Another blog event on the same theme of 'The best of 2007' was the one organized by Zorra and Sandra, who asked us to point out only one best recipe among all those that we made this past year!
Now, this is a hard task. I really loved cooking all the things that I posted about, and I think a lot of them were very good to eat too :) I was very undecided: should I award one of my wonderful breads, that everyone always enjoy so much? Or one of the great cakes that I found recipes for? Well, in the end, I decided that the most memorable one was actually a drink.
It's limoncello. It took three weeks to prepare, and it disappeared in one evening... amazing, what some lemon and sugar and just a little alcohol can do to people :)
So, now I'm curious to look at the I'm sure huge collection that Sandra and Zorra will come up with! Check here for the roundup.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Another blog event on the same theme of 'The best of 2007' was the one organized by Zorra and Sandra, who asked us to point out only one best recipe among all those that we made this past year!
I like the idea of thinking back about 2007 and deciding what were the best things that happened and were recorded on this blog. There are a few events that encourage this, and so I'll join my voice to the 'Best of 2007' event proposed by Nupur at 'One hot stove'.
On a 'culinary level', the best things that happened to me were:
1) I learned how to bake bread, and found out it's easy, fun, and the results are always good!
This is the summary of four different bread recipes, which you can find here.
2) I also learned how to make home made pasta! This was a big discovery too, although I don't do it as often as baking bread, as it requires a much longer time investment.
If you want to see a pasta-making session, click here.
3) I started participating to a lot more food-blog events. This has been really good in many ways: I was pushed to try and make different types of food, create new recipes with new ingredients, and also, I got to know a lot more food-bloggers, who are now almost like friends for me.. Also, I found out about a lot of interesting recipes. I truly believe that some of the blog-events roundups are little jewels, which no one would have ever thought of before this big blog word started existing.
This is an example of one of the events that pushed me to think about something new: it was 'Waiter, there's something in my.. dumplings', and I made some steamed chickpea flour dumplings filled with nuts and raisins, which is something I would have not really thought of if I hadn't been inspired by the guidelines of the event.
4) I also started to host a food blog event here on my blog, called 'Fresh Produce of the Month'. It's exciting and instructive for me to choose which produce can best represent a month, and see what people come up with! This month we have Apples as theme, and I'll post the roundup quite soon.
5) I became almost vegeterian, and stopped cooking meat except for very special occasions (like Christmas or so). I've never been too big on meat, but now I really enjoy more vegetables than meat! I still really like fish, though. This is just an example of some cute vegetable dish I made at some point, Grilled veggie and tofu bruschette with mango and tomatillo salsa!.
6) Being more vegetarian also made me become inventive and experiment with fruits in savory dishes, such as in this veggies, fruit, tofu and somen noodles
7) I made my first liqueur! I made limoncello when it was lemon season here, and the result was so good that it disappeared in one evening.. :)
8) I also made my first jams. I haven't posted about all the jams I made, in the end, as they are always very simple! I found out cooking any fruits with sugar, lemon and spices makes the best jams ever, and there's no need to buy them anymore. Here is an example of my peach jam
On a non-culinary note, this blog witnessed a few big changes in my life that occurred this year.. most important, our move to Berkeley!
This meant saying goodbye to many dear friends, although luckily, as I said, some of them actually moved on the West coast too. And it meant knowing many new great people, and experiencing the lifestyle of Berkeley, which I really enjoy.
It also meant visiting a lot of nice places around California. I particularly enjoyed going to Yosemite Park with Lucas's parents. It's a wonderful place, and we went when the falls were in their greatest beauty. Here is a picture of Lucas and I, taken by Debbie:
This year was also the year when most of my friends had babies. This made me realize how life goes on around me, and also made me think about the beauty of having a baby! I think next year will see a few more babies born among my friends. Here is baby Crystal, Yan Li and Dazhong's baby, when she was very little:
My other friends' babies were Giulia, Clementina, Sara, Eleonora - all little baby girls! I'm really happy for all of them, and I wish all of them joy and happiness.
Today is actually the 'anniversary' of the end of my third year in a row in the US. So far, it's been a very nice time of my life. I enjoyed a lot of things of this country, and of the people here. It does feel a bit strange, though, to know that I haven't been living in Italy for so long. Who knows what will happen in one year? Things will change again. Well, we'll see, and hopefully this blog will witness the most important events again!
This year Lucas and I didn't go visit either of our families for Christmas. But I didn't want this to be a lonely Christmas.. so we invited all our 'orphan' friends who were in Berkeley at a lunch at our place. We had a wonderful and joyful day. Everyone enjoyed it, and I will remember it for a long time.. here are just a few shots of the lunch, to share with our friends and dear ones far away throughout the world.
At the table:
From left to right: Yan Li and Dazhong, our friends from Raleigh! They moved to the west coast recently, and now live closeby again! We were so happy to see them after such a long time. Then, there's Andrea, the Italian friend who introduced us to so many people and nice events in this new area. Then Lucas, whom you may have gotten to know by now if you have read this blog :) - and then, our dear friend Vlasta! She was also a friend from Raleigh, and she moved here with Filipe, her husband, not long after I arrived. Such nice coincidences. Filipe was in Portugal for Christmas, so he couldn't join us. Then, there's Fiona, whom Vlasta introduced to us recently at a Halloween party. It was really nice to get to see her again! And last but not least, Sonya, met by pure chance one day going to SF, and since then become one of my closest friends here in Berkeley!
We had a few things out, in our apartment, specifically for Christmas. One of my favorite is this really cute 'presepio' for travellers, which was given to me by my friend Chiara.
It's so small, and if you have to move, you can put baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the little box with the angel. I love it. I had also another small wooden 'presepio', and my icons that I received when I was baptized at 18.
The lunch was very good. I made a mixed salad with many different greens, beets, nuts and apples, an onion tarte (which I may give the recipe for in a later post), and Vlasta brought her wonderful pesto and tuna and phildadelphia cheese spread, which you can see below.
The main course was homemade tagliatelle. Sonya, Lucas and I prepared the tagliatelle the night before. I already posted about how to make tagliatelle here. It's a lot of work, but if you do it with some friends, it's fun, and the result is amazing. I prepared to special sauces for Christmas: trout, almonds and zucchini was one, and wine, eggplant and sausage was the other. You can see a taste of them here.
For dessert, I prepared panettone. I followed a new recipe this year, but the result wasn't as satisfactory as the last few years. I may decide to try it again for New Year's day, we'll see. It was good, but as you can see in this picture, it was a bit too crumbly and not soft enough to be called real panettone:
I'll explain better what panettone is if I get to make a really good one. Alternatively, you can look here on the amazing blog 'Wild Yeast' by Susan.
The most professional and really amazingly good dessert we had was given by Andrea, who is in fact a really good cook:
These chocolates contained different types of liqueurs, and they were amazing! They were almost all gone at the end of the lunch.
After the lunch, we had a 'Secret Santa' gift exchange. Each one of us had been 'secretly' assigned to another person and bought a small gift for him/her. So the gifts were still secret but a little personalized.. it was really nice! Every one received a nice gift, ranging from a special bottle of wine to a little journal, to a bracelet, a book, a nice apron, cookies and other little things..
So in the end, it was a warm Christmas, even if our families were far away geographically. I know now it's very late, but I really want to wish everyone who's reading this blog every possible spiritual gift that Christmas comes with. May joy and light be born in our hearts and may peace come to the world!
I did bake a few Christmas cookies (unfortunately too late to send them to any of the many nice events centered on baking cookies, which came out in this period of time). I wanted to give them to my friend Vlasta as a part of her little Secret Santa gift that we exchanged at our Christmas lunch, which I will describe in a later post. So, here is what I decided to bake:
Ricciarelli e crostatine ai cranberries / Ricciarelli and cranberry crostatine
I thought about making ricciarelli since I saw the recipe on one of my favorite inspirational blogs, 'Jugalbandi': they were speaking of an Italian cookie made with almonds, no flour and no butter and I had never tasted it in my life! I had to make it. So, I tried, and I'm really happy I did. It's a delicious, light and soft cookie, with all its taste and consistency due to a mixture of almonds, sugar and eggs. I followed Jai and Bee's recipe which you can find here, so I won't write it again. I decided not to add any fennel seed or orange
zest, though, and have it very 'natural', with just almonds and sugar. As you can see, the shape of my cookies is different from Jai and Bee's. I read somewhere that these cookies started to being made in Medieval times, and their shape was supposed to remind the almond-like shape of the beautiful eyes of the 'Madonna' painted in many of the paintings of that time. So I tried to reinterpret that shape in my cookies. I read also that nowadays cooks in Italy usually make them diamond-shaped. In any case, shape apart, these cookies are delicious, and I recommend them to everyone!
The other cookies you see are one of my favorite things that I usually bake when I make crostata, with the scraps of the dough. In this case, though, the dough was made on purpose for the cookies. For the dough recipe, you can look here, where you can find a recipe for a regular crostata dough and one with almonds. I made them with just regular flour, since I had almonds in the other cookies already. Once you make the dough, shape it in rounds, and flatten the center with your finger, making a little 'valley'. Pour a little of your favorite jam in it (in this case, homemade cranberry jam!), and cook at 400 F for ~20 min. They will be still soft when you take them out, but they will become a little crunchy when they cool down. I was very happy when my friend Vlasta saw them and told me they are her favorite cookies!
Friday, December 28, 2007
I said I would post about a few more wine-containing desserts that I made, and so here is the next one. I completely made this up, and I was really pleased about how good it came out. I modified a recipe for a regular rice pudding by almost eliminating all the milk and adding wine at its place, spicing with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, and I used almonds instead of raisins to flavor. The final touch was placing the rice pudding on top of a pineapple slice and sprinkling with dark cocoa. The bitterness of the cocoa and mostly, the acidity and freshness of the pineapple complemented in a delicious way the sweetness and spiciness of the rice pudding.
Budino di riso al vino con mandorle e ananas / Wine rice pudding with almonds and pineapple
To make this, boil 1/2 cup rice in 1 cup of water, till all the water is adsorbed. Add 1/2 cup of milk and 1 and 1/2 cup red wine, 1 stick of cinnamon broken in half, ~6-7 cloves and 1 tsp cardamom, and keep cooking till almost all the liquid is adsorbed. Then, add 2/3 cup sugar (I used brown), 2 egg yolks and 1 tbsp butter. Stir till all the butter has melted. Add 1/2 cup almonds, broken into pieces, and cook for 2 more minutes. Once the rice has cooled down, remove the cinnamon stick and the cloves. To serve, place a pineapple slice on each of four plates (NB use fresh pineapple!), then divide the pudding in four and scoop one portion at a time in a small bowl. Flip the bowl and arrange the rice pudding on top of a pineapple slice. Top with slivers of almonds and bitter cocoa powder.
This dessert is really good. The wine, rice, almond and pineapple combination is unusual, and the taste is unexpectedly delicious. If you want to end your dinner with something light and surprising, this is a good possibility.
Monday, December 24, 2007
After you host a wine and cheese tasting party you're left with a lot of half-filled bottles and small pieces of cheese. Now, cheese is good for a long time and in any case, it's not hard to come up with delicious recipes that can use all those tiny pieces. But what do you do with 6 half bottles of wine, if you're only two and usually don't really drink very much? So, I'm looking for unusual recipes that involve the use of wine. Of course I use some wine to cook a few vegetables (and I'll use some for the meat I'm cooking on Christmas). But I'd love to use for desserts! I already made the apples with wine dish, so I want to try something different. So in the next few posts you'll see a few ways I found to use wine in desserts!
The first idea comes from a food blog event! Did you ever look at last month's 'Waiter there's something in my...' roundup? It was about 'topless tarts', and one of them was a wine tart, presented by Betsy at 'I was born a woman'. I had noticed that tart when I first found it on the roundup, and it just came back to my mind these 'winey' days. :) So, I tried it!
Torta al vino / Wine tart
I won't write the whole recipe because I basically followed Betsy's, and you can find hers here. My only modifications were: using 50 g of almonds instead of 25 g (I love almonds) in the crust, and using 100 ml milk + 2 tbsp ricotta cheese for the filling instead of 100 ml cream (to make it lighter and also because I had no cream :) ). Also, since I have no patience, I used the dough for the crust right away and didn't wait overnight. It came out well in any case. I served it with a touch of whipped cream mixed with sliced almonds, to recall the almonds in the crust.
It was really good! I was very happy of it. The crust was delicious and the filling was also very pleasant. I was thinking that if I make it again, I may boil the wine with cloves and a cinnamon stick before using it, to increase the spiciness of the filling. But.. it's really worth trying! It's very easy to make, too. Thanks a lot, Betsy! And thanks to Jeanne too, for organizing this great 'topless tart' event!
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I love nuts of every kind, and this month seems to be dedicated to nuts and dried fruits in the food blogsphere! I'm very happy, I just have to decide which of my treats goes to which event. So here is one of them:
Torta di mandorle e cioccolato a conchiglia / Shell-like almond and chocolate cake
The recipe for this cake is a mixture between a traditional recipe that I found on my piemontese cookbook and another that I found online. Both of them actually used hazelnuts, which are common in Italy, but I decided to use almonds instead, as hazelnuts here are way too expensive. The thing that inspired me in these recipes was that they required NO flour. One of them required no butter at all either, but I decided to use half of the dose suggested by the second one. What makes this cake is really just the mixture of almond flour and eggs. You wouldn't believe it, but it turns out extremely moist and soft. I think this is one of the best nut cakes I ever had. I strongly recommend trying it. So here is the recipe that in the end I came up with by combining these two that I found:
200 g ground almonds (I have a scale that I used; if you use cups, you have to have about 1 and 1/4 cup of ground almonds)
100 g dark chocolate, ground (after you grind it, it should be ~ 1/2 cup)
100 g sugar (1/2 cup)
50 g butter (1/2 small stick)
Mix butter, egg yolks and sugar. Add the ground almonds and ground chocolate. Whip the egg whites very firmly and fold into the mixture, till no more white is visible. Pour this batter in a small (8 inches or less) buttered and floured pan, and bake at 320F for 45 min.
As you see, it's really easy. In the most traditional version, there's no butter and six eggs instead of four, 250 g of almonds instead of 200 and no chocolate. I'm going to try that next time.
Now maybe you're wondering why my cake has that shell shape. Well. Ehrm. When I took my cake out of the oven, I had the unpleasant surprise of noticing that the rack I was using was slanted. My cake had cooked crooked!! So of course, it was sort of triangular, if you will, in section. I was really sad at first when I saw it. Then Lucas suggested cutting it like a fan... I thought it was a good idea, and I decided to add whipped cream between the slices and at the border, to make it seem like a seashell. Would you have thought it was an accident? :) :)
Well, next time I will probably make sure the rack is flat before I bake something, and I'll double the doses of this cake, as it was anyway too little batter for the big baking pan I had.
This cake will go to the Yum blog for this month's 'A fruit a month' event, centered on dried fruits! And I've now decided that it will also go to this month 'Click - nuts' event! I kind of like the picture of this unusually shaped cake :)
Last week Lucas and I organized a wine and cheese tasting party at our place. Inspired by another home-made beer tasting party, we thought: why spending so much money to go to a wine tasting, when we can have it at our place? So we invited a lot of friends over, and asked them to bring a bottle of wine or a piece of cheese they thought was inspiring, and we ended up with a nice collection of bottles and cheese to try altogether!
Lucas and I went to 'The Cheeseboard' here in Berkeley to get our cheese. I'd never been there, and I loved it! These people have cheese from all over the world, and the best thing is that they are very nice and they let you try anything you ask for. It's a good place also if you don't know anything about cheese: you just ask if you can try, for example, some cheese coming from Italy and made with goat milk, and they'll give you a few different pieces to taste and then you make your choice! And also, they are perfectly fine at cutting a very thin slice if that's all you want to buy. This last thing would not happen in Italy... Although, of course, the prices would be much lower there.. :) In any case, it's a very nice store, strongly recommended to anyone who comes to Berkeley!
So, we got a piece of 'Tome de Savoy', some gorgonzola 'Galbani', some delicious cheese from Wisconsin (recommended by our server), and some pecorino toscano. This was the fruit of a half an hour of a few tastings... We also got some brie and feta cheese from our usual 'Berkely Bowl'. For the party, I prepared a few appetizers, so in the end this was our table:
There were crackers with feta cheese, almonds and honey...
.. and others with brie, avocado and radish, and at last with gorgonzola, radicchio and walnuts.
Then I made some salad boats with a mixture of ricotta, radish, olives and pepper flakes:
And of course, I baked some bread to eat with all the good cheese. There was my usual biova, and another experiment with whole wheat flour, spelt flakes, pistachio nuts and walnuts.
The selection of wines was very nice, although mostly red wines. This whole tasting experience was a lot of fun. If you have the opportunity, I'd recommend trying it at your place!
To end the party, I made an almond cake, to eat with an Italian spumante that we bought:
This cake was actually delicious, so I'm going to give the recipe in the next post.
Hello dear readers and almost marry Christmas! Well, this is just a reminder - the deadline for the Fresh Produce of the Month is today!! But I got a few comments from people who want to send something in and still haven't done it, so I'll give a short extension. I'll post the roundup sometime next week, so please feel free to send your entries in in the next few days!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Many of our friends asked me if I cook all the time, or if Lucas cooks too. The truth is that we try to alternate: one night I cook, one night he does. And whoever cooks, also cleans the dishes. So, no complains: you choose how many pots and pans you want to use and then you also clean them up! As a matter of fact, it turns out that I cook more often, and sometimes he cleans up my mess. But, I'm actually very happy of our alternating agreement. It's nice to come home and not to have to do anything every once in a while. And.. Lucas is a good cook! Recently he's made some really delicious pasta dishes. But his favorite dishes are stir fries, or composites with rice or potatoes, some source of proteins and if he's in a good mood he'll make also another vegetable. So this post is in honor of one of his meals:
Gamberetti con pure di patate dolci e fagiolini / Shrimp with mashed sweet potatoes and green beans
For the recipe, you have to ask him!!!
Panna cotta (lit. cooked cream) is a traditional Italian pudding. It's very easy to make, it just consists of cream, milk, sugar and gelatine. In its simplicity, it's delicious. Still, some chefs add different ingredients to flavor it and give it a modern touch. Here I'll present you my version of panna cotta with cranberries, the fruit that I recently discovered thanks to this cake presented by Jai and Bee some time ago. As I said, cranberries are not found in Italy and I didn't know how to translate the name until Simona suggested it to me: 'mirtilli di palude'. This literally translates back into 'swampy blueberries'... mmmmmmm.... I think I'll keep using the exotic name of 'cranberries' in Italian too. :)
Panna cotta con cranberries / Cranberry panna cotta
1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
1/2 liter (2 cups) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange flavored liquor (this would be rum if you were making the traditional version)
1 cup cranberries
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup orange juice
Caramelize ~2 tsp sugar on the bottom of the baking pan you're going to use.
Heat milk, cream, sugar and vanilla in a pot. Bring to boil, then add the gelatine. Here is a trick: I used to use an Italian version of gelatin, which I couldn't find in the US. So this time I used instead powdered gelatin, unflavored. I used it in the same doses that were written on the box to make jello: 4 small bags of powdered gelatin for 1 liter of liquid. Still, next time I do this, I won't use these doses. The panna cotta turned out too firm. I'll try with 3 bags. If you do it, I'd recommend to use a similar ratio of gelatin/liquid. Keep stirring while the mixture boils for ~5 min, so that the powder is completely dissolved. Add the orange flavored liquor, and pour this into the baking pan that you have previously covered with the caramel. Leave overnight in the fridge. If you were making the traditional version, you'd be done at this point. Just serve the day after flipping it on a nice serving dish.
To make my cranberry topping, heat up the cranberries with the honey and the orange juice. Cook until the cranberries become very soft and the liquid is almost all consumed. The day after, flip the pan with the panna cotta on your serving dish. Then, spread the cranberry sauce on top.
This panna cotta was enjoyed by all the guests, even though I thought it was a bit too firm. The cranberries give a very pretty color to the dish, and a very strong contrast with their tartness to the sweetness of the panna cotta. It's definitely a different experience compared to the simply soothing comfort that panna cotta gives you when you have it in the regular version. If you try this, let me know what you think!
I'll send this recipe as my first entry to the 'Sugar High Fridays' event, this month hosted by Zorra and themed on pudding.
I've been wanting to participate to Sunita's event 'Think Spice' in a while. I love spices, but I'm not used to cooking with them. Spices are not part of Italian cuisine much. We simply use olive oil, garlic, basil, parsley and oregano in most of our dishes.. I really want to learn how to cook Indian food, and how to master the use of more spices. So I love reading Sunita's rich roundups and thinking about making some of that gorgeous food.
But - there are actually very few extra spices that show up in some Italian recipes here and there, and cinnamon is one of them! So this time I can confidently present a truly Italian recipe (well, with my twists, of course), to Sunita's 'Think Spice' event centered on cinnamon this month.
The traditional name for this recipe would be 'Mele cotte', or cooked apples. It can actually be made with either apples or pears, provided they are firm, and if possible, small. They are cooked in wine, and cinnamon is added to it. My twists consist in using honey instead of sugar to make the syrup, and adding honey roasted walnuts.
Mele al vino e cannella con noci al miele / Apples with wine and cinnamon and honey roasted walnuts
Sorry if my doses are very lousy. I did this mostly by eye. In any case, take ~10 small apples, wash them, don't bother peeling them or coring them. Place them in a pot and add ~1.5 /2 cups wine. You can choose whatever you want. Red wine is recommended, as it gives the syrup a nice color, but in this case I used a mixture of white and red. In my opinion you don't need to use really super good wine. I had a few bottles open, leftover from parties, and so I mixed them up to cook this. Add ~2 tbsp honey (more or less, depending on how sweet you like your desserts). Add 2 cinnamon sticks. Cook, cover, until the apples are soft and the wine sauce is reduced to a syrup. If the apples are already done and the sauce is not dense enough yet, cook on high heat uncovered for a few minutes. If vice versa the wine is getting low and the apples are not done yet, add more wine. It took about 1h to cook my apples.
In the meanwhile, add ~1 tbsp butter in another pot, and 1 tbsp honey. Add ~15 walnuts broken into pieces. Cook for ~5-10 minutes, until the walnuts are deliciously covered by the butter/honey mixture.
Serve the apples warm or cold, covered by syrup, and sprinkled with the walnuts. They are a delicious and light dessert.
This recipe will also be one of my entries for my own event, the Fresh Produce of the Month, centered on Apples. If you haven't sent me your entry yet, please do so! It'll be a fun roundup. :)
Sunday, December 09, 2007
This month's "Heart of the matter" event is devoted to making something quick and easy. Good idea, among all these too big and elaborate meals that we keep having.. So here is something that I like to make, and it's in fact quick and easy (and healthy too)!
Verdure, frutta, tofu e spaghettini giapponesi somen! / Veggies, fruit, tofu and somen noodle!
I make this low-fat stir fry with anything that I find in the fridge. I usually have a bunch of vegetables, in various amounts, and so I prepare this when I'm in a hurry and I don't have too much time to think about something too fancy. In this case there were:
2 broccoli stems and crowns
2 garlic cloves
2 green bell peppers
~1/2 lb white mushrooms
a handful of raw peanuts
a packet of tofu
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp low fat sour cream
1 packet somen noodles
To prepare it, cut all the vegetables, fruit and tofu into pieces. Saute the garlic finely minced in oil, then add the tofu and the broccoli stems. Saute on high heat for a few minutes, turning the pieces so that they get nicely browned. Add the peppers and after ~5 minutes, add the mushrooms and the broccoli crowns. Add salt and soy sauce to taste. When things are almost completely cooked, add the pieces of oranges, mandarins and the raw peanuts. Add pepper or other spicy sauce if you like. Cook for another 3 minutes. In the meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and throw the somen in. The somen takes three minutes to be cooked. After that, drain and add the low fat sour cream, otherwise the noodles will be all stuck together, since we're not using them in the traditional way (in a soup). In a serving bowl, alternate layers of veggie/tofu mix with the somen.
Note: it's quite hard to mix the somen noodles with the rest, they still tend to stick together even after the sour cream.. so if you don't like this sticky thing, use rice instead, or regular noodles. I used the somen because they're so quick! And they did taste good :) If you want to see what somen noodles are, and another quick and healthy recipe with them, look up my previous post of a somen noodle soup.
So, this recipe is for sweet Ruth for her weekly 'Presto Pasta night' event! I haven't participated to her event in too long!
Sunday, December 02, 2007
My Fresh Produce of the Month event this month is centered on apples. I chose it because the apple season is almost over and we need to celebrate this delicious fruit! So I'm going to try a few recipes to share during this month.. here is my first share:
Torta di mele e melograno / Apple and pomegranate cake
This is a variation on the healthy apple cake theme that I love. It's a cake with NO butter and not much flour and sugar in it. Both my aunt and my friend Franca have a version of it, and mine is a modification of theirs, with the addition of pomegranate, which was in season a few weeks ago when I made this cake.
5 apples (red delicious or garnett or any other type you like, not too tart)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
kernels from one pomegranate
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
Peel and dice the apples, and place them in a buttered and floured baking pan. Scatter the pomegranate kernels on top. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, and add the milk. Add this liquid mixture to the flour mixture, mixing to avoid clumping. Pour this batter on the fruit in the pan. If you want, you can add small pieces of butter on top, but I didn't do it. Bake at 350 F for ~1 h. Before serving, I sprinkled a little cocoa powder and confectionery sugar on top.
I brought this cake to my friend Yusra's, and she served it with a delicious Turkish tea that she made.. So it's thanks to her that I can show such a pretty picture of the sliced cake :)
This was my contribution to a wonderful dinner that Yusra prepared for Lucas and me some time ago, which I will describe in a soon-to-come post.
I've been wanting to try Bee and Jai's 'Cranberry Pecan upside down cake' since I saw it. It looked so beautiful and appealing I couldn't resist. I had an occasion to try yesterday, as we were hosting a dinner with some friends at our place. So, after a salad and the crepes that I posted below, I served this delicious cake!
Torta di noci e cranberries al contrario/Cranberry Walnut upside down cake
I'm not going to write the recipe again, since you can find it in details here, on Jai and Bee's post, together with better pictures than mine :)
My only modifications were using walnuts instead of pecans (as you can see in the picture), and 1/2-1/2 whole flour/white flour instead of only white flour. This made my cake darker. Also, I used a very dark type of honey, and flavored with mirto (a black berry liquor), instead of Grand Marnier.
This is an amazing cake. I think it's one of the best cakes I made in a while. Also, it's really easy to prepare. It has almost no butter, and an amazing combination of nuts, oranges and.. cranberries!! I never used cranberries before. Cranberries don't exist in Italy, and I almost never ate them here. I decided now I love them! I'm going to make some cranberry jam soon. :) For my Italian readers: cranberries are small berries that grow in bushes:
They are very tart, so you need to add a good amount of sweetener when you use them to cook (honey in this cake's case). I tried to eat one raw, but it's a bit too tart. :) Instead, they're delicious in the glaze of this cake..
Thanks Bee and Jai for such a wonderful recipe!
There are so many great blog-events asking for a holiday dish in this period of the year. But, strangely enough, in my family there isn't a strong tradition about a special food to make on Christmas. I already posted about lentils and cotechino - and some people make that also on Christmas, not only on the First of the year. Also, my mom used to make cappelletti in brodo from time to time to start our Christmas meal (that's a stuffed pasta eaten in a broth). And if that was the starter, we'd have bollito (boiled meat with sauces, like the sauces that I described in this post) afterwards (you'd make the broth for the cappelletti using the meat that you serve later for the bollito). But as you know, I'm not too big on meat. So, this is not the dish I want to present.
But.. I do have a special memory of one (only one) Christmas, when my mom made.. crepes! I was really excited about them. They were delicious. I still remember, she made one type with ham and one with cheese. And what was really nice about them, was that she had quickly baked them with besciamella and tomato sauce before serving them! So, I decided this will be the holiday dish I'm going to present for Meeta's Monthly Mingle!
Crepes natalizie / Christmas crepes
For the crepes
2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups milk
1 1/3 cups water
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 pinch salt
6 eggs, beaten
For the fillings
1 chinese eggplant
1 bunch asparagus
wine and milk for coooking
3 portabella mushrooms and 5 white mushrooms
thyme or fresh parsley, chopped
cheese (your choice)
For the besciamella sauce
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
2 tsp nutmeg
For the tomato sauce
1 lb canned whole or diced tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Mix all the ingredients to make the crepe batter. In the original recipe, there is a double amount of butter compared to what I used. I thought my crepes were delicious, so you may not need to add the extra. Set aside.
Prepare the fillings: wash and cut all the vegetables in dices (eggplants and mushrooms) or 1 inch pieces (asparagus)
Sautee half an onion in 2 tbsp olive oil and add the eggplant dices. Sprinkle with oregano and salt and cook for ~15 min. Keep aside.
Sautee 2 cloves garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil and add the mushroom pieces and some salt. Sautee for ~15 min, add thyme or fresh parsley (preferred but I didn't have it) and sautee for another 5 min. Keep aside.
Sautee 1 clove garlic in 1 tbsp olive oil and add the asparagus stalk pieces (leave the tips aside) and salt. Sautee for 2 min. Add 3 tbsp red wine. Cook, covered, for ~15 min. Add the tips and ~2 tbsp milk. Cook, covered for another 5-10 min, till done.
Prepare the sauces: for the besciamella, put the of flour in a small pot and slowly add the milk to it, stirring so that it doesn't clump. Add ~1 tsp salt and 2 tsp nutmeg. Put on the stove and cook, stirring every once in a while, till the milk boils. Keep stirring for another 3 minutes and turn off. If during the process the sauce thickens too much, add milk. Adjust the salt and set aside.
For the tomato sauce, as usual, sautee the garlic clove, finely minced, in 2 tbsp olive oil, add the canned whole tomatoes, add 1 pinch sugar and salt to taste, and if you want, basil. Cook, covered, for ~20-30 min. Blend to smoothen and set aside.
Now you can proceed to making the crepes (if you had all these fillings prepared already, you'll need to allow at least 10 min of resting for the crepe batter before starting making them).
Put a ~7 inch anti-sticking pan on the stove, on medium-low heat. Spread a little butter on it. When warm, spoon ~1/4 cup of batter in the pan, and spread the batter evenly on it. After about one minute, turn the crepe (it should be starting to brown). Remove from the stove after another minute, more or less. You'll need a few tries before you get them right, but after that, it's really easy. Spread some more butter on the pan if you notice that the crepes start sticking. With that amount of batter I was able to make ~14 crepes.
Once you have the crepes, you can fill them. Place one of the three fillings in the center of the crepe and add some pieces of your favorite cheese on it. Here is an example using the asparagus:
Then fold the two sides over the filling, and place in a baking pan. Repeat with all the crepes. I was able to have 3 crepes with eggplants, 5 with asparagus and 5 with mushrooms. Some of them were quite big. Place all the crepes in baking pans
Then, cover them with the besciamella sauce (and if you want, also the tomato sauce - I served this on a side because some of my guests cannot have tomato sauce). Place in the oven at 450 F for ~5-10 min, to warm up and melt the cheese.. and enjoy!
This is a little laborious dish (it took me 2 hours to make everything, more or less), but it's worth the effort, especially for a Christmas meal!!