Cucina Valentina

Cucina Valentina

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Baked Garlic Shrimp Bowl

 The Essence of Italy in a Bowl!



Years ago I lived in Newport Beach, California where we would frequent a restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway called Jack Shrimp.  They served pretty much one thing, bowls of shrimp in a spicy broth with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping.  It was an addicting combination.  

Though Jack Shrimp closed over a decade ago, I often still find myself craving their shrimp bowls and decided to create my own version of their delicious specialty - Italian style.




There is something about the classic yet simplistic combination of olive oil, garlic, lemon, white wine and parsley that is timelessly Italian.  Add some fresh heirloom tomatoes (I always keep heirloom cherry tomatoes on hand), spicy red pepper flakes and a pat of butter and the subsequent silky broth is absolutely mouth watering.



Soudough bread is my favorite.  I simply sliced the bread, spritzed the slices with coconut oil spray, gave each a twist of fresh ground black pepper and toasted them on a sheet pan while the shrimp were cooking.

The crisp bread serves as a spoon to scoop up the shrimp mixture.  Don't worry, there will be plenty of broth left for dipping.

Baked Garlic Shrimp Bowl

2 lbs peel deveined shrimp cut into 1" chunks
Juice of one lemon
3 T garlic, finely chopped
1/4 C Garlic Infused Olive Oil
1/4 C chicken broth
1 T butter
1 T red pepper flakes
2 t salt
1/4 C fresh chopped tomatoes
1/4 white wine

Preheat over to 375.  Combine all ingredients in an oven proof skillet.  Bake 10 - 15 minutes.

Enjoy with a crusty loaf of sourdough and a buttery Chardonnay.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chicken Marsala with Tomato Basil Spaghettini

This is one of my favorite dishes.  I've tried it at every Italian restaurant I've ever been to and, after dinner, even gone so far as to prod chefs to divulge their secrets. Over the years I've assimilated the information gathered to create my own version.

When it comes to tenderizing meat, do yourself a favor and use a tin can. Lay the breasts down some wax paper, cover the meat with plastic wrap and pound away. As long as it's a relatively new can it will have a rounded rim at the bottom which works much better than a mallet and will not splatter microscopic shards of raw meat all over your kitchen.

I am not a fan of dredging, in fact, as a lifelong dieter, I try to avoid white refined flour whenever possible. (Naturally this goes out the window when it's time to make pizza dough, I am Italian, after all.) Instead of dredging I simply sprinkle a little flour onto both sides of the breasts. The end result is the same. 



Sear the flattened breasts over high heat so they develop a nice, golden brown crust, but only a couple minutes per side. Don't worry that the chicken is raw in the center. You want it to finish cooking in the sauce.





I am passionate about olive oils, especially the flavor infused variety. Whether it's the dead of winter and there are no fresh herbs around, or you just have not been to the market, flavored olive oils are a wonderful way to get the essence of fresh herbs into your dish.

For this recipe, sage is the perfect choice. If it was spring or early summer, I would fry a few leaves in the pan to infuse the butter and oil before adding the chicken, then use them as garnish later, but my sage has withered due to a few cold nights.

Sage infused olive oil is the perfect alternative.



I prefer cremini mushrooms for this dish as they are firmer and hold up better than white. Rather than slice, I quarter them, as I really like to savor that earthy mushroom flavor.

Normally I would use red bell pepper in this recipe for its inherent sweetness, but, as you will learn, I rarely follow guidelines or recipes exactly. Certain ingredients are interchangeable, and I always go with what looks best at the time.

Today the yellow peppers simply looked better than the red. They were plump and a deep golden yellow. I couldn't resist.

Oh, how I love garlic! I honestly feel more is better - always. I use an entire head of cloves in this dish, leaving them whole (huge cloves I will slice in half). As they roast in the sage oil then simmer in the Marsala they become soft and sweet in the center, their sharp bite giving way to a creamy, delicious mildness.

I want to mention the beef base here, as it is an important ingredient that gives this Marsala its richness. Use the paste that comes in a jar, not the powder, and you will want to go easy when initially seasoning the breasts, as the paste is definitely salty.

As I mentioned earlier, I try to stay away from white refined anything, including pasta. Even when I make my own pasta, I try to use at least half whole wheat flour. Whether it's penne, rotini, spaghetti, linguini and fettuccine, I feel the whole wheat is toothier, and just more satisfying.

This simple pasta is an easy accompaniment to the Marsala.  Toss in some basil, tomatoes and Parmesan, and the reserved pasta water turns it into a delicious sauce.



 Chicken Marsala

4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded 1/2" thick
1//2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 large shallots, sliced
1 head garlic cloves, whole, peeled
2 T butter
4 T sage infused olive oil
2 T flour
1 t rubbed sage
1 t thyme
1 T tomato paste
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t beef base
1/2 - 3/4 C Marsala wine
1/2 C chicken broth
1/2 C heavy cream 
2 T fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese

Place breasts on wax paper, cover with plastic wrap and pound with the rounded side of a tin can until you achieve a 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle both sides with sage, thyme, salt, pepper and flour.

Melt 2 T butter and 2 T sage olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chicken until golden brown on both sides but not cooked though, roughly 4 - 6 minutes per side depending on the size.  Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.

Add remaining 2 T sage olive oil to pan and swirl until hot. Add vegetables and saute until starting to soften. Clear a space in the center of the pan and add tomato paste, beef base and lemon juice. Stir with wooden spoon until melted. De-glaze with Marsala, reduce heat to medium and cook until vegetables are tender and garlic cloves are beginning soften. Add chicken broth and heavy cream. Stir to blend. Add chicken and juices. Nestle breasts into sauce, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15 - 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese and serve with spaghettini on the side.

Whole Wheat Tomato Basil Spaghettini

8 oz Spaghettini
10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Cook pasta in generously salted water according to instructions.  When done, drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Add tomatoes, basil (fresh or tube), Parmesan and pasta water. Toss to combine.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Triple Chocolate Caramel Apples - Lakeside

 Autumn at the lake is truly magnificent.  

The bustle of boats and jets skis dwindles away and tranquility pervades. Triple digits give way to eighty degree days and cool nightsMigratory birds arrive en force in search of bait fish, as do the many variety of bass that inhabit Lake Havasu

Fish frys inevitably turn into neighborhood pot lucks with everyone contributing their catch of the day, sipping cocktails and telling outrageous fish-tales - a blog yet to come as soon as we catch some fish!


For 20 years we have had this little escape on the lake, where we routinely gather with family and friends and spend most of the winter holidays.  

No matter the occasion, it's always a celebration when we are together, and what better way to celebrate autumn than with a batch of home made caramel apples?

There is something wonderful about caramel.  It is creamy, warm, smooth and sexy.  We caramelize foods to bring out their sweetness.  A splash of caramel vodka transforms any martini into a fall favorite.  If you have a candy thermometer you can make your own caramel, it's not that difficult, or you can use the wrapped candies.  The end result is the same.

I find red delicious apples to look the prettiest in pictures, while granny smith stay the firmest.

This was my first batch of apples, and, in my over-exited state, I obviously did not let them cool enough before applying the chocolate.  Everything slid to the bottom like a multicolored, incredibly delicious skirt. 

I can tell you, their sad appearance did not deter anyone from gobbling them down.  I look forward to tackling them again next year! 

As it turns out, I should've stayed in the house making my apples.  Instead we ventured out on the lake, only to break three boats in three days.  Two drives and a water pump.  Ugh, every boater knows, that's boating.  What's left to do?  Drown our sorrows on the patio with a chilled bottle of Frank Family Chardonnay.

Triple Chocolate Caramel Apples

6 firm apples, Granny Smith or Red Delicious
1 14 oz bag of caramels, unwrapped
1 12 oz bag of white chocolate chips
1 12 oz bag of milk chocolate chips
1 12 oz bag of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 T cashew milk
1/2 t vanilla extract
craft sticks or skewers

Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper or buttered parchment paper.

Microwave caramels with cashew milk in a glass bowl at 50% power - 30 second intervals, stirring in between until melted.  Add vanilla and stir until smooth.

Slice the bottom 1/2" off the apples so they will stand up.  Insert stick into stem end.  Roll apples in caramel until evenly coated then place on baking sheet and refrigerate at least 15 minutes until caramel is set.

In three separate microwaveable bowls melt chocolate chips the same way.  Stir until smooth with plastic spoons.  Use spoon to artistically drizzle chocolate over cooled caramel.  Allow each chocolate to cool before adding the next.

If desired, garnish with cookie crumbs, flaky sea salt, candy sprinkles... 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Autumn Harvest Salad with Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

This past weekend, right on cue for the start of October, our scorching Southern California weather cooled down beautifully, perfect for spending the day in the yard. All was going well until my husband, beaming like a proud Papa as he counted and admired the season's pomegranate crop, discovered a problem.  

I'll give you some background. Ian, originally from Scotland, is obsessed with growing food. Nothing makes him happier that plucking a lime off our sad little tree and popping it into his beer. I'll tell you; they are tiny and ridiculously bitter, but he will squeeze it in there and choke it down because HE grew it.

25 years ago we bought our home here in the foothills and he eagerly set about planting every variety of citrus, avocado, apple, zucchini, peppers, pumpkin, we could find. We soon learned that the decomposed granite we sit on is not conducive to growing any living thing.

If I counted up all the money spent on Miracle Grow, fancy soil amendments, organic pest sprays, etc., the two minuscule heirloom tomatoes we managed to yield this year would be worth their weight in gold!

The only thing that actually thrives in our soil is the pomegranate tree. (I recently learned that pomegranates originated in the Persian desert, so that makes perfect sense).

Hearing the alarm in his voice, I ran over to see what was amiss. One after another he handed me breached fruits. "Something's eating my pomegranates!", he bellowed. "I bet it's the damn birds!"  

You'll see the irony in this once you are aware that we have multiple bird feeders hanging from our backyard trees and we spend about as much money on suet, bells, blocks, socks, sunflower and assorted seeds, as we do on the garden. The back deck is where we unwind and enjoy watching the colorful Grosbeaks, Blue Jays and Orioles that come in for the evening feeding.

Just like that, our beloved and well-fed birds became the enemy. That evening my husband planted himself on the deck, binoculars in one hand and pellet gun in the other, ready to make short work of whatever was destroying his pomegranates.

After an hour or so I was finally able to lure him inside with the aroma of braised chicken curry, and while I set about seeding the salvageable pomegranates for my coconut rice, our Woogie leaped up and shot out the door like a bolt into the night. His sharp, incessant barks indicating one thing; he had something treed.  

The grin on Ian's face - I've never seen him move so fast! Flashlight in one hand and gun in the other, he charged out into the dark in his pajamas, and I inevitably followed with my camera.  

We found Woogie on his hind legs, barking up into the pomegranate tree with his tail wagging 90 mph. From underneath the umbrella-like canopy we scanned the branches with the flashlight until...

There was the furry culprit, clinging to a branch, either frozen in fear or playing possum, a sweet-faced little rat. Well, not so little, but undeniably cute, with big eyes and long whiskers - still tinted red from pomegranate juice.

Ian didn't shoot it, or course. He loves animals as much as he loves his garden.   

Autumn Salad

3 C chopped romaine lettuce
3 C baby kale/spinach blend
1 butternut squash, cubed and roasted 
1 persimmon or pear, peeled and chopped 
1/4 C red onion, chopped,
1/4 C rough chopped walnuts, toasted
Blue cheese    
pomegranate seeds

Roasted Spiced Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash
1 T fresh chopped rosemary
1 T fresh thyme
1 T chipotle chili powder
1 T brown sugar 
Tuscan Orange Olive Oil
Kosher salt and pepper 

Preheat oven to 350. Slice ends off butternut squash to make it more stable. Peel squash. Cut in half horizontally, separating the neck from the bulb. Dice neck into 1/2 cubes. Cut bulb in half. Scoop out seeds and pulp, then dice. * See note. 

Place cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with kosher salt, spices and herbs. Drizzle with enough Tuscan Orange Olive Oil to coat and toss. Spread out on non-stick foil covered sheet pan and roast at 350, turning with spatula halfway, until sugar is caramelized and squash are golden brown and tender in the center.

* note: Only season and roast as much squash as you need. Seal the rest of the raw cubes in a freezer bag, squeeze out air and lay in a single layer in the freezer so you can break off as many as you like in the future.  Let cool to room temperature.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

 1 T fresh crushed garlic
1 T finely chopped shallot
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 C maple balsamic vinegar
1 T cider vinegar  
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil (or more to your taste)
salt and pepper 

Seal everything in a mason jar and shake vigorously.