Gretchen McKay

Serve afternoon tea, the “Downton Abbey” way

Sweet Butter Scones with Lemon Curd/Gretchen McKay

If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey,” chances are you’re soon to be in a funk.

After six seasons, PBS’s “Masterpiece” series will air its series finale March 6, leaving scores of Anglophiles crying in their crumpets.

It’s been a long, slow ride where — admit it — it sometimes feels like nothing ever happens at the Crawley family’s Yorkshire country estate. Lord Grantham, in particular, is so stuffy and boring that I wasn’t even sure he had warm blood running through his veins until he spit up a ton of it, all over the dining room table, no less, in a recent episode. Finally, he showed some signs of life.

But at least the family seems to eat well, thanks to the culinary prowess of Mrs. Patmore and her kitchen maid-turned- assistant cook Daisy Mason. As related by Emily Ansara Baines in ”The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook,” one of several cookbooks and blogs devoted to the food from the Edwardian days. For its evening meal, the family could expect anywhere from eight to 13 courses, depending on the occasion and time period. (The show kicked off in 1912 and ends in 1925.) And that’s not counting the “removes” served between the heavier courses.

It wasn’t so grand in the downstairs kitchen, of course, but like their moneyed employers, the servants at least got to enjoy a nice spot of tea whenever they weren’t polishing shoes or helping the ladies undress after service, or standing at rapt attention in the dining room during those hours-long meals.

Hmm, tea. Is there anything more warming when it’s bitterly cold outside, and you need a quick pick-me-up? Or anything more British than the mini-meal known as afternoon tea that goes with it?

In that spirit, we thought it would be fun to offer a do-it-yourself afternoon tea  (sometimes known as high tea), for your final episode viewing party. Even though at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, when the show airs on WQED-TV, it’s more likely Mary, Edith and the rest of the clan would just be sitting down to a gut-busting, sumptuous dinner.

Typically served between 3 and 5 p.m., Ms. Baines writes, afternoon teas was ”not nearly as low-key as it sounds.” Along with the title beverage, the menu would include an array of dainty, crustless finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream or fruit jam, biscuits, pastries, cakes and maybe even meat dishes, along with bread and cheese.

In homes such as the Crawleys, it was always served in the drawing room on fine china, with Earl Grey flowing from a silver tea service. This is where life events such as marriage were proposed, after all. We think it’s perfectly fine to set it up on your living room coffee table, within easy viewing distance of the TV, so long as you keep in mind that a proper cup of tea is NEVER served in paper or plastic.

Margaret’s Fine Imports on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill is among Pittsburgh tea shops that have everything you need to host a British tea at home, from demitasse teaspoons and tiered tea trays to hold your  savory sandwiches and biscuit-like scones, to jars of clotted cream and lemon curd to spoon on top of them. Of course, the shop also carries a selection of traditional British teas.

You’ll also find a huge selection of loose-leaf teas and tea bags at Nicholas Coffee in Market Square, Downtown (plus helpful people to tell you how to properly brew it), Te Cafe on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, Prestogeorge Coffee and Tea on Penn Avenue in the Strip District, and Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange, also in the Strip (formerly known as Fortune’s Coffee) among others.

Now, back to the series. With Netflix, it’s possible to get your “Downton Abbey” fix whenever you want. But also keep in mind that executive producer Gareth Neame hasn’t ruled out a “Downton” movie for the big screen.

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Sweet Cream Scones

Sweet Cream Scones/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

These are so easy to make, and not just for tea — they make a wonderful breakfast, too. Serve scones with clotted cream, marmalade or lemon curd. I drizzled half my batch with melted chocolate just because. 

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1 egg, at room temperature

Heavy cream, for brushing

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Blend sour cream, vanilla and baking soda together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet.

In large bowl, blend together flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in sour-cream mixture and egg until just barely moistened.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, kneading briefly. Pat dough out into 2 ¾-inch-thick rounds. Cut each round into 12 wedges and place them 2 to 3 inches apart on the greased baking sheet. Lightly brush with cream, then sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom.

Makes 24.

— ”The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media)

The Countess’ Lemon Curd

Lemon Curd/Gretchen McKay

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A popular spread for bread and scones served at afternoon tea, lemon curd also makes a great filling for cakes and pastries. Don’t worry if it’s not completely smooth like pudding — the zest gives the curd a bit of texture.

4 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice

7 ounces sugar (about 1 cup)

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

Combine lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter in a small pan set over simmering water. (Do not allow the mixture to touch the water.) Stir to help butter and sugar melt properly.

Lightly whisk eggs and yolk, then whisk them thoroughly into the mixture. As eggs cook, the mixture will thicken. When it is completely cooked through, you will be able to coat the back of a spoon, and then draw a clear line through it with your finger, 10 to 15 minutes.

Spoon into hot, sterilized jars. Cool thoroughly before putting on the lid. This will keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

Makes about 10 ounces.

— “Tea at Downton: Afternoon Tea Recipes from the Unofficial Guide to Downton Abbey” by Elizabeth Fellow (CreateSpace)

Asparagus Tart

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Not everything served at high tea has to be sweet. This simple-yet-elegant asparagus tart adds a savory flair to your spread. This recipe calls for one large pastry but you can make several smaller tarts if you prefer. I substituted Martha Stewart’s recipe for pate brisee for the crust because it’s fail-safe. 

2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into chunks

¼ to ½ cup iced water

1 bunch asparagus spears

4 eggs

1¼ cup light cream

4 tablespoons parmesan, finely grated

Salt and pepper

Pinch of grated nutmeg

1 to 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour into mixing bowl with salt and sugar. Crumble in butter and rub into flour to give crumb texture. Add iced water, a little bit at a time — you only need enough to bring the mixture into a ball of dough with your hands.

Dust worktop and a rolling pin with flour. Roll dough out thinly in a circle that is large enough to fill an 8-inch tart pan. Carefully lift dough circle into place and press it into the tin. Trim edges with a knife. Prick base all over with a fork, fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake in oven for 20 minutes.

Snap off hard part at end of asparagus spears and trim ends to neaten. Wash spears well and place in a pot of water that will hold them horizontally. Bring to boil, simmer for a few minutes until half-cooked and drain.

Remove tart from oven, remove beans or weights and return pastry to oven for a further 5 minutes. Set pastry shell aside while you prepare filling.

Beat eggs in bowl. Stir in cream and parmesan until well combined. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Dry asparagus spears with paper towels. Arrange spears in a fan in pastry shell, tips facing in. Carefully pour egg mixture around asparagus until tart shell is almost full. Sprinkle thyme leaves over top. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden.

Serve tart hot, cut into wedges.

Serves 8.

— Adapted from  ”A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions and Recipes” by Jessica Fellowes (St. Martin’s Press)

Classic Egg Salad and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Classic Egg Salad and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches/Gretchen McKay

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These finger sandwiches are a must at any English tea, and about as easy to make as a cup of tea.

For egg salad

6 large hardcooked eggs

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

20 slices soft white bread

For cucumber filling

8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

20 slices soft white bread

Make egg salad: Cut eggs into cubes. In medium bowl, mix together eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne pepper and salt.

Make cucumber filling: Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, cucumber, garlic salt, pepper and dill.

Make sandwiches: Spread egg salad over 10 slices of bread. Cover with another slice. Remove crusts.

Spread cucumber mixture over 10 slices of bread. Cover with another slice. Remove crusts.

Place sandwiches on a large baking sheet and cover in plastic wrap; chill in refrigerator for 35 minutes. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes, or use a knife to quarter sandwiches.

Each filling makes 40 finger sandwiches.

— ”The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media)


Chocolate Digestive Cookies

Chocolate DIgestive Biscuits/Gretchen McKay

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A sweet treat that Brits believe wouldl also help with digestion.

3⁄4 cup whole-wheat flour

1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon rolled oats

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons whole milk

6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease medium to large baking sheets. Sift together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl, then mix in oats. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add to dry mixture, then stir in milk until mixture forms a thick (and quite sticky) paste. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Dough will be sticky; wet your hands to combat stickiness. Roll out dough to approximately 1⁄8-inch thickness. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into 2- to 21⁄2-inch rounds. Transfer to cookie sheets, impressing patterns on biscuits with a fork. Bake cookies for 20– 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before coating with melted chocolate, then let cool again. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

— ”The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media)


A day at the beach, without sand or surf

Visitors are swallowed up in a sea of translucent plastic balls at the National Building Museum’s “The BEACH” exhibit, which is meant to simulate the ocean/Gretchen McKay

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Summer is quickly coming to a close but if you’re headed to the nation’s capital before Labor Day, there’s still time to squeeze in a quick trip to the beach. Just don’t worry about packing sunscreen, a beach bag or even a bathing suit.

“The BEACH” exhibit at the National Building Museum’s Grand Hall features neither sand nor sea, and the only chance you’ll get a sunburn is during your walk from the National Mall to the 30-year-old cultural institution on  F Street NW.  But like a day at the shore, you’re sure to have fun, especially if you’re traveling with children.

Conceived in partnership with Brooklyn-based design firm Snarkitecture, the interactive architectural installation aims to re-create the “familiar experience” of a summer day at the beach. Only instead of dipping their toes into the Atlantic, visitors get to hang their feet and/or immerse their bodies into an “ocean” of plastic balls. There’s almost 1 million of the tennis ball-sized translucent orbs, filling a sloped shoreline that stretches 50 feet from a bank of wooden beach chairs to a mirrored wall that reflects its stark, white seascape.

In all, the temporary exhibit encompasses 10,000 square feet of the museum’s first floor, along with two of its four colossal marble Corinthian columns.

It’s a fun place to escape the heat and humidity of a D.C. summer, but gaining entrance? Not so much. The lines are long (expect to wait up to two hours on weekends), and once inside, you’ll probably have to wade through a sea of  like-minded tourists to find a spot from which to dangle your legs off the exhibit’s “pier.”

More than 80,000 people have visited the exhibit since it opened July 4, according to Brett Rodgers, the museum’s vice president for marketing and communications. “Interest has been very strong and we’ve been at capacity literally every day.”

As a result, it’s noisy. There are tons of little children. And all the good spots for lounging are taken. (In other words, it’s very much like the real beach.) Also, although rules prohibit any throwing of balls, you might get hit in the head with one anyway. Kids, after all, will be kids.

I, rather stupidly, jumped into the bright-white “ocean” with my shoes on and purse open. Big mistake. I immediately sank a good 3 feet  (think quicksand instead of water), and it took my husband a good 2 minutes to pull me up to the side — to the amusement of many — as I struggled to keep my sandals connected to my toes. Touching the bottom felt impossible. But what fun!

“This isn’t a beach,” I heard one 20-something call to another. “It’s a mosh pit!”

There’s no time limit once inside, and if you get hungry or thirsty while playing, Union Kitchen, a D.C.-based food incubator has a snack concession serving ice cream, candies and other snacks, including a cheese board with dried fruit and crackers.

And if the thought of “swimming” in a giant pool of balls that have been touched by thousands of bare feet gives you the willies? Not to worry. The balls are made with an antimicrobial called Germ-Block, eliminating any chance of catching cooties. The museum also does “spot cleaning” when necessary.

“The BEACH” is part of the museum’s annual “Summer Block Party”  that includes special programming, exhibitions and events for all ages. It follows the success of last summer’s “BIG Maze,” a 60-by-60-foot wooden maze inspired by ancient labyrinths, garden and edge mazes of 17th- and 18th-century Europe. Among other exhibits included in the entry price are a photo exhibit of  renovations to the Washington Monument and Washington National Cathedral, captured from the scaffolds, and a collection of  60 three-dimensional models — suspended from the balconies of the Great Hall — that showcase how local culture and climate shapes architectural design. There’s also a play-work-build room where visitors big and small can play with blocks.

Teacher with cystic fibrosis gears up to run Pittsburgh Marathon

Hannah Camic gets a look when she’s running that flies in the face of the chronic lung disease she was born with. She doesn’t smile so much as she glows, as if lit from within.

This is no small feat when you’re double digits into an early morning workout that could include as many as 20 miles before some Pittsburghers have had their first cup of coffee. It’s an absolutely amazing one when you consider her lungs are in constant battle with the thick, syrupy mucus that’s a hallmark of the cystic fibrosis she was born with 32 years ago.

Or that every time she’s in a group she puts herself at risk for life-threatening infections through cross-contamination.

Getting enough air can prove difficult, so she coughs. So much and so hard at times while she runs that a week before the Elizabeth Borough resident was to compete in her first Pittsburgh Marathon last May she bruised her ribs.

“I was the sickest I’d been in a year,” recalls Mrs. Camic, who teaches chemistry at Bethel Park High School. Her airway was so obstructed, she felt like she was breathing through coffee straws. “In my heart, I didn’t know if I should run.”

Her head was a different matter. She’d gotten so many encouraging messages while training with Pittsburgh’s Run to Cure CF team — during which she raised more than $19,000 for research — that to not lace up for the 26.2-mile race was, well, unimaginable. So despite her family’s reservations, and with coach Audrey Burgoon lining up support along the course, she went for it, knowing she’d labor for every breath as though the wind had been knocked out of her by a punch to the chest.

She was “beyond disappointed” with her time, but she finished, spurred on at the end by her younger brother, Levi, who ran alongside her the last four miles.

“Given how sick I was, it was somewhat miraculous, and I don’t say that about anything I do,” she says. “However, I did not feel that sense of accomplishment, joy and pride that I had experienced in other races and that I used as mental motivation throughout my training. But as you know, you just run the best you can with what you’re given, and I did do that.”

Or, you try again, as she did three weeks later at the Buffalo Marathon — and took 12 minutes off her time.  In all, she’s completed 52 races since her first 5K in 2013, all with her doctors’ blessing.  She’ll run her second Pittsburgh Marathon on May 1 with a time goal of 4:30 and fundraising goal of a little more than $12,600, bringing her three-year total to $50,000.

For someone with CF to cross the finish line, she says, is therapeutic in more ways than one. First, running is a good form of therapy in that it helps her lungs to clear out the gunk and stay strong. Perhaps more important, it allows her to deal emotionally with her disease.

“It’s a mental thing,” says Mrs. Camic, who logs upward of 30 miles a week. “When I’m out there running, I’m defeating cystic fibrosis,” a genetic condition that worsens with age. Life expectancy is about 38 years.

Mrs. Camic isn’t the first to heal the body and soul through running; there’s something about crushing miles that can make someone who feels bad, mad or sad suddenly feel better. But her resolve — many would call it grit —  is something for the record books.

It’s tough enough for any working mother to find the time for marathon training. Mrs. Camic has to work around a schedule that also includes four hours a day of treatment.

Hannah Camic reads a book while taking treatment for her cystic fibrosis in her home in Elizabeth. Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette

Every day at 4 a.m., she straps on a life jacket-like compression vest that vibrates, helping break up the mucus. It runs for 1½ hours. While it’s shaking, she uses a nebulizer to inhale a fine mist of four mucous-thinning medicines into her lungs. Afterward, the equipment has to be cleaned and disinfected.

She also takes “lots and lots of pills,” and when she’s sick, the list grows.

She repeats the process following dinner. If  her 5-year-old daughter, Noelle, is awake, they lie together or play games. If not, she watches TV, reads or grades papers. Sometimes she dozes during treatment, and her husband, Ed, takes over.

Depending on the day, her lung function can go up or down anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent after treatment. Regardless, she never misses a run and also cross-trains with weights and yoga. Even on days when she has a line threaded into a vein in her chest to administer antibiotics, she puts shoe to pavement — She figures she’s logged at least 100 miles with the tip of a catheter taped to her arm. A few weeks after last year’s Buffalo race, for instance, she had to get a line to treat an infection.

“Why not double up and have running be my medicine, too, and get that double boost?” she asks.

As for any runner, sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes two miles feels like 20. What propels her forward, she says, is Noelle. “She’s my motivation to keep going.”

Success, she adds, is even more appealing when the odds are against her. ”The greater the challenge, the greater the feeling of victory.“

Ms. Burgoon, her coach, chalks her success up to a runner’s ability to overcome adversity. “Some people who aren’t athletes look for excuses. She looks for a reason, and performs. Her positive approach to life in ingrained in her.”

Hannah Camic runs with her training group in Pittsburgh. Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette

Exercise, says Dr. Michael Myerburg of UPMC, who specializes in pulmonary disease, is the perfect treatment for people with CF because it can slow the rate of decline in lung function. In fact it’s so important, that it’s “one of the things we review when we see CF patients at clinic,” he says.

“Breathing heavy is a really good stimulus to clear mucus and keep the lungs clear,” he says. “So we really push exercise with everybody on every visit.”

Although she played soccer in high school and cheered at Bucknell University, Mrs. Camic never thought much about running until three years ago. Like many 20-somethings, she had a lot of weddings on her calendar and wanted a way to get in shape. A friend at school suggested the treadmill; one mile later, she decided to train for a 5K. “I got addicted,” she says. And she’s competitive for her age group, logging a respectable 7:27.33 this past July at the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile.

The stats on CF, Mrs. Camic admits, can be scary. That’s why fundraising for research is so important to her and also why she went public with her story last year; until then, no one but close friends and family knew she was ill.

“I have never wanted special treatment or to be viewed as a sick person.“

Her wish in joining the CF team and  sharing her experiences is that she’ll provide hope and encouragement to those affected by the disease. “I want to show them that having a family, a job and a very happy, fulfilling life is possible.”

While researchers have made tremendous progress in the treatment of some CF patients, they’ve not yet been successful with Mrs. Camic’s particular mutation. She could be looking at a lung transplant.

But when she’s running, some of those fears and sadness about the future fade away.

”Focusing on negatives does zero good for me,“ she says, ”so I try to focus only on the positives and those things that I can control. After all, cystic fibrosis or not, no one is guaranteed tomorrow.“

Lidia Bastianich gives a lesson in Italian cooking

Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce/Gretchen McKay

Lidia Bastianich has written a dozen cookbooks since arriving in America more than 40 years ago, introducing at least two generations of Americans to the delights and intricacies of regional Italian cooking.

Rather than simply dazzle like so many celebrity chefs, she keeps it simple. Ms. Bastianich’s persona on TV and in print has always been that of teacher, from how to choose the right ingredients, to the need to taste as you go to the importance of technique in certain recipes. In “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” (Knopf, October 2015, $37.50), she offers aspiring cooks what she calls her “master class.”

Nearly 2 inches thick, the soups-to-nuts primer is a handsome companion piece to the third season of “Lidia’s Kitchen,” her 26-part series on PBS. Its 400-plus recipes run the gamut from appetizers, salads and sauces to pizza, pasta and seafood, and she also includes an extensive guide to the ingredients and techniques essential to Italian cooking. Near the end, there’s a 46-page glossary of words that tend to pop up in Italian kitchens.

She also includes some tasty insights to Italian culture (there’s a reason it’s called “wedding soup”) along with a handful of phrases that would come in handy at her ristorante in the Strip District, where on Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. she’ll feature some favorites at a dinner to promote the cookbook. Cost is $55 (plus tax and gratuity), with an optional Bastianich wine pairing for an additional $30.

“This book provides the forum for me to collect everything I want to communicate to you in one place,” she writes in the foreword. “Here I have gathered my life’s memories, my philosophy, my passion, my art. These are the ingredients I love to cook with, and the cooking techniques I have learned and developed through my 40-plus years in the kitchen.”

Italian food at its best is simple, made with seasonal items. Many of Ms. Bastianich’s recipes require just a handful of ingredients, many of which are pantry-friendly. All you need for her tomato sauce, for instance, is olive oil, garlic, a can of Italian plum tomatoes, crushed red pepper and basil; for gnocchi, it’s simply potatoes, eggs, flour, salt and pepper.

One dish that immediately caught my eye, and one that will be offered on Sunday at her restaurant, was her mother, Erminia’s, recipe for Chicken Thighs with Potatoes and Olives. Ms. Bastianich ate the dish often growing up, and when she became a mother, she served it to her kids, too. Salty, succulent, crispy and tender, it might be one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever made. And it was easy to prepare, requiring only my large cast-iron skillet, a handful of ingredients and the resolve not to polish off the bottle of white wine used for cooking while the dish simmered oh-so-fragrantly on the stovetop, whetting my appetite.

Previous incarnations of the dish called for bacon slices rolled into little bundles and pickled cherry peppers to imbue the dish with a mellow heat. The recipe in this book swaps that slow burn for the bite and brine of olives and tang of red wine vinegar.

I also very much enjoyed her recipe for Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce, which was included in the chapter on appetizers but made a lovely dinner when paired with crusty Italian bread and a salad.

With winter marathon-training season underway, I’m looking forward to trying the book’s many soups and pasta dishes and vow to perfect my risotto-making with her detailed instructions. (Stir, cook and stir some more.)  And the Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake, which involves an entire jar of Nutella, is on my menu for Valentine’s Day.

Readers might lament the book’s lack of glossy pictures to tempt them (it’s illustrated with black-and-white drawings), but “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” would be a great addition to any kitchen library, for novices and seasoned cooks alike.

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.


Chicken Thighs with Potatoes and Olives

Chicken with Olives and Potatoes/Gretchen McKay

(Cosce di Pollo con Patate ed Olive)

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“This might be the best chicken you’ve ever made,” my husband told me after eating it, and his portion had been frozen and reheated. But it’s true. This poultry dish is absolutely terrific, fancy enough for a dinner party but also so simple that you can make it for the family midweek.

12 medium chicken thighs

1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

All-purpose flour for dredging

Vegetable oil for browning

2½ pounds medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch chunks

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1½ cups pitted large green olives

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ cup dry white wine

Season chicken thighs with 1½ teaspoons salt. Spread flour on rimmed plate, and lightly dredge chicken thighs on all sides, tapping off excess. Heat large shallow Dutch oven or large skillet over medium-high heat with ½ inch vegetable oil. When oil is hot, add chicken, skin side down. Brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes, and remove to plate.

To same oil add potatoes. Brown them on all sides, about 10 minutes, and remove to plate with chicken. Dump out oil and wipe pot clean.

Return pot to medium-high heat and add olive oil. Add garlic. Once garlic begins to sizzle, add olives and rosemary. Once they are sizzling nicely in pot, let cook for 1 minute or 2 to bring flavors together, then add vinegar. Boil until vinegar has reduced away, then add back chicken and potatoes. Pour in wine, adjust heat to simmer and cover. Cook until chicken is almost tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Uncover and simmer rapidly, turning chicken occasionally, until it is tender and glazed in sauce, about 15 minutes. Remove garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs and serve hot.

Serves 6.

— “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, October 2015, $37.50)


Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce

(Cozze al Pomodoro Piccant)

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I’ve been obsessed lately with mussels, and this recipe, which cooks them in a spicy tomato sauce, shines. Be sure to rinse and scrub mussels clean before using, discarding any that remain open after tapping or are chipped or broken. (Mussels must be alive when you cook them.) If there are any that don’t open after cooking, toss those, too.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

8 garlic cloves, sliced

28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand

½ teaspoon dried oregano, preferably on the branch

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes

3 pounds mussels, scrubbed, debearded and drained

10 large basil leaves, shredded

Heat 5 tablespoons olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sliced garlic, and cook until garlic sizzles and is gold around the edges, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, rinse can out with ¼ cup water, and add to pot. Season with oregano, salt and peperoncino. Bring to boil, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Once sauce has thickened, add mussels, stir and adjust heat so sauce is simmering. Cover, and simmer until mussels open, about 5 minutes. Discard any that do not open.

Once mussels are open, stir in basil and drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Transfer to serving bowl, and pour juices over them. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, October 2015, $37.50)


Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Butter and Sage Sauce

(Gnocchi di Zucca)

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Nothing beats fresh pasta, and gnocchi (the Italian version of dumplings) are easier to make than you might think if you follow this simple rule: Once the potatoes have been cooked, peeled and riced, allow them to completely cool before adding the flour. If you don’t have a ricer, push the potatoes through a sieve or the holes of a colander.

For gnocchi

1-pound chunk butternut squash

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium russet potatoes

½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano

1 large egg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1½ cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more as needed

For sauce

1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter

10 fresh sage leaves

1 cup very hot water from cooking pot of pasta

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup freshly gated Grana Padano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scoop seeds from squash and place cut side up in pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool slightly.

When cool, scrape flesh from squash, set in cheesecloth and let hang or set in a strainer in refrigerator overnight to drain. You should have about ¾ cup squash.

Cook potatoes in medium saucepan with water to cover until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, let cool, then peel and press through a ricer into an even layer on sheet pan. You should have 2 cups potatoes. Pass drained squash through ricer as well.

In large bowl, combine squash, potatoes, cheese, egg, salt and nutmeg; mix until smooth. Sprinkle in 1¼ cups flour and mix to combine. Dump dough onto your work surface and knead until it comes together. If dough is still sticky, add remaining ¼ cup flour, and knead just until smooth. Do not overknead dough or gnocchi will be heavy.

Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle with flour. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll dough onto floured surface to ½-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into ¾-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along the back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side and a dimple on the other. Transfer gnocchi to floured baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. While water is heating, make sauce. Heat butter in large skillet over medium heat until melted and just foaming. Gently lay sage leaves in pan and heat until they crisp up, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup boiling pasta water, stir sauce and simmer for about 2 minutes, to reduce liquid by half. Grind black pepper directly into sauce.

Keep sauce hot over very low heat while you cook gnocchi.

Cook gnocchi in two batches in boiling water, giving them just a couple of minutes more after they all float to surface. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to awaiting sauce. Toss until well coated. Remove from heat and toss in the cheese just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, October 2015, $37.50)