September 28, 2010

A Perfect Cookie in a Not So Perfect World

We all have our faults and idiosyncrasies, which at least in our family make for some rather rambunctious holiday gatherings.  No one is perfect, no one is always right; our flaws (and in our case, the Sicilian Temper) are what make us who we are. But Nonna sees her job as assuring each and every one of us that we are perfect, flawless and should be proud (albeit acutely aware) of our Sicilian blood.  This is all fine and well, although my guess is we shouldn’t always take her encouragement to heart. We are not perfect.

Case in point- Three years ago, much to my utter dismay and humiliation, I developed a food sensitivity to nuts which included a full out allergy to sesame seeds. I had become one of “those” people. As you can imagine, with all of the almonds, pine nuts and *sigh* sesame seeds that are involved with Italian cooking it was difficult to come out to my family- especially Nonna. I had no desire to be judged for what I viewed as an unwelcome character flaw. What kind of Italian is unable to enjoy nuts? But Nonna, bless her heart, did not judge. She (as she does for everyone) went to work accommodating my newly acquired limitation. Because of her efforts I am still able to enjoy most of the family staples, but there is one recipe in particular that is no longer an option for me. It breaks my heart to abstain from the following, as it is quite possibly the world’s most perfect cookie.

The Sesame Cookie (aka The Death Cookie)

It’s everything a cookie ought to be- not too sweet, pleasingly nutty and dense with flavor, the perfect accompaniment to a strong cup of coffee or as Nonna might suggest for a particularly hard one, dunked in wine.

These cookies were made by both of my great grandmothers and were considered the “every day” cookie. Grandma Chinni had several renditions of this recipe including substituting anise seed for the sesames and taking them out of the oven half way through baking to brush egg yolk on them.  When last my mom made these cookies she crushed some crystallized rock candy and used the sugar as the sesame substitute for my cookies. She, like Nonna, is a great Mom.

4 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 TBLS baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 cup lard
2 tsp vanilla 

2 eggs slightly beat
½ cup whole milk warmed (Note: you may not need this much depending on the consistency of the dough)

Egg whites slightly beat

Sesame seeds

In your mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using the mixing paddle attachment add the lard, vanilla and eggs. Begin adding the milk a tablespoon at a time. You may not need to use all of the mild because you do not want super sticky dough.

Gather the dough into a lump and let set for about 10 minutes or so. Wrapped in plastic wrap, let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375*

Using your hands, roll dough into oversized almond shapes. Brush with egg whites and roll in sesame seeds. 

These cookies need to be baked for at least 15 minutes until the bottoms are light brown.

Storing Note:

 After baking let the cookies sit out in a bowl for a day or so. Sesame cookies freeze beautifully but if you wish to enjoy them over the course of a couple of days remember to leave them uncovered otherwise they will go soggy and become less fantastic with each passing moment.

September 10, 2010

No Apologies

Fall is here and I have to tell you that I am thrilled. I’m so excited for crisp winds, cool mornings, and light sweaters that it doesn’t even bother me that somehow summer slipped by me this year. Truthfully, I’m happy to see it go. Goodbye smothering heat waves and glaring sunshine that doesn’t even have the decency to have a cheerful demeanor. Hello cider donuts, colorful mums and chilly nights- you have been missed.

As you may have noticed (ahem), I spent my summer doing quite a bit of cooking and not so much blogging. I won’t apologize though, because my culinary adventures have been well worth it. There was a failed yet courageous attempt at gnocchi that I don’t wish to discuss and a flavor blunder with some fried zucchini blossoms that is better left alone. But let me say this, our roasted turkey on spit more than made up for either of these mishaps.

In July, I successfully baked two tarts with the help of a dear friend. Well okay, there was more watching than actual baking on my part, because let’s face it I don’t seem to have the appropriate temperament to handle pastry dough, but still it was a gallant effort. And at the time I really did mean to share it with you… I’ve just been so busy with crab bakes, grilled corn, homemade barbeque sauce, raviolis, stuffed eggplants, stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini globes (yes there’s been much to stuff this summer), and perfecting the art of hot pepper paste that I simply ran out of time.

But I’m back now and am excited to share with you the fruit of my culinary efforts. I think you will find that the wait has been worthwhile. This next recipe is big and I hope you are ready for it. After several practice runs, and some one-on-one Nonna training this summer, I am delighted to share with you Nonna’s Veal.

It is impossible to put into words the love that goes into this dish and the flavor it brings out. Nonna’s fried veal doesn’t taste like the breadcrumbs it’s rolled in or the oil it’s fried in, it simply tastes like tender, delicate, oh-so-delicious veal.

Growing up in “The Valley” of western mass, I can assure you that I was the only kid amongst my group of friends who had a.) ever tried veal and b.) never been told there was anything wrong with eating veal. The fact that it was baby cow did not (and sure I’ll admit it, still doesn’t) bother me in the least.  When I got a little older and started asking questions my Nonna promised me that her veal comes from Canada where they treat the livestock much more humanely. I’ll be honest, I was sure she was making this up for my benefit. The first time I cooked veal this summer my butcher heard me jokingly say this to my friend. The lovely man interrupted and said, “Actually, your Nonna is right. The Canadians treat their veal much better and it tastes better too. That’s where we get our veal from”. 

The question remains then, does Nonna buy her veal from Canada because of the better treatment, or because of its superior taste? I haven’t asked her but I am sure of her answer: what does it matter? 

Nonna’s Veal

Nonna would advise against serving this as your main dish.  At the very least, make sure to also include pasta with the meal.

The veal is just so good that if you let them, people will eat a pound each, and as Nonna says, “this stuff is like pure gold”.

  • 1 ½ lbs sliced veal will yield enough for four people

  • 1 egg lightly beaten
Breadcrumbs, preferably homemade. Add fresh chopped parsley, salt, pepper and a small handful of Romano cheese to the crumbs.

  • Corn oil
Ok, first let’s talk about the cut of veal. You want to ask your butcher for the top leg round and to slice it not as thick as a cutlet, but not as thin as a scaloppini. Do not accidently purchase veal loin. The “better” cut will spoil everything. Do not let your butcher pound the meat.

Once at home, pound the meat out yourself, with a very light touch- this is delicate tissue we’re talking about!

Next blot the meat with paper towels. Veal holds a lot of water and needs to be dried in order to fry properly.

Dip the dried meat in egg; wipe off the excess egg; lightly pat both sides of the veal in the breadcrumbs.

Lay the breaded veal in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Pour the oil in the frying pan- just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat on medium high. You’re using corn oil rather than olive oil because it heats at a higher temperature and imposes less flavor onto the meat.

Once oil is heated, add the veal, turning once until lightly golden on each side.