Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Artichoke Gratinata

My paternal Grandfather was born on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily and made his way to Ellis Island when he was only three years old.  His family lived in New York for a while before being placed with relatives in Southern Wisconsin.  With the influence of his Sicilian parents, he was an excellent cook and could always be found in the kitchen whistling while he prepared a meal.  One of his specialties was stuffed artichokes - full of breadcrumbs, butter, Parmesan cheese and garlic - a true Sicilian delicacy, one that took time and care and if you were lucky, was personally delivered to you on special occasions.

Today, most of the world's artichokes come from Italy, France and Spain; while California provides almost 100% of the U.S. artichoke crop.  There are several different varieties of artichokes, but all have the same, wonderful health benefits.  Artichokes are full of Vitamin C, folate, dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium.  They can help "clean" your blood by detoxifying the liver and gallbladder.  They have been known to help with circulation and digestive health, and through the ages, Europeans and Egyptians believed that the artichoke enhanced sexual power and aided in conception.  So there you have it - many fun reasons to eat your artichokes.

Every bite of this Artichoke Gratinata tastes like the treasured leaf of a stuffed artichoke.  The recipe comes from one of my favorite Food Network chefs, Giada De Laurentiis, and will compliment a variety of main courses; or simply pair it with a mixed-green salad and bottle of wine.  Enjoy!

artichoke gratinata (food network photo)

 Artichoke Gratinata

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed  (Trader Joe's has the best)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons melted butter

1.)  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2.)  Warm the olive oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat.
3.)  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the artichoke hearts, parsley, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook until the artichoke hearts are starting to brown at the edges, about 3 minutes.
4.)  Add the chicken broth and wine and simmer for 3 minutes.
5.)  Transfer the artichoke mixture to a 2-quart baking dish.
6.)  Melt the butter in the same skillet used to cook the artichokes.
7.)  In a small bowl mix the melted butter with the bread crumbs. Stir in the Parmesan and top the artichokes with the bread crumb mixture.  
8.) Bake until the top is golden, about 10 minutes.

"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ciocolata! Chocolate Mousse there anything it can't do?  I've said this before, but I love chocolate and I eat it everyday.  In fact, I will go so far as to say I need chocolate everyday.  In addition to the health benefits dark chocolate provides, it's also an excellent mood enhancer.  My husband occasionally suggests to me - as diplomatically as possible - "I think you need some chocolate..."  To which I want to reply, "You don't tell me when I need chocolate, I tell you when I need chocolate!" But before I blurt this out, I realize how ridiculous it sounds and then I'm just thankful someone is ordering me to eat chocolate.

But not all chocolate is created equal.  To achieve any health benefits at all you must consume chocolate that is 70% cocoa or higher.  The greater the cocoa mass, the greater the health benefits.  Cocoa beans are bitter and full of an antioxidant called phenol.  But when processing begins, most chocolate loses a lot of its antioxidant properties and when processed with milk and sugar (milk chocolate) it can actually negate most of the antioxidant activity.  So by sticking to a higher cocoa percentage such as 70%, 85% or even 90%,  and keeping the portion size to 1-2 squares a day, you're sure to gain the health benefits without all the added sugar and impurities. 

If you're used to eating milk chocolate, you'll need to work your way up the percentage ladder slowly.  Start with 60% cocoa chocolate chips (Ghirardelli chips are wonderful ) and move on from there.  The high sugar content in milk chocolate makes you crave more sugar which is why it can be hard to stick to 1-2 squares at a time. I find dark chocolate to be much more satisfying because of the intense chocolate flavor; and because of the very low sugar content, I'm not immediately craving more which means I can stick to a small amount - albeit daily...   I love to enjoy my chocolate with a cup of hot tea - the 90% cocoa squares literally melt in your mouth.

I recently came across this easy recipe for chocolate mousse in the food section of the Chicago Tribune, and love the fact that it only uses three ingredients.  It's super easy and luxurious, but also very rich - making it a great treat to share.  Enjoy!
Chocolate Mousse
makes 4 servings

1 cup whipping cream
2 1/2 oz good quality chocolate (70 %)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.)  Finely chop chocolate and place in a large bowl; set aside.
2.)  In a small, heavy saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of whipping cream to a boil, do not scorch.
3.)  Pour hot cream over chopped chocolate and let melt for 2 minutes; whisk until smooth, set aside to cool.
4.)  In a separate bowl, whip 3/4 cup of chilled whipping cream just until stiff peaks form, be careful not to over whip.
5.)  Gently fold half the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.  Fold in remaining whipped cream and mix until smooth.
6.)  Spoon into 4 small ramekins or small cordial/wine glasses.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
7.)  Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before garnishing them with berries or more whipped cream.

"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil