Wild Rice, Artichokes, Dilled Salmon, and Cheddar Taieddhra


8188031461_122967891a_oThis month’s new Challenge brings us back to (Southern) Italy, specifically in an area of Puglia called Salento. I have never been to Salento, but read extensively about it after the new Challenge was announced. I am especially fascinated by the baroque beauty of the city of Lecce, and and even more so by the Griko, as I love learning foreign languages. As far as I can tell, based on the pictures I could find, some of Salento’s main colors are deep blues and blazing whites, and the views are simply breathtaking.  The recipe is from Cristian—his own family’s version of Taieddhra which is a traditional dish made with rice, potatoes and mussels. In the local dialect the word Taieddhra refers to the specific dish as well as the clay vessel in which it is baked. Here, we would call it a casserole.

As Cristian introduced this recipe he shared some of his own childhood memories tied to this dish. He painted a rather vivid picture of himself as a young boy enjoying a portion of taieddhra while sitting on a stonewall facing a vast corn field. As I am sure many others did while reading his post, I was struck by this glimpse into the past. It is, it seems to me, an image that evokes both peacefulness and wonder, as they are only possible in childhood.  Somehow, it moved me.
It is an interesting dish, which in its traditional form is made up of layers of rice, onions, potatoes and mussels, with the addition of zucchini, tomatoes, and a good sprinkle of grated pecorino cheese.  The raw ingredients are placed in the clay dish and baked.

I could not reproduce this dish in its original form, as mussels are treyf. It is however the method to make it that I can adapt to my own kitchen and dietary restrictions.  The idea of how I could recreate it within the boundaries of kashrut and with ingredients available here  came to me while en route to pick my son up from school.
It is over an hour drive—but I do not mind,  it is  actually one of my favorite parts of the day. Once I leave behind my small town’s Main Street, with its beautiful houses and manicured lawns, I get to drive on back roads surrounded by thick woods on each side, interspersed by ponds and the occasional cranberry bog. These days the landscape is especially gorgeous as the tender green of Spring is everywhere—and in taking in that great peace and beauty my mind always goes with gratitude to the Divine Hand that created it all.
Usually on these drives something interesting happens, to my kids’ delight— a few days ago we saw a hawk perched on a low branch and stopped the car to observe it for a while. Yesterday, I had to stop the car and wait for a terrapin to safely cross the road. Wild turkeys often show up at some point, and my youngest daughter is always waiting with great anticipation to see the corralled horses as we drive by a local farm .

As it happens, I also get to drive by some corn fields, although this early in the season the plants are still rather small and thin. And here is the connection to Cristian’s presentation of the recipe. I started to think how I could recreate it with different ingredients and yet somehow stay true to the nature of the dish.  Potatoes and onions had to be in it, but in place of the zucchini and tomatoes I thought about artichokes. In place of the mussels, salmon, and instead of the usual rice, Wild rice and American Long-Grain. To round it all up, a sprinkle of cheese and a good amount of fresh dill, straight from my garden.
The pictures do not do justice to the dish—but that’s no news that I can’t take a decent picture to save my life.  One thing I do not have to worry about is winning the 50 Millimetri Awards. Anyway, we all loved the combination of flavors and textures—I do not know whether using freshwater fish is too much of a detour from the original dish, but it did taste very good indeed.

I used mostly American ingredients—Sweet Vidalia Onions from Georgia, Artichokes Hearts and Wild Rice from California, Red Potatoes from Maine,  Wild Salmon from Alaska,  American  Long Grain Rice from Texas, Cheddar Cheese from Vermont,  and dill from my own backyard in Massachusetts. The only exception: Extra-Virgin olive oil imported from Puglia.

Incidentally, I learned a new Italian slang word: Mappazza, which in this case refers to the danger of overcooking the rice so that it turns into one sorry lump, while it should stay nice and fluffy. This danger was not so much an issue here, as much as the opposite. Given the sturdy nature of Wild rice, under cooking was more likely. Anyway, it did  not happen: presoaking and enough liquid in the casserole produced a successful result.

wildriceThe only clay baking dish I own was too small and shallow to use for this recipe, so I opted for a Pyrex one, which worked fine.

300 g Wild Salmon Fillets
4 large artichoke hearts, thinly sliced
1 sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup American long-grain rice
1/2 cup Wild rice
1 lb red potatoes (thinly sliced)
extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch of fresh dill
Aged cheddar cheese, grated
fish stock as needed, cold (made with salmon bones with this recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350F
Rinse the wild rice and let it soak in cold water to cover for about 1 hour. Then rinse the long-grain rice, drain the softened wild rice and mix them together.
Pour 3-4 tbsp of olive on the bottom of a baking dish, then arrange the sliced onions, followed by a layer of potatoes, then the fish and the artichokes, sprinkle with a generous amount of dill, and  finally cover everything with a thin layer of rice mix, another layer of  onions and top with potato slices. Sprinkle generously with cheese, drizzle some more olive oil, and pour enough fish stock to reach 1-inch above the top layer.
Bake for about 90 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Thank you Cristian for this great recipe and as always Ale, Dani & Giorgia for the MT Challenge!


1. I used a mandoline to slice the vegetables.

2. Usually in the US rice mixes are made with Wild Rice treated so that it cooks at the same time as other types of rice. As I doubt those are available in Italy, I used regular Wild rice that I soaked for a while in order for it to soften and cook in the same amount of time needed for American-Long Grain rice.

3. Generally speaking, Ashkenazic tradition allows mixing fish and cheese. However, Sephardic Jews and some Ashkenazic communities might adhere to a stricter opinion. Check with your Rabbi.


(Not So) Blue Velvet Cake


Traduzione in Italiano in fondo

Stefania, the most recent winner of MTC ,  picked a gluten-free version of Red Velvet Cake for the February MT Challenge.  I was particularly happy with her choice, because no one in my immediate family and circle of friends has Celiac disease, so I never had the opportunity to learn what must be done to make gluten-free baked goods. But she made a very interesting parallel between cooking gluten-free foods and Kosher cooking. That is something I certainly can relate to, since my own kitchen is kosher. Making sure there is no cross-contamination, keeping utensils separate, are all actions that become second-nature when cooking kosher food, and the same applies when cooking gluten-free foods. I live in the US so I have no problem finding gluten-free ingredients that are clearly labeled, and most supermarkets even offer a whole aisle of gluten-free ingredients. So all the ingredients I used were gluten-free and I had no trouble finding them.

The second reason I was happy about Stefania’s choice is that she picked an American classic recipe, and for once I was baking on my own turf, so to speak.  The rules of the game allowed participants to use either red or blue food coloring, and I chose the latter. I did not want to make the usual frosting that goes with classic red Velvet and since I could not bring myself to detract from tradition, I chose blue as a color in order to avoid any qualms in changing the recipe substantially. As you can see from the photo above, the final result was more of a greyish color than the bright, deep blue I had envisioned. Sadly, not everything turns out quite as we expect, in this Valley of Tears.  In the words of my eldest son, this cake, at least visually, is a an epic fail.
Taste-wise though, it is quite a different story.  The cake is light, moist and springy and the frosting I used was an indisputable success—if I can say so myself. It is a simple whipped cream sweetened with grade-B 100% pure maple syrup,  and the combination is extremely tasty. I added dried cranberries as a decoration on top.

I followed Stefania’s recipe for the cake, using corn-starch instead  of tapioca, as the rules stated it was possible to substitute one for the other.  The frosting was simply made by whipping together

1 qt of Heavy Whipping Cream

6 tbsp pure Maple Syrup, grade B.

I enjoyed participating in this Challenge because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about Celiac disease and what it implies in terms of everyday life adjustments and limitations. But, as Stefania pointed out and was eager to get across, despite these limitations it is possible to make good food that would be enjoyable by everybody—provided we get educated about how to get this done.  I appreciated the positive attitude of Stefania’s message— rather than depicting people that deal with celiac disease on a daily basis in a helpless perspective she chose a constructive approach and that is something that resonates with me deeply.

In keeping with the lighthearted, positive attitude of the challenge, Stefania also requested that participants should wear pumps  with 4-3/4″  heels while baking this cake. I am sorry I could not comply.

We had tons and tons and tons of snow where I live, which is so nice when you wake up in the morning and  looking out the window all you see is a Winter Wonderland just like this everyday.


But since nothing in this world comes for free, the downside of this beauty is that you have to go outside and shovel snow until you wish you could just close your eyes, stomp your feet on the (icy) ground, shout “I’m Cold!!!” and be immediately transported to a warmer place—preferably Florida. And if shovel you must, then you are also bound to get sore muscles and a backache, especially if you are not so young anymore, like me.  And all of this means that I could not possibly even think of wearing high heels. In fact, the only girl in my family that can wear pumps all day long and never loose her smile is BarbieTM. But, as BarbieTMsays, “everything’s fantastic when you’re made of plastic !”.

Thank you Stefania, and,  as always, Thank you Ale, Daniela, & Giorgia.

Versione Italiana

Stefania, la vincitrice della scorsa edizione di MT Challenge ha proposto per la sfida di febbraio una versione gluten-free di Red Velvet Cake. La scelta mi ha fatto particolarmente felice perche’ nessuno nella mia famiglia o tra le mie amicizie e’ celiaco, e non avevo mai avuto l’opportunita’ di imparare cosa comporti cucinare gluten-free. Stefania ha pero’ fatto un interessante parallelo tra la cucina gluten-free e quella Kosher, e in questo posso riconoscermi, dato che la mia e’ una cucina Kosher.  Assicurarsi che non si abbiano contaminazioni, mantenere gli utensili separati, sono tutte azioni che diventano abitudini consolidate sia nel cucinare kosher che nella cucina gluten-free.  Vivendo negli Stati Uniti non ho problemi nel reperire ingredienti per celiaci, la scelta e’ ampia, le etichette chiare e la maggiorparte dei supermarkets dedica un intero reparto a questi prodotti. Tutti i prodotti che ho usato erano etichettati gluten-free.

La seconda ragione per cui la scelta mi ha resa felice e’ che si tratta di una ricetta classica Americana, per cui questa volta mi trovo a giocare in casa, per cosi’ dire. Le regole del gioco permettevano di scegliere un colorante rosso o blu. Ho scelto il secondo perche’ non avevo intenzione di usare il frosting che tradizionalmente si usa per il Red Velvet Cake, e non riuscivo a contemplare l’idea di stravolgere la tradizione. Percio’ ho optato sul blu per fare una torta per la quale sperimentare senza remore un frosting diverso. Come si vede dalla foto, il risultato finale e’ stato un grigio temporalesco, non il blu profondo e brillante che mi ero immaginata. Ma di rado, in questa Valle di Lacrime,  le cose si realizzano come si sperava. Per dirla con mio figlio maggiore, all’aspetto questa torta e’ un fallimento di proporzioni epiche.

Dal punto di vista del gusto, pero’, e’ tutta un’altra storia. La torta e’ umida, leggera e spugnosa, perfetta. E il frosting e’ stato un successo, se posso dirlo. E’ semplice panna montata, ma anziche’ con lo zucchero e’ addolcita con Sciroppo d’acero puro, e il risultato e’ gustosissimo. Ho decorato la superficie con cranberries secchi.

Per la torta ho seguito la ricetta di Stefania, sostituendo, come permesso, la tapioca con la maizena.  Per il frosting ho montato un litro di panna fresca con 6 cucchiai di sciroppo d’acero.

Mi e’ piaciuto molto partecipare a questa sfida perche’ mi ha dato l’opportunita’ di imparare qualcosa sulla celiachia e i limiti che impone nella vita quotidiana. Ma, come Stefania voleva assolutamente comunicare, malgrado queste limitazioni e’ possibile cucinare cibi buoni che possono essere gustati da tutti, a patto di acquisire le informazioni necessarie.

Ho apprezzato la prospettiva del messaggio di Stefania, che anziche’ presentare i celiaci in una visione passiva e negativa, come se non potessero che subire la malattia, ha scelto una prospettiva attiva e costruttiva, e questo e’ un atteggiamento nel quale mi riconosco profondamente.

E nello spirito anche leggero in cui la sfida si e’ quindi svolta, Stefania ha richiesto ai partecipanti di indossare un tacco 12  quando preparavano la torta. Mi dispiace di non aver potuto esaudire la richiesta.

Il fatto e’ che qui abbiamo avuto tonnellate e tonnellate e tonnellate di neve, il che’ e’ bellissimo quando ci si sveglia al mattino e dalla finestra ogni giorno si vede questo paesaggio invernale


Ma siccome in questo mondo tutto ha un prezzo, l’inconveniente di tutta questa bellezza e’ che bisogna uscire fuori a spalare la neve, finche’ non si desidera nientaltro che chiudere gli occhi, battere i piedi sul terreno (gelato) , gridare “Ho freddo!!!” e poter essere immediatamente trasportati in un posto caldo, preferibilmente la Florida.  E se spalare si deve, la conseguenza, per chi come me non ha piu’ vent’anni da un pezzo,  sono i muscoli indolenziti e il mal di reni. Tutto questo per dire che non avrei neanche potuto pensare di indossare scarpe coi tacchi, specie un tacco 12. A dirla tutta, l’unica ragazza in famiglia che riesce ad indossare il tacco 12 tutto il giorno senza perdere il sorriso e’ BarbieTM.   Ma,  come dice appunto BarbieTM. “ogni cosa e’ fantastica quando sei fatta di plastica!”.

Grazie Stefania, e, come sempre, grazie Ale, Daniela e Giorgia.

Arancine with Sweet and Sour Cabbage filling (MT-Challenge November 2012)

Scroll Down for the Italian version

I am a very organized person. I like to plan everything–even things that cannot be planned. I face  life’s inescapable uncertainty  armed with to-do lists, inventories,  and schedules— with the firm belief that if you only are prepared, everything will be just fine. Or at least OK. Or maybe just  bearable. But anyway better than it would be otherwise.

This month’s recipe, Arancine, was definitely  something I could relate to, given my control freak nature  organizing abilities.  Each component of this dish could and should be prepared in advance, and then easily assembled. And yet I found myself scrambling the last couple days to put together something I had planned to make a month ago.
The thing is, I am not really that creative. I can execute a recipe, sure, fearlessly and skillfully—but I have never, ever invented a new dish all by myself.
I can put together different ideas, but chances are the end result will resemble more the culinary counterpart of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster than a breakthrough in gastronomic uncharted territories. So the MT Challenge really is challenging for me.

Pupaccena’s recipe for the November Challenge is Arancine. A Sicilian street food that, like all the  foods of that region, is  remarkably elegant in its baroque contruction. Pupaccena explained to us that in some areas of Sicily this dish is   called Arancine and they are considered “female”, shaped as rounds or ovals depending on whether they contain  a meat  or  butter filling, respectively. In other areas they are called Arancini and considered to be “male”, and are  definitely pointy in shape.
After a brief reflection on the Freudian implications of the shape and gender of those tasty snacks , I also realized that us English speakers would always pronounce their name “arancini” , no matter how it is spelled—same as we say linguini and fettuccini even if those are spelled “linguine” and “fettuccine”.  Sorry about that.
I asked my husband whether he had ever seen Arancine growing up in NYC, and he said no.  He remembers seeing them on the menu of a small Italian place in Somerville, Mass. in the ’90s–although he never tasted theirs. That restaurant has been closed for years now, and I do not recall seeing  Arancine mentioned on restaurant menus during any of our forays into Boston’s North End. But then again when we do go to the North End the only thing I can think of is getting to Mike’s pastry shop as fast as possible to buy as many cannolis as would feed an army. So in my cannoli-haze  I  just might not have noticed.
A Google search quickly showed me that this recipe apparently is quite popular here in the US—which goes to show that I do not know what I am talking about  and should not have a food blog in the first place.
Anyhow,  being at a loss about what to come up with for a filling that might even remotely make sense, I decided to rely on tradition. I mean, you can never go wrong with that, right?
So I made  Ashkenazic Jewish sweet and sour cabbage with apples to fill the arancine with, and baked some rye bread to make the breading. I used Texas-grown Arborio rice that worked like a charm and extra-virgin olive oil to fry the Arancine.

Well, I had never tasted Arancine before. And these were awesome!!!  The result was a savory morsel with an Eastern European flair, definitely a Winter flavor—and given the amount of snow we got here yesterday, they were right on the mark. My family ate them happily and no one said a word until dinner was over. We were all too busy enjoying those treats—conversation was an unwelcome distraction.

Thank you so much, Pupaccena. I saved some of these Arancine in the freezer. Hanukkah is coming up and those will be a wonderful addition to the 8-days long fried food extravaganza that awaits us. Frozen assets, indeed.

I followed Pupaccena’s wonderfully detailed and streamlined recipe for the rice and the assembly of the arancine.  I made the rice and the bread one day ahead, but the cabbage filling is best done two days in advance, as its flavors mingle and mellow to perfection.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage with Apples

1 red onion

2 lbs red cabbage

2 Granny Smith Apples

5 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-1/2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 cup water

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp caraway seeds


Shred the cabbage finely, chop the onion and the apple separately. Heat the oil in a cast iron pan and saute the onion until soft. Add the apple and the cabbage, the caraway seeds, salt to taste, the sugar and vinegar and finally the water. Stir until the cabbage begins to wilt slightly, then cover with the lid and let cook on very gentle heat for about 40 minutes, checking once in a while that it does not scorch. Better yet, if you do own a slow cooker (3-4 qt) transfer the mixture in the crock and cook on low for about 6 hours, until the cabbage turns silky.

Transfer the cabbage in a covered glass container and keep refrigerated until ready to fill your Arancine. You might have some leftover cabbage, but it is sooo good, either hot or cold, that it won’t be a problem, I think.

Rye Bread

3/4 cup water

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-1/2 tbsp honey

1-1/2 tsp salt

1 generous tbsp caraway seeds

1 cup rye flour

1-3/4 cups white whole wheat flour

1-1/2 tsp active dry yeast

1 tbsp vital wheat gluten

Make a dough and let rise, covered, until doubled. Shape and place in an oiled bread pan and let rise until it reaches the rim. Bake at 350 F until golden.

Arancine Filled

I used my beloved cast iron wok to fry the Arancine

And, last but not least, Thank you so much Ale, Dani & Giorgia for hosting the MT Challenge every month.

Versione italiana

Sono una persona molto organizzata, che affronta l’incertezza della vita armata di liste, inventarii e tabelle di marcia e  con la convinzione che, avendo cura di essere preparati, andra’ tutto bene. O sara’ almeno OK. O appena sopportabile. Ma comunque meglio che se non ci fossimo preparati per ogni evenienza. La ricetta di questo mese, quindi, cosi’ ben suddivisa in step-by-step era particolarmente nelle mie corde. Eppure, mi sono ritrovata ad affrettarmi gli ultimi due giorni per fare questo piatto che avevo programmato da un mese.

La verita’ e’ che non sono creativa. Certo sono capace di eseguire una ricetta, senza paura e con una certa abilita’ anche, ma non ho mai, mai inventato una ricetta. Posso mettere insieme delle idee, ma e’ piu’ probabile che il risultato sia un mostro di Frankenstein culinario piuttosto che una scoperta che getta nuova luce nei territori inesplorati della gastronomia.

La ricetta proposta da Pupaccena, le Arancine, sono uno street food siciliano e come tutta la loro cucina ha una squisita eleganza barocca. Pupaccena specifica che in certe zone le arancine sono “femmine”, tonde od ovali a seconda del ripieno mentre in altre zone sono “maschi” e sono a punta.

Dopo aver brevemente riflettuto sulle possibili implicazioni Freudiane della forma e del genere attribuiti a questi stuzzichini, mi sono anche resa conto che per noi che parliamo inglese Arancine e arancini sono comunque pronunciate “arancinI”, cosi come diciamo linguini e fettucini. Mi scuso quindi se questa sfumatura sfuggira’ alla maggiorparte di noi.

Chiedevo a mio marito se crescendo in New York City ricordi di aver mai visto le arancine, ma mi ha detto di no, mentre ricorda che erano sul menu di un piccolo ristorante italiano di Somerville, MA, negli anni ’90.

Nelle nostre visite nel North End di Boston non mi ricordo di averle mai viste, ma daltronde quando andiamo li’ l’unica cosa a cui riesco a pensare e’ di arrivare il prima possibile alla pasticceria di  Mike e mangiare tanti cannoli che basterebbero per un esercito. Puo’ essere quindi che, distratta dai cannoli siciliani io non abbia fatto caso alle eventuali arancine.

Una ricerca su google mi ha dimostrato che sono un piatto conosciuto anche qui negli USA, il che dimostra che non so davvero di cosa sto parlando e non merito di avere un blog di cucina .

Comunque, alla fine attanagliata dal panico nel cercare di pensare ad un ripieno che avesse anche minimamente senso ho deciso di rifarmi alla tradizione. Cosi’ non si puo’ sbagliare, no?

Quindi ho preparato il cavolo rosso in agrodolce della cucina ebraica askenazita e una pagnotta di pane di segale per l’impanatura.

Per il riso, la procedura di assemblaggio e la frittura ho seguito la ricetta di Pupaccena. Ho usato un riso Arborio coltivato in Texas che ha funzionato ottimamente e olio extravergine di oliva per friggere. Ho fritto nel wok.

Ho preparato il riso e il pane un giorno prima, ma il cavolo va preparato 2 giorni prima in modo che i sapori si intensifichino col riposo in frigo.

Beh…non le avevo mai assaggiate prima le arancine. Sono fantastiche!!! Il risultato e’ stato un bocconcino croccante con un sapore Est-Europeo, certamente adatto ad un clima invernale e vista la quantita’ di neve che abbiamo avuto ieri, andavano benissimo.

L’intera famiglia le ha mangiate in assorto silenzio, erano troppo buone per distrarsi con la conversazione.

Grazie mille Pupaccena. Ho messo alcune Arancine in freezer. Hanukkah e’ vicina e saranno una gradevolissima aggiunta ai cibi fritti che mangeremo per gli otto giorni della Festa.

Un patrimonio congelato, nel vero senso della parola.

Cavolo rosso in agrodolce

1 cipolla rossa

1 cavolo rosso da circa 1 kg

5 cucchiai di aceto di mele

1-1/2 cucchiai di zucchero di canna scuro

2 mele Granny Smith

1 cucchiaio di semi di carvi

sale q.b.

120 ml acqua

2 cucchiai di olio

1. Far ammorbidire la cipolla tritata fine nell’olio, aggiungere le mele tritate fini e il cavolo affettato fine. Mescolare finche’ il cavolo inizia ad appassire un po’,

2. aggiungere zucchero, sale, aceto e acqua e far cuocere pianissimo, coperto per circa 40 minuti, o finche’ il cavolo e’ morbidissimo. Se avete una slow cooker, al punto 2 trasferite il tutto nella pentola e cuocete per circa 6 ore su LOW.

Conservare in un contenitore di vetro coperto, in frigo. Potrebbe avanzarne dopo aver farcito le arancine. Ma e’ cosi’ buono, caldo o freddo, che non penso sara’ un problema.

Pane di segale

180 ml acqua

2 cucchiai aceto di mele

1-1/2 cucchiai di miele

7 g sale

1 cucchiaio abbondante di carvi

120 g farina di segale

210 g di farina integrale

10 g di glutine

4 g di lievito di birra disidratato

Impastare il tutto e far lievitare coperto. Al raddoppio formare un apagnotta e porla in uno stampo unto di olio. Far lievitare finche’ raggiunge il bordo della teglia e infornare a 180 C finche’ e’ ben dorato. Usarlo il giorno dopo per fare le briciole con cui impanare le Arancine.

Le arancine in fase di farcitura

Il wok di ghisa

Come sempre, grazie mille a Ale, Dani e Giorgia per MT Challenge!!