Home About me All the recipes. More or less organized Inspiration Wanna send me a note? Italian version

Grappa with Cumin Seeds

Monday, September 28, 2009
Grappa with Cumin Seeds

Sometimes the city plays tricks on you. Suddenly one night you look up to the sky and you realize that somebody stole all the stars. And the trees, the mountain trails, the scent of the grass. The green meadows are no longer there, nor are all the colors of the fall. Somebody stole the rocks, the smoking chimneys and the sound of the bells. And what happened to the casual encounters in the piazzas, to the lazy Sundays and the espresso after lunch? Somebody even stole sunsets, fresh spring water and silence.
An abstemious thief, though. He left me the grappa. So let's have a drink.

In case you're in doubt, Cjariei is the dialect term for Grappa with cumin seeds, or mountain fennel seeds. They say it has great digestive and therapeutic effects. At the second glass it'll wash away homesickness and it'll offer you in exchange visions of pink sunsets in the Dolomites.

I tuoi pensieri un po' ubriachi, danzando per le strade si allontanano,
ti son sfuggiti dalla mano e il giorno sembra ormai così lontano
e il giorno sembra ormai così lontano...

[Your thoughts, slightly drunk, are dancing on the street and going away, they slipped out of your hand and the day seems already so far away, the day seems already so far away...]
(Francesco Guccini, Night Song)

(Grappa with Cumin Seeds)

grappa at 40 degrees one 350ml-bottle
cumin seeds 25 gr.
sugar 70 gr.

Mix grappa with cumin seeds, close the vase or the bottle with the lid and let macerate for at least one month, stirring every once in a while.
After this time, dissolve sugar in a little bit of water, obtaining a sort of syrup. Add it to the grappa, and let it rest for another month. Again, remember to stir the mixture every once in a while.
Filter the grappa and pour it back in the bottle

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Last time I found myself inside a brioche I was in college. Back then, young and broke, we were sharing a glorious and crumbling apartment located right above a pastry shop. And every morning it was the same story: they started taking stuff out of the oven around six and the tricky smell of croissants was going up the walls, turning my calm dreams of glory into surrealistic nightmares. If I was lucky, I'd find myself swimming in a cloud of leavening dough, with my hair smeared with apricot jam. In the worst case scenarios, instead, I'd struggle inside a swimming-pool of chantilly, or I'd plough with difficulty a sea of ganache cream abroad a beignet, while sugar crystals were hailing from the sky.

Instead of a brioche, this time I found myself inside a Jell-O castle and wearing a pair of 3D glasses I could enjoy the show fully awake and sitting comfortably on a chair, without risking a painful awakening.

What am I talking about? Drank too much? Smoked something weird? No, don't worry; it's just Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Everything's clear now, isn't it? If not, look here and give yourself way to pancakes' showers, colorful ice-cream's mountains, rivers full of syrup and spaghetti tornados.
Be aware of meatballs, though.

Steamed Gingerbread Pudding - Christmas Rehearsal

Sunday, September 20, 2009
Steamed Gingerbread Pudding

How nice when Christmas used to arrive only in December, when you'd decorate your tree using leftover, mismatched adornments from the previous years, and when making The Christmas Crib was not politically incorrect. In those days it used to snow in buckets and it was no news, after all it was pretty normal for winter.

I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…

Don't worry, I am not crazy nor have I taken some suspicious substances. Simply, I'm abreast of the times. A late September Sunday, I take a stroll around the city, and enjoy what may be the last sunny day of an Indian summer.
Instead, they want to convince me that Christmas is coming soon and that I, as usual, am behind. Seducing windows are suggesting festive messages and show stylized snow flakes, at Starbucks they started selling Gingerbread Lattes, the real gem of the entire Holidays, and all of sudden I want to sing Last Christmas and go robbing the mall to take advantage of sales, end-of-summer or pre-Christmas, whatever. From now until December 25th, it'll be a mawkish crescendo, a river full of molasses running before the flood, obstructed only by Halloween pumpkins and Thanksgiving turkeys.

This year I decided to let it carry me away, sometimes I too want to be up with fashion, what's wrong with that? So I stocked up on molasses, ginger and cinnamon and got down to work.

Go to buy a tree but not a true tree because otherwise it would die die die die die
(Elio e Le Storie Tese, Christmas with the Yours)

Steamed Gingerbread Pudding
for one 9x5 inch loaf pan or two smaller ones

all-purpose flour 110 gr.
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon
ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon
fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped 50 gr.
hot water 100 ml.
sugar 75 gr.
corn oil 75 ml
molasses 115 gr.
salt a pinch
egg 1

Sift flour with baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Put ginger in a food processor, cover it with the water and blend until smooth. Pour it into a bowl, add sugar, oil, molasses and salt and beat well. Add the mixture of flour and spices, stir again and then fold in the egg. Keep stirring until batter is smooth and well mixed. You'll get a very moist batter.
Pour it in the previously battered pans and bake at 325 for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (45 minutes for the smaller loaves), or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting it onto a rack. Let it cool completely before serving.

They call it Pudding Cake because it's very soft and moist, something in between a cake and a pudding. It's perfect for those who appreciate ginger and spicy, mildly hot flavors, otherwise it's better to foist it on people who annoy you.
The recipe comes from Tartine Bakery's book which I've already told you about here. I divided it in half, because we have three months full of molasses ahead of us, and it's not polite to get indigestion already at the beginning of the party.

Tortillas (Project Panettone: Step 1)

Thursday, September 17, 2009
Flour Tortillias

I'd like to clear few things. I really, really love to have a finger in the pie, so to speak, get everything dirty with flour and watch the simplest combination of ingredients take shape. Being it for piadine (Italian flat brad), brioches or Tuscan bread, every dough that needs to be banged and turned over with no mercy somehow gives me deep satisfaction...

It's actually searching for the secret of Pizza Margherita that I ended up like this, writing about yeasts and jams instead of joining my coworkers for Happy Hour or watching American Idol on TV. One day I happened to ask Google if he knew something about pizza, and there you go, a whole world of forums, blogs and Cookaround opened up and didn't give me respite ever since.

Yet, as much as I enjoy sinking my hands into sticky and rebel masses, and smelling the scent of flour spreading in the air, sometimes laziness prevails and the option I'd rather buy it already made sounds much more appealing than a biceps workout. Maybe one day I'll have my own Kitchen Aid, a pink one, and maybe I'll have one, or even two work boards wider than 7 inches, and then you'll see me baking pizzas for the whole building.
While waiting for that happy day, I'd rather take it easy and do one step at a time, satisfying the gluten mania with less laborious projects. I've already tried the No-Knead Bread and the Irish No-Effort Bread, and I have a feeling that one day there'll be time also for Paoletta's No-Knead Pizza and for Ornella's No-Knead Brioches. But since today I feel particularly optimistic, I commit myself and I tell you that at this pace, walking up a leavening road that goes through piadine, popovers and half-hour breads, one day I will too - maybe - get to Him, the Supreme, the Impregnable, the Proud Panettone, ambition and dread of every foodblogger.

Meanwhile I started training with flour tortillas, the Mexican piadinas, so to speak. Mmmm... tortilla is very flat indeed, and I think I'll have to go a long way. OK, maybe not this Christmas, but one day... Panettone...I will too... And while drafting the stages of my route, I'll take a tortilla and spread it with avocado.

Flour Tortillias
for 9 tortillas

flour 300 gr.
salt 1 teaspoon
baking powder 2 teaspoons
vegetable oil 2 tablespoons
milk approximately 180 gr.

Heat milk in a small saucepan until warm. Mix flour with salt and baking powder. Add oil and mix well (I used a mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil). Gradually add milk and start kneading. Use only the amount of milk necessary to obtain a smooth, non-sticky dough. If needed, add more milk or adjust with more flour.
Work the dough for 5 or 6 minutes and then let it rest for about 10 minutes, covered with a kitchen towel. Divide it in small balls of about 50 gr. each. Slightly dust the work surface with flour and using a rolling pin flatten each ball into a thin round of approximately 6 inches diameter. If needed, pair the edges with a knife to obtain rounder tortillas.
Heat a cast iron pan and cook each tortilla about 30 seconds per side, turning it with a spatula and deflating any bubble that should develop. Tortillas can be frozen, wrapped in plastic. They should be served warm, filled with meat and/or cheese, hot Mexican salsa and avocado. If you like, you can also add shredded green cabbage, sour cream, grilled chicken or fish instead of beef.

Note (polemical): real tortillas should be made with lard, but finding it is really impossible. Or rather, you can easily find it only in Mexican markets and produce stores, but stay away from it... it resembles glycerin and it's full of hydrogenated fat, bleaching and deodorizing agents that make it last even YEARS outside the fridge. There is nothing else out there, because lard in North America has been stigmatized long time ago as too fattening and bad for your health. Today, if you tell someone that you're looking for lard, and that you need it to make tortillas or a nice and fragrant pie crust, they'll point the finger at you like you were a social order subverter. Meanwhile those supermarkets that are full of strange margarine, bleached fruit and food whose ingredients remind you more of a chemical formula like the ones you studied in high school, those not, they don't hurt anybody, and they're actually very generously open 24/7. To the delight of those who avoid lard like Satana, but have no problems gorging themselves on corn syrup.
Please forgive my ranting.

Pistachio, Yogurt and Olive Oil Cake

Monday, September 14, 2009
Pistachio, Yogurt and Olive Oil Cake

I have too many books (maybe). For sure I have too many recipe books. And less and less space to keep them.
Please note that this is not a sudden revelation on the way to Damascus, but the result of an infallible formula that takes into account the following factors:

• the total cubic feet available, times the hopes of getting a bigger place one day;
• the total possible recipes, divided by the number of days in one year;
• the difference between good intentions and the cost/time ratio of take-away;
• the average conversion to buy of the emails I receive every week from Amazon, where they tempt me with a Dear Sara, since you bought the fabulous Book on Jams, we thought you may be interested in the latest publication about Cream Puffs.

From whichever side you may want to take it, the formula yields always the same result: I have too many books (maybe). For sure I have too many recipe books. And less and less space to keep them.

With the objective of finding a remedy for this dramatic situation, I came up with the following strategy:
1) Take a random book from the shelf;
2) Open a random page of the aforementioned book;
3) Test the recipe;
4) If the recipe doesn't work, recycle the book by putting it for sale on Amazon(the proceeds cannot be allocated to the purchase of another recipe book);
5) If the recipe works, you're allowed to keep the aforementioned book;
6) In order to maximize the effort, use the final product of the test as subject of your daily post.

Needless to say, the cake under discussion here is the first act of this brilliant strategy. The book it comes from is safe for now, as for me, I may not be yet.

Turkish Pistachio Cake
with Yogurt and Olive Oil

for a 9" diameter spring form

pistachios, unsalted and without the shell 140 gr.
flour 125 gr.
baking soda 3/4 teaspoon
baking powder 1/4 teaspoon
salt a pinch
eggs, room temperature 6
sugar 150 gr.
plain yogurt 180 gr.
extra-virgin olive oil 85 gr.
cream of tartar 1/2 teaspoon
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Toast pistachios in the oven at 300 degrees, paying attention not to let them become too dark. Rub them between your hands to remove as much skin as possible, and then grind them finely.
In a bowl, sift flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat egg yolks with half of the sugar, until thick and foamy. Add yogurt, olive oil and mix again. Fold in flour and ground pistachios. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar. When they are thick enough, add the rest of the sugar and keep beating until they are thick and shiny. Gently fold egg whites to the batter, paying attention not to make them go flat.
Pour the batter in a buttered and floured spring form, and bake at 350 for approximately 55 minutes. Let it cool on a rack, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

Spicy Carrot Ginger Soup

Friday, September 11, 2009
Spicy Carrot Ginger Soup

I really like soups, but for some reason I never remember to make them. Maybe it's a legacy from when I was a kid, when I couldn't stand them in any shape or color, or maybe it's because usually, without doing it on purpose, I end up making a huge amount that lasts for a whole week and makes me NOT want to eat soup for the next six months.

This time, though, it went better, and right after the first meal I can already see the bottom of the pan. Luckily, because I've already bought ingredients for at least another 10 posts that are on my waiting list.
It's very good though!

Carrot Ginger Soup
for 4 people

carrots about 600 gr. (net)
onion 1/2
garlic 1 clove
fresh ginger 1 piece approximately 1 inch wide
olive oil, salt, butter, curry powder

Peel the carrots, wash them and cut them in pieces. Mince onion, peel garlic clove and ginger and cut them in pieces. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in a little oliv oil until the onion turns golden. Add the carrots, cover with water and let simmer at low-medium heat until carrots are tender (it'll take about half hour). Puree the soup until it becomes smooth. Bring back to boil, add salt and a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with curry powder to taste.

End of Summer Tart

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
End of Summer Tart

They say if you learn how to make puff pastry, the whole world will be at your feet, Google will be your friend forever and Prince Charming will knock at your door bringing an electric mixer as a gift. Yet, despite all these tempting promises, I'm still not sure I want to attempt such labor-intensive dough, possibly wasting pounds of butter in many trials and spreading flour all over my so-called-kitchen.

Yesterday, though, I found this recipe for a semi-puff pastry, described as a good warm-up for those who are thinking of challenging the real deal one day, and I decided to give it a try. The source is Christine Ferber, the jam woman, who few years ago came out with a second book entirely devoted to tarts, both sweet and savory.

The result is really excellent, especially since the dough is quite simple after all, and it's also pretty quick to make (not considering the time it needs to rest and the time you'll need to read the recipe and to decipher the explanation of the process to follow).

I only have one question left: now that I know how to make a semi-puff pastry, do you think I have to expect a Prince without the mixer or am I allowed to ask for a mixer without the Prince?

End of Summer Tart

For the Semi-Puff Pastry
pastry flour 250 gr.
butter, very cold 150 gr.
sugar 1 tablespoon
salt 1/2 teaspoon
iced water 2-4 tablespoons

Sift flour on the work surface. Cut butter in small cubes and add it to the flour, tossing very quickly (in order to have a very cold butter, after cutting it in cubes I put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes before proceeding with mixing the dough). Make a well in the middle, add salt and sugar and a couple of tablespoons of water (which also has to be very cold). Start kneading the dough to combine ingredients, but take care not to overwork it and that the butter bits remain visible. If necessary, add a little bit more water, but in order to have a good result it's better to use as little as possible.
Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Now, lightly dust the work surface with flour, and using a rolling pin press the dough into a rectangle a little more than 1/2 inch thick.
Fold it in thirds, as if it were an envelope: fold the top third down and fold the bottom third over it, like wrapping it (much more difficult to explain it than to actually do it, I swear). Rotate the dough 90 degrees to the right, wrap it with plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least another 10 minutes. From now on, pay attention to keep then same direction of rotation and to keep the same side touching the work surface (again, lots of words that simply mean that you have to put the dough in the fridge and take it out as it was, without turning it over and without rotating it in the opposite direction).
Dust the work surface with flour, roll the dough into a rectangle again and fold it in thirds exactly as before. Rotate the dough of another 90 degrees to the right. Wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Now you have to repeat the process for the third time: roll it into a rectangle, fold it in thirds, and rotate it 90 degrees to the right. This is the third and last fold and it's better to do it the next day. Once you're done with it, keep the dough in the fridge for at least half hour before rolling out the tart base.

For the Tart
ripe peaches and/or nectarines, both yellow and white about 4
brown sugar 4-5 tablespoons
sugar 2-3 tablespoons
melted butter 4-5 tablespoons
almond flour 50 gr.
slivered almonds to garnish

Take the semi-puff pastry out of the fridge and roll it in a circle of approximately 1/8 inch thick. Prick the surface with a fork. Cover the bottom of the shell with almond flour (it'll help absorbing peaches' juice while baking).
Melt the butter. Wash the peaches and the nectarines, dry them with a kitchen towel and cut them in slices approximately 1/8 inch thick. Arrange them nicely on the tart shell, leaving an empty edge of about 2 inches. Fold the edge over the fruit, trying to seal it with your fingers. Brush the peaches and the edge of the tart with melted butter, sprinkle the fruit with brown sugar and the tart edge with regular sugar. Cover with slivered almonds to garnish.
Bake at 400 for about 40-45 minutes, until the tart turns golden brown.
Let it cool on a rack before serving.

Ladies and Gentlemen...The Spaghetti al Pomodoro!

Monday, September 7, 2009
Spaghetti al Pomodoro

I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank spaghetti al pomodoro.
So good, simple and democratic. They could also be linguine, but that's what happened today. And spaghetti it is. To me there is no beef bourguignon, duck a l'orange or bouillabaisse to stand the comparison. I could eat them every single day from here to eternity an I'd never be bored. And when tomatoes are sweet and tasty like the ones you find at the end of summer, then it's really a spaghetti apotheosis.

I'd also like to take advantage of this space to give spaghetti my apologies. Lately, due to my obligations In the Kitchen, I've definitely neglected them, and in order to run after exotic meals, branded dishes and more flashy presentations, I've often forgotten about them and I ended up taking them for granted.

Luckily today some pearl tomatoes sweet as candies intervened to recover my own sanity. Tasting one of them was enough to make me long all of a sudden for one of those minimal pasta dishes, few drops of olive oil, one whole garlic clove, some fresh basil and a sprinkle of black pepper. Dear spaghetti, I admit it: I've fallen again at your feet.
And now I'm asking your forgiveness and I'd like to dedicate you this post, with your own picture and recipe. Please try for once to win your shyness and enjoy this evening as the main hero.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the Spaghetti al Pomodoro. Chez moi.

Spaghetti al pomodoro
for two

spaghetti or linguine 160 gr.
pearl or cherry tomatoes
olive oil 2 or 3 tablespoons
garlic 1 clove
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
grated parmigiano cheese

Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half. Sauté garlic clove in few tablespoons of olive oil, then add the tomatoes and let them cook at medium heat until they get soft and the water they release begins to evaporate. Let the sauce thicken and, if necessary, add few tablespoons of the pasta boiling water. Add salt and some fresh basil leaves, torn apart by hand.
What follows is my personal trick. Heresy or not, I like them this way. Two minutes before straining the pasta, take the tomatoes pan off the stove (they have to be ready at this point), and add the grated parmigiano cheese, stirring well. You'll get a creamier sauce, but still very light.
Drain pasta al dente, sauté it for one minute in the pan with tomatoes, then serve it and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper (or red pepper flakes, if you like).


Friday, September 4, 2009

I wanted to try this Lebanese cheese for a while. Nothing new under the sun, these cheese balls have been traveling all over the blogosphere for quite a long time, and before me they've been made, shot, eaten and praised by Sigrid, Virginia and ChicaJo, to name a few.

It may be unnecessary to tell you why this labna (or lubneh) immediately won me over, but since a few careless readers are probably pulling their hair out of curiosity, ans since I'm also a very nice girl, I'll tell you one more time. First of all, I'm totally in love with fresh cheeses, and I'm totally in love with those that are white, soft and creamy. Secondly, since not only I'm a very very nice girl, but I'm also a somewhat lazy girl, I have a slight preference for the recipes-non-recipes, the ones that require very few ingredients and absolutely no effort, but that always meet with success. It's so nice when your incredulous friend asks you Did YOU make this?? and you can safely come out in the open and admit that in reality it doesn't take much. And no matter how hard you try to convince him that Really, it's THAT easy, you can easily bet that no-one will ever believe you...

But after all, since I'm still a Girl In The Kitchen, I thought that in order to make this labna, I had to approach it in a roundabout way. Therefore, instead of starting from yogurt, I started from milk, with which I made yogurt, with which I then made labna. And yet, if I was a slightly more serious girl, I would have made from scratch even the pita bread to go with, but I decided to leave it to the next episode instead : )


yogurt (Greek style would be better) 1 quart
salt 2 teaspoons
spices of your choice (thyme, sesame seeds, oregano, pepper, sumac)
extra-virgin olive oil

Mix yogurt with salt and pour it into cheesecloth or a piece of fabric with a not too thick weave. If cheesecloth is loosely woven, fold it in two. Gather the four edges and tie them together to form a small bag. Hang the cloth with the yogurt over a bowl and let it drain in the refrigerator. Let it there for 24 hour to a maximum of three days, it depends on the yogurt thickness and on the texture you'd like the cheese to be.
Untie the cloth, collect the labna and form small balls. Season them with a mix of spices of your choice and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't made chocolate chip cookies since college. To be honest, I wasn't actually making them at that time either, because my friend Sarah, a genuine American, was usually in charge of baking them for a bunch of hungry people who - who knows why - would always manage to answer the call. Cookie calling, friend coming. It's the unwritten, always effective rule.

Still the same friend tought me that in order to fully enjoy the cookie, you have to grab one right out of the oven, when the chocolate is practically melted and the cookie is still warm and soft, put it in a glass, cover it with milk, stir and go. You can repeat the process with the second batch, and for those of you who have a strong stomach, even with the third or fourth. You know the deal.

And the same friend, who obviously knows what she's talking about, told me that another must-do of the Operation Cookie is making the dough and eat it raw by the spoonful. And this is such a popular habit that some famous ice-cream manufacturers, such as Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's, began selling a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavour. It's like a star-and-stripe version of our Stracciatella.

This recipe comes once again from that place in Berkeley I already told you about, a mix between an artisan egg-pasta shop, a bakery and a coffe shop/breakfast place. It's slightly different from more traditional recipes because of the amount of nuts and the rolled oats, which give the cookies a characteristic texture and create the illusion of a healthy snack. Don't worry though, these are neither healthy nor light, especially if you eat the dough raw or if you melt them in a big glass of milk when they're still warm.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
for approximately 30 cookies

butter, at room temperature 225 gr.
sugar 160 gr.
brown sugar 160 gr.
vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
eggs 2
all-purpose flour 290 gr.
rolled oats 110 gr.
(of which 35 gr. need to be finely ground)
baking powder 1 teaspoon
pinch of salt
pecan 170 gr.
chocolate chips 350 gr.

Cream butter with sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time. Sift flour with baking powder and add it to the dough. Add ground oats and salt and mix well. At the end, add the remaining rolled oats, chopped pecans and chocolate chips.
Refrigerate the dough until cold (you can also make it two or three days in advance).
Form small balls, a bit larger than a walnut shell, press them slightly between your hands, then place them about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake the cookies at 380 for about 12-15 minutes, until they turn golden-brown. Right out of the oven, they will be very soft, but they turn crunchy once they cool down.