Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Saint Joe gets invited to Easter...

Jeesh! Spring Break just flew by, bookended by major holidays. It seems like we had hardly finished St. Patty's corned beef before it was time to make the Easter ham! And in the middle, I tried (but failed) to celebrate La Festa di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Feast). I am neither Catholic nor Italian, so this was a new one on me. But when I read about zeppole di San Giuseppe on my favorite Montreal blog, I knew I had to try and make them myself. Of course, they are a Lenten pastry, but I wasn't able to make them on the official day (March 19) as I had run out of heavy cream, and Cyd couldn't be bothered to bring some home from town! So I made them for our Easter dessert on Sunday, which I do understand is completely inappropriate. Regardless, they were tasty and quite festive. This type of zeppola is basically like a cream puff; it's made from the same kind of pate a choux but fried, like a Italian version of a crueller. And it's either filled with sweetened ricotta or, more traditionally, with pastry cream (I opted for the latter as I consider pastry cream to be its own food group). Then it's topped with a cherry and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Pretty basic elements, but delightful nonetheless. Mine kind of mutated and became all crazy-looking as I fried them, but it just gave them a whimsical, Seuss-like quality that I found enchanting. Plus, the mutant ends were extra-crispy and delicious! ;-)

As for the rest of our Easter dinner, we whetted our appetites with devilled eggs with a few minced pickled jalapeno slices and a little zucchini relish mixed in. The main attraction, of course, was a spiral-sliced ham glazed with an absolutely delicious mixture of a quarter cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and a half-cup of my homemade honeybell marmalade. YUM! I also cooked some Italian Romano (green) beans in the crock pot all day with bacon, onions, and chicken broth. And the piece de resistance was the ultimate three-cheese scalloped potato dish! I don't always have the best of luck with homemade scalloped potatoes--mainly, because it's often so hard to get the potatoes done all the way through. But this recipe was super-easy and super-delicious. I found it on Epicurious, and since it had nearly 300 positive reviews since 1999, I felt confident that it would turn out well. Indeed, I declare it the definitive Easter side dish which definitely warrants a repeat appearance on a future holiday table.

Scalloped Potatoes with Three Cheeses
(Source: Rick Rodgers, Bon Appetit, November 1999 via
Makes 12 servings

3/4 cup (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
3/4 cup crumbled Danish blue cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/3 cup (packed) freshly grated parmesan (about 1 1/4 ounces)
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (I used Yukon Golds)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Mix cheddar cheese, blue cheese and parmesan in small bowl.

Arrange half of potatoes in prepared baking dish, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle onion over, then flour. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle half of cheese mixture over. Top with remaining potatoes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons butter. Reserve remaining cheese.

Bring milk to simmer in medium saucepan (I did this in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave). Pour milk over potatoes (milk will not cover potatoes completely). Cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Uncover dish (liquids in dish may look curdled); sprinkle potatoes with reserved cheese mixture. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and cheese is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Cover and rewarm in 375°F oven about 20 minutes.) Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes before serving.

St. Joseph's Day Zeppole (Zeppole di San Giuseppe)
Sal Joseph Scognamillo of Patsy's Italian Restaurant)
Makes 12

2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
6 eggs
vegetable oil for frying (Scognamillo uses peanut oil)
2 pounds ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 maraschino cherries

Bring water, butter and salt to a low boil. When boiling, add flour and stir for about 1 minute until thoroughly mixed. Take off fire, move to mixing bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Mixing at a low speed, add 1 egg at a time (this is important, says Scognamillo), allowing each egg to completely blend in. Put batter in a pastry bag or a freezer bag with a hole cut into a corner.

Cut wax paper into 3-inch squares and lightly dust with flour. Pipe dough into round doughnut shapes onto wax paper (the hole should be about 1 inch wide).

Heat oil to 350. Carefully slide batter off the paper into the oil, frying 3-4 doughnuts at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry for 7-8 minutes, turning every couple of minutes, when the bubbling of the dough stops. (They're done when both golden brown and double in size and all bubbling ends, says Scognamillo.) Allow to cool and slice horizontally.

Mix ricotta, sugar and vanilla extract in another mixing bowl on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and mix for 10 seconds. (Or, if you prefer, make your favorite pastry cream instead.)

Put cream in pastry bag and fill center of zeppole. Press the top of pastry onto the bottom. (Scognamillo also puts a dollop of cream over the hole to serve as a base for the cherry.) Top zeppole with a cherry, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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