Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Scorzette di Arancie Candite (Candied Orange Peels)

You can make this recipe with any citrus

• 4 medium size organic oranges
• 2 cups sugar (approximately)
• 1 cup water

With a knife, remove the peel from the oranges. Don’t worry if you get the bitter white pith. Place the strips in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for five minutes. Drain and repeat this process 3 more times. Let the peels cool until they can be handled easily. With a sharp knife, cut the peels into ¼ inch wide strips. Return to the saucepan, add the sugar and water and cook over moderate heat until the liquid has evaporated and the peel is bright and shiny. Spread the peels on a rack over a baking sheet, separating the strips. Let them dry overnight. The next day, toss the peels with sugar. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The candied peels will keep for up to 6 months.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Apple Tart

This is a great tart to serve for Thanksgiving or for any dinner party!  
  • 1 cup all purpose flour plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 pound (1 sticks) cold butter, diced
  • 1 egg beaten
  • About 100 ml iced water
  • 3 tablespoon apricot preserve
  • 4 medium apples (granny smith or golden delicious)
  • 1/2 cup sugar  
To make the pastry, put the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and butter into a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it is mealy and resembles fine breadcrumbs, with some larger flecks of butter still visible. Pour the beaten egg and 100 ml of iced water into the bowl. Quickly knead the dough until it comes together, the dough will be soft, a bit sticky and a little rough looking. Wrap the dough and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour (better overnight).

Roll out the dough into a rough rectangle about 11″ by 16″ and transfer it to a baking sheet. Cover the pastry with plastic wrap and allow it to rest in the fridge for 30mins.

 Peel the apples and slice themy thin (1/8 inch thick). Spread the apricot preserve in a thin layer on the top of the pastry dough. Arrange the slices in 4 or 5 rows over the pastry like cards in solitaire. Allow it to rest in the fridge until you are ready to bake.

 Preheat the oven to 375F. Sprinkle the extra sugar over the apples and then bake the tart for about 45mins or until the pastry is crisp and the apples are soft and golden.Serve immediately in large squares with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cotognata: Quince Preserve

If you haven't tasted quince yet, you are missing out on one of the most luscious and fragrant fruits! Hard as a rock and inedible in its raw form, quince transforms to a mellow sweetness when slowly cooked with sugar. In the same way its paled yellow flesh turns to an attractive bright reddish color during the slow cooking process. Because of its high pectin content, it is wonderful for making jellies, preserves or fruit paste.

Native to the Caucasus region, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, the quince has been cultivated for thousands of years. Many historians believe that the “Forbidden Fruit of the Garden of Eden” mentioned in the Bible wasn’t really an apple, but a quince. It was highly valued by ancient Romans and Greeks. The fruit was given to brides on their wedding day as the symbol of love, happiness and fertility. It was also valued by Medievals and highly used as a condiment to enhance the flavor of meats, poultry, and other savory dishes. A quince paste cut into small pieces and rolled with sugar was served as a an elegant dessert treat in many court banquets.

Nowadays, quince is commonly grown in central and southern Europe, where the summers are sufficiently hot for the fruit to fully ripen. They are also widely grown in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Although quince is not very popular in North America, it is grown mostly in California and New York, and it is gaining popularity among pastry chefs.

Quinces can usually be found between October and January. The fruit resembles a cross between a Golden Delicious apple and a pear. Choose fruit firm and yellow, with a fragrant smell. The best way to store quince is in a tightly sealed bag in the refrigerator, where it can last up to two months.

In Italy, one of the most common ways to prepare quince is “Cotognata" - which is similar to the better-known Spanish “ Dulce de Membrillo”. In Spain it's commonly served with Manchego cheese, which you can substitute with any other cheese with a flavor strong enough to stand up to the sweetness of the sweet quince.

Cotognata Recipe
  • 1 pound quince
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 lemon zest and juice

Wash the fruits and place it in a baking pan covered with aluminum foil.

Bake them for 1 ½ hour. Let them cool.
Core ant take out the seeds from quinces, then cut them in 1/3 inch cubes and process the fruits with a blender until very smooth (I like to leave some small pieces of the fruit). Place the mixture in a large pot and add the sugar, the lemon juice and the lemon zest.

Simmer over low medium heat, stirring constantly, until the quince puree thickens and has a deep red color. This could take about 30- 40 minutes.
Let it cool in a shallow pan.

 Serve cotognata with cheese (especially manchego, gorgonzola or goat cheese). It also makes a great filling for sweet tarts.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Maple Banana Bread

Yield: 2 loaf
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup mapple syrup
  • 1 cup banana puree (about 3 bananas)
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. In a mixer or by hand, whisk the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is white and thick. Add in the maple syrup, banana pure and rum. When the mixture is well blended, gently whisk in the dry ingredients. Switch to a spatula and fold in the oil. The batter will be thick and shiny. Scrape it into the pans and smooth the top. Bake the loaf for 50 to 55 minutes, or until it is golden and starts to come away from the sides of the pan; a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold and cool to room temperature i a rack.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pane dei Morti: All Souls Day in Italy

Italy doesn't have a Halloween tradition per se, but there is Ogni Santi, All Saints' Day, on November 1st and Il Giorno dei Morti, All Souls Day, on November 2nd. During those celebrations, you won’t find costumes, scary decorations or children trick-or-treating on the street. Instead, people go to the cemetery to visit their loved ones and bring flowers and candles to their graves. It is a common tradition to go to mass and pray for the deceased. Fairs are set up in towns all over Italy. In Sicily, where All Soul’s Day has the same importance as Christmas, people leave food out the night before for spirits and children would awake on the morning of All Saints or All Souls to find small gifts from their deceased ancestors. I know it sounds freaky! But it is a cheerful holiday rather than the sad one you may expect. As in many other Italian celebrations, special breads and sweets are made for the occasion and even an empty place is left at the dinner table for the ones that are missed.

Like Halloween, the origin of those celebrations seems linked to “Samhain”, a pagan ancient Celtic festival observed in pre-Roman culture to mark the end of the summer season and the end of the harvest. According to some sources, in November, when the weather started to cool down, banquets with large trays of fresh fruits, cookies and other offerings were prepared and consumed to thank the gods for the harvest and to wish for abundant crops for the following year. In later times when the Judeo-Christian religion became official, this holiday was replaced by All Saints’ Day and the next day was dedicated to honor the Dead.

In this issue I wanted to share a recipe for Pane dei Morti (Bread of the Dead) that I adapted from one of the best pastry chefs in Milan, Maurizio Santin. Pane dei Morti is the most widely used recipe in Lombardia for this celebration.

Pane dei Morti

• 4 cups amaretti cookies

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 1/2 cups sugar

• 1 cup almond blanched and grinded

• 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

• Pinch salt

• 3.5 oz bittersweet chocolate

• 1 cup dried figs diced into small pieces

• 1 cup raisins soaked in warm water for 15 minutes

• 4 Egg Whites

• ½ cup White Wine

• 1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

• Powdered Sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

In a double boiler, melt chocolate over low heat. Cool slightly. Crumb the amaretti to a powder and mix with the flour, almonds, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Add the melted chocolate, wine and egg whites. Mix everything together until combined. Drain the raisins and pat dry with a towel. Add the raisins and the figs to the chocolate mixture. Knead vigorously for about ten minutes until you obtain a soft dough. Divide the dough in pieces with the shape of 4 inches long and flat oval biscuits.

Cover a pan with a sheet of parchment paper and place the biscuits on it.

Put them in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes. Serve them with powdered sugar

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Yogurt Loaf

Makes 8 servings
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, zest and salt.
In a mixer or by hand, whisk the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is white and thick. Add in the yogurt and rum. When the mixture is well blended, gently whisk in the dry ingredients. Switch to a spatula and fold in the oil. The batter will be thick and shiny. Scrape it into the pan and smooth the top.
Bake the loaf for 50 to 55 minutes, or until it is golden and starts to come away from the sides of the pan; a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold and cool to room temperature i a rack.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Piadina Romagnola (Italian flatbread from Emilia Romagna)

If you feel discouraged about the time and experience required by bread making, piadina - an Italian ancient flatbread - may change your mind. It takes less than 30 minutes to make because it is unleavened and it cooks in just 4 minutes on the stove. It makes a good twist on bread, especially during the summer, when it is too hot to turn on the oven.

Piadina is the most classic specialty from the Romagna region (Forlì-Cesena, Ravenna and Rimini) along the Adriatic coast. It is usually made with wheat flour, water, salt and lard (or olive oil) to enrich it and make it fragile and more flavorful. The dough was traditionally cooked on a testo (terracotta dish) but nowadays flat pans or griddles are commonly used.

Piadina is so popular along the Adriatic Coast that there are hundreds of specialized kiosks called piadinerie that sell warm piadinas filled with a variety of melted cheeses, cold cuts and vegetables. One of the most classic fillings is prosciutto, creamy cheese like squaquerone, crescenza or stracchino and greens like rucola (arugula) but there is also a popular sweet version with fillings such as Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and jam. The variety is unlimited! Every family has their own recipe but there may be also small differences depending on the zone of production. Piadinas produced around Ravenna are generally thicker, while those produced around Rimini and the Marche region are thinner and of larger diameter.

The origin of Piadine seems to date to the 1200 BC where the Etruscan settled in the north of Italy. They used to prepare unleavened breads made with a paste of toasted, grounded wheat grains and water that was cooked on hot stones or tiles. They handed down the recipe to the ancient Romans and in most regions of Italy the unleavened bread evolved into focaccia, pizza and others yeasted bread. In the Emilia Romana piadina survived as a bread for the poor and later became popular among wealthy people and tourists. Nowadays is a symbol of the Romagna cuisine.

Makes 5 rounds
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- pinch sea salt
- 2 oz extra virgin olive oil (or 2 oz lard)
- 1 cup cold water

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you want to knead it by hand) and mix together.

Add the olive oil and the water, just a little bit at a time, and mix on the stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until the dough starts to form into a ball. Increase the speed to medium, and let it knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Heat the griddle on medium-high to quite hot.

Divide the dough into 5 pieces, and roll each piece out to 10 inch rounds.

The discs should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Lightly brush the bread on both sides with olive oil.

Place each rounds on the griddle (depending on the size of your griddle)

and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until you see the little brown spots that mark when it’s done.

The piadina are best eaten warm from the griddle. When they are still warm add the filling ingredients. You can use any soft cheese or cold meat you want. I made my piadine with teleme cheese, fresh basil and coppa toscana. Yummi!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sbrisolana di Rabarbaro (Rhubarb crumbly cake)

Sbrisolona is a traditional crumbly cake from Mantova, in the Pianura Padana. The original recipe resembles more that of a cookie than a cake and doesn't include a filling. I created this version as an entry for a fresh produce of the month event featuring rhubarb as an ingredient. The tangy flavor and moistness of the rhubarb pair wonderfuly with the crispy texture and sweet flavor of the crust:

For the dough:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 cup almonds, finely chopped
- 1 cup finely ground cornmeal
- 1 cup sugar
- zest of a lemon
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 stick of butter
- 2 tablespoon butter for the pan

For the filling:
- 1 pound of Rhubarb
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 lemon juice

To make the dough: In a bowl mix the flour, the almonds, the cornmeal and the sugar. Cut the butter in small pieces and add to the flour mixture, working with your hands until small crumbs are formed. Add the yolks and the lemon zest and knead until it is completely incorporated into the mixture. The dough will not be smooth. Instead it will have a very crumbly consistency. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least half hour.

To make the rhubarb filling: Wash rhubarb and cut off any dry or brown spots. Slice rhubarb into 1/2 inch slices. Cook them with the sugar in a saucepan, covered, over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat up high and cook, stirring constantly, until you have a thick puree (about 25 minutes). Let it cool.

Assemble the cake: Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C). Butter a 10 inch round cake pan and sprinkle half of the mixture evenly into it. Press it down in an even layer. Use a small spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the rhubarb filling in an even layer over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the rest of the dough over the filling in an even layer. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.
Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tiramisu al Limoncello

If you are fond of the classic tiramisu, you would definitively enjoy this fresh twist on the popular Italian coffee dessert. Served with strawberries, tiramisu al limoncello is a great dessert choice for a spring celebration like Mother’s Day. I also like the combination of lemon flavored mascarpone with blueberries and other summer berries. You can serve it in a large dish for a family-style dessert, or in individual glasses or elegant cups for a more delightful presentation.
This recipe comes from one of my favorite Italian pastry chefs, Salvatore De Riso, owner of the Pasticceria De Riso in the town of Midori on the Amalfi Coast. I adapted the recipe to make it easier to assemble without compromising the wonderful lemon flavor of the mascarpone lemon cream and the limoncello syrup. Although the recipe has several components and it seems like a lot of work, the lemon cream and the lemon syrup can be made 2 or 3 days in advance and the tiramisu can be assembled very fast, 3 or 4 hours before serving it. I like to serve it with berries that are in season during spring and summer time.

Limoncello Tiramisu
Serves 8-10

Limoncello Simple Syrup
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1/4 cup Limoncello

Mix water and sugar in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the limoncello. Place in refrigerator to cool (it can be made several days in advance).

Limoncello Cream
- 3/4 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 oz butter (1 stick)
- 1/4 cup limoncello

Place lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat.

Bring it to a boil and let it cool slightly. In a clean bowl beat the yolks to combine.

Dribble a small amount of hot lemon mixture in a steady stream into the yolks while quickly whisking the two together.

Continue to dribble in the lemon mixture and whisk until you feel, with your hand, that the bowl's side or bottom has become warm or as close as possible to the liquid's temperature. Continue to add the rest of the hot liquids in a steady stream to the yolks while whisking (this process is called tempering and it is done to avoid cooking the yolks).

Cook the mixture over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until cream is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Stir in butter and limoncello. Transfer lemon cream to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature or below. Cover it with plastic wrap. At this point you can refrigerate the mixture for 2 or 3 days until you are ready to assemble the tiramisu.

Assembling Ingredients
- 1 pound mascarpone cheese (at room temperature)
- 3 tablespoon powdered sugar
- Limoncello Cream (recipe above)
- 2 cups heavy cream, whipped until soft peaks
- Limoncello Syrup (recipe above)
- 1 pound of lady finger cookies (about 30-40 lady finger cookies)

Mix mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar in a clean bowl until soft.

Add to the Lemon Cream (at room temperature). Mix until smooth. Do not over whip when using mascarpone cheese or it will separate.

Fold whipped cream (soft peaks) into above yolk/mascarpone cheese mixture.

Dip ladyfingers in the limoncello Syrup for ½ minute on each side

and then alternate layers of lady fingers soaked with simple syrup and cream in a 8 x 12 pan.

Begin with cookies and finish with cream.

It is best to assemble several hours before cutting.

Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Torta Umbra al Formaggio (Cheese Bread from Umbria)

Although torta means cake in Italian, Torta Umbra al Formaggio is actually a savory fragrant cheese bread from Umbria. It is traditionaly enjoyed on Pasqua (Easter) morning with boiled eggs, prosciutto and other cold cuts but it can also be served as an accompaniment to any meal. It is especially good during spring, as cows eat the best products that the land has to offer during this time of the year, and the cheeses made from their milk are the most flavorful. This is probably why most of the Italian pastries and breads to celebrate Easter are made with ricotta and other cheeses.

This is my interpretation of a recipe found in an Italian forum (
Makes one loaf
- 2 tablespoons dried yeast (2 packages)
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 cups flour
- 5 eggs
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons lard (I used butter)
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 6 ounces pecorino Romano
- 5 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano
To make the bread nice and tall, grease a 9-inches cake pan with olive oil. Line the sides of the pan with parchment paper so that it extends 15 inches from the top.
Sprinkle yeast over warm water (110°F) in a large stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes).

Add sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour without stirring. Let it rest (covered with plastic wrap) for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the flour, the eggs and oil.

Mix in stand mixer until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl (around 10 minutes). Add the salt and continue mixing at medium speed until the dough is soft, shiny and elastic (7-10 minutes).

Add the pepper and cheeses. Knead the dough until thoroughly combined.

Let it rest, covered, until it doubles in size (about 2 to 3 hours).

Punch down the dough.

Form the dough into a round loaf. Place into the prepared mold.

Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof until it doubles in size (around 2 or 3 hour).

Bake for 45 minutes at 400° F. Let it sit for 20 minutes before cutting and serving. It is better eaten 4 days after you make it.

Serve it with cold cuts. Enjoy!