. place the tortilla in the pan on cook for 30 seconds or so before flipping it. let cook another 30 seconds. flip and repeat the process but now cut cooking time down to 10-15 seconds per side. 

place cooked tortillas into the warming container and serve sooner than later

 

Flour Tortillas

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup shortening (or lard if you want to be traditional and non vegetarian)
  • 2/3 cup warm water

Directions:

in a stand mixer, combine flour, salt, and baking powder and mix slightly. add in shortening or lard and mix until the flour is grainy. add in warm water and mix until combined. take dough out and kneed briefly until a smooth dough is formed (don't overwork the dough). cut dough up into 16 pieces and roll into balls. cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 15 minutes.

on a floured surface, grab a tortilla ball and flatten it with your palm. then with a rolling pin, roll out the edges, rotating the tortilla as you do so, into a disk approximately 6 inches in diameter. 

on a hot cast iron or non stick pan, place the tortilla down and cook for about 45 seconds. tortilla will start to bubble. flip tortilla and cook on the other side for about 30 seconds. your tortilla should have nice golden cook marks on each side, so you may need to do a few more flips, for just a few seconds on each side. 

place in a tortilla warmer and serve as soon as possible. 

 

Braised Beef Cheek

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the first time i had beef cheek was at an excellent cabin of a restaurant/pub in williamsburg. i immediately fell in love. beef cheek is a rare ingredient that may scare folks away at first. don't be scared by it. it's probably the most tender cut of beef you can possibly have. completely melts in your mouth when cooked right. it may be hard to find, but worth the search. if you absolutely can't find it, or you are too chicken to give it a try, brisket can be used in its place. although brisket is tender too, i assure you, it is nothing like beef cheek. 

i wanted to try a few different things in this braise. instead of a traditional wine braise (which could easily be adapted for this recipe), i wanted something a little sweeter and unusual, so i went with a fortified wine. my go to sweet vermouth is always cocchi vermouth di torino. there is no substitute in my mind. it will change your negroni for the better, fyi. i also introduced probably my favorite ingredient of all time: black garlic, sometimes, but rarely, called fermented garlic. it has a nice caramelized, almost molasses like flavor to it. again, this is a hard ingredient to find but becoming more popular and may be found at some whole foods or online. regular garlic may also be used in this recipe if you can't find black garlic, but i would add a tablespoon of molasses, added right after you saute the vegetables, and before you add the vermouth. 

now on to the good stuff!

Braised Beef Cheek

Ingredients:

  • 2 beef cheeks (approximately 1 lbs each)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced leek
  • 5 cloves black garlic
  • 3 star anise
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 Tbs olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet vermouth

Directions:

pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

pat dry beef cheeks and salt and pepper each side and set aside. in a dutch oven pot heat oil (or melt butter) over medium heat. place beef cheeks in pot and brown on all sides. take out of pot and let rest on a plate.  place onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, star anise, and clove into pot. and a pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper. saute for about 4 minutes, letting the onions sweat. once onions begin turning translucent, add vermouth and bring to a simmer, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. add beef cheeks back into pot.  add beef broth, enough to cover the beef cheeks (water can be added as well to insure the cheeks get submerged as best they can). bring liquid to a boil, about 5 minutes. cover with a lid and place in oven until tender, approximately 4 hours. turn cheeks halfway through cooking.

while this is cooking you can make the celery root puree and mushroom & kale topping. (recipes below)

once cooked, remove beef cheeks, cover and rest. strain vegetables from the liquid, reserving the liquid and discarding the vegetables and spices. add liquid to a sauce pan on medium to high heat and begin to reduce until half.

to plate, place a dollop or mound of celery root puree (as much as you'd like) onto a plate. quarter the beef cheeks and place one piece on top of the puree. garnish with mushrooms and kale. pour a slight amount of the reduction over the meat. 

Celery Root Puree

Ingredients:

  • 2 celery roots (approximately 1 lbs each, diced into 1 inch cubes)
  • 1 russet potato (peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes)
  • 1 small onion (peeled and quartered)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

bring milk and water with a pinch of salt to a boil in a large stock pot. reduce heat to a simmer and add vegetables, cooking until tender, about 30 minutes. drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Place butter, pinch of salt and pepper, and cooked vegetables into a high powered blender. begin to blend, adding a little bit of liquid at a time if needed to help blend the vegetables. blend until it reaches the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. add more salt if needed. puree is best served warm.

celery root puree can be made a day in advance and reheated on the stove, adding a bit more liquid if needed to re-heat. 

Mushroom & Kale Topping

Ingredients:

  • 2 large handfuls of shiitake mushrooms (sliced) (approximately a pound)
  • 1/2 bunch of lacinato kale (diced into 1-2 inch pieces)
  • 1/2 leek (diced)
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar 
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

in a saute pan heat half the olive oil in a pan and add the leeks. add a pinch of salt and let sweat and cook until tender and begin to brown slightly, about 10 minutes. transfer to a bowl. add remaining oil and saute kale until it wilts and get crispy on some of the edges, about 7 minutes. transfer to bowl with leeks. add butter to pan and melt. add sliced mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper. cook, stirring occasionally,  until mushrooms lose some of their moisture and pan begins to dry, about 15 minutes. add balsamic vinegar and bowl of leeks and kale and saute for an additional minute or two. add more vinegar or salt and pepper to taste. 

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups Guinness
  • 1 stick + 2 Tbs Butter (unsalted)
  • 6 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6 Tbs sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Directions: 

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat Guinness and butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat until all the butter is melted. Immediately remove from heat and whisk in sugar and cocoa powder. Whisk until sugar is dissolved. If liquid is still hot, whisk more and/or let pan rest in an ice bath. In a separate bowl, combing sour cream (make sure you really scrape it all out of the tablespoon. you want to make sure you capture this, as it's what makes the cake so moist), eggs, and vanilla. Whisk until silky and add to the chocolate mix. Whisk until well incorporated. Mix flour and baking soda together then slowly sift in flour to chocolate mix whisking constantly. Avoid any lumps in the batter. Batter will be thin... don't worry. 

Butter a spring form pan or cake pan and pour in batter. (alternatively, small mason jars may also be used to make individual "Guinness pint" servings of cake. fill just over half way). Place spring form pan on a cookie sheet, in the event some batter leaks out of the pan, and place in oven for 45-50 minutes. 

Let cake cool. More than likely the cake has mounded some. I prefer to cut this top off so i have a flat cake surface to spread the frosting. 

Either spread or pipe on cream cheese frosting to the cake and serve. 

Pumpkin Ice Cream and a shot of whiskey compliment this cake swimmingly. 

 

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 5 Tbs butter (unsalted)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbs Guinness

Directions:

Let cream cheese and butter come to room temperature so they are soft. In a mixing stand, whip cream cheese and butter together and medium speed for 3 minutes, until well incorporated. Add in 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and slowly mix in, gradually turning the mixer up to medium high. Add more sugar if needed. Add in vanilla and Guinness and whip for a 30 seconds. 

 

Semolina Pasta Dough

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup 00 flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

on a clean, smooth surface, mix and mound flour. slowly make a mound in the flour, widening it with each pass until it is approximately 3 inches in diameter and can easily hold 1 cup of water. pour in water, and with a fork begin to stir and whisk in flour. scrape more flour in from the edges with each few passes until all the flour is incorporated. then with your hands begin to kneed the dough. this will be rough at first, and you may think it needs more water... don't add more water. kneed for 20 minutes until the dough is completely smooth. wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

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roll out into the pasta shape of your choice, such as cavatelli, storzzapreti, trofie, orecchiette