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Recipe: Cinnamon Cardamom Coffee Cake with Extra Streusel

28 Mar

If you like cardamom in baked goods, this recipe is for you. If you don’t, just omit it and you will still have a delicious cinnamon-scented coffee cake with a generous amount of streusel. Cardamom, which is native to India and Indonesia, is in the same family as ginger and turmeric and is very fragrant. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used it, and the Vikings took it back to Scandinavia. Today, it is widely used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Swedish dishes as well as some Southeast Asian ones.

In its native India, whole green cardamom frequently appears in savory dishes, and green and/or black cardamom seeds are also part of many garam masala spice mixes. Black cardamom is also very popular in Vietnam; I discovered it was a key ingredient in the long-simmered broth of my favorite Vietnamese pho in Maryland, when the owner came from the kitchen to show me a handful of the aromatic black pods.

On the sweeter side of things (a very nice side indeed), cardamom is a key ingredient in chai teas and mulled wines like Swedish glögg and German glühwein. It is also a key flavor component in Nordic baking and in Indian sweets, which often feature one of cardamom’s most delicious partners: rose water.

This recipe pays homage to my love of cardamom, my love of coffee cake, and my love of lots of streusel.

Extra Streusel Coffee Cake with Cinnamon and Cardamom

Ingredients:

STREUSEL:
2/3-3/4 cup (135-150 gr.) brown sugar (adjust depending on how sweet you like your coffee cake)
4 tablespoons (34 gr.) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
heaping 1/2 cup (80 gr.) chopped pecans or walnuts
3 tablespoons (45 ml.) canola/vegetable oil

CAKE:
1 1/2 cups (about 200 gr.) cake flour or regular flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (134 gr.) sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup (60 ml.) canola/vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 cup (180 ml.) milk (oat milk also lends a nice flavor)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.
2. Grease the bottom of an 8×8-inch (20 cm.) square baking pan (or spray with cooking/baking spray), line with parchment paper, and grease or spray the paper.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the streusel ingredients until well combined. Press down on the mixture with the back of a spoon to compact (to create a few future streusel lumps), and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and spices.
5. In another medium bowl, combine the oil, egg, milk, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just enough to mix. The batter will be a bit thin.
6. Pour 1/2 of the cake batter into the prepared pan (it will seem like a very thin layer; just make sure to fully cover the bottom of the pan).


7. With a knife or spoon, score a line across the top of the streusel in the bowl, dividing the streusel in half. Using a spoon, scoop and scatter 1/2 of the streusel on top of the batter, trying to retain some streusel lumps. Evenly pour the remaining cake batter over, and then scatter the other 1/2 streusel on top.
8. Bake the coffee cake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick, knife, or fork inserted in the center comes out clean.

Adapted from a recipe on food.com.

Recipe: Roasted Beet and Red Onion Tart with Feta and Walnuts

14 Mar

I realized a bit late that today is Pi Day, 3/14 (March 14). Our daughter is a huge fan of Pi Day baking, so I wanted to see if I could come up with a savory pie without having to go to the grocery store. Luckily, beets can keep in the fridge for a long, long time, and I recalled that two of them had been living in our crisper drawer for at least a month. Were they still good? Yes, they were. That meant the main ingredient for my pie was set. What goes beautifully with beets? Feta and walnuts. Both were miraculously on hand. As was a red onion that needed to be used, too, lending itself nicely to the red theme. So far, so good. Then I checked the freezer. Excellent: the puff pastry I thought I had in there was there, so I took it out to thaw. Pie ingredients all available!

Like most things involving pre-made puff pastry, this is a pretty easy recipe. The most complicated step (which is not hard, just messy) is peeling and dicing the raw beets. Prepare them on a plastic cutting board or a surface that will not stain. And beware of your hands. I washed my hands with soap and water after peeling each beet, then after dicing each beet, and then a final time for good measure–and my hands escaped unblemished. You could also use gloves. Or you could not worry about it, and then have time (on your hands) to admire a potent natural dye….

Roasted Beet and Red Onion Tart with Feta and Walnuts
6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg. (17.3 oz./490 gr., usually comes with two sheets) puff pastry (pasta sfoglia, pâte feuilletée)–thawed
  • Two large raw beets (about 1.1 lb./ 500 gr. total), peeled and diced into medium-sized pieces
  • 1 large red onion, cut in half, then each half cut into about 5-6 wedges
  • olive oil, dried thyme
  • 1 cup (135 gr.) feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup (about 118 ml.) heavy cream
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp. dried chives, or 2 tbsp. fresh chives, finely chopped
  • freshly grated black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • small handful walnut pieces
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • fresh parsley if available, as garnish

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F / 200 degrees C.
2. In a medium bowl, toss the diced beets with 1 tbsp. olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and 1/4 tsp. thyme.
3. Lightly oil a large baking sheet (I used a half sheet) and spread the beets onto 2/3 of the sheet.
4. Place the red onion wedges on the other 1/3 of the baking sheet. Brush the onion wedges with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and more thyme.

5. Bake the vegetables for about 25-30 minutes or until the onions are soft and look slightly grilled. Carefully remove the onions and place them on a plate to cool. Roast the beets for 10 more minutes until they are soft and golden looking (ie, about 40 minutes total), then place them on a plate to cool slightly, too.
6. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F / 190 C.
7. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper (I used another half sheet pan, but if you do not have one, you can use two smaller baking pans) . Unfold the thawed puff pastry sheets and arrange them on the parchment paper to fill up the pan as best as possible. Note: Depending on the size of your baking pan, this will require some cutting and pressing to fill the pan properly. With a sharp knife, score the edge of the pastry all the way around, creating a 1/2-inch border, but don’t cut the pastry all the way through. Here’s what my pastry looked like when I was done (if you aren’t in the mood for jigsaw puzzles, you could also place a puff pastry sheet on each of two smaller pans):

8. Make the feta base. Combine the feta, cream, egg, garlic, chives, and black pepper, and mash together. Prick the pastry, then spread the feta mixture over it, being carefully not to go past the border.

9. Arrange the beets and onion wedges on top of the feta mixture, sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan), then scatter the walnuts around. Sprinkle dried parsley and more ground pepper over the top. If you really love cheese, you could spoon some extra crumbled feta over the top, too.

10. Bake the tart for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom are golden. Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve with peppery greens (like arugula, though a spring mix would do, too) drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Recipe: Pasta Carbonara for Two

7 Mar
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In Rome, there are four classic pasta dishes: Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, and Gricia. The two base ingredients that are constant across all four sauces are Pecorino cheese and black pepper. Cacio e Pepe, which means cheese and pepper, is a perfect example of the magic that occurs when the two base ingredients are combined with pasta cooking water. Gricia omits the water and adds guanciale (pork cheek/jowl). The purest version of Amatriciana (from the town of Amatrice itself) also omits water, but adds tomatoes to the guanciale. (Note: the black pepper can be a very controversial ingredient in an Amatriciana sauce, depending on who you ask. I include it, as I was taught.) Carbonara is Gricia with eggs; it never, ever includes cream. Essentially, a small handful of ingredients trade places across the four classic Roman pasta sauces.

This Carbonara recipe came about when we were living in Rome as true empty nesters. It took me a few years to adjust from cooking for 6 to cooking for 2 (even though our children left home in phases), but I finally did it. This is a recipe my husband and I enjoyed often, one that can be easily doubled (or tripled) when guests arrive. The photos below show guanciale (pork cheek/jowl), which typically has a peppery outer coating. If you cannot find guanciale, look for pancetta (pork belly). If you cannot find pancetta, use bacon. Pancetta and bacon may not be authentic, but you should use what is available and make something that tastes good to you. The beauty of recipes such as this one is their ability to be translated in a way that still preserves their essence. I will never speak Italian like an Italian, but what I do speak is still recognizably Italian and I hope it demonstrates my love for (if not my complete mastery of) the language.

Note: This recipe uses raw egg yolks. They are cooked by being tossed with the hot pasta, but if this may be a problem for you, try Pasta in Cream Sauce as an alternative.

Pasta Carbonara for Two

Ingredients

  • 100 gr. (about 1/4 lb.) guanciale, cubed or diced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 225 gr. rigatoni (1/2 lb)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 30 gr. (about 1/4 heaping cup) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish

Preparation

Cook guanciale in olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until crispy. Remove the guanciale to a plate. Put 1-2 tbsp. of the guanciale drippings in a large bowl; let cool. Add egg yolks, grind a healthy amount of pepper over the yolks, then mix with a fork to emulsify.

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Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally until al dente (according to package directions). Before draining, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid— and place a tbsp. measuring spoon into the reserved pasta water.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and immediately add it and 1 tbsp. of the reserved pasta water to the egg mixture; tossing vigorously to coat and to make sure the egg yolks don’t scramble. Add the Pecorino in batches, stirring and tossing until the cheese is mostly melted and the sauce thickens. (Add more pasta water or pepper if desired.) Just before serving, mix in the crispy guanciale.

Divide among bowls. Serve with more grated Pecorino Romano.

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Recipe: Sautéed Baby Red Swiss Chard (Bietina)

10 Mar

You’ve vowed to eat more leafy greens, and you’re doing a great job adding more collard, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and other leafy greens to your diet. In Italy, where I live, those other greens would also include borage, broccoli rabe, chicory, escarole, watercress, and wild greens. But as you munch your way through one high-fiber, high-mineral, high-vitamin leafy green after another, there comes a day when you realize that, much as you love them all, one sautéed leafy green looks much like another. You have fallen into a green rut. That’s when Swiss Chard comes to the rescue. With Swiss Chard, you can have your leafy greens and ruby-red stems, too (if you get the right kind; chard stems can be white, yellow, or red).

Swiss Chard, or bietina/bietola in Italian, is widely eaten in Italy and around the Mediterranean. Why, you may ask, is it called Swiss Chard? No one knows. It’s not Swiss. But the plant may have first been described by a Swiss botanist, so that could be the answer–though it’s possible a German botanist actually did the describing first. It is one of those common plant-name oddities, like Jerusalem Artichoke.

This recipe uses tender, baby red Swiss Chard. If the chard you have is bigger/older, you may need to cut the leaves off the stalks, and add the chopped stalks to the skillet first, to give them more cooking time.

Recipe: Sautéed Baby Red Swiss Chard
2-3 servings

1 1/2 lb. (3/4 kg.) baby red Swiss Chard
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
chili flakes/crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

Preparation

1. Trim the stalks by cutting them off the root end of the bunch of chard. Most stalks should be thin and tender. With larger stalks, take a knife and carefully remove the stringy part by peeling down the center of the stalk.

2. Wash the greens in plenty of cold water, swishing and swirling to remove any dirt or grit. Drain in a colander.

3. Drizzle some olive oil around the bottom of a heavy skillet; add the garlic, chili, and salt; grind some pepper over; and cook the garlic and chili over medium-high heat for about a minute. Add the chard, stirring occasionally to make that sure none of the leaves get stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and that all leaves get cooked. As with all greens, what looks like a huge amount will soon cook down to a fraction of its former volume. If the pan seems too dry, add a bit more olive oil.

4. Check the seasonings, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Recipe: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

3 Mar

Sometimes, you need comfort food. While home today with a very sore throat and not much food in the fridge, I wondered what to make for lunch. It needed to be soft. It needed to make me feel better. It needed to be made from the few items I could scrounge up, and it needed to be prepared quickly. There was only one possibility: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano, a double dose of sheep-milk heaven — and ready in less than 15 minutes. Perfect.

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Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

This is a free-form recipe; you can adjust any of the ingredients to suit your tastes. The quantities below are for one hungry pasta lover, but this dish could serve two people if part of a multi-course meal.

  • ¼ lb. (113 grams) spaghetti, fettucine, tonnarelli, or other pasta
  • 1 tbsp. (14 grams) butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼-1/3 cup (28-38 grams) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • fresh, coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 ¼ oz. (64 grams) sheep’s-milk ricotta, crumbled or cut into small pieces (* use the best, freshest ricotta you can find)

Preparation

  1. Start boiling lightly salted water in a generously sized pot. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti and cook just until al dente—often that’s about 1 minute less than indicated on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, place the pieces of butter in an unheated skillet or large bowl next to the pasta pot. Add the Pecorino Romano cheese,  grind black pepper over  top (to your liking), and sprinkle 2 tbsp. cooking water around the sides of the skillet or bowl.
  3. When the spaghetti is done, quickly scoop it out of its cooking water with a pasta ladle and drop it into the skillet or bowl. Don’t shake off all the cooking water; it is an essential ingredient. Stir and swirl the spaghetti vigorously to melt the butter, the Pecorino Romano cheese, and the cooking water into a light sauce. Add more cooking water if the pasta appears too dry.
  4. Check the seasonings (adding salt and more ground  pepper if needed), gently fold in the ricotta, and serve immediately, with additional grated Pecorino Romano on the side.

Recipe: Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

29 Jan

There are probably as many versions of this soup as there are Bolivian families, and all of them likely to be delicious, but this is the version that has evolved at our house over the years. I love the bright-red color that comes from the tomato and chili pastes; it brightens even the coldest, most dreary day. I also love the soup’s many layers of flavor, each one contributing to the overall symphony. It’s even better the next day, so it’s a great make-ahead dish. And it’s very adaptable: make a vegetarian version by eliminating the beef/lamb, adding more veggies, and using vegetable broth/bouillon. Or substitute quinoa for the wheat if gluten is an issue.

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Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

Wheat/Hominy:
1/3-1/2 c. (60-95 gr.) dry wheat berries/trigo pelado
1 can (14 oz./400 gr.) cooked hominy/mote blanco, undrained, OR 1/2 c. (60 gr.) dried cracked hominy/maiz blanco trillado–see photo below

½ c. freeze-dried potato/black chuño (optional)

Soup broth:
12 c. (3 liters) beef broth
1 lb. (500 gr.) meaty, bone-in beef or lamb
1 large onion, halved
1 large tomato, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
beef bouillon cubes (optional)

Soup Vegetables:
3/4 c. (100 gr.) frozen petite peas
2 large carrots, julienned
3 large potatoes, julienned (it’s traditional to julienne both the carrots and the potatoes, but I have been known to dice both instead…)

Sofrito:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1-2 tbsp. red aji (chili) paste (aji colorado/aji panca)–see photo below
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Toppings:
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 tsbp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp. finely chopped  fresh mint

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Dried cracked hominy

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Red aji (chili) paste

Preparation:

  1. Note: If using  the optional freeze-dried potato/chuño, soak it in warm water overnight prior to making the soup. Before adding it to the soup in step #5, drain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. If necessary, chop into small pieces.
  2. Place the wheat berries (and, if using, the dried hominy) in a medium saucepan, cover with several inches of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 60-90 minutes or until both wheat and hominy are soft. Drain and set aside. If using canned hominy, pre-cook only the wheat, and add the undrained canned hominy to the soup in step #5.
  3. Meanwhile, add the broth and meat/bones to a large pot and bring to a low simmer, skimming periodically until no more foam is produced. Add the halved onion, quartered tomato, halved carrots, and the bay leaves and continue simmering slowly until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Check the seasonings and add beef bouillon cubes to taste, if needed.
  4. Remove the beef/lamb to a dish and let cool. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl, mashing the tomato pieces to extract any remaining liquid. Return the broth to the pot and discard the vegetables.
  5. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and any fat, and add the shredded meat to the pot along with 1 c. of the cooked wheat, the hominy, the freeze-dried potato/chuño (if using), and the peas, carrots, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito: Heat the olive oil  in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and slightly golden. Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to make a fragrant paste. Add the paste to the soup pot, stir to mix, and continue simmering the soup, covered, for 15 minutes or more to develop the flavors and ensure all vegetables are soft. If the soup seems too thick, add more water. If it needs more salt, add another bouillon cube.
  7. Serve with the sliced green onions and herbs sprinkled on top, and with plenty of crusty bread.

Recipe: Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting

22 Sep

This moist, raspberry-scented chocolate cake is a family favorite. It’s also a crowd pleaser, though very few people who ooh and aah over it realize it’s vegan. I love it because it’s easy to make and I can lick the bowl with a clear conscience. But mainly, I love it because it’s a great cake, perfect for anyone who wants a delectable, double dose of dark chocolate.

Note: There are times I have made a non-vegan version of this cake out of necessity; some of the vegan ingredients can be hard to come by here in Italy. So, if you are making this for a non-vegan crowd, it is possible to substitute regular (ideally, whole) milk for the soy milk in the cake and frosting, and to also use butter and (preferably dark/bittersweet) regular chocolate chips in the frosting.

Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting

Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting
(very slightly adapted from the recipe for Raspberry Blackout Cake with Ganache-y Frosting in Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Serves 12

Cake

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ c. vanilla soy milk
½ c. canola (or vegetable) oil
1 (10-oz.) jar seedless raspberry preserves (reserve ½ c. for batter)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ c. sugar

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray,* place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of each pan, and spray again.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Combine the soy milk, oil, ½ c. preserves, vanilla, and sugar in large bowl and mix well. The preserves should be mostly dissolved; small clumps are okay.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches and mix until everything is incorporated.
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in pans.
  6. When cool, remove one cake layer from the pan and place on a cake plate or stand. Spread with a thin layer of the remaining raspberry preserves, then with a thin layer of chocolate ganache on top of the preserves. Place the second cake layer on top and repeat, then ice the sides.

* In lieu of cooking spray, coat lightly with vegetable oil.

Ganache Frosting

¾ c. + 1 tbsp. vanilla soy milk
6 tbsp. non-hydrogenated margarine (such as Earth Balance)
12 oz. vegan chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring soy milk to a low boil. Add margarine and melt, turn off the heat, then add the chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Let cool–then refrigerate the frosting for an hour or so to thicken to a spreadable consistency. Check to make sure the frosting does not become too firm–remove from the refrigerator if necessary.

Recipe: Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves

24 Jun

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Zucchini flowers taste as good as they look, if not better. Stuffed with fresh mozzarella, a hint of anchovy (or not),  lightly battered and fried until crisp and golden, they are summer on a plate. Fresh sage leaves–encased in the same warm, crispy shell–will turn your thoughts to autumn. But the good news is, you can have them now. Two appetizers straight from the garden.


Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves
4-6 servings

1 c. (250 ml.) water–regular or sparkling
1 c.  flour, spooned lightly into the measuring cup (about 133 gr.)
salt and pepper
12-14 zucchini flowers*
9 0z. (250 gr.) fresh mozzarella
2-3 anchovy fillets (salt-cured, packed in olive oil)–optional
canola or sunflower oil–enough to fill a medium sauce pan to about 2.5 inches (6 cm)
handful of fresh, firm sage leaves

*Use male zucchini flowers. They appear at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which appear at the end of the emerging zucchini.

Preparation

1. Prepare the batter: Put the water in a medium bowl and sift the flour over it, whisking to incorporate. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. The batter should be thick enough to coat the flowers, but not pasty. See the right consistency for a light batter below. Set aside the batter while prepping the flowers.

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2. Lay out all the zucchini flowers, wipe them clean, and discard any that appear bruised or past their prime (they are quite perishable). Trim the stems to about 1 inch (2.5 cm), leaving enough stem to grasp and dip. Pull off the sepals (the spiky green parts at the base of the flower). Gently work your thumb and index finger into the flower and pinch off the pollen-topped stamen. You will probably tear the flower slightly; that’s ok, but try not to tear it too much, or shred it. See the prepped flowers and discarded sepals and stamens below:

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3. Mozzarella and Anchovies: Cut the mozzarella into as many 2.5-inch ( 6 cm) long rectangular pieces as you have flowers–or whatever size best fits into the flowers you have. You can omit the anchovies, you can go all in and lay a nice piece of anchovy fillet on top of each piece of mozzarella before placing both in the flower, or you can take a moderate approach. That entails placing the anchovy fillets in a bowl, drizzling them with some extra olive oil, mashing them with a fork, then placing the mozzarella pieces in the anchovy oil so they get a hint of the flavor rather than a wallop. Either way, you want to place the mozzarella pieces (with or without anchovy) into the flowers, covering them up as best as you can and twisting the ends of the flowers closed to create a mini pouch.

4. Bring the oil to high heat in a medium saucepan. Holding the stem end of a sealed zucchini flower, dip it into the batter in a twirling motion to keep it closed (sealing any open parts with your fingers and twisting the bottoms closed again if needed). When the flower is completely covered in batter, carefully lower it into the oil. Repeat for as many flowers as will fit into the saucepan in one layer without crowding; you will need to cook the flowers in batches. When one side is golden, turn the flower over (or push the flowers gently under the surface of the oil as they cook, to ensure both sides become golden).

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5. Drain the fried flowers on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and eat as soon as possible!

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6. Now for the much-easier sage leaves: Wipe them clean, dip each one into the batter, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and…

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7. … enjoy!

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Recipe: Coffee Ricotta Mousse with Gianduia (Chocolate Hazelnut Spread)

19 Feb

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Since moving to Italy, I have become obsessed with fresh, soft ricotta. Ricotta is made from the whey left over from making other cheese (so, the second cooking–and hence the name ricotta, which means twice cooked). It can be made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or buffalo’s milk. Cow’s milk ricotta is more common, but I love the taste and texture of sheep’s milk ricotta (ricotta di pecora), which has a very high fat content and is a bit softer than the cow milk version.

Cow's milk ricotta  Sheep milk ricotta
Despite this slight preference, I have yet to meet a ricotta I do not like. I love it in pastas and in any savory incarnation–but I really, really love it sweet: in the ricotta cakes here in Rome, in Sicilian cannoli, in the Neopolitan sfogliatelle…the list goes on. Basically, I love sweet ricotta here, there, and everywhere. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with making a ricotta dessert at home: mousse. It has been tough work.

This version is currently my husband’s favorite: coffee-flavored with ripples of gianduia, a dark chocolate-hazelnut spread that is a sleek, grown-up version of Nutella. The recipe is for two servings (based on 1/2 c. ricotta per person)–and can easily be multiplied. It yields a subtly flavored mousse that is not overly sweet, but the ingredients can easily be adjusted to your taste. Note: delicious as this is, it has one other thing going for it–it is a very quick dessert that can be made ahead and put in the refrigerator until later.

Coffee Ricotta Mousse with Gianduia
Two servings

Mousse
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. fresh, soft ricotta (preferably sheep’s milk ricotta–but use whatever is the best ricotta you can find)
2 rounded tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. whole milk

Filling
2 heaping tbsp. gianduia (chocolate-hazelnut spread)

Garnish
2 or more whole hazelnuts
chocolate-coated cookie sticks

Pernigotti  Mikado
Preparation
1. Dissolve the instant espresso powder (or instant coffee granules) in the vanilla.
2. Place the remaining mousse ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork until soft and mousse-like; add the coffee/vanilla mixture and whisk to combine, eliminating as many lumps as possible.
3. Leave with a few lumps for a more rustic mousse, or, for a finer texture, use an electric whisk (such as a whisk attachment on an immersion blender) or a hand mixer and whisk until velvety smooth.
4. Place 2 heaping tbsp. mousse in the bottom of each mousse cup, dot with about 1 heaping tsp. gianduia, and swirl slightly. Repeat, for three layers total, using up all remaining ingredients in the final layer.
5. If preparing in advance, cover each mousse cup with aluminum foil and refrigerate.
6. Just before serving, garnish each mousse with a whole hazelnut and chocolate-coated cookie stick.

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Recipe: Broccoletti Ripassati (Twice-Cooked Romanesco Broccoli)

12 Feb

After our visit to Sora Margherita, I found I could not get the broccoletti ripassati out of my mind. Soft, delicately sweet and nutty, redolent of roasted garlic and chilies, it was a perfect wintery comfort food, and I wanted to replicate it at home.

Broccoletti
So last week I went in search of a nice Broccolo Romanesco. It is in the Brassica oleracea family, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale. Not to be confused with regular broccoli (Brassica oleracea Italica Group), Romanesco broccoli (Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group) is bright green and pointy and has been grown in Italy for centuries. It is most closely related to cauliflower and tastes a bit like it–though it is richer and more tender. And while it is sometimes labelled “broccoflower,” it should not be confused with the other, more common “broccoflower” that looks just like a green cauliflower. By now, I’m sure you are confused…. But rest assured, if you see a swirly, pointy, highly decorative Broccolo Romanesco, you will immediately know it is the one that is not like the others.

Romanesco broccoli
And if you do see one, grab it, take it home, and make some Broccoletti Ripassati; you won’t regret it. You can it eat it as a side dish, on its own (pictured up top as an oh-so-good, next-day lunch eaten with a spoon)–or mixed into pasta with some of the cooking liquid, as is very common in Rome.

Broccoletti Ripassati

1 head Romanesco broccoli
roughly 8 c. chicken or vegetable broth (I used water and chicken bouillon cubes at slightly less than full strength)
1/4 c. olive oil, plus extra as needed
freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp. chili flakes, or to taste
4 medium garlic cloves, minced–plus another 2 cloves, minced (optional)
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Trim the broccoli, cut it in half, cut out the core, and separate each half into florets.
2. Bring the broth to a boil and simmer the florets in the broth until they are soft enough to be pierced with a fork–it should take less than 10 minutes.
3. Drain the florets, reserving 1 c. of the cooking water.
4.  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and grind some black pepper over the top. Add the chili flakes, cook for about a minute, then add the 4 cloves of minced garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds while stirring, then add the broccoli and stir to coat it with the garlic.
5. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically and scraping up any bits from the bottom of the skillet, until parts of the broccoli turn very slightly golden. During the course of this second cooking, the broccoli will begin to disintegrate, which is perfect.
6. If the broccoli gets too dry, add some of the reserved cooking liquid and/or olive oil. You do not want the broccoli to be either too wet or too oily; you want it to be soft, moist, and almost slow roasted.
7. Sprinkle the red wine vinegar over the broccoli and cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Add the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes (the first batch of garlic contributes to the slow-roasted taste; this batch adds a little extra kick–but it’s optional).
8. Season to taste and serve.