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Garbanzo Beans Soup with Spinach and Saffron

Saturday, December 26, 2009
Garbanzo Bean Soup with Spinach and Saffron

A very very easy soup to detox from the various roasts, capons, tortellini, agnolotti (another shape of traditional stuffed pasta dish), duck a l'orange, local cold cuts, pate', Russian salads, panettoni, vol-au-vent, chocolate truffles, torrone and dried figs.
Even a short run would be good, though...

Garbanzo Beans Soup
with Spinach and Saffron

for 4 people

dried garbanzo beans 200 gr. (about 1 cup)
garlic 2 cloves
onion 1 small
vegetable bouillon cube 1/2
salt, pepper, olive oil, saffron to taste
fresh spinach 1 full bunch

The night before, soak the beans in plenty of water. The next day, drain and place them in a large pot. Let them simmer at low-medium heat covered with water until they are tender. Stir every once in a while and add more water if necessary. Depending on the beans and on how long they've soaked, it'll take between one and two hours. In a separate pan, saute the chopped onion and garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the beans and their water, few saffron threads, 1/2 vegetable bouillon cube (optional), salt and pepper. Let simmer for another 15-20 minutes. If you'd like a lighter soup, avoid sauteing the onion and simply add garlic cloves, bouillon cube and saffron directly in the pan with the garbanzo beans and their cooking water.
Wash the spinach and discard their stems. Chop up the leaves and add them to the soup at the end, so that they'll cook just slightly. Stir well and serve with some olive oil and freshly ground black pepper on top. Yum....

Nutella Nutellae

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Momemade Nutella

Nutella omnia divisa est in partes tres:
Unum: Nutella in vaschetta plasticae.
Duum: Nutella in viteris bicchieribus custodita.
Treum: Nutella sita in magno barattolo (magno barattolo sì, sed melium est si magno Nutella IN barattolo).

(Caius Julius Ferrerus, ah no, sorry, R. Cassini, Nutella Nutellae)

[This quote is really for my Italian friends, and it's impossible to translate properly. It's a latin-like poem on Nutella, which echoes the first lines of the famous De Bello Gallico by Julius Caesar]

How nice it was when the world was split in half, on this side Nutella, on the other side Ciao Crem (another brand of chocolate-hazelnut spread, popular in Italy in the 80's). And it was so easy to choose. Let's be frank, Ciao Crem has all my respect; after all it did its best desperately trying to differentiate itself with two flavors of different color, chocolate and hazelnut, mixed together in the same jar. And yet, despite the slogan Two Flavors: Two Kisses, Nutella has always remained the queen of afternoon snack, first promising energy to do and to think (popular 80's slogan of Nutella TV commercials) with its supposedly simple and natural ingredients; then cheering up the Nutella Rave Parties of our teenage years when, spread on top of giant slices of baguette, it was bore shoulder-high around the building (again, it was a scene from another popular TV commercial); and finally being packaged in reusable glass jars, that would pile up with no shame to bear perpetual memory of our addiction.

At home back in Italy we even had a 20-pound jar, which was sitting on the shelf in front of everybody. It was the Social Nutella, and whoever came in could not resist its call. Maybe it was because of the enormous proportions of the vase, or maybe it was the logo NUTELLA written in an extra large font, I don't know. The fact is that this maxi package would bring back primordial instincts and sooner or later everybody had to experience the thrill of sinking the spoon (when it was not a ladle) in a big ocean of Nutella, one where you couldn't see the bottom.

What follows here is a homemade version of the infamous spread. It may not be Nutella, but it's close. After all, if even Ciao Crem gave it a try...
Pass the bread, please. Or maybe the slice of panettone, since we are at Christmas time. But be advised, I don't guarantee on the side effects.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
(lacking in modesty, we could say Nutella-Like Spread)

for two medium-size jars

hazelnut 130 gr.
milk chocolate 200 gr.
sugar 120 gr.
low-fat milk 150 ml.
sunflower seed oil (or other neutral tasting oil) 90 ml.

The recipe is based on Elena di Giovanni's one, which has been posted many times on the Cucina Italiana online forum, and which has also been published by Paoletta, here. But I've used milk chocolate instead of dark one, in order to get a result closer to the original, even if maybe it's less satisfactory for those chocolate purists. And I've adjusted the quantities accordingly (in short, more hazelnuts and less sugar).

Toast hazelnuts in the oven, let them cool down, and then eliminate their outer skin. Put them in a food processor with a little bit of sugar (taken from the total amount) and grind them finely. Chop up the chocolate. Pour all ingredients in a pan with heavy bottom, place it on the stove at low heat, making sure the spread doesn't warm up too much. As soon as chocolate is melted, use an immersion blender to grind the hazelnut grains as fine as possible. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes longer, always stirring, until the spread is smooth. Pour the Nutella-like cream in the jars when still warm, and let it cool completely before sealing them.

Filipino Salted Eggs

Saturday, December 12, 2009
Filipino Salted Eggs

Check out what I found this morning at the Farmers' Market. I don't know about you, but I've never seen these futuristic eggs before.
I was walking around between the usual kiwis, cauliflowers, potatoes and grapes, when all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of something pink emerging from the booths. Pink??? Whatever it is, it has to be mine!
They told me that these are salted duck eggs, a traditional delicacy from the Philippines, where they are often sold by street vendors. To make them, you need to let them sit for few weeks in a solution made of water and plenty of salt, then you boil them with some red food coloring, so that they can be distinguished from regular eggs.
I don't quite know how to use them yet, but one thing for sure: now when I open the fridge, all of a sudden oranges seem pale, pomegranates dull, and apples faded.

Hide Bread

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Hide Bread

I made up my mind. My next 42 km will be in Big Sur. I write it here because that way I feel somewhat forced to keep the promise and I avoid getting strange ideas, like backing out at the very last minute. Some say it's one of the most beautiful marathons in the U.S., not as popular as New York or Boston, but certainly more spectacular for the course that runs along one of the most gorgeous stretches of the whole Pacific coast.

What does this have to do with the girl in the kitchen, you may ask? It's just that while thinking about Big Sur, I remembered this recipe, that I marked a while back with the usual yellow post-it so that I could try it as soon as possible. I found it in a beautiful book, The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, one of those recommended by The Big Brother Amazon that all of a sudden you feel like you absolutely have to own.
It's sort of a culinary diary of this small restaurant/cafe', hidden behind a gas station along Highway 1. The tale of four friends who decide to leave the glamorous yet impossible scene of Los Angeles in order to pursue their dream in the middle of nature. With all its difficulties, like electricity that can be gone for days when the only power line connecting Big Sur to Carmel decides to break down, the suffocating feeling that hits at times when you live in a community of few hundreds people, or the financial risk of running a business that is largely based on tourism.

As usual, the first recipe that catched my attention is that of a bread, even if in this case it's not a leavening one, but rather a cross between Irish soda bread and English muffins (note to my Italian friends: mind you, English muffins are totally different than muffins, and they are more similar to English scones, which in turn are not to be confused with American scones...how confusing...I should stop here, otherwise this parenthesis will break into a new post).
In short, I warn you, these unusual rolls, quintessence of zen and healthy California, are not for everybody. What I mean is that they are not suited for the classic pane e salame, the crust is hard and crunchy and their crumb very dense and full of seeds that pleasantly creak under your teeth. They absolutely need to be sliced in half and toasted before eating, just like English muffins (which are not like muffins!!), and they are the best at breakfast, spread with jam and paired with a large, bottomless cup of coffee.
Now I know for sure. Next stop, Big Sur.

Hide Bread
for approximately 8 rolls>

all-purpose flour 2 and 1/2 cups (375 gr)
flax seeds 1/4 cup (50 gr.)
sesame seeds 1/4 cup (40 gr.)
oat bran 1 cup (120 gr.)
sunflower seeds 1/8 cup (25 gr.)
millet, amaranth, quinoa or poppy seeds, or a combination of any of these 1/4 cup (50 gr.)
salt 1/4 teaspoon
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
beer 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (60 ml.)
buttermilk, milk or water 1 and 1/4 cup (350 ml.)

I divided the recipe in half, the original amount is for 15 rolls of approximately 4 inches in diameter.
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir well. Make a well in the middle, and add beer and buttermilk (or milk and/or water). Mix with your hand or using a wooden spoon until all ingredients are blended together and form a thick and wet batter. Slightly sprinkle the surface with flour and turn the batter on the work surface. Roll it into a log of approximately 2 inches in diameter, then cut it in slices about 1 1/2 inches thick. Pat them down with your hands and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes, until the surface turns golden brown. Let them cool completely. Before serving, remember to slice the rolls in half and toast them well.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Monday, December 7, 2009
Meyer Lemon Marmalade

If you happen to be in California during winter months, don't think it twice and stock up on meyer lemons. Trust me, they are worth as much as a walk on Hollywood Hall of Fame or a visit to Beverly Hills.
Wikipedia tells us that these lemons are originally from China, where they're used as an ornamental plant, and they were introduced in California in the beginning of last century by Frank Meyer, an employee of the Department of Agriculture, from whom they've gotten their name.
I can also tell you that meyer lemons are somewhat in between a lemon and a mandarin, their skin is thinner than common lemons, they are sweet and incredibly scented.
Saturday morning my usual trip to the Farmers' Market should have been harmless, but these lemons were all over the place and I couldn't resist. My inner Grandma Duck woke up one more time all of a sudden and she didn't want to listen to reason. Thus, you get this one.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

meyer lemons

A recipe somewhat minimalist, you may say, but quantities depend on the amount and size of lemons. I used 10 of them.
Wash lemons, cut off the ends, then cut them in half lenghtwise. Take out the seeds and keep them aside. Cut each lemon half in thin slices, and put them in a large bowl, collecting all the juice they might have released. Barely cover with water and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, weight lemon-water mixture and add approximately 70% of the weight in sugar (I've used 1,5 kg o sugar for 2,2 kg. of sugar and water).
Wrap the reserved seeds with a piece of cheesecloth, tying it like a small satchel. Add the cheesecloth to a pot along with the fruit, water and sugar, and let it simmer over low-medium heat, skimming if necessary. When the marmalade reaches the right thickness, discard the cheesecloth and pour it in properly cleaned and sterilized glass jars. Close them tightly, put them in a large pot filled with water, and let them boil for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the jars cool off in the same water to create the vacuum.