Sunday, November 19, 2006

Festa per il Dr. Lucas :)

Last Sunday we threw a party in honor of Dr. Lucas! (Or Dr. Baby as Vlasta calls him :) ). It was really nice, most of the people we invited came, and we all talked and had fun for a long time. In the end, we remained sitting in a circle we our closest friends, and it was really nice. As always, the end of the parties is the best time :)
This is Dr. Lucas with his balloon :)
People brought some food, and we also made some.
This is an example of the wonderful food that our guests brought:
It was a layer of cream cheese with some very good tomato/spiced sauce on top, and pieces of shrimp. There were also breaded mushrooms, little cakes, and Lucas made some very good beef fajitas.
But.. the new edition of Weekend Cookbook challenge is on Party food, and so I decided that I'm going to partecipate to it for the first time, and I'm going to present the food I prepared for this party! I found out about the Weekend Cookbook challenge by chance, while I was looking at some blog I don't remember. It's a really nice idea and I was looking forward to participate to it. Every month, a theme is issued, and the theme of this month is Party food, as I mentioned.
So, this is the list of food I made:
Focaccia alla ricotta e pesto (Focaccia with pesto and ricotta)
Focaccia al formaggio, pomodori e olive (Focaccia with cheese, tomatoes and olives)
Bigne' alle olive e ricotta salata e bigne' al tonno (Puffs with olives and ricotta salata and puffs with tuna)
And on the sweet side:
Crostata alla ricotta (Ricotta tart)
Bigne' al cioccolato (Chocolate puffs)
Bigne' al mango (Mango puffs)
So if you're curious to see pictures and if you want the recipes, read more!! :)

What are the main characteristics of a good party food? It must be easy to eat, and it must be appetizing, so just the little bit you pick each time must be so good that you will want more of it :)
On the savory side, one of things I like best to make for parties is focaccia.
For people who don't know, focaccia is the 'white' version of pizza. White because it doesn't have tomato sauce, like all pizza usually has. Moreover, focaccia is thicker and softer than pizza. It's better for parties than pizza, because it's easier to eat. It's best when hot but it's good also cold. It usually doesn't have time to get cold, though, because it gets eaten very quickly :)
So this time I made focaccia con ricotta e pesto:
And focaccia con pomodori, formaggio e olive:
I wrote how to make focaccia on another post, but I'll repeat the recipe here, also because I slightly modified the doses and the timing (I'm getting a lot of experience with baking and bread lately).
So, for the dough:
Warm up 1 cup of water until about body temperature, dissolve 2 tsps yeast in it, stir, add 1 tsp sugar, stir and check that bubbles are produced. Leave on a side for ~ 5 min. In a big bowl, pour ~5 cups flour (you can use white, whole or a mixture of the two). Add the water and yeast mixture and mix. Add 2 tbsps olive oil. Then keep adding warm water and work the dough until it's elastic. It usually doesn't take more than a total of 1.5-2 cups of water but it depends on the flour you're using. Add ~1 tbsp salt and knead well the dough in order to incorporate it. Let rest for 1 to 2 hours. I usually spread the dough after this passage, and the pizza came out always good, but if you want a _really_ good focaccia you should be more patient and knead the dough a little bit after this time, and let it rise again for another hour or two. Then, spread the dough, usually you can do it with your hands but if you can't, use a rolling pin. I usually spread it on some foil with a bit of olive oil on it so it doesn't stick. You can add the ingredients you want on this dough, and then you should let the dough rest for at least another 10 min (in the quick version), up to 1 hour (in the long version). Warm up the oven to 400F, and cook for about 20-30 min (it depends on how thick you made it). Serve hot.

For the focaccia con pesto e ricotta, to make the topping, prepare some pesto without cheese: just blend together a bunch of basil, 2 cloves of garlic, and nuts. I used walnuts for this focaccia and it was delicious. In real pesto you should use pinenuts. Add ~2-3 tbsp olive oil and then add ~1/2-1 cup of ricotta. The doses depend on how much pesto/ricotta taste you want and how big is your focaccia surface :)
For the focaccia con pomodori, olive e formaggio.. well, obviously: slice 2 tomatoes, place them on the focaccia, cut some cheese that melts well (e.g. Munster is good, or Colby. I don't like Cheddar because it gives an orange color to the pizza!!. Use 1/2 cup to 1 cup depending on how cheesy you want it), and some olives, and place everything on the focaccia.

Bigne' con olive e ricotta salata and bigne' al tonno
The focaccia was really good, but these puffs are the things I was the most proud of, so if I had to pick only one of the things I made for the Weekend Challenge, I would choose these, and in particular, those with olives and ricotta salata.
To make the dough, I followed the recipe I already posted earlier for bigne'. Just, since I found they were too rich last time, I cut a little bit on the butter (which was already cut compared to the Southern Cooking cookbook I took them from..).
I invented the two stuffings, which I was very happy with.
For bigne' al tonno, I mixed some tuna (2 cans) with yogurt (~1/2 cup, very much approximatively), olive oil (1 tbsp), 1 apple cut into pieces, salt, ~1/2 cup ricotta and fennel seeds.
For bigne' alle olive, I mixed 1/2 cup spicy olives, cut into pieces, salt, 1/2 cup ricotta salata (it's a salty and hard ricotta cheese that I can find at Whole Foods), ~1/2 cup yogurt, and ~1/2 cup cottage cheese. These were really delicious. You can watch a close-up here:
On the dessert side, the crostata for Dr. Lucas was very good.
I didn't take a good picture of it, though, so you can half-see it in this picture where Dr. Lucas is cutting it :)
To make it, you should prepare a sort of crostata dough, like I explained in previous posts. In this case though I put a little less butter since there was going to be ricotta on top, and I added an egg and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. But you could use the same dough for crostata and it would be good. Spread the dough on the bottom of the baking pan (on a baking sheet), and around the borders (~1" high). Then, mix 2 cups of ricotta with 4 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 egg, beat very well, and make a nice smooth cream with it. In the most typical Italian crostata di ricotta there are also raisins in this cream, but I didn't want them because I wanted to add some chocolate on top for the decoration. Spread the ricotta cream on the dough, bake in the oven at 400F for ~20 min or until the crust that you see on the borders is golden brown. Decorate with chocolate on top.

But the best desserts were the bigne'.
Bigne' are a wonderful thing you buy in pastry stores in Italy, and they can be filled with just whipped cream, or with chocolate sauce, or with egg creams. They are wonderful and I was really happy I found out I could make them at home.
Again, the dough was the same as I posted earlier, just I didn't add any salt in this case. I prepared two fillings which I made up and were really delicious.
For the mango filling: blend 1/2 mango with 2 tbsp milk, 4 tbsp sugar (to taste), and ~ 1 cup ricotta. For the chocolate filling: melt two cubes of baker's chocolate with ~1 tbsp milk and 1 tbsp sugar. Let cool down. Beat ~1 cup heavy cream with ~4 tbsp sugar, until firm. Add the chocolate sauce to it and mix together gently. This sauce was so delicious. Eating it inside the bigne' it was a gastric orgasm :)


Sara said...

Marta, it all looks so good, especially the bigne alla olive! Thanks for taking part!

Ruth Daniels said...

Everything does look wonderful. I love focaccia, but I must admit, I usually buy some - we have an excellent Italian bakery near us.

Thanks for sharing the feast.

chemcookit said...

Thank you for your comments!

Making focaccia is very easy.. and you can try all the toppings your fantasy inspires you.. so I'd strongly suggest you try to have some fun with it!!