Chicken Piccata

picattaChicken Piccata is a famous Italian version of a lemon chicken dish. In the recipe below, you can skip the lemon slices if you like – they make a pretty presentation, but you can’t really eat them. The only difficult ingredient for those living in Japan is the capers. I’ve found them at various supermarkets, so you may need to look around or try a larger store.

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 chicken cutlets
salt and pepper
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
60mL (1/4 cup) white wine
120mL (1/2 cup) low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp butter
parsley
lemon slices, optional

Instructions

Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides, and dust with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Add the minced garlic and wine, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and capers. Bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan and cook for a minute or two on each side. Add the lemon slices and butter to the pan, and let the butter melt.

Pour the sauce over the cutlets to serve, and garnish with parsley.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

spaghetti and meatballsEven though I love to try new recipes as often as possible, sometimes I really just want to eat something homey and familiar, like spaghetti and meatballs. It does take a little time, but it’s worth it for the delicious flavor, and a lot of the time is just simmering, so you can do other stuff while you wait for it to cook.

Ingredients
Meatballs
280g (about 10 oz) ground beef/pork mix
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp milk
1 egg
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Sauce (or use your favorite home-made or store-bought sauce!)
400g (14 oz) canned tomato
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Spaghetti for serving, cooked according to box instructions
Parmesan cheese for serving, if desired

Instructions

Mix all meatball ingredients well. Form into 1-tbsp balls and roll between your hands to make a neat round shape.

Brown the meatballs in batches in a frying pan and remove to a plate. (They can be frozen at this point.)

Mix all sauce ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. (One trick I use is that if the canned tomatoes are too chunky, use a potato masher or fork to smash them a little.)

Add meatballs to sauce and simmer for 45 minutes.

Serve over cooked spaghetti.

Kabocha Gnocchi

kabocha gnocchi2I don’t have the right tools, so I almost never make pasta at home. It’s too difficult to roll out and cut and so on. But the one exception is gnocchi. Gnocchi are usually made with potato, but there are other variations as well. In the U.S. I used to use butternut squash, and in Japan I use kabocha, which has a nice color and great taste. Either will work in this recipe. There are lots of ways to do this, so I’ll describe my usual way and add notes about variations. There are a lot of steps to this recipe, but it doesn’t take long once you’ve gone through it once and got the idea.

Ingredients
500-600g (about 1 to 1-1/4 lb) kabocha or butternut squash
1 egg
about 1 cup flour (in Japan: use “strong” flour – 強力粉)
a pinch each of nutmeg, salt, and pepper

Instructions

First, remove the seeds and cook the squash. My preferred method is steaming. Just cut the squash into several equal-sized pieces, place in a steamer (or in a frying pan with a little water and put on the lid) and steam for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces and the variety of squash. Keep an eye on it and make sure all the water doesn’t evaporate, and test occasionally for doneness with a fork. When the fork easily goes all the way through the thickest piece, it’s ready. (You can probably also steam in a microwave. Another method is roasting: it takes about an hour in a 350F/180C oven. However, boiling/simmering is not a good technique for this recipe.) Let the squash cool somewhat, and remove the peel. (Note: kabocha peel is edible, but for gnocchi or soup I remove it for the color.)

Next, you need to puree the squash. The easiest way for me is the food processor, but you can also press it through a strainer (works well, but takes time and effort) or mash it (works, but depending on how soft it is, it can be hard to get a smooth texture).

Put the kabocha puree into a bowl. It should be the texture of soft clay. (Note: I discovered recently that some varieties have a high water content. These will not work for gnocchi. However, in many times making this recipe, it was my only failure, so I don’t think this is a common variety.)

Add the egg, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and mix until smooth. Add the flour about 1/4 cup at a time and mix in until you have a dough that you can work with – that does not stick to your fingers.

Split the dough into 4 equal pieces. Put three of them in the fridge while you work. To be efficient, you can also set a pot of water on to boil.

On a floured counter, roll the dough into a long snake, about 3/4 inch (2cm) in diameter. Cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) lengths with a sharp knife. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough.

kabocha gnocchiIf you didn’t start boiling water earlier, set a pot to heat on the stove. Also prepare a bowl of ice water in your sink or near the stove. When the water is boiling, turn down the heat to a simmer/light boil and drop in the gnocchi a handful at a time. Make sure they don’t stick together. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom, and as they cool, will pop up and float on top. Get them out with a slotted spoon and put them in the ice water to cool. You can’t cook that many gnocchi at the same time, so keep going in batches – you can just leave them in the ice water until you finish all of them.

Drain the gnocchi. At this point, if you like, you can refrigerate or freeze them for later use. Just put them in a baggie with a little bit of oil (so they don’t stick together). They keep very well in either fridge (for a few days) or freezer.

For eating: you can add sauce and eat them boiled, or you can take one extra step and fry them. I love them this way – crispy and brown.

In a frying pan, melt a tablespoon or two of butter. Heat until the butter starts to brown slightly. Add a sprinkle of sage (and some more nutmeg, if you like).

Add as many gnocchi as you like and fry, mixing them around once in a while, until they are browned and crispy. When done, add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Lasagna


I was never a fan of lasagna with lots of ricotta cheese in it. This version uses a white sauce instead, and has a really nice smooth taste. Original recipe from here. It does take a little work and time, but the sauces can be made ahead of time, which makes this dish quick to assemble and bake.

Ingredients
Meat sauce:
100g (1/4 lb) beef (or beef/pork mixture)
1/2 onion, diced
1 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
400g (14oz) canned diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

White sauce:
1 tsp olive oil
480mL (2 cups) milk
1/4 cup flour
salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste

Other:
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
200g (1/2 lb) shredded mozzarella (in Japan, “mix cheese” is fine)
lasagna noodles (enough to fill your baking dish)

Instructions

First, make the meat sauce. Brown the meat in a skillet and remove. In the same skillet, saute onion and garlic until softened, then add sugar, basil, oregano, canned tomato, and tomato paste. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, then turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Finally, blend the sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth. Mix the browned meat back into the sauce, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Next, make the white sauce. Heat olive oil and 360 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk in a saucepan. Whisk the remaining 120 mL (1/2 cup) milk with the flour in a small bowl until free of lumps, and add to the heated milk. Whisk or stir constantly over low heat until the sauce thickens. Add a pinch of nutmeg, plus salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, you can store the sauces in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna for dinner.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Prepare your lasagna noodles (check the package for instructions on how long to cook them, or use non-boil noodles).

Start by spooning a small amount of the tomato sauce into your pan and spreading it into a thin layer.

Add one layer of lasagna noodles to the pan. Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the white sauce, 1/3 of the parmesan cheese, and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat in that order until you have three layers, ending with cheese on top.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Lemon Rosemary Ragu

lemon rosemary raguThis meat sauce comes together very quickly and has a great flavor. There is some tomato in it, but the tomato taste isn’t so strong. It works well for people who aren’t into a very tomato-y pasta sauce. I adapted the recipe from here, which calls for using veal and olives, but those ingredients aren’t so common in Japan, so I’ve made a few changes.

Ingredients
200g (about 1/2 lb) dry pasta (choose a shape with surface area that will hold the sauce)
1 tbsp olive oil
200g ground beef/pork mixture
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1/4 tsp dried rosemary)
1 tbsp tomato paste
60mL (1/4 cup) white wine
120mL (1/2 cup) beef broth (In Japan, I use a bouillon cube plus 120mL water)
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp grated lemon peel
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (of course fresh is always best, but in Japan I use canned grated cheese and it works fine)

Instructions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute the ground meat until it loses its pink color. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until softened.

Add rosemary and tomato paste, stir to combine, and cook for a minute or so. Add the wine and beef broth and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Add parsley, lemon peel, and grated cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Mix cooked pasta with the ragu, and serve, along with extra grated cheese.

Garlic Breadsticks

breadsticks2These breadsticks are relatively quick and simple, and I love to throw them in the oven while I cook some Italian food on the stove! In the US, I would often bake them at the same time as something else, but those who live in Japan know that our tiny oven size here mostly prevents that. This recipe was adapted from here.

Ingredients
3/4 cup (180mL) water
1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups bread flour
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
herbs and spices to top: basil, oregano, garlic powder, pepper, Parmesan cheese, etc.

Instructions

Mix all ingredients except butter and herbs. Knead dough for a few minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes.

Spread melted butter on a baking sheet. Roll out the dough to a square about the size of your baking pan (or a little smaller than your baking sheet) and cut into strips (I usually get 10 or 12, as you can see from the picture above). Twist them, and lay them down on top of the melted butter. It’s okay if they touch – they’ll pull apart after baking.

Sprinkle your herbs, spices, and cheese on top, then cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 375F / 190C, or until golden brown.

Bruschetta

BruschettaBruschetta is one of my favorite summertime foods! I don’t have a precise recipe for the topping, but here are some guidelines.

Ingredients
1 baguette
extra virgin olive oil
several cloves garlic
about 1 cup cherry tomatoes
10 leaves fresh basil (or to taste)
fresh mozzarella cheese, cut in small cubes (In Japan, I usually use shredded cheese.)
salt and pepper
Other possible add-ins: fresh oregano, finely minced red onion, balsamic vinegar

Instructions

Chop up the cherry tomatoes. Chop 1-2 cloves garlic very finely and add them to the tomatoes. Mix in the cubed (or shredded) cheese. Cut the basil (and/or oregano) leaves in very fine strips and mix in. Add finely minced red onion if desired. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Mix well and taste. Adjust seasonings, and let sit for as long as possible.

When ready to serve, cut some garlic cloves in half, and rub them all over the crust of the baguette. Cut the baguette in diagonal slices about 1/2″ to 1″ thick. Place the slices on a baking sheet and drizzle olive oil over the tops. Toast in the oven until golden brown.

Top each slice of bread with a spoonful of tomato topping.

Don’t forget that if the topping sits on the bread for long, it’ll get soggy! I like to serve the toast on the side, and the topping in a bowl and let everyone serve themselves.