St. Paddy’s Day Inspiration: Irish Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek SoupIt’s that time of year when I gently remind Tony that there is another cultural heritage to be celebrated in our family. I’m a classic blend of North Dakotan ancestry with German – both from Germany and from Russia – on one side, and Norwegian on the other. But, lucky for me and our son, Gio, both sides also have a healthy dose of Irish, and each March we get downright giddy about that. We like to celebrate our Irish-ness all month long, and this week we’re kicking off the festivities with Irish Potato Leek Soup.

This is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients, and the result is comforting and delicious. Russet (or Idaho) potatoes are perfect for this soup, but we’ve also used Yukon Golds which bring color and extra creaminess to the dish. In Ireland as well as here at home, there is a love and passion for potatoes that translates neatly into soup, especially when paired with leeks, another favorite among the Irish.

Idaho potatoes (2) (640x320)

Leeks are a member of the allium family, which also includes onions and garlic. With their unique combination of flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, Alliums are believed to help boost immunity and are a valuable addition to a healthy diet.

The Irish firmly believe in their healing properties, due in large part to a legend about St. Patrick consoling a dying woman. When she shares with him her vision of being healed by an herb, he asks her to describe what it looked like and she tells him that it resembled marsh rushes. St. Patrick leaves and comes back with some rushes, which he then transforms into leeks. The woman eats the leeks and is healed, and the leek is forever immortalized in Irish cuisine.

Leeks have two harvest seasons, winter and summer, and can be easily found in our local markets. They have a milder, more delicate flavor than regular onions or scallions, which makes them a wonderful choice for this soup. Potato leek soup can be found across cultures, and other popular versions include the chilled vichyssoise found in French cuisine, as well as Scotland’s classic cock-a-leekie soup.

Leeks

The leeks will have some grit inside the leaves, so it’s important to clean them before using. Use a sharp knife to slice them in half lengthwise, from top to bottom, and then fan the leaves out while rinsing under cold water to remove any grit. Once washed, remove the top green leaves and root end and cut into ¼’ inch slices.

The soup will be pureed so the slices don’t have to be pretty, but they should be of consistent size to ensure even cooking, and the garlic cloves can be left whole. We use chicken stock for extra flavor, but vegetable stock or even water may be used instead. Heavy cream is essential to this soup, as it brings a boost of flavor and velvety finish to the soup. To ensure a smooth and creamy texture, Tony encourages you to “blitz the heck out of it” with your handheld or liquid blender.

Potatoes are such a neutral flavor that this soup can be garnished with a variety of toppings, including fresh chives, crumbled bacon, sautéed leeks, fresh herbs, or brightly colored microgreens, as featured today.

March has come in like a lamb and may go out like a lion, but with the luck of the Irish on our side and the comfort of Irish potato leek soup, we’re ready for anything. Erin go bragh!

Enjoy these other Irish-inspired recipes from previously featured posts:

Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur
Poached Salmon in Leek Cream Sauce
Baileys Irish Cream Cheesecake

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Cooking Video: Sarello’s Red Curry Scallops

This week on North Dakota Today Tony showed the viewers how to make our Signature Sarello’s Red Curry Scallops. We featured this recipe on the blog and in our column a year ago, and you can CLICK HERE to read the article or HERE for the recipe.

CLICK on the PHOTO BELOW to watch Tony’s video presentation, and then let us know if you have any questions or comments – we LOVE to hear from our readers!

Thanksgiving Prep: Our Top 8 Things To Do THIS Weekend…

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and early preparation is the KEY to a successful holiday for your guests AND YOU. Below is our list of the Top 8 things to get done during the weekend before Thanksgiving. We hope our suggestions will help you get and stay organized during the crazy lead-up to Turkey Day.

This weekend:

  1. Make a list of all the foods you’re preparing and write down the serving dishes and utensils each dish will require. Check your inventory and purchase any items you may need.
  2. Plan which LINENS (tablecloth, napkins, etc.) you will be using, and wash/iron them this weekend or purchase new ones if needed.
  3. Check your storage container and plastic bag inventory and stock up if necessary.
  4. Clean out your refrigerator and pantry to make sure you have ample room to store the ingredients and completed dishes.
  5. Review your recipes, prepare your grocery list and do most of your shopping this weekend.
  6. Check the timing for each recipe to determine what can be done in advance, and schedule the time on your calendar for each recipe.
  7. If you plan to buy a frozen turkey, it has to be purchased this weekend to allow ample time for thawing. You’ll need about 1 pound of uncooked turkey for each guest.
  8. Check out my Top Ten Turkey Tips, Thawing Guidelines, Wine Pairings, and Recipes, and be sure to let us know HOW DO YOU GOBBLE? by taking our poll on the right side of this page!

How To Make Perfect Whipped Potatoes – Every Time

Very few foods say comfort like real Whipped Potatoes do; in fact, they ooze comfort. Out of all the wonderful dishes we’ve served at Sarello’s over the past thirteen years, our whipped potatoes have remained a staple on our menu, and a favorite among our guests. Our whipped potatoes are so consistently good that, for many years, a certain well-known potato farmer has enjoyed joking with Tony that they must be made from instant potatoes.

Whipped (or mashed) potatoes are a common dish on many holiday tables, and each year at this time we receive an influx of requests for our recipe. With only four ingredients, there’s nothing complicated or unusual about our recipe, but a few extra steps along the way will ensure an excellent outcome, every time. This is what Tony calls “adding the love.”

We use Idaho (Russet) potatoes at the restaurant, which are usually large, up to one pound each, with brown skin and white flesh. They have a high starch content and are low in moisture, which makes them ideal for mashing or baking. The drier texture of the Idaho potatoes when cooked will result in fluffier whipped potatoes.

Once the potatoes are cooked, we come to another important step. After draining the potatoes, we return them to the stock pot and continue to cook them over medium-high heat for about ten minutes to cook off the excess moisture. This ensures that the potatoes are as dry as possible so that they will fully absorb the cream and butter.

If you’ve ever made whipped potatoes, you’re already aware that heavy cream and butter are key components in this dish. We hate to say it, but for really flavorful, fluffy potatoes, the more cream and butter in the dish, the better. For this recipe, be sure to use unsalted butter and real cream, not milk or half and half.

We always warm up the cream and butter before adding them to the cooked potatoes, so as not to shock the potatoes. First, mix the butter, cream and salt together in a small pot over medium-low heat, until all the butter has melted and the ingredients are fully incorporated. Next, add this mixture to the potatoes, in stages, as they are being whipped.

Once the potatoes are ready, use a mixer with the whip attachment, which works better to incorporate air into the potatoes so that they are fluffy, light, and smooth – and ready to melt in your mouth.

To make whipped sweet potatoes, follow the same recipe but add a half-cup of light brown sugar and one tablespoon of ground cinnamon when melting the butter and cream mixture.

A good rule when planning your menu is to allow about one half-pound of potatoes per person. I’d take that one step further and add two or three more potatoes to account for leftovers. I have fond memories of my mother making potato croquettes for breakfast from our leftover whipped potatoes.

The cold potatoes can be formed into balls or patties, then dredged in an egg-wash followed by plain or panko breadcrumbs, and fried over medium-high heat until golden brown and completely heated through. The oil in your pan should come up to about half the height of the croquettes.

If you’re looking for more recipes, turkey tips and ideas, we invite you to check out our THANKSGIVING 101 section and feel free to contact us with any questions.

Sarello’s Classic Whipped Potatoes

Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients:
6 Idaho potatoes, peeled ( approximately 5 to 6 pounds, or a ½-pound per person)
1 stick butter, unsalted
2 ½ cups heavy cream (whipping cream 35%)
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Directions:
Fill a large stock pot with plenty of water and boil the peeled potatoes over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 60 minutes. Use a set of tongs to check for doneness by squeezing a few of the potatoes, which should break apart when done.

Strain the potatoes over the sink, and return them to the stock pot. Continue to cook over medium-high heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally with a spoon. This will remove any excess moisture.

Transfer the potatoes to a mixing bowl and use the whip attachment or beaters, on a medium-high setting, to whip the potatoes. As this occurs, heat the cream, butter and salt in a sauce pan over medium heat, until the butter is melted, about five to seven minutes, stirring constantly.

Reduce mixer to low speed and slowly add the warm cream and butter mixture to the potatoes in several stages, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Once all the liquid is added, turn mixer to high and whip for 2 to 4 minutes until smooth and fluffy. Check for seasoning and adjust to taste.

To store: Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

Tony’s Tips:

  • To make whipped sweet potatoes, follow the above recipe but add a half cup of light brown sugar and one tablespoon of ground cinnamon when melting the butter.
  • To ensure leftovers, add 2 to 3 potatoes to this recipe.
  • For smaller groups, simply halve the recipe.
  • To make potato croquettes from leftover whipped potatoes, simply form them into balls or patties, dredge in egg-wash then plain or panko breadcrumbs, and fry in oil over medium-high heat until golden brown and heated through. The oil in your pan should come up to about half the height of the croquettes.

Tony’s Autumn Apple Salad

This week on North Dakota Today Tony demonstrated a simple and delicious recipe for an Autumn Apple Salad, using locally grown Honeycrisp apples. This salad is a great blend of textures and flavors: a tangy cider vinaigrette balances out the sweet tartness of the apples, while the cheddar cheese and candied walnuts provide both flavor and texture.

If you missed Tony’s cooking segment on North Dakota Today this week, you can click on this link to watch it online: Tony’s Autumn Apple Salad. We’ve also posted the recipe for you below, and would love to hear from you if you try this, or any other recipe.

Let us know: Have you ever tried a Honeycrisp apple before? What is your favorite apple variety, and why?

Tony’s Autumn Apple Salad

For questions, comments or suggestions, contact Tony at:
E-mail: dine@sarellos.com
Twitter: @thelostitalian or @sarellos
Facebook: Sarello’s & The Lost Italian page

Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 Honeycrisp apples, cut into 1/8-inch slices
2 cups candied walnuts (see recipe below)
1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup apple cider vinaigrette (see recipe below)
1 bag mixed greens, washed
1 head of Romaine lettuce, washed and cut into pieces
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt, divided

Directions:
In a large bowl, toss the mixed greens and Romaine lettuce and one half teaspoon of the salt with the cider vinegar. Place the greens on a serving platter or plates, then top with apple slices, candied walnuts and shredded cheese. To finish, drizzle a tablespoon of cider vinegar over the top of the salad and sprinkle with the remaining salt.

Tony’s Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Directions:
Combine all the ingredients in a small mason jar, squirt bottle or covered container and shake vigorously for about ten seconds. You can also use a whisk to combine the ingredients together in a mixing bowl for about one minute, until the oil and vinegar have emulsified (meaning that they are no longer separated).

Refrigerate for up to one week and shake well before serving.

How to make Candied Walnuts

Ingredients:
2 cups walnuts (packaged in halves)
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ cup water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil – for greasing sheet pan

Directions:
Combine first five ingredients in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook for approximately five minutes, stirring often and making sure that the sugar and butter are completely melted. The walnuts should appear shiny and sticky, and the liquid should have a syrupy consistency.

Brush a sheet pan with the vegetable oil, coating the entire surface so that the walnuts don’t stick. Pour the walnut mixture onto the pan and spread out to an even layer.

Allow the walnuts to cool, then cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap or transfer the nuts to an airtight container. Store at room temperature for up to ten days.

 

 

Gorgeous & Delicious: Prosciutto con Melone

For the past two weeks, our local grocery store (Southgate Hornbacher’s), has been featuring large displays of cantaloupe melons from Guatemala. Tony mentioned them to me several times before I pointed out that we still had a package of prosciutto ham at home in our refrigerator, left over from our Easter feast.

Prosciutto and melon is a classic food pairing in Italy, and is commonly featured as an appetizer, or antipasto. Traditionally, the melon is sliced into long, crescent-shaped pieces and served with a slice of prosciutto wrapped around it.

When Tony first made this dish for me many years ago, I balked at the use of cantaloupe, and tried to reason with him that the sweeter, and firmer, honeydew melon would be much better.

“But then it wouldn’t be prosciutto con melone,” he said. His response was so simple, and typically Italian, that it left little room for argument. Tony assured me that, when paired with prosciutto, the balance of savory and sweet flavors would bring out the best in the cantaloupe.  And he was right.

Prosciutto, or Parma ham, is a cured Italian meat made from the hind leg or thigh of the pig. The meat is cured in salt for two months, and then air-dried for at least eight more months before serving.  Tony recalls that, in Etobicoke, the Toronto neighborhood where he was raised, there were several Italian families who made their own prosciutto, curing it on hooks attached to the ceiling of their basements.

Prosciutto is Tony’s favorite deli meat, and was a staple in his family’s home. One of his fondest memories of this Italian specialty comes from accompanying his mother on trips to their local butcher, the Savoia Meat Market. While they would wait for the butcher to prepare their order, Mr. Savoia would always make Tony a Panini of fresh Italian bread with a generous portion of his prosciutto.

Prosciutto is served in paper-thin slices, and has a silky, almost buttery texture. A delicious blend of salty and sweet, it’s so good you might be tempted to eat it by itself. But, when paired with the cantaloupe, this simple peasant creation assumes an air of casual elegance.

There are a few helpful tips to follow when buying cantaloupe. Look for a melon that is light tan in color with green lines running across it, and avoid any fruit with dents or bruises. Next, feel the melon: it should be firm, but not rock hard. If you’re planning to eat it within a day or two after purchasing, you’ll want a melon that has a little give when you press your thumb into it.

And finally, don’t be afraid to smell the melon. Give it a good sniff – a ripe cantaloupe should smell similar to a freshly cut one. If there is no smell, it’s under-ripe. If your nose picks up a very strong, fruity scent, or an unpleasant aroma, it’s probably overripe.

For this recipe, Tony is departing from the traditional presentation, opting instead to serve the sliced cantaloupe over a layer of prosciutto. He then drizzles the platter with a reduction of balsamic vinegar. This simple ingredient is made by cooking regular balsamic vinegar until it is reduced by half, and achieves a syrupy consistency. This final touch enhances the dish with its tart, tangy sweetness, and adds a dramatic contrast to the lovely pink and melon colors on the platter. Buon appetito!

Tiramisu: An Instant “Pick Me Up”

Tiramisu. Just saying that word aloud makes me feel better, and it’s no wonder:  when literally translated from Italian to English, tiramisu means “pick me up.”

My first experience with this heavenly dessert was back in 1992, shortly after I joined the crew of the cruise ship, M/V World Discoverer. We had a wonderful pastry chef, a Filipino gentleman named Nick, who made the most delectable desserts. Nick was a true artist when it came to his pastries, and he had a flair for dramatic presentations. Regardless of how much the ship was moving, his creations were flawless, and included sky-high Chocolate Soufflés, perfectly layered Napoleons, and individual, flaming Baked Alaska.

Visually, Nick’s tiramisu paled in comparison. But in terms of flavor, this sweet creation had no rival. In fairness, my high regard may have been influenced by another factor. I’d just met a handsome young Italian named Tony who was quickly sweeping me off my feet, and he loved tiramisu. But, honestly, I’d never tasted anything like it.

Fortunately, I married that cute Italian. And, even better, he knows how to make tiramisu.

Tiramisu is a popular Italian dessert with somewhat ambiguous origins, which vary depending on the part of Italy you visit. The Savoy region of Piedmont claims to have invented it, and points to the use of ladyfingers, or savoiardi, as proof. However, the people of Lombardia will argue that the honor should be theirs, based on the mascarpone cheese, as it is a Lombardian creation. Tuscans and Venetians will happily jump into the debate, but their reasons for doing so aren’t as clear. And the Romans will put forth that any dessert so typically Italian could only be Roman.

Similar to a trifle, Tiramisu is a creamy, layered dessert consisting of ladyfinger cookies and a mixture of whipped mascarpone cheese, sugar, egg yolks and egg whites. Many recipes use heavy cream, but Tony prefers to use egg whites instead, which make the filling lighter and extend its shelf life in the refrigerator. This step also ensures that the entire egg is used, which is great since the recipe calls for ten eggs.

Traditionally, the ladyfingers are soaked in a mixture of espresso and liquor – we use brandy, but you can also use Marsala wine, Amaretto, rum, or just go without. Be careful not to oversoak the ladyfingers, or they will become soggy once layered. A quick dip for about five seconds should suffice, just before layering.

Tiramisu can be shaped to whatever dish you choose. In our recipe, we use an 8×12 inch glass baking dish, but at Sarello’s we prepare our Tiramisu in small bowls, for individual servings. You may begin layering with either the cheese mixture, or the ladyfingers, but the top layer should always be the cheese.

To finish, dust the top with a layer of cocoa powder, and refrigerate for at least twenty-four hours before serving. If planning to freeze, hold off on the cocoa powder and wrap the dish in two layers of plastic wrap, then top it with one layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to three months. Thaw for twenty-four hours, and dust with cocoa powder before serving.

The end result is delicate, fluffy, light, and delicious. Some people claim that Tiramisu was given the name “pick me up” due to its high egg and sugar content, or its blend of espresso and liquor. While those ingredients are important, their effects are only temporary. It is the perfect combination of all the ingredients, coming  together to create an unforgettable taste experience, which makes this dessert truly worthy of its name.

Raw Egg Warning: While we have never found this to be an issue, there can be concern in consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs due to the slight risk of Salmonella or other food-borne illness.

To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. You may also choose to use pasteurized eggs, in whole or liquid form. 

Tiramisu RECIPE

Watch Tony MAKE TIRAMISU

Savoring Springtime with Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera is one of our favorite springtime recipes. Primavera means spring in Italian, and this dish is a wonderful example of nature’s influence in the art of food. It’s light and fresh, a perfect blend of pasta, vegetables, colors and aromatics. It’s a dish that caters to the creative cook as you can vary the vegetables, pasta noodles, and even the sauce to reflect your mood and make the dish your own.

It also comes with an interesting back story. Pasta Primavera was created in the late 1970s at the famed New York City French restaurant, Le Cirque, and was promptly hailed by the New York Times as “by far, the most talked-about dish in Manhattan.” This much we know, but dig a little deeper and it becomes difficult to find a definitive story about the origins of this dish.

Some sources attribute its creation to a collaboration of Sirio Maccioni, Le Cirque’s owner, Ed Giobbi, an American artist and cook, and Jean Vergnes, Le Cirque’s then-head chef. Other reports credit Mr. Maccioni’s wife, Egidiana, with the idea. Some foodies muse that the mystery of its origin speaks to a larger story about a culinary culture war between Italy (Mr. Maccioni) vs. France (Chef Vergne).

Oddly, though wildly popular at Le Cirque, this dish was never featured on the restaurant’s menu, a fact which may lend credence to the legend that Chef Vergnes so disliked this dish, he insisted his cooks prepare it in the hallway. Even Mr. Maccioni’s own story has changed over the years. What is not disputed is the fact that this humble dish left its mark on the American culinary world in a big way.

Our recipe differs from the original dish as we lean toward an Italian culinary point-of-view (go Italy!), embracing olive oil over cream, penne noodles over spaghetti, and a different combination of vegetables.

We recommend taking a simple and consistent approach to this dish. While you may vary the type of pasta noodles, it’s important to match the cut of the vegetables to the shape of the pasta. For long noodles like spaghetti, linguini and fettuccine, cut the vegetables in long, thin strips, julienne style. For shorter, fatter noodles, cut the vegetables in smaller pieces to better complement the pasta.

Tony cannot stress enough the importance of seasoning the pasta water with salt, a step often overlooked by home cooks. Add at least one to two tablespoons of kosher salt to the water before it reaches a boiling point. Throw in the pasta and cook until al dente, an Italian term which means “to the tooth,” and is described as “having a firm bite.”

Olive oil is a key component of this dish, so use a good quality, extra-virgin variety. A good rule of thumb when cooking the vegetables is to begin with those that will require more cooking time, such as carrots and onions. Add other vegetables, like mushrooms, peas, and tomatoes later, after deglazing the pan with white wine. Leafy items, like spinach, should be held until the end, as they wilt quickly. And always use fresh parmesan cheese to garnish.

We’re sharing our own version of pasta primavera today, but encourage you to play around with it and get creative at home. Who knows? You just might create a dish great enough to inspire a legend, or two.

Pasta Primavera RECIPE
WATCH Tony make Pasta Primavera