Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bolzano Apple Cake (Torta di Mela di Bolzano)

Bolzano is the provincial capital of Alto Adige (South Tyrol) located in the northernmost part of Italy on the border with Switzerland and Austria. It is also the province of Italy where Northern European architecture, language and gastronomy blend harmoniously with Mediterranean styles. This apple cake is just an example of this cultural melting pot as it is similar to an apple strudel in flavor but it is way easier to make. Perfect for the holidays!

- 2 1/4 pound Granny Smith apples, about 6
- 1 lemon
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 stick butter; melted and cooled
- 180 ml milk
- 4 oz flour (you can also use rice flour for a gluten free option)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Butter a rectangular baking pan with 1 tablespoon of butter.
Peel, core and slice apples very thin with a mandolin. Add the juice of one lemon and mix them up.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar until double its size. Add the vanilla, the butter and the milk.

Mix the flour with the baking powder and add it to the egg mixture. Mix everything together until combined.
Add the apples and mix them very gently.

Por the batter in the prepared pan and bake it for 45 min.

Serve it at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Art of Risotto

The most important part of any good risotto is to pick the right rice. Varieties like arborio, carnaroli, or less commonly, vialone are the best choices. They are short-grain varieties that will result in a creamy risotto with a slight bite to each grain. Long-grain rice varieties will produce a mushy mass.

Another important ingredient is the broth or stock. As always, homemade stock is better, but a low-sodium store bought stock will work fine. Make sure you have the stock on a low simmer as you prepare the rice. This step is very important because you don't want to cool down the rice while is cooking. Use vegetable stock for vegetable-based risottos. For risottos with meat and poultry, try to use stock of the same meat or poultry. 

Any risotto follows four basic steps:

The first step of risotto is sautéing onions (or shallots) in butter or olive oil until soft and transparent.

The second step is tostatura which means “to toast” the rice to seal the starches inside the grain. In this step you add the rice to the soffritto with no liquid, so that each grain gets coated with the oil. You don't want to brown the rice. Instead, you want to see a transparent ring around each grain This would take about 1 min. At this point you can add a glass of wine and stir until it evaporates completely before moving to the next step.

The third step is adding the brodo or stock little by little.  Make sure the stock is simmering before starting to add it to the rice. Add 1/2 cup of stock at the time stirring the rice constantly until the stock is almost completely absorbed before each addition.  After 16 minutes of starting to add the stock check the rice . It should be "al dente".

When the rice is ready add butter Parmiggiano to give the rice its creamy consistence.

Basic Risotto Recipe

  • 4 ¼ cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, thinly chopped
  • 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 5 ounces Parmiggiano cheese
Sauté onions with olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat until translucent. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the rice and toast for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Stir until evaporated, 30 seconds. Stirring frequently add broth 1/2 cup at the time and simmer until the rice is absorbed but it still al dente (about 17-20 minutes). Stir in the butter and parmesan.