Italian Chocolate-Orange Ricotta Pie with Sambuca Spiked Strawberries

Makes one (9-inch) pie.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 stick unsalted butter (chilled)
1 extra large egg or 2 small eggs
1-2 tablespoons ice water

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
the zest of 1 large orange (about 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons cointreau or orange extract
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound ricotta, drained (minimum 2 hours, or preferably 
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and stirred until smooth

Sambuca Spiked Strawberries:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
5 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons Sambuca (an Italian anise flavored liqueur), or more if you'd like a stronger flavor

1. For the crust, combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse several times to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times until the dough becomes pebbly in texture. Add the eggs and pulse repeatedly until the dough begins to stick together. Slow add the ice water by the tablespoon, while using a few long pulses. Add more drops of ice water as necessary, until the dough holds together well. Invert the dough onto a floured work surface. Form a ball and flatten in a disc; wrap the disc in plastic wrap, and refrigerate while preparing the filling. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before continuing.

2. If you don’t have a processor, then combine the dry ingredients in a bowl; add chunks of chilled butter, and using a pastry blender or two forks, chop the butter until it resembles little pebbles. At this point, add the eggs and ice water, and stir with a spoon until the dough begins to form. Using your hands and working the dough as little as you can, form a ball, and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough holds together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate while preparing the filling. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before continuing.

3. To make the filling, add the eggs, sugar, orange zest, and cointreau to a large bowl. Using a hand-mixer on medium-low, mix until well combined. Add the heavy cream, cornstarch, and cinnamon, and beat on low until well combined. Stir in the drained ricotta and melted chocolate, and mix with a rubber spatula until well combined. Place bowl in the refrigerator.

4. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Coat your pie plate with cooking spray. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10- inch circle. Transfer the dough to the prepared pie plate, gently pressing it into the bottom and sides. Prick the bottom of the crust a few times with the tip of a fork. At this point, set the crust in the freezer for about 15-20 to get it really chilled, which will make for a flakier crust.

5. Remove the chilled crust from the freezer and pour the filling to about 1/4 of an inch below the top of the crust, as it will puff up slightly when baking.

6. Bake at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 degrees F and cook for 25 minutes, or until the filling puffs up, turns golden, and is “set,” meaning it should not be jiggly when you gently move the pie plate. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

7. For the strawberries, bring water and sugar to a boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Add the strawberries and cook 2-3 minutes, or until soft. Turn off heat and stir in sambuca. Cool slightly before serving. If not using immediately, re-heat slightly if the syrup hardens.

Note: If you have some extra filling left over, you can pour it into a small baking dish or ramekin for a crustless version. Just reduce the baking time.

Recipe created by Susan Russo of Food Blogga.

Italian Sausage Bread

Makes 10-12 slices.

1 pound pizza dough, homemade or store-bought*
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage, removed from the casing
1/2 cup diced hard pepperoni
6 large eggs, lightly beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 small balls of fresh mozzarella (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F, and center a rack. Roll out 1 pound of room temperature homemade or store-bought pizza dough into a rectangle about 10 X 12 inches on an unrimmed cookie sheet coated with a little cooking spray. Cover with a kitchen towel while cooking the filling.

2. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add sausage. Using a wooden spoon, break up the sausage into small pieces. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Add pepperoni. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, mozzarella, Parmesan, and parsley. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring several times. The eggs should be partially cooked, and the cheese partially melted and stringy. Overcooking the eggs will make them dry. Let egg mixture cool for about 5-7 minutes.

3. Spread egg mixture on dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Turn the shorter sides of the dough up on to the filling. Then roll the dough into a loaf, in a jelly-roll fashion. Turn the roll over with the seam on the bottom. Place in the middle of the pan. (You can line the pan with parchment paper for easy clean up.) Brush the top of the loaf with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Cool slightly before serving. Eat hot or at room temperature. Wrap leftovers in tin-foil and refrigerate. Toasted, they make a delicious breakfast the day next.

Recipe created by Dorothy, Food Blogga's mother-in-law.

Italian Lemon Egg Biscuits

Makes 72 cookies

Cookie Dough:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
4 tablespoons lemon extract
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup whole milk

Lemon Icing:
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons lemon extract
A few drops of whole milk
Colored candy sprinkles (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and position a rack in the center of the oven. Line four large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

3. In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs, lemon extract, oil and milk.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, mix until a dough starts to form. Using your hands, lightly squeeze and knead the dough. If it seems a bit dry, then add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time until it reaches desired consistency. The dough should be somewhat sticky and elastic.

5. Scoop 1 tablespoon of cookie dough and roll between lightly floured palms until a smooth ball forms. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart.

6. Bake cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottoms. The tops will be white but cooked through. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before frosting.

7. To make the icing, whisk the confectioners' sugar and the lemon extract in a small bowl. Add a few drops of milk and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and opaque and clings to the back of a spoon. Taste and add more lemon extract and/or confectioners' sugar, if desired. When it's ready, pour icing through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any tiny clumps of confectioners' sugar.

8. For easy cleanup, place a sheet of parchment paper under a cookie rack before icing cookies. Dip the top of the cookie in the icing, then place on the rack. Decorate with colored candy sprinkles, if desired. Allow to dry completely before storing in an airtight tin or plastic container. Place waxed paper or parchment paper between layers to protect the icing and sprinkles. Properly stored, cookies should last seven to 10 days.

Recipe created by Janet Russo, Food Blogga's mom.

Shrimp Brown Fried Rice

Makes 6-8 side servings

3 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 2 whole eggs and two egg whites)
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2-2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
24 medium shrimp, deveined, cleaned, and tails removed (about 2/3-3/4 pound)
4 cups cold cooked brown rice
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 small red or green chili, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
Sliced green onions, for garnish

1. Place a small fry pan coated with cooking spray over medium high heat. Add eggs; cook until nearly set. Flip once, and cook until set and no longer runny. Set aside. Cool and cut into small strips.

2. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce, brown sugar, and ginger; set aside.

3. In a wok or large, wide, deep pan, heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil over high heat. Cook shrimp until bright red, but not browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

4. In same wok or pan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Saute shallots and chili for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add red bell pepper for 1 minute. Add brown rice, and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp. Add soy sauce mixture and stir. Return shrimp to pan. Add egg and peas and stir until well combined and heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in cashews and cilantro. Garnish with sliced green onions and serve immediately.

Recipe created by Susan Russo of Food Blogga.

Boozy Beef Chili

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped
1- 1/4 pound ground beef
1 1/2-2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Several shakes of salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 (14.5 oz) cans of pinto or red kidney beans, drained
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with the juice
1 (12 oz) bottle dark beer, such as Guinness stout
1 tablespoon corn meal, to thicken, optional

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, saute onions and pepper in oil for 5 minutes. Add meat. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in spices and sugar. Add beans, tomatoes, and beer and stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Stir in cornmeal if you want the chili thicker. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

2. Top servings with any of the following: shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, sliced green onions, or fresh cilantro. This chili tastes even better the next day.

Recipe created by Susan Russo of Food Blogga.