Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

So Shabbat was coming. My husband was busy making challah and I was trying to decide what I could make for dinner that would feel special. And it was 90 degrees outside! So I came up with this delicious, Greek-inspired, sheet-pan chicken with only one pan to wash. And if I am really being lazy, I can use aluminum foil on the pan and have nothing to wash!

I’m sure that I’m not the only one to have come up with this idea. But mine came to me at 2:00 am when I couldn’t sleep. It’s based on decades of cooking and eating, rather than a recipe. It is an easily adaptable recipe and I have already thought of several variations for other Friday night dinners. Since it is just the two of us, I only made a relatively small batch, but this can easily be doubled or tripled.

Growing up, when chickens were delivered to our house by Irving The Chicken Man, my preference was for chicken wings and breasts. But nowadays, when so many chickens are bred with these ginormous, flavorless and often rubbery breasts, I prefer to use thighs. They have more flavor, stay juicier and more tender and are almost impossible to overcook. And they tend to be cheaper too. Need I say more?

For other delicious sheet-pan chicken recipes:

Nigella Lawson’s Sheet Pan Chicken, Leeks and Peas

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel & Lemon

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Ingredients

About 2 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (You can also use drumsticks, if you prefer)

4 to 5 golden or baby Bliss (red) potatoes, quartered lengthwise

1 lemon, sliced into rounds

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup pitted cured green olives (You can use olives with pits, but be sure to let people know when serving!)

1/4 cup pitted cured black olives (If you only have one kind of olive, then use 1/2 cup)

Juice of 1 lemon plus enough vinegar (I used Balsamic) if necessary to make a generous 1/3 cup

A 5 Tablespoons of EVOO

1.5 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Optional Garnish

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro or any fresh Mediterranean herb

Directions

Make deep slits on both sides of the chicken thighs. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of chicken and place in a glass or aluminum bowl or clean resealable, heavy-duty plastic bag.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Add the sliced lemon, potato wedges, sliced garlic, olives and chopped rosemary.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the remaining ingredients and pour it over the chicken mix. Refrigerate for at least one hour, but up to overnight is okay.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Remove from the fridge one hour before ready to cook. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the solid ingredients from the bag or bowl and place, skin-side down on a rimmed sheet-pan that has been lightly oiled. Lightly sprinkle with some additional salt and paprika.

Mediterranean Sheet-pan Chicken

Place in the top third of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then turn the chicken to be skin-side up. Again sprinkle lightly with additional salt and paprika. You can also turn over the potato wedges. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the chicken and potatoes are golden brown. Remove to a platter and garnish with the chopped parsley if you are making a presentation or just serve from the pan to be unfussy. Either way, feast and enjoy!

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad is sweet, smoky, savory and utterly addictive. Personally I have never understood someone who says they won’t eat eggplant (aubergine). There must be literally hundreds, if not thousands of ways to prepare it. And it comes in many shapes, colors and varieties. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and sensuous of vegetables. Although technically a fruit, in everyday usage we refer to it as a vegetable. I haven’t discovered a way yet that I don’t simply love it.

However, if you are one of those people – and you know who you are – this recipe just might make a convert out of even you. This salad is beloved in Israel and is a star at the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. Zahav (meaning “gold” in Hebrew) is the brainchild of award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov, who has a cookbook of the same name.

As I have mentioned many times in my blog, Mediterranean food in general and Middle Eastern food specifically, is my very favorite of cuisines. I could, and often do, eat it every day. This cuisine is very veg-forward and makes liberal use of fresh herbs and spices. Whenever possible, I try to grind my spices fresh for both this cuisine and when I make Indian food. The difference is incredible. And with an inexpensive spice or coffee grinder, you can have fresh spices in seconds.

Chef Solomonov is an exciting chef and a charming raconteur. His cookbook is a great read and has some wonderful and vivid food photos, but the recipes or at least the directions are inexact. They don’t always even correspond to the accompanying photos. So it was good when I was thinking of making this recipe that I happened to watch him on YouTube first.

Below is Michael Solomonov’s recipe with my clarifications. It’s a wonderful salad that would be just one of many at any Israeli meal. Salatim is a hallmark of Israeli cuisine and are eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, I make a meal simply of salatim and a good pita or laffa.

Salatim

The eggplant salad will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, although I think is most flavorful at room temperature. So take it out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve it.

You won’t need a lot of ingredients for this recipe. I would use either “Italian” Eggplant or a “Graffiti” Eggplant. Italian is the standard one that most grocery stores carry. You want to choose eggplants that are firm, weigh about 1 pound and have unblemished skins.

While the Zahav recipe calls for sherry vinegar, almost any vinegar can be used. And while I love sherry vinegar, it can be pricey. So feel free to swap it out for a white vinegar or decent red wine vinegar.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

For some other eggplant dishes (‘Cuz I know that I’m gonna make a fan out of you yet!):

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Recipe

Yield: About 5 cups

Ingredients

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

2 Medium eggplants, peeled and cut into thick rounds

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

About 6 Tablespoons Canola Oil (You can use Olive Oil but it has a lower smoke-point and will burn more easily)

1 cup chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 cup chopped onion

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

1/4 cup vinegar (Sherry is ideal but any decent vinegar will do)

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

A few cracks of black pepper

Directions

Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds with the kosher salt. Place them on a rack over a tray or on top of paper towels to absorb the bitter liquid as it drains. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Add oil to film the bottom of a large, heavy skillet. I didn’t have non-stick, which is preferable, but you can use well-seasoned cast iron. Set over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the eggplant rounds. (Blot off any liquid first!) Avoid over-crowding the pan and work in batches if necessary. Cook until almost black on the first side, about 10 minutes. Turn and repeat on the second side, adding more oil if necessary. Remove the eggplant to a plate. As you can see, mine aren’t perfect, but you are going for the round in the bottom right foreground. Yep, that one!

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Either in the same pan or in a largish saucepan, add 2 Tablespoons of oil. You could use Canola here as well, but olive oil would be the better choice. You are no longer frying anything so the high smoke point isn’t essential and the olive oil lends a better flavor.

Add the bell pepper, onion and spices and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown – about 10 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Now add the eggplant back to the pan along with the vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, mash up the eggplant coarsely as it cooks until everything combines. Continue to cook until the vinegar has evaporated. This takes about 8 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice and parsley and mix through. You shouldn’t need any additional salt since we never rinsed the salt off of the eggplants in the beginning. But a few cracks of black pepper never went amiss.

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Like many people, I can be seduced by fried foods. And I love nothing more than a slice of eggplant, well seasoned, lightly breaded and fried to perfection. But the truth is that I hate actually frying anything. Aside from the oil spatter (which I have to clean up – yuck!) the house always smells for days and then I am stuck with oil to discard safely. And the extra calories. Don’t even get me started on greasy fried foods cooked in oil that wasn’t quite hot enough or was burned because the oil was too hot. But this Oven “Fried” Eggplant is everything that I love and nothing that I hate about fried food.

What is really great about this Oven “Fried Eggplant” – aside from the results – is that it teaches you a method which you can almost endlessly riff on to please your palate. The seasonings I used are Italian-leaning, but you could just as easily sub in Indian or even Asian spices. And my husband and I ate this as a light supper with a delicious salad and a simple tomato sauce to dab on top. However, let your imagination be your guide rather than your limit. Layer the slices in a stack with slices of fresh mozzarella and thick slices of tomato and serve with arugula tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.

These wonderful Oven “Fried” Eggplant slices would make a great layer stuffed into a pita with slices of hard-boiled egg, hummus and Israeli salad or pickle for a delicious take on a Sabich sandwich.

Are you a fan of chutney or raita or tzatziki? Think how amazing this Oven “Fried” Eggplant would be with these instead of a tomato sauce? You could even make this as an appetizer with a variety of sauces and allow your guests (remember them?) to choose their favorite.

Eggplant
Oven “Fried” Eggplant

The key to making this work is two-fold – well maybe three-fold: 1) You have to slice your eggplant just the right thickness. Too thin and the eggplant will burn. Too thick and it won’t cook through before the breading burns. 2) You need to have a broiler and a shallow, heavy aluminum pan. 3) You have to watch it. If you have a convection oven, which I don’t, there is no need to turn the pan – only the eggplant needs to be turned over once. But without a convection oven, I rotated my pan halfway through each side. This really wasn’t difficult or even a big deal and the total cooking time is only about 16 minutes. But it’s not a great time to get busy with something else.

So enough chatter. Let’s cook up some Oven “Fried” Eggplant! This recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene. Frances and I have made many recipes from here, and they are always accurate. ANd it’s an interesting read.

Well, okay, a word first on choosing your eggplant. The eggplant should weigh about 1 to 1.5 pounds and be firm. If you want to double the recipe, that’s fine, but don’t choose a larger eggplant. Choose two instead. The larger the eggplant, the more the more likely you are to have bitter seeds. And you do NOT want that.

With an eggplant weighing one to 1.5 pounds, you should not need to salt your eggplant first to draw out the bitterness. This would work with almost any type of eggplant that comes in at around this weight. I just wouldn’t use really small ones. And while I did not make mine vegan, you can make this using an egg substitute. To make life easy for yourself, use a good store-bought brand of tomato sauce. You can doctor it with seasonings you like or buy it pre-seasoned. It doesn’t have to be hard to be good!

For other wonderful eggplant recipes:

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Moussaka

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Recipe

Yield: About 6 servings as a appetizer or 3 to 4 as a dinner with salad or pasta

Ingredients

Seasoned Breadcrumb Mixture (You can skip this and used purchased Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs if you are feeling lazy. The herbs and measurements are a suggestion.)

2.5 cups dried bread crumbs (Panko or regular)

1.5 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1.5 teaspoons dried onion powder

1.5 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

Eggplant

1 medium eggplant, about 1 to 1.5 pounds

2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute

2 Tablespoons Canola oil

Garnish

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

About 4 ounces of tomato sauce

Directions

Mix all of the ingredients together for the seasoned bread crumbs and place in a dish that will be large enough to hold the largest slice of eggplant.

Lightly oil or coat with non-stick spray (I used EVOO) one large, heavy metal baking sheet. (You could use two but why clean up more than necessary). Set a cooling rack over a second baking sheet or over paper towels or parchment. Set aside.

Cut off and discard the ends of the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into circles that are 3/8-inches thick. Size matters here. Use a ruler for the first one.

Preheat your oven to broil and place your baking rack 5 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Beat the eggs (or egg substitute) with the Canola oil in a dish that is deep enough and large enough around to fit the largest slice of eggplant. (I used a pie plate.)

Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg mixture and allow the excess to drip back into the dish. Immediately coat both sides of the eggplant with the breadcrumb mixture by laying it in flat, applying a small amount of pressure and then turning it over to repeat. Lay out the coated eggplant slices onto the prepared pan.

Broil the eggplant slices for a total of about 12 to 16 minutes. Turn the pan halfway for each side unless you have a convection oven so that you get even browning. Flip the slices halfway through. As soon as the slices are done, place them on the cooling rack to keep them crispy while you continue cooking any remaining slices. I did 2 batches.

When you are finished with all of the slices, arrange them on a platter. Sprinkle chopped parsley, basil or cilantro over the top. I grated a bit of parmesan as well, but honestly, it isn’t necessary.

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Savory Meat Pie

This Moroccan style savory meat pie will wake up your tastebuds. It was Thursday evening and I had nothing planned for Shabbat dinner. I could, of course, always make a chicken dish, but my husband was beginning to cluck. So I searched my freezer for some hidden gem and found a package of ground beef. But then what? In the back of my freezer was a long-forgotten package of phyllo dough and from that I created this dish.

Using my knowledge of Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking and knowing what we like to eat, I started to put together what turned into a delicious Shabbat – or anytime – dinner. All I needed to add were some beautiful roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs from my terrace garden and a mix of Middle Eastern salads for a delicious and satisfying summer dinner.

The beauty of this kind of dish is that you can make it in virtually any pan and depending on how you cut it and your sides, it can easily feed between 8 to 10 people. The only slightly tricky part is dealing with the phyllo dough. If you have never worked with phyllo before there are a few things you need to know in order to have a successful outcome.

You need two damp towels to keep the phyllo leaves from drying out. Once they do, you might as well throw it in the garbage. You also need some kind of fat to brush on the dough as you layer it. Since this was for Shabbat, I used a vegan buttery spread. Butter and even EVOO would also work. When I make baklava I generally prefer to use butter, although will also use good buttery vegan spread.

You also cannot skimp on the melted fat or try to speed up the process by plopping on too many layers of dough at once. Not if you hope to have a finished product with those lovely flaky layers that epitomize puffed pastry. I never add more than two thin layers at a time. Once you have mastered the phyllo, making baklava or spinach pie are a breeze.

And while I made this recipe with lean ground beef, you could easily use ground lamb, which frankly I prefer, but didn’t happen to have on hand. I used the spinach because I had it, but you could leave it out or use parsley or kale instead. The point is, don’t get bogged down. If you don’t have pine nuts, but you have blanched slivered almonds, use those.

Ras el Hanout was used because I have it on hand, but you could just as easily have used hawayij to change the flavor profile. If you have never used Ras el Hanout, I definitely recommend that you try it. You can buy it at any good spice shop or online or you can make it yourself. It’s a wonderful warm spice that is perfect with pumpkin or other squashes and gets you in the mood for fall. So have fun and get cooking!

This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature and is wonderful for a buffet. You can reheat any leftovers in a 350 degree F. oven for about 10 to 12 minutes. It will nicely crisp up the pastry and warm it through.

I hate waste. The phyllo dough came in a one pound package and I didn’t want to refreeze what was left over. So I took some apples that were beginning to wrinkle, sliced them very thinly without peeling them and layered it with a good cheese that would melt easily. It was all nestled between layers of phyllo in a shallow rectangular tart pan. I treated the phyllo with butter and baked it at 375 degrees F. for about 40 minutes. It made quite a treat for a light dinner or lunch with a bowl of lentil soup or a salad. If you wanted to add a very thin slice of a jamon, prosciutto or other smoked ham, that would work well too. And if you don’t have apples, but do have fig jam (I always keep a jar around) that would be just yummy.

Recipe

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

1.5 pounds very lean ground beef or lamb

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound blanched spinach, squeezed dry and roughly chopped

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large onion (I used yellow but red or white onion would work), finely chopped

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly pan toasted

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Rounded 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (freshly cracked black pepper is fine)

1.5 teaspoons Ras el Hanout

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 ounces tomato sauce

1/2 pound of phyllo dough (although you could use more if you want a LOT of pastry), defrosted in the fridge if previously frozen

6 to 8 ounces of butter or vegan buttery spread, melted

Directions

Butter (or use other fat) a 9 X 12-inch pan that is about 3-inches deep. Set aside. Almost any deepish pan or oven-proof skillet will work. This happened to fit my phyllo dough exactly.

In a large saute pan, soften the onion and garlic. Then add the ground meat, breaking it up in the pan. Cook until the meat loses its redness. Now add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, spices, raisins and spinach. Stir everything through to mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix through. Taste to adjust your seasonings.

My Ras el Hanout could have been a little fresher so I oomphed things up a bit with a little additional allspice and ground clove. There should be very little liquid. A bit of liquid is fine and will absorb into the meat as the mixture cools slightly. Too much liquid will make for a gummy end product. Set the mixture aside while you heat the oven to 375 degrees F. and prepare the phyllo dough.

Lay the phyllo dough out onto one of the damp tea towels. Then cover with the other towel. Working quickly, peel off two thin sheets of phyllo. If the sheets break, don’t worry. You can always patch. Lay the sheets in the pan that you have oiled. I chose 9 X 12 because it fit the dough perfectly but make your dough fit the pan. You can even fold it over. As soon as it is in the pan, brush the dough with the melted butter. Keep repeating this until you have laid down 8 sheets.

Now spoon in your meat mixture and spread it evenly. You can do this in one layer or you can divvy it up, which was what I did. So I placed half of the meat mixture down, then added more layers of phyllo (brushed with butter), then more meat. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter.

Once all of your meat mixture is in the pan, add the remaining phyllo dough two sheets at a time and spread with butter between layers. I used about 8 sheets but you can use more if you want more pastry. Take a very sharp knife and pre-cut your dough. I then sprinkled some additional Ras el Hanout on top, which is why my finished product looks so dark. It’s up to you. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Ovens vary so check it. As long as your pastry is puffed and the desired brown, the dish is done. The filling is really cooked before it goes in the oven. Now – enjoy!

Orange Semolina Cake

All over the Middle East you will find recipes for semolina cakes. This Orange Semolina Cake is exceptionally moist and the perfect end to a well-spiced meal. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s visit to Nicosia,Cyprus on his show City Bakes. As with most semolina cakes, this one is soaked with a delicious sugar syrup. But unlike other semolina cakes that I have eaten, the ingredients call for mastic.

My only familiarity with mastic is as chewing gum, so I was skeptical at first. But I have come to trust Paul Hollywood. He has the joie de vivre and puckishness of Julia Child and is fastidious in his baking. So if he said to use mastic…. Apparently, it is not uncommon in Greek and Cypriot cooking. Also known as the “Tears of Chios,” which sounds much more poetic than “gum,” it is a tree resin with a unique, refreshing flavor. While I am willing to adapt recipes to my own tastes and preferences, when I can, I try respecting the traditions and cultures that I am mimicking as long as they don’t conflict with mine. This Cypriot Shamali cake (known as Basbousa in other parts of the Middle East) is an example.

If you don’t wish to purchase mastic (mine came from Amazon) the cake should still be delicious without it, although you might want to increase the amount of orange zest. The flavor of the mastic was quite subtle and not like anything I could easily identify. It was definitely there, however, and quite nice. And since travel seems unlikely anytime in the near future, I was willing to spring for this (for me) unusual ingredient. As an armchair traveler, it seemed a relatively cheap investment.

Because semolina cakes are soaked in syrup, they hold up well and are even better the next day when everything has melded. You need to pour the syrup over the cake while the cake is hot from the oven. This will help the cake absorb all of the delicious orange-scented syrup. And you don’t want to miss a drop. It will seem like an enormous amount of syrup, but don’t get scared off. The cake will absorb all of it. And surprisingly, for all of the sugar, the cake is not extremely sweet.

The measurements are as I found them. I own a small, relatively inexpensive kitchen scale and have learned that conversions from weight to measures is not always accurate. No matter how you pack your measuring cup, however, 200 grams will always be 200 grams.

This cake is lovely and easy to make. Try it soon. You won’t be disappointed.

For other delicious semolina cake recipes:

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Recipe

Yield: 8 very generous servings

Ingredients

For the cake

190g caster (granulated) sugar

400g semolina flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mastic, crushed to a powder

Zest of a large orange (I used a navel)

170g natural yoghurt

2 medium eggs (I used large eggs and it was fine)

120ml sunflower or Canola oil

For the syrup

250g caster (granulated) sugar

300ml water

Juice of an orange

Garnish

25g chopped raw pistachio nuts

Directions

1. Line the base of a 20 cm. spring form cake tin (I used an 8-inch spring form tin which is just slightly larger) with baking parchment. There is no need to grease the tin.

2. Heat your oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. (375 degrees F.) Place all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth thick mixture. You could use a mixer if you like. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top to level. Bake for about 40 minutes until the cake is risen and when a skewer is inserted it comes out clean.

3. To make the syrup heat the sugar, water and orange juice. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

4. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack on top of a pan with sides (to catch the drips.) Score the cake into 8 serving pieces. Pour over the hot syrup. It will look as if the cake is drowning but almost all of the syrup will be absorbed within 10 minutes. Once most of the syrup has been absorbed, scatter the chopped pistachio nuts over the top. Leave to cool completely before serving.

Lemoniscious Ricotta Cookies

Lemoniscious Ricotta Cookies are rich, moist and citrusy bright. These perfect cookies are easy to make and even better to eat. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I LOVE lemons. And for me, there is no better finale to a delicious (or even not so wonderful) meal than a good dessert. Of course, these cookies would also be a wonderful accompaniment to afternoon tea. These lovely morsels are really mini-cakes and oh, so satisfying.

One bite and you get the sweet, moistness of the cake with a burst of fresh lemon. If you look back on recent posts of mine, you might detect a trend. That’s right – ricotta! It’s a lovely, creamy cheese along the lines of a farmer’s cheese. While it comes in low-fat versions, I only like to use whole milk ricotta in desserts. If you are lucky enough to live where hand-packed ricotta is available, that only needs a little vanilla extract, honey and cinnamon to make a delicious and quick dessert. Add some fresh berries and/or drizzle with some melted chocolate to make it a bit more decadent and a perfect no-bake dessert.

This cookie comes together quickly and there is no chilling of dough. You simply make the batter and bake it up. The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis. I am not generally a fan of hers but after a couple of tweaks, I have made a few things that have turned out well. And this is one recipe that you definitely should give a try.

For more delicious lemony desserts, try these:

Tarte Citron Mama

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Perfect Lemon Chess Pie

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the Cookies

2.5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

15 oz. whole milk ricotta

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Glaze

1.5 cups of powdered or icing (Confectioner’s) sugar

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon

Directions

For the Cookie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Using a large bowl, combine the butter and granulated sugar. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand as well.) Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Now add the ricotta, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and beat well to combine.

Stir in the dry ingredients. Do not over beat. Mix until everything is incorporated.

Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of batter for each cookie. The cookies will spread some so leave about 2 inches of space between. Bake until the cookies are just becoming golden at the edges. The original recipe said 15 minutes, but mine were a bit bigger than Giada’s and all ovens are different. My cookies ultimately took about 23 minutes. So keep an eye on them after about 18 minutes. They are so moist that it is difficult to over bake them. You do want the bottom to be golden and just barely dry.

Allow the cookies to cool on wire racks. After they are cool, you can glaze the cookies.

For the Glaze

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon or spatula to gently spread.

While the cookies can be eaten almost immediately after glazing, I would not pack them away until the glaze is truly dry which takes about 2 hours. It’s best to pack them with waxed or parchment paper between layers. The cookie cakes will continue to get moister and you don’t want them to stick to one another.

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

There are many foods that I can live without, but bread isn’t one of them. I enjoy it in all of the many forms and flavors that it takes. I love flat breads and fry bread. Herbed breads and sweet breads. And breads with crusts that make me thankful I have great teeth. Olive Rosemary Foccacia raises the volume on soups, salads and pastas. The pillowy chewiness of the center with the slightly salty crust and zing of fresh herbs makes this bread almost a meal in itself.

This easy-to-make recipe comes via Valerie Bertinelli and like just about every recipe of hers that I have tried, the directions are simple and it works out on the first try. As much as I like bread, even I can’t eat a whole pan of this delectable Olive Rosemary Focaccia in one sitting. Although it’s perfect for a family. So I ended up freezing half and saving some for another dinner. I definitely encourage you to eat this bread warm from the oven. Since mine was made a few hours earlier than we ended up eating dinner, I simply warmed it for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven when I was ready to serve. The same goes for bread that you froze and defrosted.

So the next time you want to turn turn up the volume on a bowl of soup, salad or pasta, try this Olive and Rosemary Foccacia.

For another take on focaccia try this recipe.

Recipe

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon sugar 

2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast 

3 1/2 cups bread flour 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for sprinkling (I have made this with just rosemary and with a mix of fresh herbs – rosemary, oregano and thyme. Works well either way.)

1 small yellow onion, quartered and sliced (Red onion works too)

One 5.3-ounce jar pitted green olives, drained (A mix of black and green or one or the other works. Use what you have. I used Kalamatos and Cerignola this time.)

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (Optional but really nice)

Directions

  1. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and grease with a thin layer of olive oil. (You can also make this directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment.)
  2. Place sugar and 1 1/2 cups slightly warm tap water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, salt and one tablespoon rosemary in a large bowl. Add to the mixer along with the oil. Knead the dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth, supple ball that is not sticky to the touch, about 5 minutes. Turn the dough out on the prepared sheet tray, drizzle with more olive oil and cover with a bowl or clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Using well-oiled fingertips, gently press the dough out onto the sheet tray, making dimpled indentations all over the dough. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for another 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Sprinkle the dough with the onions, olives and rosemary and drizzle generously with oil. Bake the focaccia until it is puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving. Don’t be stingy with the EVOO. The focaccia drinks it up and it’s just delicious!

Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

I hesitated posting this week. Somehow it seemed so frivolous. The world watched in horror while an unarmed Black man, begging for his life, was murdered by a white police officer – on camera – with others standing by. The aftermath of anger and despair provided an excuse for looting and destruction as well as a catalyst for worldwide peaceful protests demanding change. And I watched with continuing shame our country’s president as he made matters worse, instead of helping a nation already battered by the pandemic.

But summer has started here and much of the country is beginning to open up after three months of a punishing lockdown. And we still have to eat. This Summer Ricotta Cheesecake won’t cure Covid 19 or any of the other societal problems. It will give, however, an opportunity to smile and remember that there are still small pleasures out there – even if they are transitory.

I read a LOT of recipes and many get filed away to try “some day.” This particular recipe was on hold until eggs were no longer being rationed at the grocery store. We appear to be past that stage now so I wasn’t afraid to make a dessert that called for 6 eggs. And let’s face it, dessert makes everything just a bit better.

Nothing could be simpler than this Summer Ricotta Cheesecake. There are very few ingredients, the flavorings are adaptable and there is no pastry or crust to deal with. The filling cooks in such a way that it forms a very thin crust. If you can whip eggs whites and fold them into a batter then you can make this dessert.

The result will be a light, flavorful cheesecake that is the perfect end for a summer dinner. But because there are so few ingredients, make sure that you only use a good quality whole milk ricotta and fresh eggs. If you don’t have these ingredients, then wait until you do. You can play with the flavorings but not the basics of this recipe.

This can be made ahead and refrigerated which is perfect when your time in the kitchen is limited and is best parceled out. A homey recipe that isn’t at all fussy and an end product that is a summer delight. It’s speckled with zest and needs nothing more than a few fresh berries to smarten it up. Don’t worry about cracks. Just say that it’s rustic!

For a ricotta cheesecake to make when you have more time and want to fuss a bit (but oh, so worth it!) try the Crostata di Ricotta that I recently posted.

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings (One 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar (150g) plus about 2 Tablespoons for the pan

1.5 pounds (750g) whole milk ricotta at room temperature

6 large eggs at room temperature

1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

Zest of two large oranges and one lemon (See below for other flavoring suggestions)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 Tablespoon Rum (dark or light) or Marsala

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

Generously butter (or spray) a 9-inch springform pan and dust with the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, shaking off any excess.

Mix the ricotta and zest in a large bowl. You can beat it for a minute for a smoother texture, but frankly I didn’t bother to do that.

Add the flour and about 1/2 of the sugar to the ricotta. Mix it well (That means half of the 3/4 cup. Eyeballing is fine.)

Separate your eggs. Put the yolks in with the ricotta mixture and put the whites and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a clean, dry bowl. Either use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to whip the whites and salt until soft peaks form. Then gradually add the remaining half of sugar (a Tablespoon at a time) to the whipped whites and beat until you just have stiff peaks. Do not over beat or the whites will collapse.

Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with the ricotta mixture.

Use a spatula and mix about 1/4 of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture to make sure that it is nice and loose. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites in about 3 additions. Do not over mix. You want the lift that the egg whites give.

Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan using the spatula to help. (Don’t pour from a great height or it will deflate. I learned this from Mary Berry!) Gently smooth out the top. Place the springform pan on top of foil or a baking pan to catch any oozing from the butter.

Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes or until it is golden on top but the center of the cheesecake still wiggles. It will continue baking after it is removed from the oven and the center will set. (I promise.) The cake will sink some and crack as it cools. This is fine.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack and then carefully run a knife or off-set spatula around the edges to make sure that it does not stick anywhere. Do NOT open the springform, tempting though it may be! Allow the cake to cool completely. Then wrap it in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Remove the ring of the springform and voila!

Now my husband and I have been watching a LOT of British Baking Master Class with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Next time I make this, I may try to turn off the oven at 45 minutes and allow the cake to cool down in the oven as I have seen Mary do with other cheesecake. Supposedly it prevents cracking. We’ll see. Honestly, though, I don’t think the cracks really detracted from the final product. So just a thought.

Baking Note

For other possible flavorings, you could try a mix of citrus zests. Or ground spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. Instead of rum or Marsala, you could use extracts: pure vanilla, coffee, almond or aniseed.

Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.

But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!

But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.

Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.

There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.

Recipes

Yield: One 9.5-inch cheesecake; 8 to 10 servings

For the Pasta Frolla

Ingredients

1.5 cups (200 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt

1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)

Directions

Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.

Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.

For the Crostata di Ricotta

You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins

4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)

1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)

1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 navel orange

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.

Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.

Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.

Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!

Italian Polenta Cookies

Everyone is looking for comfort right now, as well as ways to fill unaccustomed time at home. Baking makes your house smell absolutely safe, warm and inviting. But even after the aromas have dissipated, the delight of eating something delicious that you made lingers on. These Italian Polenta Cookies fit that description perfectly.

Grocery shopping has become challenging in the Time of Coronavirus. Many items are out of stock and getting deliveries scheduled can now take days (if at all) instead of hours. And who knows what will actually arrive when the delivery comes? I admit it. My pantry could probably survive the Zombie Apocalypse, but even I need to buy certain fresh staples like eggs, milk and produce.

In looking for some treat to make for my husband and me (because don’t we all need a little sweetness in our lives?) I came back to this recipe from David Lebovitz that I had seen about 18 months ago. I really love the not-overly-sweet variety of Italian cookies and I especially like cookies made from cornmeal or polenta. They just have this extra somethin’ somethin’. There is the zing of lemon with that slight crunch and flavor of the polenta. These Italian Polenta Cookies are perfect for afternoon tea, with a glass of Vin Santo or a cup of coffee.

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

3 tablespoons water

3/4 cup (90g) dried currant or another dried fruit, such as chopped cranberries or cherries

3 tablespoons eau-de-vie or grappa (I used Amaretto since I had neither grappa nor eau-de-vie)

1 3/4 cups (250g) flour

1 cup (160g) fine (or instant) polenta

3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

8 tablespoons (4oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

Heat the water in a small saucepan until it starts to boil. Turn off the heat and add the currants, or other dried fruit, and liqueur. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour. (They can be plumped a day or two in advance.)


In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, polenta, sugar, salt and baking powder. (You can also make this dough in a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the egg and the egg yolks, then stir in the melted butter and lemon zest.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir together for about a minute, until they’re well-combined. Add the currants and any liquid, and beat them in at medium speed for about 30 seconds.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap it in plastic wrap, flatten it into a disk, and chill until firm, about an hour. (The dough can be made 2-3 days in advance, and baked later.)

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

On a lightly floured counter top, pinch off tablespoon-sized pieces of dough, roll them into little logs (you may need to flour your hands as the dough can be slightly sticky), then press the logs gently to flatten them a bit, and pinch the ends to taper them. Place them on the baking sheet about an inch (3cm) apart, to allow for some spreading. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.

Bake the cookies until golden brown across the top, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during baking. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Storage: The cookies can be kept up to one week in an airtight container at room temperature.

For other wonderful cookie options:

Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies

Vegan Italian Chocolate Cookies

Tahini Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies

Chewy Molasses Cookies

Tehina Shortbread Cookies

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies