Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Buon Natale! Zelten Trentino

This rich fruitcake is traditionally made during the holidays in the Trentino Alto Adige, the region that borders Italy with Austria and Switzerland. “Zelten” is the German word for “rarely”. It was called Zelten  because the cake was only eaten in Christmas. It is studded with nuts and dried fruits and flavored with spices and grappa or rum. You can notice the German influence in the region from the first bite of this cake. This influence is also noticed in the architecture, the manners, the bilingual road signs, and the cuisine. Every family keeps their own recipe of Zelten in secret, but all of them include dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon and liquor. This is my interpretation of this wonderful cake.

  • 16 ounces mixed dried fruit (dates, apricots, raisins, etc)
  • 8 ounces nuts (blanched almonds, walnuts, etc)
  • ¾ cup plus dark rum or grappa
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup mixed nuts and fruit
  • ½ cup apricot preserve
  • 2 tablespoon water
Cut the dried fruits and nuts in ¼ inch pieces.

In a large bowl, combine fruits and nuts and toss with rum (or grappa), orange juice and zest. The mixture may be left covered several days at this point.
When you’re ready to bake the cake set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Butter or spray with a nonstick vegetable spray an 9 inch spring form pan with a removable bottom. Line the bottom of the pan with buttered parchment paper. Mix flour with baking powder, salt and spices and set aside. Whisk eggs and sugar until white and creamy.
 Add the melted butter and mix until combined. Beat in half of the flour mixture and half of the water. Continue alternating flour mixture and water until all is combined. 
 Pour batter over fruit and nuts and fold thoroughly together. 
 Press batter into the prepared pan. If desired, decorate the top of the cake with nuts and dried fruits.
Bake until firm and no longer wet, about 1 hour, being careful not to overbake.
 To make the glaze, heat the apricot preserve and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until liquid (melted).  Remove from heat and strain the jam through a fine strainer to remove any fruit lumps. Let cool until it is only slightly warm and then glaze the cake, using a pastry brush
 Enjoy! Buon Natale!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Caramelized Butternut Squash

Winter squash are starting to show up on the market with their distinctive colors, shapes and size. Acorn, Pumpkin, Delicata, Kabocha and Butternut are a few of the many varieties available. While each variety differs in shape, color, and flavor, they all share some common characteristics. They all are picked after they have matured and their skins have hardened, enabling them to be stored for long periods (between one week and six months). Their flesh is sweet in flavor and it continues to sweeten off the vine. Additionally, all have seeds in their hollow inner cavities. Because of those common characteristics they can be used interchangeably in most recipes. I like to use a combination of winter squash in soups, pies, and many other recipes to develop a more complex flavor.

When buying winter squash choose the ones that are firm, heavy for their size, and that have hard, tough skin with no cuts, punctures, sunken spots or mold. A tender rind indicates immaturity, which is undesirable in winter squash.

Winter squash can be kept for up to three months in a cool, dry place. They don’t need to be refrigerated unless they have been cut open.

Butternut squash is one of my favorite varieties of winter squash. It has the shaped of a large pear with creamy colored skin. Its flesh is deep orange and its distinctive butterscotch flavor is enjoyable in savory and sweet dishes.

Caramelized Butternut Squash

This recipe can be enjoyed warm or cold as a side dish or as component for salads, cooked grain or pastas or as a dessert with ice cream or sweet cream.

• 1 medium butternut squash (2 or 3 pounds total)
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 3 tablespoon maple syrup
• 1 teaspoons sea salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut off and discard the ends of each butternut squash. Peel the squash, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds.

Cut the squash into 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-inch cubes and place them on a baking sheet. Add the olive oil, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.

With clean hands, toss all the ingredients together and spread in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until the squash is tender and the glaze begins to caramelize.

While roasting, turn the squash a few times with a spatula, to be sure it browns evenly. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Poached Peaches and Bellini

Juicy peaches are one of the simplest pleasures that Summer can brings. They are wonderful finger fruit, but they are also a great addition to almost any dish. A simple green salad can become luscious with some roasted peaches; a cheese plate is more inviting with the addition of the fruit; even a drink can become more exciting with a bit of peach puree. In this issue I wanted to share with you two very easy peach recipes to enjoy their refreshing flavor during the hot summer days: Poached Peaches in Prosecco (Italian version of champagne); and the Bellini, a famous Italian cocktail made with Prosseco and peach puree. The Bellini, was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani, the owner of Harry's Bar in Venice. Cipriani named his cocktail after the famous Italian painter Giovanni Bellini. He thought the color of the drink matched the color Bellini used in one of his famous paintings for a saint's toga. The Bellini has become one of the most famous and popular of all sparkling wine cocktails in Italy.

When buying peaches, choose plump, firm fruit with orange-yellow color. Avoid green fruit which will not ripen.

When the fruit feels soft to the touch it is fully ripe and should be eaten as soon as possible. If you are not going to consume immediately, you can store ripe peaches in the refrigerator where they may keep for up to a week. However, hard peaches should be stored at room temperature in paper bag to let them ripen for a day or two.

Poach Peaches
• 6 firm yellow- or white-fleshed peaches, cut in half
• 1 bottle Prosecco
• 2 cups water
• 3/4 cup sugar

In a saucepan large enough to hold all the peaches in a single layer, combine the Prosecco, the water, and the sugar. Bring it to a boil.
Lower the heat and add the peaches and simmer until barely tender, around 5-10 minutes, depending upon their ripeness.

Transfer the peaches and their cooking liquid to a deep glass bowl (the peaches should be completely covered by the liquid) and let cool to room temperature.
You don’t have to take the skin off, but if the peaches are ripe the skin would fall off easily. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 days or for up to 3 days. Serve them cold with some of the juice from the syrup.

• 1 bottle of Prosecco
• About 3 poached peaches in Prosecco from the above recipe

Take the skin off from the fruit. Puree the fruit.

For each serving, pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of the fruit puree into a Champagne glass.

Slowly pour enough Prosecco into the glass to fill. Gently stir to blend and serve.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Torta di Ricotta e Albiccoche (Ricotta Apricot Cake)

In this issue, I wanted to share with you a recipe for Torta di Ricotta e Albiccoche (Ricotta Apricot Cake). Moist, lemony and topped with fresh apricot, this simple rustic cake gets much of its delicate flavor from the unexpected addition of ricotta and fresh apricots.
Although dried or preserved apricots can be found all year round, their best flavor comes out when they are fresh, ripe and in season, from late spring through the summer. Because their season is so short, I try to make the most out of fresh apricot when I see them on the market. Their tart sweet flavor can be enjoyed in sweet and savory dishes. For a luscious dessert I like to incorporate them in cakes, tarts and pies. I also like to make chutneys, preserve or marmalade to enjoy their flavor all year round.
When choosing apricots always look for fruits that are plump and heavy for their size. They should have a deep orange color with no trace of green. They should also be firm, giving only a little, and have a delicate aroma. Store them at room temperature. Apricots won't ripen once off the tree, so be sure to pick plump, fragrant fruits.

Torta di Ricotta e Albiccoche (Ricotta Apricot Cake)
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup sugar
• zest of 2 lemons
• 4 large eggs, at room temperature
• 250 grams ricotta, drained
• About 5 apricots, washed, divided in half and stone removed
• 2 tablespoon extra sugar

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a 9-inch round cake or springform pan and place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Place the eggs, zests and the sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and thick, about 3 minutes.

Set the mixer to its lowest speed and beat in the ricotta.

Add the sifted dry ingredients, beating only until they are incorporated.

Pour about the batter into the prepared pan. Place as many apricots as you can fit on top of the batter and sprinkle them with the extra sugar.

Bake the cake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack for 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the sides of the springform pan and let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Pane Rustico senza Impasto (No-Knead Rustic Bread)

One of the things I miss the most from my childhood is going to the neighborhood’s bakery to get a flavorful and still warm loaf of bread right out of the oven. The fresh baked fragrance was so hard to resist that the bread was half gone by the time I arrived home. And I lived just one block away from the bakery! Nowadays, the closest place I can get bread is the supermarket. And even though it is supposed to be fresh and it is conveniently packaged in paper bags, it feels a little dry and no aroma is coming from the bag. This is probably why I prefer to make my own bread at home. And you are going to be able to do it yourself too with this recipe for Pane Rustico (Rustic Bread). This Italian country bread recipe doesn’t require too much work but the results are very satisfying. It was inspired by the “no-knead” method promoted by Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery. The only secret to a moist and flavorful loaf is the long and slow rising.
  • 600 grams of bread flour (5 cups)
  • 450 ml of water (2 cup) 
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 10 grams salt (approximately 2 teaspoon)
  • 1 gram dry yeast (approximately 1 teaspoon)
Heat ¼ cup of the water to 110 F. Pour the yeast into a medium-size mixing bowl and stir in the warm water with a spoon.
Add honey and stir. Add flour, the rest of the water and salt.
Use a spoon or your hand to mix everything together. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. I used a Danish Dough Whisk that a friend of mine, Rieko Moreno, gave me as a present. I was amazed how easy this tool was to use in my wet dough, and to clean too.
Although any spoon would do the work, this tool definitively made things easier for me.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature (70 F) for at least 18 hours. The dough is going to be ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles and it has more than doubled in size.
Uncover the bowl and fold the dough three or four times with a spoon or a spatula (just to punch down the dough). 

Place the dough on the center of a floured sheet pan (or onto a piece of lightly floured parchment paper if you want to bake it on a pizza stone) . The dough will be very wet and sticky. 
Lightly sprinkle flour on top of the dough and form it in a rectangular shape (like a Ciabatta) with your hands. 
Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect. It should look rustic. Sprinkle some more flour and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let it rise until it doubles in size (about 2 hours)
Place the bread into a 450 F preheated oven (I slide the parchment paper with the dough directly on top of a preheated pizza stone). Check on your bread after about 25 minutes. Once it’s golden brown, take it out of the oven and set it aside to cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes. 
You can cut into it immediately but if you do it’ll collapse and won’t look as pretty.  Pane Rustico is great for sandwiches but, like most breads, it’s absolutely delicious right out of the oven.