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Caponata Pizza

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My friend Gail summoned me over last night to help consume her never-ending garden harvest. I’m so jealous of her bounty: lemon cucumbers, squash, eggplant, swiss chard, kale, sweet peppers, onion, tomatillos, endless herbs, and six different kinds of tomatoes – it’s like a farmers market in her backyard! And since there is no way Gail and her husband can eat through the garden by themselves, I am always more than happy to accept invitations to help them (and to be sent home with any extra produce she cares to offer).

The past couple of times I have been over Gail’s house we made pizza. It’s one of my favorite things to make as a home cook because while you need to have a good comprehension of flavors and textural components, there is a ton of opportunity to experiment. And last night we did just that! We made two pizzas: one with pesto, squash, pancetta and chard (so earthy and delicious), and one with our version of Caponata and fresh ricotta – my new favorite pizza combo!

Caponata Pizza (serves 2)

  • 1 TB olive oilIMG_3167
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 cup diced red and yellow sweet peppers
  • 2 small eggplants, diced
  • 10 Sicilian green olives
  • 2 TB capers (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 plain pizza dough, rolled out
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
  • 2 TB grated Parmesan, divided
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned

Start by making the Caponota. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the onion and continue to sauté for 2 minutes, then add peppers and eggplant and sauté over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add olives and capers and continue to sauté for another 10 minutes. Increase heat back to medium and add white wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Once most of the wine has evaporated, lower heat and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so. You want the texture to be soft but not mushy – you should be able to see each individual ingredient.

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Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 and place a pizza stone or baking tray inside the oven. Top the pizza dough with tomato sauce, mozzarella and 1 TB of Parmesan. Evenly spread the Caponata over the pizza, then top with tomato slices, dollops of ricotta and remaining TB of Parmesan. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbling. Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil. Slice into 6 pieces and serve!

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We were battling some hot weather (and a hot kitchen) so we stuck to a dry Rosé and some Napa Sauvignon Blanc – both of which worked great. A light wine with a good amount of acidity would be best, so you could also pair this pizza with an Aglianico or a Sicilian Nero d’Avola. I think a Rosé of Sangiovese would have been perfect! I’ll have to remember that for next time.

Frills on Frills on Frills

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Bon Appetit released their ‘comfort food’ issue last week, and it’s very nearly everything. From soups to pantry meals to pastas, I dog-eared 5 pages and 14 recipes. One recipe that stood out was their Reginetti with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta. Since I was already buying pancetta for my massive batch of minestrone soup, I figured I might as well add a few more ounces and work this recipe into my week’s grocery shop. And then Miriam’s Tuesday night plans suddenly fell through and I invited her over for dinner so that I could share this batch of frilly pasta with someone who would equally appreciate it.

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Bon Appetit March 2015, p. 55

 

Campanelle with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta (serves 3)

raw pancetta strips

raw pancetta strips

  • 10 oz Campanelle pasta
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 4 oz thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 small head of savoy cabbage, tough ribs removed, leaves torn
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt

 

This recipe suggests “Reginetti, or other short pasta.” I didn’t see anything short and frilly enough after checking out the pasta aisle in a few routine grocery stores; I decided to swing by Genova Deli on my way home, because I knew they would have what I was looking for. Sure enough, they carry Barilla’s Campanelle pasta, the perfect substitution for “Reginetti” – whatever that is.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and a pinch of salt and cook for 8 minutes, until very al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid.

cooked pancetta

cooked pancetta

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add half of the pancetta and cook for 2 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then cook the second batch in another tablespoon of olive oil and transfer to paper towels.

Deglaze the pan with dry sherry, then add the cabbage and cook undisturbed until deeply browned in some spots – about 3 minutes. Using tongs, toss the cabbage then cook undisturbed for another 2 minutes. Continue to cook and toss until cabbage is charred in some spots and bright green in others and beginning to wilt. Add butter and thyme and continue to cook, tossing often for 2 minutes.

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Add cheese, pasta, and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and cook, tossing often until sauce is thickened and emulsified and coats pasta, about 5 minutes. Add pancetta and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then serve immediately in shallow bowls.

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IMG_1267Miriam devoured this pasta; she didn’t even speak for a few minutes other than “mmmm” and “ommmggggg”. After I was finally through with snapping photos, I dug in and joined in the chants of “mmmm”. It was almost like a carbonara, but much lighter and greener and just as delicious. The addition of the sherry not only worked to clear the burnt oil from the pan, but also added some braising liquid to the cabbage. Also, this dish just looks good with all the frills.

Miriam (unaware of the fact that Porter Creek is my favorite Sonoma winery) brought over a bottle of 2012 Porter Creek Timbervine Ranch Syrah. We enjoyed it before, during and after dinner. The wine is soft enough to be enjoyed on its own without food, but made the perfect companion to the pasta dish. With soft earth tones, hints of raspberry and meaty spice it worked well with the salty pancetta and sweet cabbage.

Shroomin’

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I was supposed to have dinner with Blondie last night (and meet her new puppy!) but the poor girl came down with the flu – which reminds me, I need to get my flu shot. I had already purchased the ingredients for our planned stuffed mushroom meal, so I decided to put them to use.

Ricotta, Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms (serves 2)

  • 2 portobello mushrooms
  • cooking spray
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped poblano pepper
  • 1 small hot Italian sausage link, casing removed
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup part skim or fat free ricotta
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tsp bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking pan with tin foil and coat lightly with cooking spray. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and spoon out the gills to create more room for stuffing. Place mushrooms cap side down on the baking pan.

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In a medium skillet, sauté garlic, onion and pepper for 2 minutes, then add sausage and continue to sauté until sausage is browned – about 5 minutes. Add spinach and sauté for 1 minute, or until wilted.

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In a medium bowl combine ricotta and Parmigiano; add salt and pepper. Add spinach and sausage mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Divide the mixture into the mushrooms and top with scallions and bread crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes.

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I stuck to water tonight because I’m trying to hydrate before a wine-filled weekend with my family, but if I was boozing I would pair these shrooms with a medium-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir, Chianti or Malbec. This was my first time making stuffed mushrooms, but I think they turned out pretty well! I went the cheesy, spicy Italian route with this batch, but the possibilities are endless. I think next time I’ll try for a Greek theme: lamb, tomatoes, feta, and spinach… mmm!

The Ricotta Gnocchi Project

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Last week I hosted my monthly Cookbook Club meeting, which focused on Canal House Cooking, Volume 7. I love the simplicity of The Canal House books, and I particularly love this volume because it focuses on my favorite cuisine: Italian. I was determined to make a pasta from this book, and settled on the Gnocchi Verdi because I thought it would be easier than making hand-rolled pasta (not so… but I’ll get to that). I sent the group a wide selection of recipes and declared I would be making the gnocchi; we quickly determined the rest of the menu would consist of minestrone soup, shrimp risotto, sausage and apple stuffing, prosciutto wrapped figs, and ricotta cheesecake.

figs

Prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic reduction

I started preparing the gnocchi a couple days in advance, beginning with the homemade ricotta that goes into the dough mix. I was nervous to make my own ricotta, but it seemed pretty straightforward so I went for it. After securing a double boiler, candy thermometer, and a skimmer (How did I not have a skimmer before now? It’s my new favorite kitchen tool!), I turned on Game 4 of the World Series (yay Giants!) and got to work.

Whole Milk Ricotta (makes 1.5 cups)

  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt

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Make a double boiler out of two large pots, with enough water in the bottom pot to come at least halfway up the sides of the top pot. Pour the milk into the top pot and heat over a medium-high flame until the temperature reaches 190 on a thermometer*. Add salt, yogurt and lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to mix everything together. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes, maintaining at 190 degrees. Do not stir, as it will disrupt the ricotta curds. Once done cooking, use a skimmer to carefully lift all the ricotta curds out of the whey and transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for about 1 hour, then transfer to a covered container and use within 4 days.

*The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to reach this temperature, but it took me more like 45 and it was still not entirely 190 degrees. Eventually I just gave up and continued with the rest of the process, and it gradually reached 190 after I added the other ingredients. 

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Gnocchi Verdi (serves 6)

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup finally minced basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1 TB melted butter
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 TB flour, sifted

Sage Butter

  • 8-12 TB butter
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • Parmigiano-reggiano

Mix together the spinach, basil, ricotta, butter, Parmesan-reggiano and eggs with a rubber spatula in a large bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, then sift the flour through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer into the spinach mixture. Mix it just enough to incorporate the flour. The dough will be soft, sticky and slightly moist. Refrigerate in a covered container overnight.

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About 2 hours before you’re ready to cook the gnocchi, form into cone shapes by hand (make sure your hands are constantly wet to avoid the dough sticking to you) and lay onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1.5 hours.

Make the sage butter about 20 minutes before serving. Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, turn off heat, cover and keep warm until serving.

When ready to cook, fill a deep, wide pan with water to a depth of about 3 inches. Season with salt, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat to keep the water barely simmering. Using a spoon, place the partially frozen gnoccho into the water, sliding it off the spoon. Cook 6-10 at a time. When they float to the surface, cook them for about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel covered plate to drain for a minute, then place onto serving platter. Once all gnocchi are done and on the platter, pour the sage butter over the pasta and season with salt, pepper and a shower of Parmigiano-reggiano.

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The gnocchi were well-received, which I was very happy about because they were quite a labor of love! I DEFINITELY recommend test-cooking a few gnocchi before getting into the whole batch; that way you have an idea of how hot the water should be, and how long to cook them. The first few I made fell apart in the pan, ether because the water was boiling too hard or because they weren’t formed well enough – or both. I started to panic and thought I would have to give up all together, until Miriam suggested freezing them. Since the dough was so soft and moist, freezing the gnocchi firmed them up they stayed more in tact when cooking. Thank goodness!

I had quite a bit of leftover gnocchi, and wasn’t quite sure how to reheat them. During some alcohol-influenced late night cooking on Halloween night, I decided to pan fry the gnocchi on a dry nonstick pan. That tasted magical. Or maybe I was just buzzed? Nope, pretty sure it was magical.

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

But the best use of the leftovers was the morning after Halloween when I incorporated some gnocchi into the egg mixture for my frittata. Usually I add ricotta to my frittatas, but since I didn’t have any actual ricotta the spinach gnocchi was the PERFECT substitution to my bacon-mushroom-pepper concoction. So perfect that I would consider making Gnocchi Verdi again just to have a batch around for morning frittatas. Though, I suppose I could just continue to make my own ricotta for that purpose!

Pesto + Farro

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I wasn’t going to post this recipe, since it was sort of just a scrambling together of the last of my summer ingredients (similar to last week’s post). But after sharing the photo below on social media, I had some requests for the recipe – and I would hate to disappoint my loyal readers – so here it is!

farro

Pesto Farro with Roasted Tomatoes and Shrimp (serves 3-4)

  • 1 TB olive olive oil, plus 1 tsp
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I used vine-ripened and cherry)
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup homemade pesto, plus 1 TB
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan fit with a lid, heat 1 TB olive oil over a medium flame. Once hot, add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, then add chopped tomatoes. Toss tomatoes then cover and reduce heat to medium-low, cooking for 20-30 minutes or until tomatoes have released enough juice to create a sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare farro. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tsp olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add farro and toast for about 3 minutes, then add chicken broth and water and bring to a boil, cooking for 8 minutes or until farro has reached a desired consistency. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the broth and set aside. In the empty pot, add 1/2 cup of the pesto and 1/2 a cup of the reserved broth; stir to combine into a sauce. Add the farro back into the pot and stir to coat.

Add the rest of the pasta water to the pan of tomatoes. Coat shrimp with remaining TB of pesto, then add to the pan with the fresh basil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and cooked through. Add farro to the pan and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve with shaved Parmesan cheese.

I took a much-needed break from alcohol last night after my gluttonous reunion with my brother this past weekend in Fort Collins, CO (which, by the way, is an excellent town for beer aficionados, but also very cocktail and foodie friendly). If you’re looking for a proper pairing, try an acidic white like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. You could also pair it with a light red such as a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir or Carneros Merlot.

Fresh Leftover Pizza

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It’s beginning to be my favorite food time of the year, filled with persimmons, pomegranate, squash and apples. I officially welcomed fall when I made a big pot of chili last Sunday, despite the fact that it was a hot Indian summer night (and I followed up my two bowls of chili with a walk to a gelato shop). Quite fittingly, today was cold and rainy and I said goodbye to summer by finishing the last of my home-canned heirloom tomato sauce. I also had to get rid of some hot and sweet peppers that had been in my fridge for a while, and I remembered that I had some mozzarella cheese leftover from when I made lasagna. So of course, it had to be a pizza night.

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Saucy Pizza with Hot Peppers and Sausage 

  • 1 pizza crustpeppers
  • 1 cup homemade tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1/3 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-5 small peppers, sweet and spicy
  • 2 TB shaved parmesan
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil

My neighbor (who shall be known as Jimmy from this point forth) introduced me to TJ’s par-baked organic pizza crusts, which are an okay substitution for my sorely missed Giorgio’s rolled-out doughs. They come with two per package, and can be found in the freezer-section of TJ’s near the other pizzas. These are perfect for a night when you just need to throw some leftovers on a pizza, which is exactly what I did!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and place a baking sheet in the oven to get hot. Meanwhile, brown sausage in a nonstick skillet for about 8 minutes. Drain the oil, wipe out the pan with a paper towel, then coat with a thin layer of cooking spray. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, then add peppers and continue to sauté over a medium flame for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

sausage

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Remove baking pan from oven and cover with parchment paper, then place dough on top of paper. Top pizza dough with tomato sauce, then mozzarella and Gruyère. Add onions and peppers, then sausage, and top with shaved parmesan and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and let cool for 3-5 minutes before cutting. Top with fresh basil and enjoy!

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Between the sausage and the hot peppers, this pizza was pretty damn spicy! It called for a fruity yet powerful Zinfandel, like the 2011 Seghesio Old Vine or the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs – both from vines that are 90-100 years old in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. These wines exhibit red fruit with spicy pepper and sweet, firm tannins, and stand up well to spicy, Italian food.

Amazeballs

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As you may have heard, “amazeballs” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, along with “hangry”, “douchebagery” and my personal favorite, “totes”. I’ve been using the word amazeballs since I was a wee sorority girl, so I’m all for this addition of popular slang; especially when I can use such a word to describe a meal!

Last week Panini Girl posted a recipe for eggplant meatballs that she picked up from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which I will soon be getting a copy of. Panini Girl knows her stuff when it comes to Italian food, and as she writes in her post, she is very picky about meatballs. So I knew that if she liked it as much as she said she did, then the recipe had to be attempted by yours truly! And when I saw some beautiful, huge eggplants at the Sonoma Farmer’s market on Tuesday, I knew the cooking Gods were telling me something.

eggplant

Beautiful eggplant from the Sonoma Farmers Market

Setting up for my first dinner party!

Setting up for my first dinner party!

This past Friday presented the perfect opportunity when I hosted my very first Napa dinner party. In attendance were two coworkers, a vegetarian friend and her meat-eating boyfriend, and my upstairs neighbor. I knew it was a risky move to make something I had never made before that also required quite a bit of prep, but I was determined! I doubled the recipe because there were six of us, and I also made some farro, green beans, and a Greek salad. Needless to say, there was a bit too much food. But better to overserve than underserve!

Eggplant Meatballs aka Amazeballs (serves 8-10)

  • 2 large purple, shiny eggplants
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 x 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn, plus 2 TB fresh minced basil
  • 5 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 4 oz shredded Parmesan
  • 2 TB minced parsley
  • 1 cup flour for coating, or more as needed
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 350. Poke the eggplants all over with a fork, then place on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for one 60-75 minutes, or until inside is completely tender. Let cool for a few minutes.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it's ready.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, in a large pot (big enough to fit tomato sauce and all the meatballs) heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add 3 cloves of garlic and crush with a wooden spoon, then sauté for about two minutes. Add onion and red pepper flakes and sauté for another two minutes, until onions begin to soften. Add tomatoes and their juice, salt and Italian seasoning and heat until the sauce begins to bubble. Then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

tomato sauce

Peel eggplant and discard skins. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix eggplant, bread crumbs, eggs, the rest of the garlic (minced), Parmesan, parsley, minced basil, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into golfball-sized balls and coat each in a thin layer of flour, then set onto a platter covered with wax paper.

Pour oil into a large, cast-iron skillet so that it’s about 1 inch deep. Heat over a medium-high flame, then test heat by adding a small piece of the eggplant mixture. If it sizzles, then the oil is hot enough. Using tongs, add half of the eggplant balls into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until browned and crispy. Then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or plate lined with paper towel, and cook the next batch of eggplant balls.

amazeballs

fried amazeballs

Warm sauce over a medium flame, and add torn basil leaves. If too thick, add a bit of water and continue to cook. Once the sauce has reached a desired consistency, add the meatballs and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium-low flame. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with a side of farro, pasta, or toasty bread – or just eat as is!

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These eggplant balls were a HUGE hit, even with the carnivores! The consistency was perfect, and they actually tasted a little bit like meat. They were very hearty and flavorful, and were just as good the next day. We had a wide selection of wine at the meal because several of us had brought bottles of mostly full Cabernet that were left over from various work tastings (one of the many industry perks). I also served a Seghesio Barbera that one of my coworkers brought, which paired nicely with the Italian flavors in the amazeballs.

Special thanks to Panini Girl for sharing this recipe with her readers, and an even bigger thanks to my friends who joined me for my first Napa Dinner Party! There will be many more to come 🙂

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