Sunday, June 26, 2011

Debbie's Lemon Meringue Pie

Nothing is more classic as a summer dessert than Lemon Meringue Pie. I have been making this pie for years and it is always a hit and everyone always ask for the recipe. I like to make pies but some people find them tricky--but a homemade pie is worth the effort. For this recipe, I have included all the tips that I have developed over the years. If you feel really challenged by making a pie crust, you can use the refrigerated pie crust (not frozen pie crust). All you have to do is put in a pie pan and bake. Not quite as good as homemade but an adequate substitute.

Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Crisco
4-5 Tbs very cold water

Mix flour and salt together in bowl. Add 1/4 c of the Crisco and cut in with pastry blender (not an electric blender) Use the pastry blender to mix flour/salt with Crisco until it is very crumbly. Then add the other 1/4 c of Crisco and keep mixing with pastry blender until the dough is looking like small peas. Add 4-5 Tbs of very cold water and lightly blend with fork by continually pushing dough with fork to side of bowl, until it will form one large ball. (Always be gentle with the dough, the harder you mix and the more you mix, the dough becomes less flaky) Remove ball from bowl and place on lightly floured board. ( I like to use the new non-stick silicone pads designed for rolling dough. They have multi-sized circles on the surface so you know how big your pie dough circle needs to be . Take the lightly floured ball and flatten the ball using the edge of one side of your hand, press 3 times one way and then 3 times the other. Then roll out till crust is about 1/8 inch thick or forms about a 10 inch circle. Place your lightly dusted rolling pin toward one side of the circle and then gently lift edge of dough (sometimes using a flat pancake turner to help release the dough. Gently lift the edge of dough on top of the rolling pin and then gently lift rolling pin to release dough and put in a 9 inch pie pan. ( I like to use a glass pie pan for the lemon meringue pie). Thoroughly prick the bottom and sides of the dough with the edge of the fork. Do not make big holes but prick all over to avoid pie from creating big air pockets on the bottom as it bakes. At this point, you can refrigerate dough if you are not ready to make your pies. At room temperature, put pie crust in 450 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until shell is golden brown but not dark brown. Remove pie crust and cool. Turn off oven while shell is cooling so that oven will not be too hot when you bake the pie filling with the meringue. If oven is too hot when you cook filling/meringue, meringue may brown too quickly on outside and not be cooked inside.

Lemon Filling
Once the pie crust is cool and so is your oven, preheat oven to 325 degrees. You want to have all your ingredients ready, including the meringue ingredients. Some people tell you to let the filling cool before putting the meringue on top but I find that it works best if you put the meringue on the filling while it is still hot. I think it helps cook the interior of the meringue and you get less "weeping" (water separation between filling and meringue.)

Combine in a 2-3 quart saucepan:
1 and 1/2 cups sugar (make sure it doesn't have any clumps)
6 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Blend together.
Then gradually add the following and blend until smooth.
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup FRESH lemon juice ( generally about 21/2 -3 lemons)
Then add, blending thoroughly
3 egg yolks, well beaten (save egg whites for meringue)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Stirring constantly, very gradually add
1 and 1/2 cups boiling water.
Put saucepan with filling mixture over medium heat and bring to a full boil stirring gently. I like to use a small flat silicone whisk to gently stir. Do not use metal utensils to stir. As it comes to a full boil, the mixture will begin to thicken, reduce heat and simmer slowly for an additional minute while gently stirring.
Remove from heat and stir in:
1-2 teaspoons of grated lemon zest.
(Do not add more lemon juice to filling, if you want a more lemony taste, increase the lemon zest. Use a good micro planer to zest the lemon and try to use mainly the yellow skin of the lemon without too much of the white rind of the lemon.

Immediately make the Meringue:
In a clean, grease-free glass or metal bowl, mix on medium speed until foamy:
5 egg whites, room temperature (the recipe calls for 4 but I find that 5 creates a nice layer of meringue)
Add and continue beating until soft peaks form:
a heaping 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
Very gradually beat in :
1/2 cup sugar, preferably superfine (if you don't have superfine, use regular sugar but run through sifter to avoid any large clumps of sugar)
Continue beating on high speed until the peaks are stiff and glossy but not dry. Beat in:
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

Pour hot filling into pie crust. Using a spatula, drop large clumps of meringue around exterior of pie and then gently spread all the way over to the edge of the pie crust. ( Spreading the meringue all the way to the edge of the pie crust, seals the meringue and keeps it from pulling away from the edge of the pie. ) When you have gently spread all the way to the edge of the crust then gently spread the remaining meringue on the hot filling, piling a little higher toward the center of the pie but making sure to completely cover the filling, leaving no gaps.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Cool on rack before serving. The pie is always best if served after it has completely cooled but without needing to put it in refrigerator. I try to make it about an hour or two before I think dinner will be served. Because of the eggs, you will probably want to store leftovers in refrigerator but refrigeration makes the dough less flaky and makes the meringue more sticky.

Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Lidia's Fagottini di pollo

I saw this a few weeks ago on Lidia's tv show. Delicious! You could certainly do this ahead. It's as delicious, reheated the next day.

Serves 6

1 medium onion, cut in chunks
1 large carrot, cut in chunks
1 stalk celery , cut in chunks
10 fresh sage leaves
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, preferably 6 to 8 large thighs
6 slices bacon strips, thinly sliced, 2 inches wide
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
3 tablespoons Grana Padano, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
You will need a food processor; a heavy-bottomed, ovenproof skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or larger, with a cover; toothpicks.

Using a food processor, mince the onion, carrot, celery, 4 sage leaves, and the garlic into a fine- textured pestata. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into the big skillet, and set over medium heat. Stir the pestata into the oil, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until it has wilted and just starts to stick to the pan bottom. Scrape all of the pestata into a bowl to cool.

Trim the chicken thighs of fat and any loose bits of flesh, and lay them open, boned side up, on a cutting board. One at a time, cover each thigh with a piece of plastic wrap, and pound it with a meat mallet (or other heavy implement) to an even thickness of about 1/2 inch. Sprinkle salt lightly on the flattened sides, using another 1/2 teaspoon in all.

Spread a tablespoon or so of the cooled pestata in a thin layer on each thigh, almost to the edges- use more or less depending on size. Fold the thighs over into thirds, as if folding a letter, and compress gently. Wrap a strip of bacon the long way around each bundle, so the open sides are partly sealed. Overlap the ends of the bacon and thread a toothpick through them to hold the strip in place.

Pour the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil into the big skillet-cleaned of pestata-and set over medium-high heat. Lay all the chicken bundles in the pan, turning them when the bacon starts sizzling and rendering fat. Sauté the fagottini for 5 minutes or longer, turning several times, so the bacon and chicken are lightly caramelized all over. As they brown, drop the remaining pestata by spoonfuls in between the bundles, along with the rest of the sage leaves, to cook on the pan bottom.

When everything is sizzling, pour in the wine and bring to a bubbling simmer. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, turning the fagottini occasionally. Pour the crushed tomatoes (and juices) all over the bundles, and shake the pan to mix them with the wine. Season with the remaining teaspoon salt, and bring the braising liquid to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan, adjust the heat to keep things bubbling steadily, and braise until the thighs are cooked through and tender, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on size. (If you're not sure, slice discreetly into one of the bundles to check for doneness.)

If you want to finish the fagottini with a crisp gratinato topping, arrange a rack in the top part of your oven and preheat to 425 degrees while the chicken braises. When the meat is done, uncover the skillet, raise the heat, and reduce the braising liquid a bit, exposing the tops of the thighs. Turn off the heat, and carefully pull the toothpicks out of the bundles. Sprinkle a teaspoon or so of grated cheese over each, and set the skillet in the oven. Bake about 10 minutes, until the gratinato is golden, the bacon very crisp, and the sauce quite thick. Remove from the oven carefully.

To finish the fagottini on the stovetop: Reduce the braising juices in the uncovered pan a bit longer, until thickened to a sauce. Turn off the heat, pull out the toothpicks, sprinkle a teaspoon cheese over each, and set the cover back on for a minute, to melt the cheese.

To serve the fagottini: set one (or more if they're small) on a serving plate with sauce spooned around the hot bundle.