Midnight Macaroons

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Chocolate-Covered Hazelnut Macaroons
Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
Yields about 8 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large egg whites
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

METHOD
Fill a sauce pot with water and heat to boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to just simmering. Fill a large metal (or heat-resistant) mixing bowl with the chocolate chips and place over the hot water bath. Allow to melt, stirring with a spatula every few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg white. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Form the dough into eight, 2 tablespoon mounds and drop each onto the sheet pan about 2-inches apart.

Bake the macaroons until golden brown on the edges, about 15 minutes. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled macaroons. Serve.

Macaroons will keep in a sealed container for up to one week.

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Sony Pictures.)

Dining In…

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One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1996 film, Big Night. But it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I was introduced to this foodie classic by a roommate who told me about it after I had made a dinner of risotto and chicken. (We then watched the movie together later that evening.)

The film centers around two brothers, Primo and Secondo, immigrants from Italy, who own “Paradise” a restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. The restaurant is in danger of closing as its competing restaurant, another Italian-owned restaurant, “Pascal’s” is taking all of its business. As popular as their competitor’s restaurant may be with locals (think Bucca di Beppo-style decor) the restaurant does not have the heart and soul of the true Italian cuisine that the brothers’ restaurant embodies.

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The chef, Primo (beautifully played by Monk star, Tony Shalhoub) is the soul of the restaurant–preparing special dishes he brought from Italy to the States. While Secondo (played by Stanley Tucci, doing triple duty as actor, writer and director of the film) is the businessman of the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant has to close, but a chat with Pascal leads Secondo to believe that he has set up a final dinner, a “Big Night”, where famous Italian-American singer, Louis Prima is supposedly invited to dine at their “Paradise.” The dinner is meant to be something special, a final goodbye to the restaurant and its roots. Cooking for a big-time star like Louis Prima not only excites Secondo, it pushes him to encourage  his brother to create a special, final meal.

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And the meal, well, it’s definitely something memorable. With about 6 courses, the Big Night meal is a culinary adventure that shoots to inspire any foodie, chef, student, and home cook alike. I often dreamt of recreating my own Big Night meal, and I thought that my (belated) housewarming dinner with a few friends would be the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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Instead of 6 courses, I opted for 4. The dinner centers around pivotal scenes and dishes in the film. I tried to be as ambitious yet realistic as possible. I had a day and a half to create this meal by myself, so I definitely had my work cut out for me. After pulling an all-nighter and waking up early the following morning to get this meal prepared before my guests arrived, I am incredibly happy with how well the dinner went. By the time my guests arrived, I already had the timpano in the oven, the sorbetto in the freezer, and I was able to cook the stracciatella and the risotto a la minute, right in front of my guests. The reveal of the timpano and slicing it at the table, and then pouring the Prosecco over the sorbetto was another visual treat my guests enjoyed. It appears, we, too, had our own Big Night.

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Big Night-Inspired Menu

zuppa: stracciatella (Italian Egg Drop Soup)

primo: risotto con capesante (Seared Scallop Risotto)

secondo: timpano (Baked Pasta Pie)

dolce: sorbetto alla fragola con prosecco (Strawberry Sorbet with Prosecco)

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Rysher Entertainment and Timpano Productions.)

A Delicious Start

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In the Big Night dinner, the meal starts off with the zuppa (soup), although the film didn’t specify what type of soup was served, I opted for lighter fare. A light, clean-tasting soup felt like the best way to begin a four-course meal.

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This stracciatella (Italian for “to tear”, or “to shred”, the term is used to describe other foods, including stracciatella ice cream with its shreds of chocolate.) is so easy to make and requires only 5 ingredients–so convenient when you’re preparing a four-course meal for four people all by yourself! But remember: don’t stir the mixture in too much–the clumps cooking in the hot stock will create lovely little semolina dumplings once set.

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Stracciatella (Italian Egg Drop Soup)
Serves 2-4
Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes

INGREDIENTS
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 cups spinach leaves, stems removed and chiffonade cut (kale, chard and arugula also work well)
1 Tablespoon semolina flour
3 Tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (use a Microplane if you have one)
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHOD
Heat the chicken stock in a stock pot and bring to a boil.

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While your stock is heating up, in a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg, Pecorino Romano and semolina flour.

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Stir in the chiffonade-cut greens into the boiling stock. Lower the heat to a simmer. Slowly pour in the cheese/egg/flour mixture into the stock. Do not stir the mixture, allow it to sit in the simmering stock for about 2 minutes.

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Once the batter looks set (it will cook rather quickly) give the mixture a gently stir to incorporate all of the ingredients. The clumps of batter have now turned into mini dumplings. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve!

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Rysher Entertainment and Timpano Productions.)

Save this one for Louis Prima

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“This is so fucking good, I should kill you!” screams rival restauranteur, Pascal (Ian Holm), as he takes his first bite of the grand, drum-shaped Timpano. 

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In what is truly a labor of love, the Timpano is a very special Italian dish–best explained by Primo to have, “a special crust, that is shaped like a drum, and inside…all of the most important things…in the world.”

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There are several components to the dish. First, the pasta crust. Then the meatballs. Then the marinara sauce, and everything else in between. Unfortunately, because of time restraints, I wasn’t able to make the pasta by hand, so I decided to cheat a little bit (just one cheat!) and topped the Timpano with lasagna sheets. The result is not as good as its original, but boy, the inside of the pasta pie well then makes up for it!

If you’re ready to wow your guests (and impress yourself, for that matter!) roll up your sleeves, and prepare to make this very special, timely dish.

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Italian-Style Meatballs
Yields 14-18 meatballs, depending on size
Recipe via A Streetcar Named Devour

INGREDIENTS
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 small onion, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 egg
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flake
olive oil

METHOD
In a medium-sized skillet, heat the oil till hazy. Add in the onion and shallot, saute till translucent. Add in the garlic, stirring for one minute. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the ground beef and pork, egg and cheese. Once the onion mixture is fully cooled down, add it into the mixture. Finish with the rest of the ingredients, mixing till just incorporated.

Roll the meatball mixture into 2 1/2 Tablespoonfuls-sized balls. Set aside.

Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat, adding just enough oil to reach about 1 1/2 inches of the skillet.

Load the skillet with the meatballs, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook all sides of the meatballs for 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and place onto a baking sheet.

Once all of the meatballs have been cooked, place into a 350-degree oven and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the center of the meatballs are cooked through.

(This can be done a day ahead.)

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Italian-Style Marinara Sauce
Yields 3 1/2 quarts
Recipe via A Streetcar Named Devour

INGREDIENTS
24 ounces of canned whole tomatoes
3 Tablespoons dried oregano leaves
1/2 cup basil, torn
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt

METHOD
Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Puree till all ingredients are completely blended together. Set aside.

(This can be done a day ahead.)

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Timpano (Baked Pasta Pie)
Serves 4-6 people
Recipe slightly adapted from LA Mag

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE ASSEMBLY
1 1/2 cups Genoa salami pieces
1 1/2 cup sharp provolone cheese chunks
6 hard-cooked eggs, shelled and quartered lengthwise, each quarter cut in half
2 cups small meatballs* (Recipe above)
3 1/2 cups marinara sauce* (Recipe above)
1/2 pounds ziti, cooked al dente (about half the time recommended on the package) and drained, tossed in olive oil
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano
3 eggs, beaten
8-10 sheets of lasagna, cooked al dente, drained, tossed in olive oil

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METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Make sure salami, provolone, hard-cooked eggs, meatballs and marinara sauce are out at room temperature. Toss the ziti with 2 cups of the marinara sauce. Place 4 cups of ziti onto the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of a 1/2 cup salami, 1/2 cup provolone, 1 1/2 eggs, 1/2 cup meatballs and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese after that. Pour another 1/2 cup of sauce over the ingredients, repeat this step, adding layers of ingredients until the filling comes to about 1 inch of the top of your timpano pan. The last of the marinara sauce should be the top layer. Then pour eggs over the filling. Fold the lasagna sheet layers over the filling to seal it completely.

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Cover with aluminum foil and bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake the timpano till it’s cooked through and is golden brown (and reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees), an additional 30-45 minutes. Once done, remove from oven and allow the timpano to rest for another 30 minutes to allow it to cool and contract before attempting to remove it from the pan. Failing to do so, will result in a broken pasta pie. Once it’s fully cooled down, the baked timpano should not adhere to the pan.

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Place a baking sheet or a large, thin cutting board that covers the entire diameter on the pan on top of the timpano. Grasp the baking sheet or cutting board and the rim of the pan firmly and invert the timpano. Remove the pan and allow timpano to cool for 10 minutes. Using a long, sharp knife, gently slice the timpano like slicing a pie into individual portions. Serve!

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Rysher Entertainment and Timpano Productions.)

Un Dolce Finale

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To complete a rather heavy (yet balanced!) Italian feast, inspired by the glorious meal shown in the classic film, Big Night, I wanted to incorporate a light and fruit-forward dessert. When planning the final course for this special meal, I consulted with my good friend, Brett, who is the pastry chef assistant at a superb Italian restaurant in Oakland that I used to work with him at. He immediately suggested a strawberry sorbet topped with some Cava or Prosecco. It was pure genius. This recipe of my Strawberry Sorbet from a few years’ back is my go-to. Just make the sorbet a day-ahead and pour a bit of Prosecco tableside and just see how delighted your guests will be!

Sorbetto alla Fragola con Prosecco (Strawberry Sorbet with Prosecco)
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
1 quart strawberry sorbet (recipe HERE)
1 bottle Italian Prosecco

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METHOD
Make the sorbet at least 1 day before serving.

When ready to serve, leave the sorbet out in room temperature for about 20 minutes to soften a bit. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop 2-3 scoops of sorbet into each bowl. Pour enough Prosecco over sorbet to just cover. Repeat for all bowls. Serve!

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Rysher Entertainment and Timpano Productions.)

Khaki Wishes and Cookie Dreams

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I was never a Girl Scout. In lieu of those activities, my mom encouraged me take ballet and tap dance classes, piano lessons and vocal coaching. I was a bit of a singer/dancer as a child, taking any chance I could to steal the limelight to sing in front of an audience (large or small). I loved singing and dancing so much that I didn’t miss or even notice the other activities I could’ve been doing with other kids my age. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old when I first saw Troop Beverly Hills, a movie about a group of Wilderness Girls from the 90210, led by the fierce (and amazingly dressed) Shelley Long.

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Troop Beverly Hills is one of my favorite movies, and after re-watching it in my 20s I immediately recognized one of my favorite artists, a young Jenny Lewis. In fact, the movie is flooded with young stars you may recognize.

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Looking back, I kind of wish I would’ve been a Wilderness Girl, just so that I could sing the “Cookie Time” song.

So right now (with all of my social media channels flooded with posts of Girl Scout cookies) I’m craving Thin Mints so very much. But no such luck on finding any Girl Scout cookie sales booths. Being the proactive and slightly impatient person that I am, I decided to create my own. The resulting recipe is vegan-optional (if you choose to use margarine instead of butter) and has a very subtle coconut flavor. ‘Cause mint and coconut go together like khaki and green, right? I’m calling ’em “Thick Mints” for obvious reasons.

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Homemade Thick Mints
Recipe slightly adapted from BakingBites.com
Yields about 2 1/2 dozen

INGREDIENTS
For the cookies:
8 ounces butter (or margarine)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup rice flour (I used Mochiko)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour

For the dipping chocolate:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1/8 cup canola oil

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter (or margarine) and sugar till fully incorporated. Stir in the salt, extracts, coconut milk and cocoa powder. Mix until the cocoa powder is integrated and the batter looks like chocolate frosting. Add the flours and mix till just combined, making sure to not over-mix.

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Form the dough into a cylinder-like roll (think rolling pin-sized). Wrap the dough completely in Saran or other plastic wrap tightly. Place the dough into the freezer for at least 3 hours or overnight.

After properly resting, remove dough from the freezer and carefully discard plastic wrap. Using a sharp serrated knife cut dough into 1/2-inch discs, slowly cutting so as to not break the dough.

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Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 11-13 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack, about 5 minutes.

While the cookies bake, make the peppermint coating. Heat a sauce pot of water till boiling. Place the baking chocolate into a heat-resistant bowl over the boiling water, making sure not to get water  into the chocolate.

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(Cook’s Note: I have read recipes online instructing to place chocolate into a microwave. Please, I repeat, please don’t do that. Heating chocolate in the microwave will oftentimes scorch it. Chocolate is a temperamental food that needs to be treated carefully. On that note, please don’t ever heat chocolate over a direct flame. Melting chocolate over a double-boiler creates a more controllable heat source.)

Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the peppermint extract. Then slowly add in the oil to thin it out.

Slowly drop the cookies into the melted chocolate. Turn to coat the cookies entirely, then lift the cookie out of the chocolate with a rubber spatula.

Place the dipped cookies onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place the cookies in the freezer to set for at least an hour, preferably overnight if you’re patient!

Now it’s “cookie time, it’s cookie time, it’s cookie time!”

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Weintraub Entertainment Group)