Recipes: Cooking for the Pope

Lidia Bastianich, host of the popular PBS cooking show "Lidia's Italian American Kitchen," was chosen to cook for Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit to New York. She made two dinners for the pope, one last Friday and another on Saturday. Each meal had several courses, and four of the recipes are below.

Spring Vegetable Risotto With Grana Padano Shavings

Recipe courtesy Lidia Bastianich

Makes 6 servings

For the spring "pesto":

1 cup ramp leaves or young leeks
2 cups of spinach or Swiss chard leaves, cleaned and washed
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 teaspoon salt

For the risotto:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup minced scallions (approximately 6 scallions)
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2½ cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine
6½ cups hot vegetable stock
½ teaspoon salt, or as needed
½ cup fresh shelled peas
½ cup blanched, chopped asparagus
1 cup blanched, peeled and shelled fava beans
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
½ cup grated Grana Padano
½ cup freshly shaved Grana Padano
Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

1. Prepare the spring pesto.

Prepare the puree by adding the ramps, spinach and scallions to a blender. Add the extra virgin olive oil slowly and salt to taste. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

2. For the risotto:

In a heavy, wide, 3 to 4 quart casserole or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the scallions and shallots together until translucent, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add the rice, and stir to coat with the oil. Toast the rice until the edges become translucent, 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour in the wine and stir well until evaporated. Add ½ cup of the hot stock and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until all of the stock has been absorbed. Add enough stock at sufficient intervals to completely moisten the rice. After the first addition of stock, stir in the favas, peas and asparagus. Stir constantly and adjust the level of heat so the rice simmers very gently until the rice mixture is creamy but al dente. This will take about 16 minutes from the first addition of stock.

Remove the casserole from the heat and quickly stir in the spring puree with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and continue to stir quickly until melted; then mix in the grated Grana Padano. Adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary, and pepper. Ladle into warm shallow bowls and top with shavings of Grana Padano, and serve immediately.

Whole Roasted Striped Bass

Recipe courtesy Lidia Bastianich

Makes 6 servings

For the garlic-infused oil:
1½ cups extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon salt

For the fish:
12 small red potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 whole striped bass, around 6-7 pounds or 6 whole striped bass, about 1¼ pounds each, eviscerated and scaled
6 fresh bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
6 lemons, sliced in half
2 cups dry white wine

To serve:
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions:

Prepare the garlic-infused oil about half an hour before roasting the fish: In a small bowl blend the olive oil, garlic and salt. Allow the sauce to steep for half an hour.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the potatoes until almost tender, about 10 minutes. If roasting one large fish, keep the potatoes undercooked, as they will cook longer with the fish. Drain and let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes in half, then cut a thin sliver from the round part of each potato half so the potato sits flat, cut side up, during roasting.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Use the garlic-infused oil to grease two heavy, large (at least 22 -by-18 inches) roasting pans, or a larger roasting pan if preparing the large fish. Brush each fish on both sides with the olive oil mixture and enclose the tails in aluminum foil. Place one lemon, one bay leaf, thyme and rosemary in the cavity of each fish or all in the cavity of the large fish. Arrange the fish in the prepared pans, leaving as much space between them, and between the sides of the pan, as possible. Arrange the potato halves around the fish so as not to overlap with each other.

Season the fish and potatoes with salt and add the wine evenly to the pans. Bake until the fish and vegetables begin to brown, about 20 minutes (or more if the fish is large -- for about 40 to 60 minutes), drizzling occasionally with about ½ cup of the garlic-infused oil. (The rest of the garlic-infused oil will be used as the base of a sauce to be served with the fish.)

Stir the lemon juice and parsley into the remaining garlic-infused oil and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Place one whole fish on each plate and flank with the potatoes. Spoon any sauce from the baking pan over each serving; you can save any remaining sauce for a bowl to set in the center of the table and serve as the fish is being passed around the table.

To garnish this fish, use one head of white, crunchy frisee, cleaned and washed. Break the leaves in half and set a few leaves of the frisee on top of the potatoes.

Apple Strudel With Caramelized Walnuts

Recipe courtesy Lidia Bastianich

Makes a large strudel serving 10 or more

For the strudel dough:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour plus more for working with the dough
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons water or as needed

For the filling:

1 cup golden raisins
4 tablespoons dark rum
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs o
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1½ cups sugar
1 cup walnuts, chopped into 1/4-inch bits
3 pounds tart green apples, such as Granny Smith
2 small lemons
10 tablespoons very soft butter, or more if needed
2 tablespoons cane sugar crystals

Recommended Equipment:

A rolling pin or heavy wooden dowel
A linen tablecloth or sheet, or other smooth cloth (a yard square or larger)
A half sheet pan (12-by-18 inches) or a similar large, rimmed baking sheet, lined with baking parchment

Instructions:

Mix the strudel dough several hours or the day before baking. In a large bowl. toss together the 1¼ cups flour and salt with a fork. Drizzle the oil all over and toss with the flour. Sprinkle the water over and toss it in, a tablespoon at a time, then mix vigorously to bring the dough together. Incorporate more water in small amounts if the dough seems dry or won't stay together.

Turn the dough out on a work surface and knead with your hands until the clumps have disappeared and the dough is smooth and elastic, about three minutes. Add flour only if the dough remains sticky after you've been kneading for a minute or more.

Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap well in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 2 hours at room temperature or refrigerate for a day. (Let chilled dough sit at room temperature briefly before rolling.)

Plump the raisins with the rum in a small bowl, until all the liquor is absorbed.

Spread the breadcrumbs in a large heavy skillet and set it over medium heat. Stir and toss the crumbs until they begin to color. Lower the heat a bit and keep stirring until they're deep golden brown, then quickly spill the crumbs into a bowl, before they burn. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon cinnamon over the hot crumbs and toss in. When the crumbs cool completely stir in 10 tablespoons sugar.

In the same skillet, again over medium heat, stir together the chopped walnuts and 2 tablespoons sugar, until the sugar caramelizes and coats the nuts. Immediately spill into a bowl to cool.

Rinse and dry the lemons, remove their zest with a fine grater and squeeze out and strain their juice. Peel, core and cut the apples in thin slices and toss in a large bowl with the lemon zest and juice, the remaining ¾ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Toss in the plumped raisins, mix well and let the apples steep in the sweetened fruit juices.

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 425 degrees F. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the parchment in the sheet pan with a tablespoon or 2 of soft butter.

On a large, lightly floured work surface, start rolling the strudel dough into a rectangular shape, turning it over frequently and dusting the surface with flour as needed. When it becomes a thin sheet, stretch it with your hands, both on the table and as you lift and turn it over. Gradually roll and stretch the rectangle until it's about 30-inches on the long sides and 20- inches on the shorter sides. Trim thick edges with a knife or pizza cutter.

Now arrange the linen cloth on the table -- under the dough sheet -- to roll up the strudel. If someone can assist you, hold the dough sheet in the air while the cloth is placed flat and smooth on the work surface. Line up a long edge of cloth with the edge of your counter. Lay the dough flat on top of the cloth, with its long side left to right in front of you, set in a few inches from the edge of the cloth and. (If you DON'T have a helper, lay out the cloth on another surface and move the dough rectangle over to it.)

When the cloth and the dough are in place, brush the entire surface of the dough with 4 tablespoons or so of soft butter. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly all over the dough then scatter the caramelized walnut pieces on top.

Next, lift the apple slices from the bowl, letting excess juices drain off, and heap them in a narrow row, running left to right, set in about 3 inches from the long edge of dough near you. Make the row straight and compact and slightly shorter than the dough, sheet, so there are several inches of bare dough on the left and right sides of the apple row.

To roll the strudel, grasp the edge of the cloth and lift it, bringing the uncovered margin of dough against the apples. Hold the cloth close to the filling, so you have good control, then lift and push it forward, rolling the entire row of apples over and wrapping it snugly in dough. Keep rolling to wrap all the dough around the strudel, forming a long neat log. Twist the unfilled flaps of dough on the ends of the log, so they're snug against the filling, then trim and tuck them under the strudel.

Position the long side of the parchment lined baking sheet against the strudel -- get a helper again if you can -- and use the cloth to roll the long log over the rim, onto the pan (the ends will extend out of the pan). Roll again, if necessary, so the seam of dough is on the bottom. Gently curve the ends of the log, bringing them onto the sheet, giving the strudel a crescent or horseshoe shape.

Brush the pastry all over with the remaining butter. With a sharp thin knife, slice several short slits in the top as steam vents, cutting through all the dough layers. Sprinkle the cane sugar crystals over the top.

Put the strudel into the oven and lower the thermostat to 375 degrees F. After 30 minutes, rotate the baking sheet back to front. The pastry should be lightly colored -- if it's already getting dark, lower the temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake another 20 to 30 minutes, until the filling is cooked (the juices may bubble through the slits) and the pastry is deep golden brown and crisp.

Let the strudel cool in the pan for 30 minutes or so then lift it with two long spatulas to a wire rack or board. Serve slices of the strudel warm or at room temperature, with powdered sugar, a cream sauce, whipped cream or ice cream.

Beef Goulash

Recipe courtesy Lidia Bastianich

Serves 6-10

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 or 3 large onions (1½ pounds), peeled and cut in thick wedges
2½ pounds trimmed boneless beef chuck or round, cut for stewing (1-½ inch chunks)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 branch fresh rosemary, with lots of needles
3 cups cold water
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons tomato paste

Recommended equipment:
A heavy-bottomed 9- or 10-inch saucepan, such as an enameled cast iron French oven, with a tight-fitting cover

A small saucepan, about 6-cup capacity

Instructions

Pour the olive oil into the saucepan, set over medium-low heat, and drop in the onion wedges. Toss to coat in oil, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes, until sizzling and softening.

Spread the onions out on the pan bottom and drop the beef cubes on top of the wedges, filling the pan in one layer. Sprinkle another ½ teaspoon of the salt, all the paprika and oregano over the meat and drop in the rosemary. Without stirring or turning the meat pieces, cover the pan tightly. Heat the meat -- with the seasonings on top and the onions below -- so it starts to release its juices and stew. Check once or twice to see that the pan liquid is bubbling and that the onions are melting (not burning) but don't stir.

After half an hour or so, set the cover ajar a couple of inches and adjust the heat to keep the juices bubbling and slowly reducing. As they thicken, stir up the onions so they don't burn and tumble the meat in the pan.

Continue cooking, partially covered, for another half hour or so. When the juices are concentrated and thick in the pan bottom, prepare the goulash sauce: Pour 3 cups of cold water in the small pan and whisk in the flour. Set over low heat and continue whisking until the flour is dispersed with no lumps, then whisk in the tomato paste. Heat gradually, whisking often, until the tomato-flour water just comes to a bubbling boil. Pour it into the big saucepan and stir well, turning the meat chunks over -- they should be nearly covered in sauce -- and blending in the thick pan.

Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, put on the cover, slightly ajar, and cook 45 minutes to an hour, until the meat is quite tender and the sauce somewhat reduced. Season with more salt to taste. Turn off the heat and let the goulash cool in the pan for several hours before serving, or refrigerate overnight.

Reheat slowly, stirring now and then, until the meat is thoroughly heated; thin the sauce with water if it has thickened too much. Serve hot.

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