Monday, December 06, 2010

Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti

These biscotti are not traditional at all, but they sure are delicious, easy to make, and keep for a long time in an airtight container. They are also perfect for packing and sure to sweeten any recipient’s holiday. Baker's ammonia will make them crisp, but it may be substituted with baking powder.

- 14 ounces (31/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 ounces (1/2 cup minus 1/2 tablespoon) Dutch process cocoa
- 2 teaspoons baker's ammonia, substitute baking powder
-Pinch salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- The zest of one orange
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup dried cranberry
- 1/2 cup sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients except the sugar.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and the sugar until light and fluffy, 5 to 6 minutes.

Slowly whisk in the olive oil, zests and vanilla extract and beat lightly to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients until combined (I used the paddle attachment on this step).

Fold in the cranberries. Form the dough into two logs, each about 1 1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick.

Arrange the logs on the prepared baking sheet with at least 2 inches of space in between. Sprinkle the dough with sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned but still soft in the center. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Using a surrated knife, slice the logs diagonally into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Arrange the slices upright onto the baking sheets. Bake again for about 20 minutes, or until crispy.

Store in an airtight container or package them for gift giving.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Focaccia di Recco

In the small town of Recco, on the Ligurian coast, the Focaccia col Formaggio, also called Focaccia di Recco (Cheese Focaccia) is a source of local pride. Different from the typical thick focaccia you may have tried in an Italian restaurant, the Focaccia di Recco is a very thin double crust bread enriched with melted fresh cheese. What makes this focaccia so special is the creamy local fresh soft cheese referred to as formaggio di Recco, very similar to crescenza or stracchino cheese.

The fame of the Focaccia di Recco has attracted people around the world making Recco the gastronomic capital of Liguria. The origin of this delicious bread dates back to the XVI to the XVII century, when the city of Recco was the target for Saracen’s attack. During that time, the population of Recco took refuge in the hills and survived from the only foods that were available - olive oil, flour, and the soft local cheese. The ancient Recchesi (people from Recco) would make focaccia dough from flour, water and olive oil. No leavening agent was used. Instead, the focaccia was shaped into two thin layers of dough filled with fresh cheese and cooked on a slate stone that was heated on the coal, cooked within minutes. That’s how the Focaccia di Recco was created.

This is my recipe for Foccacia col Formaggio. The only secret ingredient is the cheese: crescenza or stracchino. In the SF Bay Area I found theses cheeses at Draegers in Blackhawk (thanks to the charming cheese lady that looked it up for me)

Focaccia col Formaggio  (Focaccia di Recco)

• 2 cups (220 grams, 7.8 oz) all purpose flour
• 1 pound Crescenza cheese, or Stracchino cheese
• 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus more to brush the bread)
• water as needed (approximately ½ cup)
• salt to taste

Combine the flour 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 and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit for 1 hour at room temperature. Divide the dough into two equal parts and roll out the dough as thin as possible, almost transparent.

Once you have rolled out both pieces of dough, begin assembling the Focaccia di Recco. Oil a 1/2 sheet pan with extra virgin olive oil. Place one layer of dough on the bottom of the pan.

Add the Cresenza or Stracchino cheese in pieces using your hands or a spoon. Cover the cheese with the second sheet of dough. Seal the edges by pinching the dough.

Pinch holes with a fork into the top layer of dough above the cheese so that the steam can come out during cooking. Brush with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle salt all over the top of the bread.

Bake in a very hot oven (400/450°F) for about 5 or 6 minutes, or until golden. When the focaccia is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool. Cut it and serve as an appetizer.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Fig Crostata with Goat Cheese

  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 ½ pint fresh Black Mission figs (about 1 ½ pounds)
  • 3 tablespoon fig preserve (or apricot preserve)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
To make the crust, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and orange zest in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until it's the consistency of small meal. Add the milk into the bowl. Quickly knead the dough until it comes together.

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 and transfer it to a baking sheet.

Cover the pastry with plastic wrap and allow it to rest in the fridge for 30mins. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the crust until is golden brown.

Cut off the tough ends from the stems of the fig. Slice the figs in half. Spread the preserve in a thin layer on the top of the pastry crust. Arrange the fig 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 350F. Sprinkle the extra sugar over the figs and then bake the tart for about 30mins or until the pastry is crisp and the figs are soft and juicing a little.

 Serve at room temperature with goat cheese.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Gelato di Nutella (Nutella Ice Cream)

It has been only three weeks since I came back from my trip to Italy and I already miss it. I specially miss spending time with my younger sister Antonella and her baby girl, Giulia. I also miss swimming in the warm water of the Adriatic Sea, and of course, the gelatos. Although I will have to wait for my next trip to Italy to enjoy my family’s company, I can get Italian gelatos right away, from my kitchen. In this issue I am going to show you how to make gelato with one of my favorite flavors: Nutella.

For those not familiar with it, Nutella is a creamy chocolate hazelnut spread that Italians (especially kids) enjoy with breads as a breakfast or an afternoon snack. It is for Italians what peanut butter is for Americans, although you can easily eat the whole jar with a spoon. It is also very popular in cakes, tarts and other desserts. But the best way to enjoy it during the warm summer month is in gelato.

- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- ½ cup cream
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 ounces (1/4 cup) Nutella
- 1 teaspoon Frangelico

Pour the milk, cream and salt in a saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly. When the mixture is hot enough to release steam, remove from the heat. Don’t let it boil!
 Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until thick and lemon-colored.

Pour the hot milk mixture a little at a time into the egg mixture, whisking constantly until well blended. Once half the milk mixture is in, you can begin to pour a little faster until all the hot milk mixture is incorporated.
Add the Nutella and whisk until it is all mixed in evenly.
Strain into the saucepan and put the mixture over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until dense and creamy, about 3 minutes.
Strain into a bowl and add the frangelico. Cool to room temperature, covered with plastic wrap pressed directly to the surface.
If you have an ice-cream maker, freeze the nutella mixture in it according to manufacturer’s directions.

If not, set the bowl on the freezer shelf and let it sit, stirring occasionally, until frozen but still soft and moldable, from 2 to 3 hours. (You can “still-freeze” the ice cream like this up to a day in advance. Let it sit at room temperature until softened (about 10 minutes) before serving it.


You can keep it in the freezer for a few days before ice crystals will begin to form.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rhubarb Crisp

Crisp is one of my favorite American desserts. I learned how to make it during my time working at Chez Panisse. I love the combination of textures between the soft fruit filling and the crispy topping. I also like how simple it is to put together with almost any kind fruit. The only secret to make it perfect is to use local fruits that are fresh and in season. This is my adaptation of a recipe by Lindsey Remolif Shere (former chez Panisse's pastry chef). I added orange zests, orange juice and brandy because I like how those flavors pair with rhubarb and intensify its flavor. I also substitute some of the sugar of the topping with brown sugar for a softer texture. I hope you enjoy it!

Rhubarb Crisp

- 2 pounds rhubarb
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour
- zest anf juice of one orange
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- pinch salt


- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Trim rhubarb and cut into 1/2" pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl and stir in sugar and flour. Add the orange juce, zests, brandy and salt and mix everything together. Let stand while you make the topping.

Spread the walnuts out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Let them cool, and chop finely. In a mixing bowl, combine nuts, flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces, and work it with your fingers into the dry ingredients until the mixture is uniformly crumbly.

Pour the rhubarb mixture into a deep baking pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the topping.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Mostarda di Sedano (Celery Preserve)

You have probably already had celery in appetizers, soups, pasta sauces and other savory dishes. But I think this is the way you are going to enjoy the most. It has a delicate herb-honey flavor and a crunchy texture that pairs lovely with fresh cheeses. I specially love it with mozzarella di bufala or with fresh ricotta, but you can combine it with any kind of cheese. It is also delicious on ice cream or with a creamy Greek yogurt as a lighter dessert. It keeps well in the refrigerator for months so you can make a big batch and enjoy it in all those different ways.

Mostarda di Sedano

• 2 pounds firm celery stalks, medium size
• 1 cup sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
• 1 tablespoon orange zest
• 1 tablespoon brandy

Rinse, dry, cut in cubes and process the celery stalks in a food processor.

Put the cup of sugar and the salt in the saucepan, pour the orange juice, orange zests on top and then all the celery.

Set the pot over medium-low heat and stir as the sugar dissolves and the celery heats and starts releasing its juices. Bring the syrup to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes more, stirring frequently. Uncover the pot and add the brandy, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated, about 25 minutes or more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mostarda cool completely before using. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will keep for months.

Yield: Makes about 2 cups

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Torta Capresa (Chocolate Cake from Capri)

Though chocolate cakes are not a typical Italian dessert, this decadent flourless chocolate cake is very popular in Italy. You can find it in all the elegant pastry shops in Naples but almost every Italian baker has an own version. This is my version.

Makes one (9 inch) cake, about 12 servings

• 1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
• 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 6 large eggs
• 1 ½ cups (about 5-6 ounces) ground almonds
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
• Cocoa powder, for finishing

Set rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350° F. Butter a 9 inch round cake pan, 2 inches deep and line with a disk of parchment or wax paper.

Set a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water to create a double boiler. Put the butter and chocolate into the bowl to melt, whisking occasionally.Let it cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and the two sugars until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and add the chocolate mixture beating again until the mixture is smooth. Turn the mixer off and use a large rubber spatula to stir in the almonds and cocoa powder.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake until it is firm, about 35-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick or knife comes out clean.

Invert the cake to a rack and remove the pan. Immediately re-invert to another rack so that the cake cools right-side-up. If the cake sinks slightly in the center as it cools, trim away the sides before inverting the cake to a platter.

Dust the cake with cocoa powder before serving.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pasquetta and Tortano Napolitano

Every year, on Monday after Easter, Italians head to the mountains or the beach for the Pasquetta: the first picnic of the year. It is an Italian national holiday and there is not work or school that day. The tradition is to celebrate the arrival of spring with friends and family without the formality of a family meal. There is no fuss or stress or clean-up on the Pasquetta. This is probably why it has always been my mom’s favorite holiday of the year. Although she recalls how in the old days nonna and her friends, all very experienced cooks, got a little bit competitive with their homemade breads, crostatas (savory and sweet tarts) or finger foods. They later spent the afternoon complimenting each others dishes and sharing recipes. One of my favorite Easter breads is Tortano, a Napolitan bread filled with salami, hard-boiled eggs and cheese. It is usually served on Easter day but the leftovers, if there are any, are taken to the Pasquetta picnic. The bread is rich and fulfilling. So delicious!


  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried yest
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ stick butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup parmegiano Reggiano (cubed)
  • ½ cup pecorino romano (grated)
  • 1 cup salame napoletano (cubed)
  • 2 eggs (hardboiled and cubed)

Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup of warm water (110° F) in a large bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). Add 1/3 cup of the flour without stirring. Let it rest (covered with plastic wrap) for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the flour and water and mix until combined. Add the butter cut in pieces. Mix in a stand mixer until the dough pulls 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 to 10 minutes).

Let it rest, covered, until doubled in size (about 1 ½ - 2 hours).

Punch down the dough. Roll the dough with a rolling pin into a rectangle about 1- inch thick.

Arrange the cheese, salame and eggs, leaving 1 inch at the end, so you can seal the bread.

Roll it up like a Swiss roll (my assistant helped with this).

Place the bread on a baking sheet and let it rise, covered with plastic wrap, until doubled in size (about 2 hours).

Brush the bread evenly with the glaze and prick with a fork on the top. Bake at 370° F for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Let it cool slightly before slicing.

Slice into 1-inch thick pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.