Melanzane al Pomodoro

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Cooking Melanzane al Pomodoro is perfect this time of year when farms are abundant with eggplant and tomatoes. My Eggplant Sauce recipe is without a meat/protein in the ingredients, but feel free to add grilled sausage, chicken, or shrimp if desired. If you are looking for that under thirty minutes to-cook-to-table dish without compromising flavor for time, this is it. And, you can create variations on this recipe, which is very easy to do. 

This pasta sauce is great served warm or chilled added with a tube shaped pasta.

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George's Eggplant Sauce

Makes 4 servings 

chefgeorgehirsch.com | from George Hirsch Living it UP! Cookbook

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups eggplant, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, chopped

6 plum tomatoes, deseeded and chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup pitted calamata olives, chopped

1/2 cup white whine

1 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, hot pepper flakes

2 Tablespoons pine nuts

2 Tablespoons fresh basil

parmesan cheese to taste and fresh black pepper

Preheat a large nonstick saucepan.  

Add half the olive oil; then eggplant, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and bell pepper.  Cook until light brown.  Add the wine, chicken broth, olives, dried basil, oregano, thyme and hot sauce.  Cook for 10 to 12 minutes.

Top with remaining olive oil, fresh basil and pine nuts.

Excellent with a rigatoni or tube shape pasta.

The G is Silent

Gnocchi, pronounced n-yo-key. This dish reminds me of one of my favorite places on earth - Castelletto di Montebenchi, the heart of this small medieval city in the Tuscany Region. One of my chef friends, Antonio from Northern Italy makes the best gnocchi ever! When I can't connect with Antonio, I just make my own.

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Gnocchi are excellent accompaniments for meat and poultry dishes. When prepared right they are light as pillows. The secret is not to over mix the dough and to use just the right amount of flour. There are so many ways to make gnocchi, I prefer to bake the potatoes instead of steaming to make a softer dough.

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Potato Gnocchi

chefgeorgehirsch.comGeorge Hirsch Lifestyle 

2 pounds russets (baking potatoes)

Approximately 2 cups flour (variable) 

1 large egg

A pinch of sea salt

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes until easily pierced with a fork or a paring knife will easy slip through potatoes. Cool slightly, then peel the potatoes. 

Mash them while they’re still warm (a potato ricer or food mill works best). Season the potatoes with a pinch of salt and slowly knead in enough flour to obtain a fairly firm, smooth, non-sticky dough; exactly how much flour depends on the moisture from the potatoes. Add the egg, and enough flour so the dough does not stick to your hands. 

Knead the dough for 4-5 minutes, as it will resemble regular pasta dough. Divide the dough into four pieces.

Roll the dough out into a rope shape about 2/3 of an inch thick, cut the rope into one-inch pieces, and gently score the pieces crosswise with a fork to obtain slight ridges. With your finger, gently roll the pressed doughback off the fork. This may take a little practice. If the dough sticks to the fork, dip the fork in flour before you press the dough against it. Making this shape will help the gnocchi grab on to the tasty sauce it’s served with. 

Cook the gnocchi in abundant salted boiling water, removing them with a slotted spoon a minute or two after they rise to the surface. Drain them well and serve them with a few leaves of sage, melted unsalted butter and Parmesan, or meat sauce, or pesto sauce. 

Serve immediately while they are full of steam. The gnocchi are wonderfully light when hot. Once they cool off they become dense like a tire without air.

Make ahead Tip: Place any remaining uncooked Gnocchi in a container, dust with corn meal and freeze until you are ready to boil.

George's Spicy Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 cups |chefgeorgehirsch.com

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup chopped pancetta

10 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1/2 chopped onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup prosciutto, chopped fine

2 cups canned plum San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

1/4 cup dry white wine

2-4 teaspoons hot pepper flakes

10-12 fresh basil leaves, lightly torn

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a saucepan and heat the olive oil.  Add the pancetta and cook until it becomes light brown.  Add the garlic, onion and prosciutto and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, white wine, hot pepper flakes, basil and black pepper, stir well and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  You can regulate the spiciness of the dish by adding more or less hot pepper flakes.

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My Favorite Risotto

Risotto is a traditional rice dish from Northern Italy, specifically Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto. It was introduced by Arabian people who dominated Sicily and parts of the Southern mainland in the late Middle Ages.  

A mainstay of Milanese cuisine, Risotto Milanese is prepared using beef stock and saffron which is served with Osso Bucco. When using rice to make a risotto, choose short-grained round or semi-round rice; among the best rices for making risotto are Arborio, Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli.

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I have enjoyed many excellent prepared risotto dishes. One of the most memorable was made my cousin Mauro’s wife Anna, while in Rome. Anna’s risotto is made with pesto and is meant for basil lovers like myself. Her combination is culinary kismet; the perfume-rich tasty herb coats every grain of rice. The other master of risotto is Chef Antonio Cereda, with his Porcini Risotto. Antonio, my friend from Northern Italy is the Executive Chef on Princess Cruises. His Porcini Risotto marries the mellow earthiness of fungi with creamy velvety rice.

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Shrimp Risotto with Asparagus

Makes 4 servings 

chefgeorgehirsch.com | George Hirsch Lifestyle

1 lb. uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined 

2 teaspoons dried basil 

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil 

Fresh ground black pepper 

1 small onion, chopped 

4 slices Pancetta, roughly chopped 

1 cup Arborio rice 

2- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth, hot 

3 Tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped 

1 Tablespoon lemon juice 

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel 

1 cup half & half 

1 cup fresh asparagus tips or fresh baby spinach 

Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Pre heat a large sauce pan to medium heat. 

Season shrimp with basil, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shrimp to pan, sear on each side for one minute and set aside. Do not fully cook. 

In the same sauce pan add 1 tablespoon Olive Oil, onion and pancetta. Cook onion and pancetta 4-5 minutes but do not brown. Add Arborio rice and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Slowly add 1/2 cup broth, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Lower temperature to a low, gentle simmer. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently every 4-5 minutes or as rice absorbs all of the broth until rice becomes tender. 

Return seared shrimp back into pan with risotto and cook for two to three minutes, until shrimp is fully cooked or until shrimp turn pink. 

Cooking time will vary from 25-35 minutes, as will the amount of broth, depending on exact temperature of pan. 

Add half and half and fresh Parmesan cheese, to taste. Optional: Serve topped with steamed asparagus tips or fresh baby spinach. 

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Spaghetti alle Vongole

Quick, easy and one of the most delicious pasta dishes outside of a good pesto. Afterwards, just sit back and enjoy a crisp Pinto Grigio or Rose like you're sitting seaside on the Almafi coast.  

The clams are the star of this dish, but co-starring is the garlic. You may also call this dish 'Aglio con Spaghetti alle Vongole.'  I've cooked this recipe for years using the sweetness of caramelized garlic, which adds a nice component to this dish. Yes, my family in Italy is shaking their heads right now as they cook with a very little amount of garlic. Go figure? But here in the US we've become accustomed to big flavors in our dishes. So get out my old recipe for caramelized garlic and make a half dozen heads, I guarantee you won't have any left. 

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Spaghetti alle Vongole recipe by George Hirsch

makes 4-6 servings

chefgeorgehirsch.com | George Hirsch Lifestyle from Know Your Fire Cookbook

1 pound dry spaghetti or linguine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

2 heads caramelized garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pounds Manila or littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed well

1 cup dry white wine 

Juice of 1 lemon

4 Tablespoons sweet butter

Freshly ground black pepper

4 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped

2 Tablespoons fresh basil, rough chopped

Optional: 1/4 cup lightly toasted bread crumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente.

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to toss the spaghetti directly into the sauce.

Pre heat a deep side saute pan or dutch oven; add olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes; saute for 1 minute. Add the clams, wine, half the parsley and lemon juice. Cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until all the clams are opened, about 5 - 8 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open.

Increase heat to medium temperature add the hot, drained linguine to the pan; add the butter and season with pepper. Toss the pasta with the clams to coat pasta with clam sauce. Top with chopped parsley, basil and toasted bread crumbs. Drizzle with additional olive oil. Serve immediately.

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