Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Family Holiday

Holidays in my family are always fantastic events. My mother comes from a great Italian family so food plays a starring role for the day of the holiday, as well as the days leading up. This past weekend was Easter, and it was no exception.

Friday I arrived at my mothers and we set out to make a rustic Italian staple, Pizza Gain. The basic principle behind this was an enhanced bread dough, flavored with anise. That is then stuffed with meats and cheeses before baking. My mother remembers this as something that her mother used to make when she was growing up, but we hadnt attempted it in our family before. It was an exciting prospect.

Our first challenge to overcome was converting the dough recipe that we had for the authentic base, to one that we could use in our bread machine to cut down the aggrevation of finding a good spot for it to rise in, and then to eliminate kneeding it. Bread machines are very particular about the order in which you add the ingredients so that the yeast doesnt touch the liquids until the appropriate time- Im definitely not a bread maker (yet) so Im not entirely sure about why the yeast wont work if its soaked too early, but apparently it wont. So we spent a fair amount of time working through which were liquid ingredients, and which were solids- I almost messed that up by not seeing the word 'melted' next to the butter but we caught that in the nick of time. Finally though we were able to load all of the ingredients into the machine and started its cycle. An hour and a half later, we pulled the dough, perfectly risen with a light, airy texture, from the machine and started to roll it out for the pizza. We divided it into two sections, one we baked just as a loaf, and the second we layed over a 8 x 8 greased baking dish so that it hung over the sides and and then we began to layer in slices of cappacola, ricotta cheese mixed with an egg and cracked black pepper, genoa salami, prosciutto, provolone cheese and mozzarella cheese. Then we flapped up the sides so that they encased the pizza, and painted the top with an egg wash. Into the oven for about 45 minutes, and it came out a golden brown pizza gain.

It was delicious. Extremely heavy so that small portions were needed, it was rich and satisfying. The cheese had melted into the bread a bit so that it created a soft, doughy layer, and then faded into a light layer of bread. Personally I found the ricotta layer a bit thick, but that is definitely personal preference and can be amended based on your taste.

Our Easter dinner menu consisted of stuffed artichokes to start, pork roast, mashed potatos, fennel salad, beet salad, and ended with assorted pastries from Mike's Pastry in the North End. Normally we have ham for Easter dinner so it was a nice change this year to instead have a pork roast. I created a rub for the roast consisting of fresh rosemary and thyme, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, ginger, orange peel and dijon mustard, after slathering that on, I re-wrapped it in tin foil and returned it to the fridge for two hours or so. We then cooked that on top of fennel, carrots, onions and oranges to add some flavor for about an hour and a half. It turned out delicious. I created a sauce to go over it as well, consisting of butter, shallots, garlic, a serrano pepper, white wine that I attempted to reduce, pepper, salt, orange marmalade and just a teaspoon of dijon mustard. I found the sauce did exactly what I had anticipated, it leant some sweetness to the meat, while having a backround heat from the serrano. The only thing that I noticed about it was that it had a slight bitterness at its finish that Id like to cut. Im wondering if because the marmalade that I used wasnt very sweet I could have added a sweetener to cut that out? Ill have to play with the recipe a bit, but overall, I considered it a great success.

We had decided to try a new way of cooking our artichokes this time. Normally we stuff them with bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic and parsely and then drizzle olive oil over the top and bake for 45 minutes or so. This time we had heard that you could boil then first for about a half hour, and then spoon out the choke section before stuffing and baking. It definitely made for easier eating as the choke was already removed when they got to the table, and the boiling with lemon slices did create a richer flavor, however I found that they were completely water logged. Every leafe I attempted to eat was so watery it was dripping and rather messy. We wondered if perhaps we hadnt drained them long enough? I enlisted some professional advice as well- and it was thought that we might have just brought the moisture further to the surface by boiling them (thank you!). Either way....I enjoyed the taste of them more, but the mess of eating them detracted from that which was sad. That method will have to be a work in progress apparently.

My sister made a delicious fennel salad consisting of watercress, arugala, fennel bulbs and head, orange slices and an asian pear. She dressed it with a homemade dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt pepper, a tiny amount of mustard and a small amount of honey as well to cut the bitterness of the lemon juice. It was light and delicious and allowed the flavors of each of the different portions of the salad to shine through. Thats the great thing about those types of salads, there are a lot of really interesting, exciting flavors in them and covered under a heavy dressing they would be lost- but with a really light vinagrette its easy to enjoy each independently.

The beet salad that my mother prepared looked wonderful, however as I have an childhood aversion to beets that I apparently refuse to let go of, I did not indulge in it. However she had made it with both red and golden beets, walnuts, feta cheese and scallions. They both enjoyed, I am limited in my description though. I promise to try to taste things like that in the future.

Mashed potatos are a food that Ive been making for years, and is always just a great comfort food and an easy staple in holiday cooking. Boil the potatos til they are fork tender, add butter and cream and mash to the consistency youre looking for. Of course you can dress them up with a host of other flavors, but in my book, sometimes, there is nothing better than pure mashed potatos. They are just a wonderful throw back to those kid meals of meatloaf and potatos that I still enjoy today.

Our homemade dinner was absolutely delicious. One that we will be discussing for years I assume. The pork was tender and flavorful on its own, but was nicely enhanced with the marmalade sauce. The salads were delicious, and the artichokes were lovely despite the water mess with their stuffing that we had added a bit of mozzarella to this year. It was capped off with some of the best pastry in boston from Mikes in the North End, a staple in this city, and a glass of port. Honestly, in my opion there is nothing better than a great meal with wonderful family around, ending with a sweet treat and a well aged glass of port. Happy Easter to all...

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