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It had been a while since I’d had pasta. An almost daily staple in my diet for most of my life, I pretty much stopped making it when I became more adventurous in the kitchen. A year ago I promised myself to really learn how to cook.  Not just a handful of dishes which I’d learn to cook to perfection but a wide repertoire culled from a variety of cuisines around the globe. I began with French food, as I assumed that French techniques were the foundation of much of Western cuisine. I was instantly enamored with it and my love for Italian food fell by the wayside.

What you see on this blog, however, is a small sampling of what I have been cooking. I’ve been dabbling in the foods of Thailand, China, the Middle East. I love all sorts of food, but because I really wanted to learn how to cook French food, I made it the focus of my blog.

Yet lately I have missed pasta and the limitless choices it offers at dinner. I have missed gnocchi, and crespelle, and creamy risottos. By immersing myself completely in the world of cooking and food, I have come to yearn not for the standard Italian American fare that was a staple in my diet for so many years but the real stuff, the authentic tastes specific to the various regions of Italy and almost unknown outside them.

Enter The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, the Julia Child of Italian Cooking. This book is considered a classic for its truly authentic recipes and exploration of the regions of Italy, which each have their own culinary dialect. Though I have a collection of books on Italian cooking, this is the book I now turn to when I feel like cooking Italian. If I could only have one book on this simple yet wonderful cuisine, this would be the one.

This recipe is by no means complicated, but it is one of my favorites when I want the soothing comfort of a creamy pasta. I like to serve the sauce over a broader noodle like pappardelle or fettuccine

Mushroom, Ham, and Cream Sauce

Adapted from the Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons shallot or onion, chopped fine

salt

freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces boiled unsmoked ham, cut into narrow julienne strips

6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

For tossing the pasta:

2 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Directions:

1) Put the shallot in a large skillet with butter and cook over medium heat until it becomes golden. Turn up the heat to high and add mushrooms. Do not crowd the pan; cook in batches if necessary. Cook the mushrooms until they have soaked up all the butter. Turn the heat down to low and add salt and pepper. Turn mushrooms over 2 or 3 times.

2) As soon as the mushrooms release their liquid, turn the heat up high and boil the liquid away, stirring frequently.

3) Turn the heat down to medium and cook the ham for about 1 minute. Add the cream and cook just long enough for it to become reduced and slightly thickened. Taste and correct salt and pepper.

4) Put the butter and cream for tossing the pasta into another pot and heat over low. When the butter melts, stir the butter and cream together. Transfer cooked pasta to the pot and toss to coat. Add half the mushroom sauce, tossing again. Add the 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, toss again and turn off heat. Pour the remainder of the mushroom sauce over the pasta and serve at once, with extra cheese on the side.

Today is an important day of sorts. A day that I–as well as thousands of foodies and food bloggers–have been awaiting anxiously for weeks now; the release of Julie & Julia featuring Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

JuliaAndJulia

It also marks the last day in a series of recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I have been attempting over the course of the last little while. Until Hélène from La Cuisine d’Hélène suggested a MtAoFC challenge a couple of weeks ago, my copy of Julia Child’s magnum opus sat largely unused on my bookshelf. But later is always better than never, and I’m so glad that I got the nudge to cook from this classic cookbook. I’ve always been the type of person who uses cookbooks as a starting point. I rarely cook a recipe all the way through as printed. With Mastering, however, I decided that it would only be fair to Julia and the challenge to cook the dishes exactly as described.

I’m so glad I did. Everything I’ve made has come out much better than expected. I have started out with the simpler dishes but liked them so much that I’ve made some of them twice. Although this is my last MtAoFC challenge, it’s surely not the last time I’m going to cook from Julia Child’s wonderful book.

Soupe à L’oignon Gratinée – French Onion Soup

The key to French Onion soup is the slow cooking of the onions in butter and oil, followed by a long, slow simmering in stock. This helps them to develop the rich flavor this soup is known for.

6-8 servings

Ingredients:

5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 quarts beef stock, boiling

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons cognac

4-6 rounds of hard-toasted French bread

1-2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

fronion

Directions:

1) Cook the onions slowly in the butter and oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to medium and stir in the salt and sugar. The sugar will help the onions to brown. Cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned a deep golden brown.

2) Sprinkle in the flour and stir over heat for 3 minutes. Off heat, blend in the stock. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for another 30-40 minutes or more, skimming if needed. Correct seasonings.

3) Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Place rounds of bread in soup bowls or a tureen and pour soup on top. Sprinkle with grated cheese and brown under a hot broiler until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Quiche Lorraine – Cream & Bacon Quiche

quichelor

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

3-4 ounces lean bacon

8-inch partially cooked pastry shell

3 eggs

1 1/2 – 2 cups cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of nutmeg

1-2 tablespoons butter cut into pea-sized dots

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Brown  bacon in a skillet. Drain on paper towels and press pieces into bottom of pastry shell.

2) Beat the eggs, cream, and seasonings in a mixing bowl until blended. Check seasonings. Pour into pastry shell and distribute butter pieces on top.

3) Set in upper third of preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the quiche has puffed and browned. Slide quiche on a hot platter and serve.

For more Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipes, take a look at La Fuji Mama, La Cuisine d’Hélène, or Whisk.

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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Photos and text copyright 2009 by Darina Kopcok
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