Utica Greens

Back during my senior year in college, every Monday we’d head down to Cavallo’s Restaurant for their all-you-can-eat pasta special. I want to say it was the ridiculous price of $1.50 per person (when I did a quick Google search, I was thrilled to see the place was still there, although the special now $2.49). What more could hungry college students on a limited budget want? But periodically we’d branch out and try new things. That’s the first time I remember trying Utica Greens. For years, I tried to explain this dish to my family and was met with complete resistance to bringing it to our table. Flash forward to this summer, when we ordered take out from our favorite local Italian restaurant and I decided to get a side order of greens. My husband was so intrigued and once he took a taste, he was hooked. So finally I could head to the kitchen and get cooking!

What are Utica Greens? From what I’ve read, they’re a variation of Southern Italian Sautéed Greens – a dish made to make the most of common ingredients around the kitchen and stretch the grocery budget. They’re spicy perfection.

1 bunch of escarole, chopped
1/2 cup prosciutto
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic (bashed and chopped)
5 hot, pickled peppers, chopped*
1/2 cup chicken stock (or less)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used an Italian blend)
1/4 cup freshly-grated Asiago cheese

*You can use more peppers, or fewer, depending on your tolerance for spice. I had no idea how easy they are to pickle – bring one cup water, one cup white vinegar, 1 tbsp each of sugar and salt . Once it comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the peppers (if they’re whole, just pierce them to get the pickling liquid in there), seep for about 10 minutes.

Blanch the escarole for a couple minutes in salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat some olive oil in a broiler-proof pan then add the prosciutto and onions. Once the onions are soft, add the peppers and garlic and let them cook through. Add the greens back in and add some stock if it isn’t juicy enough (I only used about a quarter of a cup). Top with the panko and cheese, and broil until the top is toasty brown.

I serve them with just meatballs in sauce. Honestly, you don’t even need pasta to walk away from the table full and happy! It was perfection on a plate and brought up so many wonderful memories of nights with friends at Cavallo’s.

What are some of your favorite nostalgic dishes? Whatever they are, may you enjoy them in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!

Peach Upside-Down Cake

Is there something you make for your spouse/significant other/dear friend that is such a part of their memories, you are terrified to screw up their expectations of making it yourself? For me, it was peach upside-down cake from the recipe my mother-in-law shared with me at my bridal shower a few years ago. She lovingly explained how it was my soon-to-be husband’s favorite and she made it each year for his birthday. When she passed away, I got the recipe out and decided to tackle it myself. No pressure.

3 eggs (separate whites from yolks)
1 cup sugar
5 tbsp juice from peaches*
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 can sliced peaches
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat the yolks of the eggs with the sugar and fruit juice. In a separate bowl, sift the flour. Mix in the baking powder to incorporate well. Add to the egg yolk mixture and stir well. In another bowl (this is the last one – it does generate a lot of cleanup), whip the egg whites until stiffly beaten. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the rest of the ingredients. In a 9 inch cake pan, melt the butter and brown sugar together. Remove from oven, give it a quick stir, and place the peach slices into the butter and brown sugar mixture. Pour the batter over the fruit/butter/brown sugar.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Here’s the terrifying part (at least in my mind). After removing cake from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes. Then invert on a cake plate and leave undisturbed upside-down for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, the cake should have come out of the pan. (She must watch over me for this step because I haven’t screwed it up yet). It’s wonderful as-is, but a dollop of whipped cream doesn’t hurt!

The best thing about enjoying the cake is that when I make it now each year, we spend time re-living all the memories of what an amazing person she was. In my mind, there’s nothing better than that!

*Don’t be put off, it seems like a lot, but it’s perfect

What’s Cooking This Week

Well honestly, not much has been happening in the kitchen between travel, a return to summer events, and graduation season. But one thing that’s been on the menu constantly are two Upstate New York favorites: salt potatoes and chicken spiedies. What are those you may ask? Well let me introduce you!

Salt potatoes are an iconic food in this area (which I didn’t realize till we had family & friends move out of the area – they always ask us to bring some along when we come to visit). They’re small, white potatoes that are boiled in their skins with a TON of salt. The rule of thumb is one cup of salt to 6 cups of water. That’s why packages of the nuggets of joy and pre-packaged salt are found in every grocery store this time of year. All that salt forms an amazing crust on the potatoes while they boil away. They’re served with melted butter (and no, you don’t need any salt on top of them!) They are the perfect side for anything: burgers, chicken, ribs… One caution if you’re going to try them: if they boil over, all that salt makes a complete mess of your stove, counter, and pot, so keep an eye on them.

Chicken spiedies seem to be one of those dishes that I only make in the summer, mainly because the grilling of the meat is key to success. Cubed chicken is marinaded in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and so many amazing spices (oregano, garlic, parsley, basil, salt & pepper). The key to the best chicken spiedie is to let everything marinade over night (ok, sometimes I forget, but a nice 6 hours will work). Because of the acid in the marinade, it will begin softening and breaking down in the refrigerator. Grill on skewers or a grilling tray (so you don’t lose any of the delicious chicken). Serve on crusty rolls (I like toasting them for a bit) They’re perfect on their own, but I also can’t resist topping with grilled peppers and onions.

Time to get planning some meals and get back in the kitchen. What’s an iconic food from your area that you can’t live without?

Refrigerator Pickles

I’ve never gotten into canning and preserving and honestly, I’m in awe seeing pictures from friends making jams, canning the abundance of vegetables from their gardens… This is about as close as I get because we do love pickles (plus it is the season when I end up with a ton of cucumbers)

1 pound of cucumbers, sliced 1/2 inch thick (I did strips this time to mix things up)
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sea salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp coriander seed
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/2 tbsp pickling spices
Fresh dill (or dried dill)

In a medium bowl, combine cucumbers and onion. Toss with salt, combining really well. Top with ice and let everything stand for two hours on the counter.

In a pot, bring the sugar, vinegar and spices to a boil. Drain the cucumbers and onion. Add the vegetables to the vinegar mixture and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. Spoon the cucumbers and onion into a one quart jar (depending on how you sliced the cucumbers, you might need a couple). Add the pickling liquid, top with some dill, to the jar and seal tightly.

You can store these in the fridge for about 4 weeks (but I’ll confess we’ve never had them last that long). They’ll begin having that classic pickle flavor in about a couple hours in the fridge.

Streuselkuchen

My mom, God bless her soul, was known for her epic sweet tooth and her complete lack of skills in the baking department. And no, I’m not telling tales out of school because she was always the first to admit it. It did not, however, stop her from always finding suggestions for what I should bake to satisfy said sweet tooth! Especially if it was any German dessert she spoke so fondly of my grandmother making. So I was thinking of her yesterday when I had a couple apples left over from our weekly Misfits order and I decided to make one of her favorite cakes. Streuselkuchen is the fun German name for crumb cake, but this one takes it up a notch by adding of apples between the cake batter and the streusel topping.

1/2 unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Almond extract
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
1/2 cup milk
2 cups of flour

2-3 apples, peeled and thinly sliced

Streusel:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (chilled)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13×9 pan with cooking spray.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, baking powder, almond extract, lemon peel and milk. Mix well. Add flour into the batter one cup at a time, mixing well after each cup.

Spread batter in greased pan. Add apples over the top of the batter to completely cover.

To make the streusel topping: use a pastry cutter to combine the flour, brown sugar and butter until the mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle (liberally!) over the apples.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. Enjoy warm or cooled. Pro tip: a dash of whipped cream is the perfect topping!