This past Christmas while we were all gathered 'round the dinner table staring in disbelief at the remains of our feast, Aunt Emily began to reminisce about her younger years. Aunt Emily is 96 years old, so those younger years were quite a while ago. While Aunt Emily claims that she has a lot of "happy memories" her strolls down memory lane often leave you searching for a pack of Zoloft or at least another drink.
For those of you unfamiliar, Aunt Emily is The Box's aunt – so a great aunt to John and me. She was married to my dad's Uncle Harry. While they both had their fun-loving moments, their relative amounts of persnickety-ness combined to form a mightily cantankerous duo. They both boycotted Easter one year to protest a phone conversation with my dad that they disliked. They honestly believed this was a punishment for us.
With food, Aunt Emily is equally....particular. I mentioned at Thanksgiving that Marmo must cook her a special dinner as she refuses to eat turkey. She also refuses to go to particular restaurants, eat after 5pm, and claims she has a seafood allergy (even though I have seen her eat shrimp). Consequently, Aunt Emily will only go to one restaurant – Casa Bella in Denville, NJ – which she happens to like, although you would never know it because when we take her there she complains loudly that:
1. She liked the old owner better and she misses him.
2. They don't make her martinis properly (on one occasion the waiter brought her the gin and vermouth and told her to mix her own drink).
These episodes usually leave John wanting to dive under the table from embarrassment, and I admit to staring forlornly at my dinner plate.
However, even though Aunt Emily has strong opinions about food (and just about everything else), she isn't a cook. Her self-admitted culinary claim to fame is being able to open a can of soup.
Yet this past Christmas she began talking about the foods her mother used to make for her. Back when life was simpler. She mentioned something specific: Pane Cotto. I had never heard of it before, being more familiar with the cooked custard dessert Panna Cotta. She even gave me some loosey-goosey cooking instructions involving bread, lard, cheese and water.
Later in the evening, I asked Marmo if she knew what the h%^& Aunt Emily was talking about. "I don't know," Marmo replied, "I'm not sure she was operating on all cylinders."
Fair point. However, in the interest of family history, kitchen experimentation, and just plain ol' curiosity, I decided to look into it a bit.
Turns out, Aunt Emily was operating on all cylinders when she remembered Pane Cotto, as it's a real thing. My initial Google searches turned up a slew of recipes. What follows is my recipe, with inspiration from a few sources and based on the availability of ingredients in my fridge at the time. Here you go, Aunt Emily, here's your Pane Cotto:
What You Need:
Makes 2 servings
1 large bunch of kale - rinsed, stems removed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 tbsps. olive oil
4 chunky slices of day old Italian bread - I used the Jim Lahey Bread from Wednesday's post
2 - 3 cups of chicken broth
Red pepper (to taste)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese
What To Do:
Heat up a large stock or cast iron pot. Add the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and kale until soft. About 10 minutes.
Add the chicken broth and red pepper to the pot. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer, let simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper as desired. Pour into a baking dish. Place your bread slices over the top, making sure they sop up the chicken broth mixture. Cover the bread slices with grated Parmesan and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
You want the tops of the bread with the cheese to get a little brown and toasty. It's surprisingly good.
I also made some Kale, Sage and Butternut Squash muffins to go with it. Here's how:
What You Need:
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium butternut squash, roasted, skin removed and cut into chunks.
Salt and pepper
A couple of handfuls of kale, washed and chopped
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup semi-soft cheese, cut into tiny cubes
2 tsp. of whole grain mustard (like a dijon)
¾ cup milk
2 cups regular flour
4 tsp. baking powder
4 leaves of fresh sage, chopped
What To Do:
Heat your oven to 4ooF.
Grease a muffin tin well with oil or butter. In a large mixing bowl, stir together about two-thirds of the squash, the kale and the semi-soft cheese. In a small bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, and mustard until well combined. Pour this into the bowl with the squash and kale. Sprinkle the flour, baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt onto the squash and wet ingredients mixture. Stir it all together until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle the tops with Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into one comes out clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then dive in! You can also freeze these bad-boys for later use.
This recipe was based on this version from Five and Spice.
• Please note that Aunt Emily would probably hate both these recipes.