Brunch all’italiana

One of the things I love doing more than experimenting with new recipes is cooking for friends and family. A couple of weekends ago, we invited good friends over for brunch. Mind you, I’ve never prepared a brunch before, but how hard can it be, right? So, I started brainstorming recipes; hearty Italian recipes that even an almost 2-year-old would eat (their daughter is the cutest thing on the planet). I settled on frittata [I had just scored 12 local and organic eggs] – focaccia (just like this one), some bruschette and carrot muffins.

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Francesco is a master frittata maker and I gladly left that task to him. We decided to have one veggie frittata –  with asparagus – and a meaty one – with bacon – to satisfy all appetites.

Although it could seem a bit intimidating, a frittata is just like an easy omelet.

  • First, prep the eggs. We used two whole eggs and one egg white and added salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, because it gives the dish an extra layer of flavor and because it’s one of my favorite spices. Add a little milk and whisk all the ingredients together.
  • For either frittata, we heated a non-stick pan (very important!) with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sauteed the asparagus until tender and the bacon until slightly brown. In both frittate with added scallions for crunch and flavor.
  • Pour the egg mixture in the pan making sure it covers the vegetables or the bacon. Add some Gruyere cheese.
  • Let the eggs cook for a few minutes, or until golden brown. Flip the frittata and let it cook for at least 5 minutes.
  • Serve warn. Sprinkle diced scallions as garnish.

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Le bruschette are, to me, the quintessential summer snack or appetizer. If you have some cherry tomatoes in the fridge, a few kalamata olives, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, you are in business.

Toast the bread, add fresh garlic by grating each clove on the grilled or toasted bread slice and add the tomatoes. It’s colorful, healthy, fresh and quick – definitely a winner in my kitchen.
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I was living in Naples, Italy when I tasted the best bruschette. It’s should not have come as a surprise since the Campania region has the juiciest and flavorful cherry tomatoes in the world. In a perfect bruschetta, the bread is soggy from the tomato juice and the garlic is so fresh, it is almost spicy.

What are you got-to brunch recipes?

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In which we finally bought a grill

It took us a year and three months, but we finally did it. We bought a grill (euphoria ensued). Since we moved in into our new home last year, I have been dreaming about the culinary possibilities of owning such a fantastic piece of equipment. It arrived in a box, disassembled, on a Tuesday night. It had been raining on and off for three days and the sky looked angry, dark clouds fast approaching. Of course we could not wait until the next day to put the puppy together.

We rushed, read the instruction one minute and checked the sky the next, but we made it…we built it, put a cover on it and waited for the rain, which never came.

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Now that this was a reality, I scrambled to find a good first recipe, but I realized that the simplest ones are always the best. We decided on grilled zucchini and patate al cartoccio, potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil and a good steak. It sounds really clique, but there is nothing better after a long day in the office then to come home, head straight to the backyard, grill and listen to the sound of the pond’s waterfall. Very relaxing.
zucchiniThe recipe for the zucchini is so simple, it almost cooks itself. Just slice the zucchini lengthwise making sure each slice is thick enough not to be burned as soon as you put them on the grill. Once the slices have reached your preferred doneness, I personally love a bit of burned crunch on the edges, place them on a plate and drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and fresh parsley for a hint of freshness…and summer.

I first made patate al cartoccio when I was still living at home. I remember we had some friends over for dinner and I wanted to contribute to the cookery and, let’s be honest, you can never go wrong with potatoes. I cut the potatoes in thin slices and placed them in a “cup” made of aluminum foil – just wrap the foil in a manner that forms a cup – and added extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt, pepper and rosemary. I closed the “cup” and put it on the grill. That’s it. No stirring necessary and the result is rather sophisticated. I let it cook for about 10 minutes, checking from time to time that nothing is burning. Serve it in the foil.

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I cannot reiterate enough how excited I am for this grill. I feel like I have a new world of possibilities to explore.

What are your favorite grilling recipes? I’d love to know!

My mom’s polpette (meatballs)

My mom’s polpette (meatballs) are the best. Hands down. She cooked them for my brother and I when we were athletic kids in need of a different kind of dinner. We were not picky eaters, but we were quick to get bored from pasta, pizza and other common dishes. That, and the combination of my mom’s curiosity and creativity in the kitchen made for a very entertaining cooking process. My parents wanted us to try all foods at least once and if we didn’t like it, not a problem….but at least we made up our own mind and did not settle for what our friends thought. I am so glad they did that. There are plenty of foods I don’t like, even in adulthood, but still today, I would give anything a try. (My mom once prepared soy ragu’ and told us it was real meat. She didn’t fool anyone, but I was actually fond of the taste….my brother and dad not so much).

These polpette are different from the generic meatball. They are healthier and crunchier and they literally take 10 minutes to make.

What you’ll need: (makes 4 meatballs)

Half a pound of lean ground beef
1 egg
1 zucchini
1/2 cup of bread crumbs
1/4 cup of parsley
Smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Finely dice the zucchini and place them in a bowl. Add the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper and mix with your hands. The zucchini help the mixture from falling apart and add a crunchy bite.

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Once the mixture is uniform, grab a handful of mixture (depending on how big you want the meatball to be) and form a ball with your hands. Place them on a clean plate and repeat until you run out of mixture.

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At the same time, add extra virgin olive oil (or your preferred olive oil for frying) to a pan, making sure its entire surface is covered and tun on the heat to medium. My mom taught me a little trick to stop the oil from burning: add a piece of bread. Give it a try, it works every time.

Once the oil has reached the right temperature (you will want to hear a nice shhhhhhh), place the polpette in the pan, cover it and let it cook for a few minutes. Turn them over and let them cook until the outside is crispy and the inside is to your preference. Pat the polpette with a paper towel to remove excess oil. Eat.

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So quick and easy, this will become a favorite – it was the first time Francesco tried polpette with zucchini. Positive verdict means many more polpette on the horizon.  Buon Appetito!