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Caesar Salad

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Caesar Salad

And let's give Caesar what belongs to Caesar: a couple of anchovies, garlic, Parmigiano cheese, one egg, lemon, and olive oil. And Caesar from his blender pulls us out one of the most popular, most imitated, and - sadly - most misused salads throughout California, and beyond. For me it's been a true revelation, it won me over more or less as soon as I passed through immigration control, and to this day I think I'm one of its biggest fan. Possible? Oh yes:

Caesar Salad Fan Club
(Courtesy of Caesar Salad Fan Club, registered office One Girl's Kitchen)

Caesar Salad is so California, but - hear ye! - the inventor is a guy named Cesare Cardini, who was born in Italy and then immigrated to the U.S. early last century. Cesare (now known as Caesar) opened a restaurant in San Diego and one in Tijuana, Mexico, and it is said that on the evening of July 4th, 1924, tragically finding himself with an empty pantry, he decided to improvise and offer his guests the famous Chef's Special. Old bread, eggs, oil, Parmigiano cheese and lemon. Who doesn't have these ingredients readily available in their kitchen? Caesar simply combined them as best as he could, and yet what came out of his hands was a real treat. I wonder why I can never think of something that brilliant.

For the record I must say that the original recipe, the one from July 4th, 1924, had no anchovies. I'd also like to add that when I found that out, the bottom almost fell out of my world. Based on the original version, the taste of anchovy should only come from the Worcestershire sauce (which contains anchovies in its ingredients), but obviously over the years some daring chef wanted to horn in on the Caesar Salad's race to success, and decided to add some real anchovy fillets to the dressing.
Thus today the Caesar Salad Fan Club is split in two: those who Anchovies? No thanks, and those who simply can't live without. I belong to the second group.
Dear Caesar, I apologize.

Caesar Salad

For the dressing
egg 1
lemon juice 3 tablespoons
oil packed anchovy fillets 1-2 (depending on their size)
garlic 2 cloves
extra virgin olive oil 1/4 cup
Worcestershire sauce 1/2 teaspoon plus few more drops, to taste
grated Parmigiano cheese 3 tablespoons
salt, pepper to taste

For the croutons
day old country bread one large piece
olive oil, garlic

For the salad
hearts of romaine 3-4
Parmigiano cheese flakes, freshly ground black pepper

First, prepare the croutons. Cut the bread in more or less regular cubes, arrange them on a baking tray and toast them in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until they're slightly browned on all sides. Allow them to cool down. Crash one garlic clove and work it with a pinch of salt and a little olive oil until you have a smooth paste. Heat it up in a pan with another tablespoon of olive oil, add croutons and let them season on all sides. Alternatively, you can also toss the croutons with garlic, olive oil and salt before toasting them in the oven and skip the second step of the pan. But since croutons may be kept for long time in a tin box, I'd rather have a stock of unseasoned ones, in order to use them in different ways.

For the dressing, cook the egg for one minute in boiling water and cool it immediately under cold water. Break it in a mixer bowl, add the anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Parmigiano cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend until the dressing becomes creamy and smooth. Taste it and adjust the seasoning accordingly (easier said than done, I have to tell the truth. Although it's very simple to make, the problem of Caesar Salad dressing is finding the right balance between the ingredients; it must not taste too much of anchovy nor too much of lemon; the egg and the cheese are used to give creaminess, and the olive oil should not predominate over everything else. It's a very vague description, I admit... but, come on, at least I tried!).

To compose the salad according to Caesar's dictates, you should use only the crispy hearts of romaine lettuce, discarding the outer leaves and all the darker parts (but don't throw them away; maybe just use them for a less fundamentalist version of the Caesar Salad). Another rule would be to present the leaves whole on the plate, although to this day I know only two places where they do so, here and here (not by chance they compete for the title of Best Caesar Salad in San Francisco). It is also said that at Caesar's one would eat the salad with their hands, leaf by leaf. Yum .... I like that! In any case, whole or chopped, just toss the lettuce with the dressing, add some croutons, and sprinkle it with Parmigiano flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
If you want to join the Fan Club, give a whistle.

Caesar Salad

"This isn't the real Caesar Palace, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did...ehm...did Caesar live here?"
"I didn't think so!"

(Z. Galifianakis, talking about the famous casino in Vegas, The Hangover, 2009)

P.S: The quote has little to do with the post (just like the anchovies with the Caesar Salad), but the joke made me laugh so hard I had to take this opportunity to remind you of it :)

Chicken Salad With Walnuts And Dried Apricots

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Dried Apricots

Boiled meat and me have never gotten along too well. Last night, for some strange reason, I decided to make a batch of chicken stock. If you think about it, one can't stay without chicken sock, right?
I've been able to verify that one of the side effects of the aforementioned chicken stock is that all of a sudden you find yourself with an unmanageable amount of boiled chicken... : 0
And why nobody told me??? I've never liked boiled meat. UAHHHHHH! Panic.
The prospects of living from now to eternity eating bland, boiled chicken-based dinners start taking shape. Did you really have to put a whole chicken in your bag? Wouldn't have been better to go see a movie instead? Calm down, calm down, the Girl In The Kitchen inside me says everything is under control, there is a remedy for all things, even for boiled chicken. I trust her. After all, we've known each other for a long time, and even if at times she makes me act a little bit insanely, this Girl is a nice gal.
I decide to follow her advice and then, twenty-four hours later, I make peace with boiled chicken. Here's how.

Chicken Salad
with Walnuts & Dried Apricots

boiled chicken
Chioggia radicchio 1 head
dried apricots
slivered parmigiano cheese (or crumbled goat cheese)
olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper

To make boiled chicken, just rely upon your stockinlish imagination (I've thrown the bird in a pot with one onion, one tomato, two carrots, two celery stalks, black peppercorns, few cloves, salt, parsley and rosemary, and I've let it simmer for about one hour, skimming when necessary).
When it's ready, remove chicken from the pot and cut it in small pieces. Add some chopped dried apricots (or some raisins, previously soaked in water and drained), dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Shred a head of radicchio, add chicken and dried fruit, a handful of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped, adjust the seasoning and sprinkle with slivered parmigiano cheese or crumbled goat cheese.

Blood Orange Tart

Monday, January 25, 2010
Blood Orange Tart

It's cold. It's raining. And lately, it seems like blue is in fashion. Oh well.
In spite of everything, I found the way to turn to my week-end into a different color. At the farmers' market this time I couldn't resist to lemons, oranges, sweet limes, blood oranges, grapefruits and pomelos, just because they're happy and smiling (you see, despite the appearances, you have to admit that I'm pretty easy going: two mandarines is all it takes to make me happy).

Back home, I've realized I've gone a little too far with the shopping list. :-0
What does a girl with a little tiny kitchen do with a ton of citrus? A real dilemma. Ten glasses of juice and one Vitamin C indigestion later, I thought I might be better off relying upon other resources, much more imaginative than I am. So, browsing here and there, I ended up baking this thing.
I'm now all ready and vaccinated to face yet another Monday.

Blood Orange Tart
for one 8" diameter tart

For the tart dough
flour 150 gr.
butter 75 gr.
sugar 35 gr.
baking powder 1/4 teaspoon
salt a pinch
cold water 2 tablespoons

For the topping
almonds about 50 gr.
blood oranges, small 7-8
sugar, butter to taste
egg yolk to brush the crust

For the base I've made an eggless pastry crust. With the amount indicated above I ended up with an 8" diameter tart, you can make it larger keeping the same weight proportions: butter half of the flour, sugar half of the butter. Easy, isn't it?

In a large bowl, mix flour with sugar, salt and baking powder. Add cold butter, cut in pieces, and mix it with the flour rubbing it with your finger until you get a crumbly dough. Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water and work the dough until it gets smooth, trying to be as quick as possible in order not to warm up the butter. Shape it into a ball, wrap it in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour (I've made the dough the night before).
Meanwhile toast the almonds in the oven, then grind them finely with one tablespoon of sugar so that they won't release their oil.
Remove the dough from the fridge, roll it out in a 1/4" thick circle and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the surface with almonds, leaving an edge of approximately 1 inch.
Peel the oranges and eliminate all the white skin, then cut them into thin rounds, trying to discard the seeds. Sprinkle the almonds with sugar and some dots of butter, then cover with the orange slices. Sprinkle another couple of tablespoons of sugar on top. Lightly beat the egg yolk with two tablespoons of cold water and brush the tart edge with it. Fold it over towards the inside, then brush it again with the egg wash.
At this point, freeze the tart for at least one hour, in order for it to be really cold at the time of baking (you can also wrap it in plastic and freeze it, it will last for about two weeks). Bake it at 375 straight from the freezer and for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the crust turns a nice brown color. Let it cool completely before serving. If you don't like blood oranges, I suggest trying it with a different kind of fruit, because baking the oranges intensifies their bitter taste.

Shocking Roasted Red Beet Soup

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Roasted Red Beet Soup

Believe it or not, but I really like red beets. Not only their taste, but also their amazing color, which some people find terrifying instead.
OK, I have to admit that if you want to win over the man of your dreams by inviting him for dinner, I wouldn't recommend feeding him the above soup (he might run away mad with fear), but on the other hand I really think that red beet is the most misunderstood vegetable. When it doesn't end up trapped in one of those tragic sealed packages, the best a beet can hope for is to be boiled, with the result that the flavor slips away, getting irreperably lost in the water. And all that's left behind is a slightly bitter aftertaste, that you'd think you're eating the soil in which beet has been grown. I admit this may not be the best thing in the world.
When roasted, instead, beet becomes a well respected side dish, slightly sweet and much tastier. And even the soup is better off.

Roasted Red Beet Soup
for 3-4 people

red beets, medium size 3
onion, medium size 1
garlic 2 cloves
olive oil, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, ginger, lemon, vegetable stock to taste
watrecress and sour cream to serve

Clean the beets, cut off the leaves and pair the ends. Wrap them in a piece of foil, put them in a baking pan with a 1/2 inch of water and bake at 400 for about 45 minutes or until tender.
Let them cool off a bit, then peel and cut in pieces. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and saute garlic cloves, minced onion and few thyme sprigs, until onion is translucent.
Add the beets, a small piece of grated ginger, grated peel of half a lemon, salt and pepper. Cover with vegetable stock and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Puree the soup until smooth. If it's too thcik, add a little more stock. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice, stir and serve, garnishing each dish with sour cream and few watercress leaves.

Once Upon a Time, There Was Ragù

Monday, January 18, 2010
Ragù. Meat Sauce.

De Gustibus Est Disputandum.

Following The Revenge of the Meatballs, comes in a theater near you the highly anticipated sequel, Once Upon A Time There Was Ragù, loosely based on the adventures of Ragù alla Bolognese on American soil.
Directed and produced by One Girl In The Kitchen, with Ground Meat (in the role of Main Ingredient), Miss Pancetta, Diced Vegetables, and Tomato Paste.

The movie tells the story of Ragù, which, searching for fortune, landed in the New World along with its tagliatelle at the beginning of last century. Dense, aromatic and flavorful, Ragù soon wins the heart and the palate of the local population, thanks to the ingenuity and instinct for survival of the first generation of immigrants.
Before long Ragù's fame has grown enormously: from Mulberry Street to Beverly Hills, from Long Island to North Beach, everybody goes crazy for the sauce on top of spaghetti. And Ragù, under the stage name of Meat Sauce or Bolognese Sauce, is soon appointed Ambassador of Italian Cuisine in the world, along with its traveling companions Pizza, Lasagne and Eggplant Parmigiana.
Not a day goes by without the four friends, under the false guise of traditional Italian dishes, appearing on the menu of some new so-called "Italian" restaurant, masking the lack of flavor with generous quantities of garlic, cream, spices of every shape and color, and cheese slices made in Chile.
And just like the other three, Ragù, tired of being cooked for hours and forgetting about the quality of the ingredients, soon turns into a pale version of itself. Very little remains of the genuine and tasty boy that had landed several years before on the Atlantic shores. In a race against time, Ragù is often forced to deal with a conspiracy of carrots and onions chopped up in large pieces, treacherously allied with an army of militant garlic, a fleet of bottled tomatoes, and a brotherhood of spices at one's pleasure (including oregano, parsley, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, paprika and cayenne pepper, while of cloves not even the shadow). There are even days when Ragù, weary and tired, is prepared and placed on the lasagna in a little more than one hour (including the baking of the lasagna itself). This is really too much. Ragù, exhausted and disappointed, throws in the towel and walks away in the darkness.
The movie ends with a tribute to the protagonist, broadcast live from a small kitchen in San Francisco.

In an unpublished interview, the director and producer of the film, One Girl In The Kitchen, said: "I absolutely do not claim this independent production be the original, as described in the statutes of the Academy of Italian Cuisine and the Brotherhood of Tortellino. However, given the means available and the difficulty in finding the resources, I feel more than satisfied with the outcome. To all those who wish to make Ragù, I advice to plan the operation well in advance. Set aside all afternoon, carefully chop the vegetables, and most of all let it cook gently as long as it's necessary. The distinctive aroma that eventually spreads will be your reward".

Ragù - Chez Moi
for approximately 5 people

ground beef about 300 gr.
ground pork about 200 gr.
pancetta 1 slice, about 1/4 inch thick
carrots 2
celery stalk 2
onion 1
white wine about 1 glass
milk about 1 glass
butter, olive oil, stock, salt, pepper, cloves to taste

Finely chop carrots, celery, onion and pancetta. In a large pot, heat a little olive oil and a spoon of butter, add the vegetables and pancetta and cook for few minutes. Add the ground meat, and let it brown thoroughly, stirring often and "breaking it down" with a wooden spoon. Pour in the white wine, let it evaporate and then add tomato paste, dissolved in half a cup of hot broth, and 2 or 3 cloves. Season with salt and pepper.
Lower the heat and simmer gently for at least two hours, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if necessary. After the first half hour add the milk and stir. At the end the ragù should be dense, with characteristic color and aroma, that must be attributed to the meat and not the tomatoes.
If you can avoid being tempted by a sandwich with freshly made and still warm ragù (and how could you?), use it to dress some tagliatelle, or divide it in smaller portions and freeze it.

Chocolate Orange Tart

Friday, January 15, 2010
Chocolate Orange Tart

To wrap up the week with a sweet touch, here is a tart that I've made many times before, taking the recipe from the online forum of the magazine La Cucina Italiana.
This time though, I've substituted the chocolate filling with the Nutella-like spread I made few weeks ago (the one made with dark chocolate), which has been haunting me for days, demanding attention.
I had almost succeeded! One whole week without making any dessert, not a cookie, not a tart, not a pudding. And then, at the very last moment, here I am, giving in to Nutella (I have a feeling I've already heard this one...).
Oh well, let's celebrate another Friday!

Chocolate Orange Tart
for a 9" diameter tart pan

For the pastry dough
pastry flour 170 gr.
confectioners' sugar 70 gr.
butter 100 gr.
egg yolks 2
grated zest of one orange, salt

For the filling
orange marmalade 200 gr. circa
dark chocolate 200 gr.
whipping cream 100 gr.
sliced almonds (optional) to taste

Sift flour on the work surface. Take butter out of the fridge, cut it in small cubes and rub it with the flour using your fingers, until you get a crumbly dough. Make a dwell in the middle and put sugar, egg yolks, orange zest and salt. Mix them with the flour using a spatula and work the dough until it gets smooth, trying to be as quick as possible so that it won't get warm. Wrap in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour before using it. Pastry dough can also be prepared one or two days ahead and kept in the fridge until ready to use.
Roll out the dough and place it in the baking pan, cover with parchment paper and put a layer of dried beans on top (you can use the ceramic weights instead), so that the crust won't rise as much while baking. Bake at 340 for 20 minutes, take out the beans and parchment paper and bake for about 20 minutes longer, until it turns of a light golden color.
Let the tart shell cool completely. Take it out of the pan and spread a layer of orange marmalade on top, and then a layer of dark chocolate, previously melted with the cream using a bain maire (as I was telling you earlier, instead of the chocolate-cream filling, this time I've used the chocolate-hazelnut spread, slightly warmed in a bain maire so that it would be easier to spread).
If you'd like, sprinkle the surface with sliced almonds. Let it cool in the fridge before serving.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Today gnocchi.


If you, like me, adore sweet potatoes, try this alternative. Just for a change. There's always time to go back to the traditional gnocchi. The result is a brighter and slightly sweet version, which - I have to admit - would fight against meat sauce, but which, on the other hand, doesn't ask anything more than a simple butter and sage sauce. What's better than this?

I'd like to take this opportunity to share a couple of tricks on the subject Perfect Gnocchi, which I've learned throughout the years from my pot friends, both the virtual ones and the real ones. If you've fought against gnocchi for years, like me, desperately trying to get something more than little yellow stones vaguely tasting like potatoes, you could find these three little tricks very useful.
  • Do NOT boil potatoes. DO bake them in the oven instead: they will be less moist and will absorb less flour;
  • Do NOT use eggs. Trust me. Do NOT use eggs. They don't do anything, except maybe making gnocchi more yellow... They might be cuter, but on the other side adding eggs makes the dough wetter and forces to use more flour. Trust me on this, potateos alone will be sufficient for the dough;
  • Do NOT put salt in the dough. Salt makes potatoes watery, and, again, it forces to use more flour.

I swear, since I've discovered the aforementioned Three Golden Rules of Gnocchi, my life has changed. For the better.

Even if at the end of this all, there's always a famous Aunt Andreina, who makes the best gnocchi in the world and who doesn't give a damn of these rules. But that's another story.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
for 4 people

russet potatoes, medium size 2
sweet potatoes, medium size 2
flour exact quantity varies, depending on the dough
parmigiano cheese, freshly grated 2 tablespoons
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
butter, fresh sage and parmigiano cheese for the sauce to taste

Wrap potatoes in some foil, place them on a baking sheet and bake at 450 for about 45 minutes, until they are soft to the touch (one more advice, pay attention not to cook them too long, they shouldn't come apart).
Peel potatoes and smash them, transfering them in a large bowl. Let them cool completely before starting to work the dough.
After they've cooled down, season potatoes with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated parmigiano cheese (yes, I know that just two lines above I was telling you NOT to use any salt in the dough, but I think that in this version with sweet potatoes it's better to use a pinch of salt, especially if the sauce is very simple, like in this case). Add flour gradually and work the dough until it comes together, it's smooth and slightly wet. At this point, it's better to do a test, cutting out a couple of gnocchi and cooking them in a pot full of simmering water, to see if the dough holds. If not, add more flour and keep working the dough until you get the desired consistency.
Lightly dust the work surface with flour, take a piece of dough and rolling it with your hands, form a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut gnocchi out of it and make ridges on one side of them, rolling them down fork tines one by one and lightly pressing with your fingers (for this job you could also resort to the proper tool, the famous yet useless Gnocchi-Scorer, which I bought several years ago, struck by an uncontrollable drive). Keep going like this until you finish the dough.
Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water and drain them as soon as they come floating to the surface. Dress them with melted butter, cooked with few fresh sage leaves, and sprinkle them with freshly grated parmigiano cheese.

Pizza Obsession

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I love this guy. Remember him?

Excerpts from an interview

To make pizza in a wood oven good, there is so much attention that needs to be paid, constantly be aware of how each pizza is baking, if you need to add wood, if you need to not add wood. And you just see where the hot spots are in the oven and just keep pushing it throughout the night. I mean that takes years and years and years to learn and it takes a 100% dedication throughout the night and focus.

Me, the guy that works in the kitchen, and the waiter, the three of us, that’s it. We did every single thing in here, tiled the floor...The counter here I designed it and had a woman in Chinatown weld it. I actually put the marble on top of it.

You know, we get people to come in, like last week, some woman was like Oh, the dough doesn’t taste the same. What are they doing?, and the waiter is like Who’s THEY?. There is no they!
So I would hope that when people come in here, they really try to open their eyes and open their mind and see that...you know what?...you might not like the waiter, you might not like me, but I just hope that you come in and you see that we really don’t compromise and that we really do care and we’re not trying to get anything over on anybody. It’s the truth, it’s not done in any way but with love [...].

On the menu we have just four kinds of pizza.[...] They are basically all the same, they all taste really different though.
It’s not that I am against other toppings on the pizza, it’s that I feel like once you open that door, then there is no limit. Honestly, I don’t know how you can control all those different elements and have them be of a high quality. I wish that I could grow everything myself and control them from start to finish, but I can’t.
I mean, I think you start to loose a grip on the quality of everything little by little by little, and also, more importantly, the taste, you know, it’s really difficult to have something taste beautiful, interesting, and, you know, make you wanna come back again and again, and crave a taste for when there is like, four ingredients in it.

None of these old time pizzerias in New York City, in my opinion, make good pizza, not one of them. They all stink. You know, they learned how to make it 30 years ago and if anything changes or ingredients change over time, they don’t even know why, they just keep rolling with it. It might have been good when the original guy started it, and he was doing it to survive and it was his life, but at this point...pfff...
The pizzerias that are newer in the city, too, the same thing, I mean you know they have multimillionaires back and they get some guy that make pizza..., you know, and maybe the guys are from Italy...Whoopee. If you ever see anybody in America that says that they’re from Naples and they are a pizza maker, if they were making pizza in Naples, they were making it at a rest stop on the Autostrada, because, if you’re a pizza maker in Naples, you have like the best jobs in the city, it’s like one of the highest paid jobs, they’re super respected and they are in demand. They are not gonna come to America to make 10 bucks an hour and work 15 hours a day and be treated like a third class citizen.

I’ve had four ovens...actually, I think I’ve had five, ‘cause I had one in my backyard that me and my father built. That was my first one, and we built that after I was trying to make pizza on the floor of the fireplace in the living room...and that didn’t work too well either.

You can’t make, in my opinion, the same flavor with coal or with gas, There is nothing beautiful about it. The heat from a coal oven is not gentle; it’s very dry and very overpowering. With a brick oven you have the heat from the fire, the direct heat from the fire, you have the hot air and then you also have the floor and the walls all being hot.
I opened here and had a guy from Naples build me an oven. When he finally finished it and as soon as I fired it up, I knew that it wasn’t built right. It’s a shame, I mean, it cost a ton of money. It was still better than any other oven that I had. It took us two days to get it out with a sledgehammer. We ripped the front of the store off, I ripped all the walls out so that I could get everything out of here, threw the oven in the dumpster, and got another one.
The oven that I have now is the oven that I wanted since I was a little kid. I went to Italy in April of last year, and went and met this man that built this oven in Naples. [...] Every element of the oven works perfectly together, [...]every single detail is perfection. [...] I am so happy with it, it’s really beautiful.

The taste of the dough, the whole structure in the crust, it should have like a sweet kind of smell, it shouldn’t smell of yeast, it should smell of the wheat. The ingredients on the pizza, it should be lightly topped, everything should be kind of an even balance, you know, and playing off each other. There shouldn’t be where, you know, you hide the dough with - like - ricotta, pesto, black olives and everything else under the sun. That’s of mediocre quality, there should be beautiful dough, baked properly, with some seasoning and that’s how you can tell – to me – a good pizza.

The hardest to source is the buffalo mozzarella. [...] There is always a problem, at least once a month it doesn’t come for one week, dates are falsified. It depends who you know in Italy, how they stamping it...
Even when the buffalo mozzarella is not at its freshest, it still melts differently, and looks different on a pizza than fresh mozzarella, which is called fiordilatte in Italy.
When you take it out of the oven, the pizza looks like it has some life, it’s shiny, it’s glistening, the cheese usually has these beautiful little shades of a little bit of greenish to it.

There are some people in America that are trying to make buffalo mozzarella, but I’ve tried both of them, there is one in California and one in Vermont, and I love the fact that they’re doing it, I really wanted to use it, to support it, but the taste... it’s just not there. It just doesn’t have the magic that the buffalo mozzarella does from Caserta or Battipaglia outside of Naples.

Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Pomegranate, Honey and Cinnamon

Sunday, January 10, 2010
Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Pomegranate, Honey and Cinnamon

I know, I know. Pomegranate is out already, big time, not to mention Christmas. And instead here we keep turning a blind eye.
The thing is, although I can't stand all that Christmas cheesiness that each year starts haunting us one week earlier, when Christmas comes for real I don't want it to end, ever. That is to say, deep down I too have a soft heart.
Make no mistake here, in this recipe there's very little of pomegranate. Pomegranate molasses (or concentrated juice) is used instead to marinate the meat; it's a typical product of Middle Eastern cooking that I'm fortunate enough to find quite easily here. If you're serious about it, you could as well make it at home - you just need to reduce on the stove some pomegranate juice mixed with a little sugar and lemon juice (as explained here). But it will be for next Christmas.
With this one, I promise, I'll send pomegranate on vacation.

Roasted Game Hen
with Pomegranate, Honey & Cinnamon

game hen 1 each person
(to show off, call it poussin, you'll make quite an impression)
pomegranate molasses 2 or 3 tablespoons each
garlic 1 clove each
cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, olive oil to taste
honey 1-2 tablespoon each

Rinse the game hens and pat them dry them thoroughly on the inside as well. Mix the molasses with plenty of cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper and slivered garlic. Pour the marinade over the hens and rub them so that the flavor gets everywhere. Let them rest in the refrigerator, covered with plastic, for at least 8 hours, turning them occasionally.
After this time, drain the hens from the marinade, sprinkle each one with salt and pepper, and tie their legs with kitchen twine. Arrange them chest side up on an greased baking pan, and bake at about 390-430 (depending on their size) for approximately 40 minutes. At the end, brush them with the honey and bake 5 more minutes.
Serve each hen on a individual plate and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and pomegranate seeds.

Homemade Butter

Friday, January 8, 2010
Homemade Butter

When you're angry at something, make sure that the energy produced is not in vain. Do like me and follow this simple advice.

Get a carton of fresh cream of the highest quality (me, I can only dream of it at night, but you, you should get some fresh cream from the mountain pastures, and perhaps even call Heidi, Peter, Grandpa, Fabio Volo [famous Italian radio personality, en], you decide...), or rather, since you're at it, just take two cartons, pour everything in a good ol' bowl, and start whipping.
Whip, whip, with no fear, whip and beat with the mixer, cream starts swelling as usual, nothing new, keep going dauntless. Whip, whip, whip and beat, I promise that at some point the cream will get tired, deflate and become yellow of shame. And you hang on, whip, whip, whip and bash, and you already start feeling better. Whip and bash, and you'll see how your cream, all puffed up, in reality is just an easy lie.
Soon, very soon, cream gives in to your stubbornness - but what am I saying? - it really breaks apart: on one hand the lumps of butter, and on the other hand an opaque liquid they say it's buttermilk. Ah-ha! Two birds with one stone, even better.
You're almost there. At this point drain the liquid well, but you'd better remember to wash the butter under cold water several times until water comes out clear and limpid: this is the sign that all the stress, the anxieties and the darkness of the day have been washed out.
Done! Now you can take your butter between your hands and make sense of it, shape it round, rectangular or cylindrical. Spread it on bread with a little honey. What are you saying? You're not angry anymore?

That's perfectly okay, but before you go, remember this other trick: you can freeze the butter. SUPERCOOOOOOOOOL, isn't it?

Green Olive, Walnut, and Pomegranate Tapenade

Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Tapenade

I have a feeling that I'm kind of late, since pomegranate has already had its share of fame, here, here and here.
Probably you've already lost your patience by now and you can't stand any longer the task of taking tons of red seeds out of the shell, leaving irreparable stains all over the kitchen walls and the nicely ironed shirts. But what can I do if pomegranate is highly inflated at this latitude, and I still haven't dedicated one single post to this wonderful fruit?
Better late than never. So said the friend who on New Year Day ate the whole bowl pictured above.

Green Olive Tapenade
with Walnuts & Pomegranate

green olives, pitted 140 gr. (1 cup)
walnut 70 gr. (2/3 cup)
pomegranate 1/2
garlic 1 clove
olive oil, salt, lemon juice, cilantro to taste

Toast walnuts in the oven. Chop them coarsely along with the olives and put them in a bowl with the pomegranate seeds, minced garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, lemon juice and fresh minced cilantro.
Serve as appetizer on slices of toasted bread.

Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad

Sunday, January 3, 2010
Warm Red Cabbage Salad

Tassajara is a Buddhist monastery two hours away from San Francisco, located in a valley in Central California, off the coast of Big Sur. Aside from being a well-known zen training center, Tassajara is also famous for its mountains, the hot springs and its vegetarian cuisine.
The following recipe is taken and adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, more or less a new entry on my book shelves.
It may be a deceptive effect, but I promise you that one feels less guilty when buying a zen cooking book. And even when licking the pan at the end of the meal.

Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad
for 3 people

sunflower seeds 1.2 oz or 1/4 cup
sugar 1/2 teaspoon
red onion 1/2
garlic 2 cloves
red cabbage 3/4 pound
raisins 1 oz.
feta or goat cheese, crumbled 4 oz, or to taste
salt, olive oil, rosemary, balsamic vinegar to taste

Roast the sunflower seeds in a non-stick pan for few minutes, until they're golden brown. Sprinkle with sugar and a pinch of salt, stir briefly until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat. Get the seeds out of the pan and set aside (at the beginning, they're all stuck to each other, but as soon as they cool down, it'll be very easy to break them apart with your fingers). Soak the raisins in a little bit of warm water.
In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, sauté the garlic and the chopped onion until this becomes translucent, adding some water if necessary so that it won't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the cabbage, cut into thin shreds, stir and cook for few minutes. Add some fresh rosemary, minced, drained raisins, two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and adjust the seasoning. Cover the pan and keep cooking for 3 or 4 minutes, until the cabbage is softer. Add the sunflower seeds and the crumbled cheese, stir and serve.
If you'd like, you can also add some shredded Parmigiano cheese and fresh parsley. Instead of raisins, you can also use another kind of dried fruit, such as pears, apricots or peaches, soaked in warm water and coarsely chopped.

Baci di Dama

Friday, January 1, 2010
Baci di Dama

Baci di Dama (literally, Lady's Kisses) are delicious, so small, elegant and fragrant. But they're as seductive as deceiving. Flattening in the oven is their specialty, no matter how nice and neat, round and perfect they look on the baking sheet. What a fool you are! You've even measured them with a fruit scoop in order to have them all the same size, you thought you'd given them an impeccable shape, handling them with love between your hands while focusing on the perfect roundness of the sun, a Christmas ornament or a cherry.

And their fragrance! Even that is mean. A strong hazelnut scent spreads throughout the house, it doesn't let you foresee anything, even your neighbors are alerting their senses. Yes, it's that good. I think it's really time to open the oven. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! You scream out of despair, you tear your hair out, you look incredulous. That's it...I quit....Yes, tomorrow the girl is shutting down her kitchen and she's going to be an hermit in Alaska, for a new blog-free decade.
The Lady's Kiss, the same one you devoted your last culinary afternoon of 2009, has become a whole shapeless layer, a giant hazelnut-tasting platform that along with the cookie has smashed away all your hunger for fame. And now what am I supposed to do with this huge Kiss and all that Nutella-like Spread? A large chocolate-covered pizza, flat and hazelnutty? An almond flying saucer? A New-Age sbrisolona (Italian flat, crumbly cake, made with almonds)? No, Alaska seems to be the best option. New year, new life.

But luckily, as expected, even this year all your great resolutions vanish quickly, this time already at January first dawn. New year, same old routine. Do stretching exercises, make less cookies, be on time, don't swear, go to bed early, do yoga, drink a half gallon of water every day: who do you think you are? To me, nothing has changed: today I missed my yoga class in order to make the Lady's Kisses one more time, I shouted unrepeatable words against the oven so that it wouldn't dare playing tricks on me, I missed the bus and for sure I'll go to sleep at 4am to publish this post, I arrived late at a dinner with a friend 'cause I had to photograph the little evils before giving them as a gift, I've drunk the usual bottomless cup of coffee at Starbucks and half a sip of water the whole day, and I gave up on Alaska. It's too cold anyways.

So may this 2010 be a year full of the usual things, all the ones that make your day rosy, the scent of hazelnuts roasting in the oven, a phone call from a friend, a song by the Beatles, a slice of bread with jam, a Sunday afternoon at the movies, a trip to the countryside, fresh snow, end-of-season sales, the kisses from your elegant ladies or your sweet-smelling gentlemen, depending on your taste. Amen.

Baci di Dama
for about 40-50 cookies

hazelnuts 100 gr.
almonds 100 gr.
butter 200 gr.
flour 200 gr.
sugar 160 gr.
egg yolk 1
salt 1 pinch
dark chocolate for the filling to taste

Toast almonds and hazelnuts in the oven. Let them cool off, then try to eliminate their outer skin as much as possible. Grind them finely in the mixer with a little bit of sugar (taken from the whole amount), to prevent them releasing the oil.
Mix sugar and cold butter, then add flour, ground almond-hazelnut mixture, egg yolk and salt, and work the dough quickly until it's smooth. Shape it into a ball, cover with plastic and let it rest in the fridge for few hours or overnight (it keeps well even for few days).
After this time, take the dough out of the fridge and form small balls approximately the size of a cherry. Place them slightly apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. To avoid the Lady's Kisses flattening disaster when baking them, after you've shaped the balls, let them rest in the fridge for about half hour, so that they're very cold by the time you put them in the oven.
Bake at medium-low temperature (220-260F) for about 20 or 30 minutes. The temperature and the baking time vary depending on the oven. It's better to keep a medium-low heat (to avoid the flattening disaster) and keep watching them every ten minutes. They're ready when their surface starts breaking. As soon as they come out of the oven, they're very delicate and crumbly; therefore it's better to let them cool completely on the baking sheet before handling.
For the filling, melt some dark chocolate and use it to attach two half-cookies together. I've used the Nutella-like spread made with dark chocolate (OK, yes, I posted the one with milk chocolate, but the truth is, I made two versions, so now I have 4 jars of chocolate spread...!!).
Short parenthesis: Lady's Kisses can be also made with hazelnuts only or almonds only, or you can add some cocoa powder to the dough and fill them with white chocolate instead. The main ingredients - butter, nuts, flour and sugar - should be used in the same weight amount; I've used less sugar because I like them better less sweet.