Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kofta with Labneh

I often post pictures of foods I cook at home for my family’s dinner on Facebook.  One of them, Kofta, which I posted about a year and a half ago, recently sparked new interest from my friends.  So I decided to make it again – for you, my dear readers.

Ingredients for Kofta

Skewered and grilling over charcoal

Almost done

Yogurt being strained

Yogurt wrapped in muslin; whey in the bowl

Strained yogurt the consistency of cream cheese

Labneh with minced fresh parsley and drizzled with olive oil

Kofta, labneh, couscous and roasted vegetables

1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
5 tablespoons minced onion
5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 ½ tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

30 bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 30 minutes before use

1.        In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients together until well blended. 
2.       Divide the meat mixture into 30 balls.  Refrigerate for one hour, or overnight.
3.       Take one ball and form it into a flat oval around a bamboo skewer.  Repeat with remaining balls.
4.       Prepare gas or charcoal grill for moderate heat.  Oil the grate.
5.       Place the skewers on the preheated grill.  Cook to your desired doneness.


16 oz plain yogurt
1 teaspoon salt

1.  Mix salt into the yogurt.

2.   Line a large sieve or colander with muslin or double layer of cheesecloth.  Empty contents of 16 oz container of yogurt into the lined colander.  Tie the cloth to enclose the yogurt.  Weigh down with a small plate.

3.   Let sit 6-12 hours.  The longer it sits, the firmer it will be.  Drain and discard the whey, or reserve for another use.

4.  For a dip, minced herbs (parsley, mint, thyme, tarragon, etc.), spices (ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, minced garlic, minced onion, ground chile, ground black pepper, etc.), chopped dried fruits or nuts may be added.  Ladle into a shallow serving bowl.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve at room temperature.


Kofta originated in Iran.  The name is from the Persian word kufta which means to grind or to beat.  Thus, kofta are made with ground or minced ingredients.  From Persia, the cooking and eating of kofta spread to neighboring countries and beyond.  Depending on the country or region, kofta is made from various ingredients and cooked in a variety of styles.  Kofta from Middle Eastern countries are usually made from lamb or mutton.  In India chicken, fish, legumes or vegetables are used.  And in other countries beef and pork may be used.  Some cultures serve kofta with gravy as they consider dry kofta as kebabs. 

Like kofta, labneh is a traditional food of the Eastern Mediterrean and Middle Eastern countries, as well as the Indian subcontinent.  It starts off as yogurt and then it is strained to remove the whey resulting in a rich protein-packed product whose consistency is like a soft cheese.  In some areas, labneh is formed into balls, flavored with herbs and spices, and packed in olive oil.  For portability, the Bedouins make a hard labneh which is sun dried.  In Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries milk from camels may be used.

It is not necessary to have labneh with kofta, however its coolness provides a nice counterpoint to the heavily spiced meat.  Its mild sourness and fresh herbs also goes well with the kofta.

One of the ingredients I listed is Aleppo pepper.  Although it is named after the ancient city in northern Syria, it is also known as Halaby pepper.  It is widely available as dried and crushed.  Aleppo pepper is slightly oily and has a mild-moderate heat level. 

For this recipe I used equal parts beef and lamb.  You may choose pure beef or pure lamb.  It is entirely up to you what kind of meat you use.  Some people are put off by the gaminess of lamb while others like it.  No matter what meat or combination of meat you use, it is important to let the meatballs sit and rest after forming them so that the flavors meld.  Additionally, they will be easier to skewer and transfer to the grill when they are a bit cool.  Just like my burgers, I like kofta to be medium so that I feel some char on the outside but taste the juiciness on the inside.  If kofta is to be eaten later, they may be grilled on the rare side to allow for additional cooking or reheating later. 

For dinner I served kofta and labneh with couscous and roasted vegetables.  Couscous is made from durum wheat, and is native to Northern Africa.  I made the couscous with diced roasted eggplant, yellow squash, onions, and dried apricots.  Kofta may be accompanied instead by a rice pilaf or flatbread.

What meat or meat combination will you use to make kofta?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meyer Lemon Deluxe Pie

This recipe was developed by Toby Ortolano as one of the ways to use our Meyer Lemon Curd.

 Ingredients for Meyer Lemon Deluxe Pie

Creaming butter and confectioners sugar

...almost done

Shortbread dough

Pressing dough onto pie plate

Pie crust ready for the fillings

1st layer: chopped pecans

Whipping the cream

2nd layer: whipped cream

3rd layer: lemon curd


Meyer Lemon Deluxe Pie
1 cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar, divided
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup pecans, chopped
9 oz. jar Hummingbird Hill kitchen Meyer Lemon Curd
1 pint heavy whipping cream

1.       Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.       Assemble shortbread pie crust.  Using a large bowl, cream butter and ½ cup confectioner’s sugar until light and fluffy.
3.       In another bowl, mix together flour and baking powder. 
4.       Fold flour mixture into sugar/butter mixture. 
5.       If not using immediately, roll mixture into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
6.       Make sweetened whipped cream.  In a large bowl, beat heavy cream and ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar until soft peaks form.
7.       Line pie tin/plate with shortbread pie crust.  Weigh down and bake for 10 minutes.
8.       Remove crust from oven.  Press chopped pecans into crust.  Let sit for 20 minutes or until cool.
9.       Fill 1/3 of pie with sweet whipped cream, about half of mixture. Spread thick and even.
10.   Gently spread lemon curd on top of whipped cream.  Make sure you empty entire contents of jar!
11.   Add final layer of sweetened whipped cream. 
12.   Garnish with lemon zest.  Chill and serve.

The first time Toby tasted my Meyer Lemon Curd he loved it!  As a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College of Culinary Arts and as my Hummingbird Hill Kitchen associate, he helps me develop recipes for our products.  Meyer lemons differ from regular lemons in that they are not as sour.  Meyer lemons are a cross between a true lemon and either a common or mandarin orange.

This pie is similar to Lemon Merengue Pie, but richer and more dense.  The shortbread crust by itself is a treat.  As you can see from the picture above, I used the plastic wrap to spread the dough onto the pie plate.  Because the dough has so much butter, it would melt in my hands.  The dough is weighted down during the pre-baking process so that it won’t rise.

A final garnish of lemon zest really enhances the citrus flavor as well adds to the visual appeal.  Served chilled, it makes for a refreshing snack or dessert.

What recipes would you suggest for our Meyer Lemon Curd?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli

Although vastly multi-cultural, San Pedro, CA is home to a large population of Italians and Croatians who are predominantly Roman Catholic.  We attend Mary Star of the Sea Parish which celebrates all of these ethnicities.  Every March our Italian brothers and sisters invite everyone in the parish to a light lunch of Pasta e Fagioli, rolls and Italian cookies. 


Borlotti beans, bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil

After about an hour

Using an immersion blender to puree some of the bean mixture

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli
1 ½ cups dried borlotti or cannellini beans
14 oz can plum tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups water
½ lb ditalini or other small pasta
Chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Extra virgin olive oil, optional

1.       Soak the beans in water overnight.  Rinse.  Drain.

2.       Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Rinse.  Drain.

3.       Return the beans to the pot and cover with water by about an inch.  Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and olive oil.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 1 ½ hours or until the beans are tender.  You may need to add more water.

4.       Remove the bay leaves.  Take about one half of the bean mixture and run through a blender or food processor.  Return to the pot and add more water.

5.       Add the pasta and allow to cook.  Stir in parsley.  Adjust seasonings. 

6.       Ladle into bowls.  Drizzle about one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil into each bowl.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

As you may have guessed, Pasta e Fagioli started out as a peasant dish, made with whatever ingredients were at hand.  Depending on the region, recipes vary.  Some variations do not use tomatoes at all preferring instead to flavor the soup with broth or pancetta.  Others serve all of the beans whole without running some of it through a food mill, blender or food processor.  It all depends on your taste.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe above the last time I made this dish.  With two exceptions.  Using an immersion blender I blended some of the bean mixture with one bay leaf right in the pot.  I did this by not moving the immersion blender all around the pot.  By blending one of the bay leaves in with the soup, it added to the overall flavor of the dish.  I also mixed some of the grated Parmesan cheese into the soup to flavor and thicken it.

Let’s take a look at two of the ingredients.  Dried borlotti or cannellini beans.  These are traditional.  If neither of these are available to you Great Northern Beans or most any other kind of beans may be used.  I would shy away from garbanzo or lentils though.  And then, “ditalini or other small pasta”.  Ditalini and small elbow macaroni are probably two of the most available shapes in any grocery store.  For this recipe I used mezze penne rigate which is a short ridged penne.  You may also use small shells, cappelletti or bowtie. 
If you want to get fancy, you can render and brown chopped pancetta, add different kinds of herbs, use broth instead of water, use different grated hard cheeses, etc.  Whatever your heart desires!  Me?  I prefer to stick with the simplicity of this recipe, the way it was originally eaten.  And it is good.  It is hearty and satisfying.

What is your favorite “peasant” dish and why?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Osso Buco alla Milanese

Osso Buco originates from Milan, in the northern part of Italy.  Cross-cut veal shanks are slowly braised in the oven with vegetables, wine and broth.  It is served with gremolata.


Browning onion rings and veal shanks

Sauteeing vegetables

Addition of tomatoes and liquids

Veal shanks, vegetables and liquids in a roasting pan

Flat leaf parsley, garlic and lemons

Zest and finely chopped garlic and parsley


Osso Buco alla Milanese

Osso Buco alla Milanese
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
4-5 pieces cross cut veal shanks
1 small onion, sliced into ¼” rings
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups chopped tomatoes, or 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
1 ¼ cups chicken or veal stock
2-3 strips thinly pared lemon rind
3-4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1.        Preheat the oven to 325°F. 
2.       Season the flour with salt and pepper.  Dredge veal shank pieces in the flour, and shake off any excess flour.
3.       Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven.  Brown the onion rings and veal shanks on all sides.  You may have to do this in two batches.  Drain on paper towels and set aside. 
4.       In the same olive oil, sauté onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves and garlic.  Cook about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables.
5.       Add the chopped tomatoes, wine, broth and lemon rind.  Scrape bottom of pot to bring up the fond.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, stirring gently.  Return the veal shanks to the pot and spoon sauce over them.  Cover and cook in the oven for about two hours or until veal is tender.
6.       In the meantime, make the gremolata.  Mix together chopped parsley, lemon zest and chopped garlic.
7.       Remove the casserole from the oven.  Discard bay leaves and lemon rind.  Serve hot with gremolata sprinkled over it.

When I first heard of this dish I knew I had to have it.  The name alone sounds rich and hearty.  I was not disappointed. 

While preparing to make this dish for this post, I had to pick my daughter up from school and take her to her swimming class.  So I prepped all of the ingredients beforehand.  As I opened the door on my return, I was greeted with the aroma of garlic, onions, tomatoes, wine, broth, and lemons.  “Oh,” I thought, “we’re going to have a great dinner!”

Browning or searing the meat gives the meat a beautiful color and seals in all of the juices.  We add the onion rings to the browning veal shanks to flavor the meat and the oil.  When we add the other vegetables, we build more flavor.  The wine deglazes the pan and allows for easy incorporation of the fond, that brown stuff at the bottom of the pot which holds the caramelized meat and onion juices.  And that long slow braise gently but thoroughly cooks the meat and breaks down the collagen and tough connective tissue.  Braising tenderizes tough cuts of meat and infuses them with the bouquet of the other ingredients’ flavors.

As you can see from my pictures, I had to cook the Osso Buco in a baking pan.  The five pieces wouldn’t fit in my Dutch oven.  I covered it tightly with aluminum foil and placed the baking pan on top of a roasting pan.  This was to catch any sauce that seeped under the foil, as well as to add an extra layer of insulation between the heating element of the oven and the baking pan.  By doing this, I mimicked using a Dutch oven.  Half way through the cooking time I checked my dish.  The vegetables were breaking down.  I also adjusted the seasonings.

At this point I made my gremolata which traditionally accompanies Osso Buco alla Milanese.  Gremolata always includes garlic and lemon zest, but after that the ingredients vary.  Some cooks use mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combination of herbs.  Some cooks even add anchovies!  The reason for using gremolata is to cut the richness of a dish.  Or simply to add a fresh flavor. 

Finally, the 2-hour time was up.  The whole house smelled divine!  I carefully removed the pan from the oven.  Steam arose when I uncovered the dish.  I placed a veal shank in each soup bowl, and then ladled some vegetables and sauce over it.  Then I sprinkled the gremolata. 

Osso Buco is traditionally served with Risotto alla Milanese.  It may also be served with plain boiled rice, polenta or even bread.  The vegetables were tender but not mushy; they must have retained their texture because of the gentle heat.  The meat was very tender and was falling off the bone.  It was beefy and satisfying.  The crowning glory of this dish for me is the marrow which is nestled inside the large shank bones.   The marrow may be scooped out but I prefer to hold the bone firmly with one hand and thwack it against my other hand.  It then comes out in one piece.  I took half of it and spread it on my bread…ah, it was so rich!  I kept going back for more gremolata because it complimented the dish so well.  Although this dish isn’t quick to make, it is well worth the effort. 

So when are you going to make Osso Buco?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

You’ve probably noticed that I have several posts mentioning or focusing on Italian food.  Little wonder since this is one of my favorite cuisines!  Since I got married I’ve tried to cook dishes for my Italian father-in-law that would evoke memories of his childhood.  He fondly recalls that his mother always served polenta with pork sausages.  Conversely, he was not too fond of broccoli rabe.  So where do I go to get my Italian food fix?  To my favorite Italian deli of course!

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

It is in a residential neighborhood across the street from a little park.  The place looks unassuming; the green, white and red awning above the door and their “A-1 Imported Groceries” sign propped up from the roof. Outside are bags of mesquite charcoal and potatoes.

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

Once you step inside you will be transported as your olfactory sense gets inundated with the heavenly aromas of Italian food!  An Italian deli should smell like an Italian deli.  What will bring you back down to earth are the tidy stacks of goods on the shelves.  You may think the interior of this establishment looks old fashioned.  Rather, it is a classical neighborhood market where the workers are friendly and people know one another.  It is gourmet without the frou-frou or the high prices.  I meet with Emiddio Ungaro, the affable owner of this 67 year-old store.  He doesn’t need to give me a tour of the store as I’ve been here innumerable times.  Instead, he gave me a San Pedro history lesson.  A-1 was founded in 1947 by the Mattera family, and is the only surviving deli from that era.  Emiddio  told me that up until three or four years ago when the California Department of Public Health cracked down on food stores, this place was even more aromatic as house-made sausages and cheeses hung from the ceiling to dry cure.

The produce section is to the right of the entrance.  Emiddio told me he gets up at one o’clock in the morning to order fresh produce every day.  They carry the usual onions, Roma tomatoes, cabbage, etc.  But in addition to that, they have also have rapini, Savoy cabbage, escarole, cipollini, fennel bulbs, artichokes, Italian eggplants and other produce typical of Italian cuisine.  In the corner is an old-fashioned bread cabinet which houses locally baked breads like ciabattas, rolls, and other Neopolitan bread.

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Old fashioned bread bins

The freezer section has prepared foods like lasagna, tortellini, ravioli, stuffed artichokes, Italian ices, spumoni , and eggplant parmesan. But my favorite in this section is the sfogliatelle.  Sfogliatelle is a shell-shaped pastry made with a ridged, flaky crust and filled with sweet ricotta.  The ones sold here are imported from Italy and must be baked at 350°F for about 45 minutes.  This would make a great dessert if you’re having company! 

Around the back of the store are shelves groaning with the weight of Italian and American-bottled vintages.  The larger bottles sit on the lower shelves -  just in case.

Inside the aisles is where you’ll find some of the gems of this store.  At the end of the first aisle you’ll find Norwegian baccala, whole dried cod which must be rehydrated and desalinated before being used.  There are bags of breadcrumbs, polenta, semolina flour, beans and pulses, and Arborio rice.  There is one aisle dedicated to pasta alone! You’ll find interesting and delightful shapes such as creste di gallo, mezze penne rigate, tagliatelle, pappardelle, orrechiette, fusillata caserreccia, gigli del gargano, lumache rigate, stellette and pasta flavored with squid ink.

 Dried baccala
Different shaped and flavored pasta

Another aisle has different kinds of tomato products: whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste, etc.  A-1 has a wide selection of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, giardiniera, tonno, prepared gnocchi, pasta sauce, muffuletta, crackers and cookies, pizzelle, torrone, panettone, chocolates, Jordan almonds, and other Italian staples.

Their refrigerator section holds American sodas as well as San Pellegrino sparkling citrus beverages, fresh pizza dough, house-prepared Italian favorites and bone-in skin-on as well as boned salt cod. 

For me the deli department is the heart of the store.  They have mortadella with pistachios which is a large Bolognese sausage made with finely ground pork, cubes of fat from the pork’s neck, and pistachios.  Different kinds of salami cram this section but our favorite is soppressata.  Our other favorite cured meats are: capicola and pancetta.  I buy domestic prosciutto for cooking, and the imported kind for sandwiches or antipasto.  Their cheese selection is wonderful as I can get Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mozzarella, Pecorino romano, asiago, provolone, fontina and gorgonzolaIa any time.  Of course, cured meats and cheese are cut/sliced/grated to order.  If Victor is working the deli counter he’ll give you a slice of the meat and/or cheese so you’ll know what you’re buying.

House seasoned olives

A-1 receives their olives already cured but seasons them in-house according to old family recipes.  They also sell prepared salads like pepperonata, marinated eggplant slices, marinated mushrooms, olive salad, caprese, and more.

The deli also makes cold and hot sandwiches to order.  The sign board is on the wall by the Meat Department. 

The Meat Department has the usual pork, chicken and beef.  In addition, they have lamb and veal, and even a veal scallopini ready to be taken home to cook.  I would have to say that this department’s pride is their selection of house-made sausages of which they make six kinds!  One of the guys working there is Ante.  He makes cevapcici, a traditional Croatian sausage, which is one of their bestsellers.

House-made sausages

In addition to all of the wonderful things I’ve mentioned above, A-1 also caters.  Live far away?  Not a problem – they ship.  Emiddio told me he regularly ships baccala to a woman in Louisiana as his price is better than a store in Texas!

Their address is 348 West 8th St. in San Pedro, CA.  Their telephone number is 310-833-3430.

So what is your favorite Italian deli?