Cooking classes

Summer fruit: apricot and noyeaux tarts

An ode to wasting no part of a fruit

Waste not, crave not. Particularly true when it comes to apricots, which, inside their stone, hide a sweetly bitter little nut born to make all foods more interesting. My grandfather would crack the stone and pass the armelline-their italian name-onto our eagerly waiting hands. My mother would gather the uncracked stones from our plates all season long, so she could use them to flavor jams, liquors, cookies, tarts.

To stave off the craving this year, I have been scattering them on my apricot tarts.


Crostata di albicocche e mandorle

Almonds and apricots tart

for a 10 to 12” tart pan

270 grams flour

100 grams sugar

135 grams butter

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

grated zest of a lemon or orange

8 ounces almond paste in 1 piece

2 pounds apricots

1 tablespoon sugar

To make the crust, place the first 6 ingredients in the mixer bowl. Using a paddle attachment, work on medium high speed.

As the butter and yolks are broken into the dry ingredients, the mixture will turn into a thick powder.

The powder will quickly turn to crumbs and appear more yellow and less whitish.

As the crumbs get bigger and the powdery appearance disappears, increase the paddling to the highest speed.

The crumbs will get bigger and bigger and the noise the paddle makes while stirring will change from continuous to slightly intermittent, as if the dough is resisting it.

When the dough is clustered in big clumps, it is ready. Empty it on a piece of plastic wrap and quickly press the clumps of dough together with the tip of your fingers.

Press to form a fat disk with the palm of your hands. Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor pulse until the crumbles start coming together as described and proceed as above.

Roll the almond paste in between 2 sheets of parchment paper to as thin a layer as you can, ideally about 1/2 the thickness of the crust. Set aside in a cool place.

Roll the pasta frolla to 1/8” thick. Drape it over the tart pan. Press it down to adhere to the bottom and cut the excess crust leaving about 1/4". Prick the bottom.

Peel one layer of parchment paper off the almond paste and lay the paste over the tart pan and carefully line the pasta frolla with it making sure it adheres well all over the bottom. Place in the freezer.

Wash, dry and quarter the apricots. Crack the stones and gather the nuts that are inside. Chop them finely and mix them with a tablespoon of sugar.

Turn the oven on to pre-heat to 350˚F.

Arrange the apricot segments in concentric circles over the tart crust, alternating 1 skin side up and 1 skin side down. Sprinkle the noyeaux and sugar over the apricots

Place on a sheet pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust edges are golden and the apricots are a little shriveled but still delightfully pointy and looking up to the sky.

Let cool before serving.

Cooking in Italy: pasta for a jet lagged crowd

Pasta al tonno e pistacchi fredda

Pasta al tonno e pistacchi fredda

In the enchanting Panarea until the end of the month, and whenever I am in this part of the world, certain flavors inevitably beckon and inspire. This one of those pastas about which I so love to teach, the kind in a sauce that will be ready in the time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook, in other words, a perfect still-jet-lagged-but-starving solution.

And because you don't have to eat it scalding hot and it doesn't suffer from waiting a bit, it is wonderfully suited for the comings and goings of the varying circadian rhythms of a large group of people.

Lastly, should you jonesey for it in the winter, you can still make it with a few good canned Sanmarzano tomatoes.

Enjoy.

Definitely a room with a view

Definitely a room with a view


Pasta con pomodorini, tonno e pistacchi

Pasta with cherry tomatoes, tuna and pistachios

 

for 6 people

1/4 cup capers packed in salt

1/4 cup green Sicilian olives

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 cup fresh mint to taste

2 garlic cloves

24 ripe and sweet cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 can tuna in olive oil pepper to taste

salt to taste

1 box short pasta of your choice (calamarata is in the photo)

 

Put a pot of water to boil. The pot should easily contain all the pasta and leave space for it to grow in size as it is cooking. The water should be salted enough to remind you of sea water.

Rinse the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water to finish expunging the salt.

Rinse the olives, crack them to eliminate the stone and chop them roughly.

Chop the pistachios.

Reserve 3 or 4 of the prettiest mint leaves for garnishing. Stack the rest, roll them and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Pour the pasta in the boiling water and give it a stir.

In a 12" sauté pan gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the garlic clove, half the mint and the oregano.

Drain the tuna off its packing oil and crumble it with a fork.

When the olive oil runs quickly and shimmers and you can smell the garlic fragrance, remove and discard the clove.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the tuna. Sauté for about 2 minutes.

Drain the capers.

Add the tomatoes, capers and olives to the tuna and keep sautéing over a lively flame until the tomatoes are wrinkly and tender and there is a bit of a sauce in the bottom of the pan, it should take 5 to 6 minutes.

Using a handheld strainer, fish the pasta out of the water and transfer it to sauté pan. Add about half a cup of pasta cooking water and continue cooking the pasta, until it has reached your desired doneness-this might require the addition of a bit more pasta water.

Finish with olive oil and adjust salt and pepper. Toss in the pistachios and the leftover sliced.

Garnish with the mint leaves and bring to the table.

NOTE:

This sauce has some rather flavorful ingredients so I suggest adjusting salt and pepper at the very end, when it is all done. If you want a little kick, you can swap black pepper for red. Lastly, keep in mind that the timing of this is calibrated on a pasta that takes 10 to 12 minutes to cook, you will need to adjust the timing to the type of pasta you choose.

Classic Italian: Chicken Cacciatore

When I sent Nancy DeStefanis an email confirming that she was signed up for the Pomodori!~Tomatoes in the Italian Kitchen workshop at the Italian Consulate she asked that I include chicken cacciatore in the line up. If you know Nancy, you also know that she's a larger than life local hero, committed to the welfare of great blue herons and underserved youth and that she's not one to whom one can say no.

"Alla cacciatora" means hunters' style in Italian, and therein lies the problem: there are about as manyversion of this dish as there are hunters in Italy. I narrowed it down to one with tomatoes, given the class's subject matter and Nancy also said her mom's had mushrooms and I so happened to have a jar of dried porcini sent straight from Umbria by a friend.

May I present then, my version of chicken cacciatore. Enjoy!

By the way, if you are free this Saturday, Nancy is leading a heron's nesting watch in Golden Gate Park.

 


Pollo in umido alla cacciatora

Chicken braised with tomatoes and mushrooms

for 4 people

1/4 cup dry mushrooms (ideally porcini)

1 smallish chicken cut in 8 pieces (about 3 pounds, or you can also use thighs)

salt to taste

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 medium yellow onion

2 slices pancetta

2 very ripe large tomatoes

olive oil

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dry red wine

pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in hot water.

Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and leave on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, chop the carrot, celery and onion finely.

Mince the pancetta into a paste.

Score the tomatoes and immerse them in boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Fish them out of the pot and run them under cold water. Peel them, remove the seeds and chop them into a rough dice.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the carrot celery and onion with the bay leaves and a generous pinch of salt.

Soften over medium lively heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Transfer the aromatics to a dish and set aside.

Add the pancetta to the same pan and let render for 2 to 3 minutes.

Brown the chicken pieces in the pancetta in one layer. Do this in batches if needed.

Return all the chicken to the sauté pan and deglaze with the wine.

Once you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, return the carrot, celery and onions to the chicken.

Drain the mushrooms and squeeze the excess water, add them to the sauté pan.

Save the liquid in which the mushrooms have soaked and filter to eliminate dirt, if necessary.

Sauté everything for another 5 minutes. Add the diced tomato pulp.

Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to a low simmer.

Cover and braise gently for about 30 to 35 minutes, occasionally checking for water.

If necessary, add small amounts of liquid. The water in which the mushrooms have soaked is perfect for this.

When the chicken is tender but still compact and not falling off the bone, arrange attractively on a platter and cover to keep warm.

Adjust salt and pepper in the sauce and stir over the heat for a few minutes.

Pour all over the chicken and serve immediately.

Summer cooking: Insalata di Riso Cold rice salad

Summer is here and with it the shroud of fog over anywhere near water in perfect-not-so-sunny San Francisco. But I live in the Mission and so I enjoy a micro-climate that makes me hunger for the dishes my mother packed for our daylong summer picnics. Speaking of picnics, there surely will be one on this stunning beach featuring this very recipe during the week long stay I am hosting at my family summer home in Maremma this September. Here are details on the culinary and cultural adventure and details on how to sign up.

In case you can't make join me on the perfect coasts of Maremma, below is the recipe for my mother's killer insalata di riso.


Insalata di riso al tonno

Cold rice salad with tuna

for 6 people

2 small red bell peppers

1.5 cups rice

1 yellow zucchini

1 green zucchini

1/2 pound string beans

1/4 cup capers

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1 handful basil

1 can tuna in olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

lemon juice

olive oil

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 hard boiled eggs

Place the peppers on a sheet pan and in a 350˚F oven until they start getting tender and are blistered all over.

In the meantime, bring 2 generous pots of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and boil gently until al dente (about 18 minutes).

While the peppers and rice are cooking, cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and slice them in thin half wheels.

Top and tail the green beans and snap each bean in thirds.

Run the capers under hot water to eliminate the excess salt, then soak in cold water while you are finishing the rest of the preparation steps.

Rinse the olives from the brine and soak them in cold water.

Stack the basil leaves and roll longitudinally. Slice in very thin ribbons.

Drain the tuna from the oil and smash it with a fork. Place it in abowl with the ribboned basil.

Drop the zucchini and beans in the other boiling water and blanch just until they start to yield.

Drain and run under cold water to stop from cooking further and keep a bright color. Pat dry and add to the bowl with the tuna and basil.

Test the rice to see if it is ready, if so drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking and eliminate the starch. Shake the colander to eliminate excess water and transfer the rice to the bowl.

Remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a paper bag. Seal and set aside.

Drain and squeeze the capers then add them to the bowl.

Open the bag, the skin should come off the peppers rather easily. Eliminate skin and seeds. Then cut the peppers in short strips and add to the bowl.

Toss the ingredients that are in the bowl and taste for salt, adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Sprinkle some lemon juice and toss again. Lastly dress generously with olive oil and toss.

Test and balance lemon, salt and pepper. Place in a serving bowl and create a mound that is higher in the center and slides down on the sides.

Cut the olives in half and each egg in eight wedges.

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the salad mounds and arrange the olive halves and egg slices in decorative chain patterns.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NOTES:

  • I use a risotto rice for this salad (Arborio or Vialone Nano or Carnaroli) but any white rice will do as long as you leave it al dente and stop the cooking with cold water
  • You can also customize the salad with other vegetables: I have made it with some carrots, halved cherry tomatoes, shelling peas and sugar snaps, or even with herbs: mint or basil work well with this
  • I list red peppers to balance color but you can use yellow as well

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 1: Timballo di pasta

Holiday cheer is uncharacteristically late in our household this year. Decorations just appeared this morning and the tree is yet to be trimmed-or purchased, for that matters. I figured I can at least be timely with gifting. My gift to all of you, the marvelous audience who has supported me from the inception of my teaching career and still cheers me every step of the way, will be a recipes every day between here and Christmas to give an Italian flair to the table of your winter holidays.

From the rapid and simple to the lengthy and laborious, these dishes are born from the marriage of traditions and creativity always at work in my Italian kitchen in California and they are the flavors without which the joy of Christmas just does not taste as it should.

Let's start the journey with timballo di pasta alla napoletana, an elaborate pie filled with egg pasta in a richly flavored ragout. It was part of last Sunday night's program at 18 Reasons and I posted a picture of it on instagram. I got so many requests for the recipes, it became the inspiration for these series of posts, thus the obvious choice for day 1.

This stunning dish shows up in many different incarnations in Neapolitan cuisine. I chose this version because it houses both animals found in Italian holiday meals: the pig and the chicken. The chicken moves sideways, plucking the last crumbs, making way for the pig that forges ahead, undeterred symbol of renewal and the advent of a new season.

Enjoy and share.

 


Timballo di pasta alla napoletana

Neapolitan style pasta pie

 

for a 9 to 10" spring form

for the shell

400 grams flour

200 grams butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

 

for the filling

1/2 cup dried porcini

1 small onion

1 small carrot

1 small celery stalk

2 mild Italian sausages

1 pound mixed wild mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

lard (or olive oil)

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup marsala

1/2 cup chicken livers

1/4” thick ham slice

1.5 quarts whole milk

3 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoon butter

1 pound egg tagliolini (or other egg pasta)

1.5 cups grated parmigiano

 

Make the dough for the shell by mixing the flour, diced butter, 2 eggs, salt and sugar. Work quickly. Divide it into 1/3 and 2/3 giving each piece a thick disc shape and let rest for about an hour wrapped in the fridge.

Soak the porcini in boiling water. Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Take the sausages out of the casing and crumble it with a fork. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly. Strain the porcini and set the soaking water aside. Chop them roughly.

In a sautèe pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of lard. Add the onion, carrot and celery with the cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Soften them until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the sausages and mushrooms. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes over lively heat, stirring them often to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the sausages and mushrooms are cooking, chop the pistachios finely and add half of them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Deglaze everything with half the marsala and when the alcohol no longer smells acrid, adjust salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl and set aside

Wash the chicken livers well with water and vinegar, rinse them and dry them carefully with paper towels. Generously season them with salt and pepper. In a skillet over lively heat, brown them in 3 tablespoons of very hot lard.

Deglaze with the remaining marsala. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the livers are fairly firm to the touch and slightly pink inside. If they seem too dry during the cooking process, add small amounts of hot water to moisten. Chop them roughly and add them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Dice the ham quite finely and add it to the chicken livers, sausages and mushrooms. Set everything aside.

To make the béchamel, start by heating the milk.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, toast the 3 tablespoons of flour for about 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it continuously.

Still whisking, add the 3 tablespoons of butter in it and cook for about 5 minutes into a golden and fragrant roux.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk, pouring it into a thin stream. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce starts thickening. It will come to a boil and then shrink back as it thickens.

Cook for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, never letting up on the whisking. Now taste it: you should not detect flour, if you do, cook the sauce a little longer. Adjust salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Line the bottom of the spring form pan with a circle of parchment paper of the same diameter as the pan. Brush the sides of the pan with butter and dust them with flour. Move around to ensure they are well coated in flour then shake off the excess.

Roll out the two discs of dough to about 1/4”. Use the largest one to line the pan. Place the smallest on a plate and put them both back in the refrigerator.

Cook the pasta VERY al dente in salted boiling water, about 3 to 4 minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

Drain loosely and transfer to a bowl. Dress with the meat sauce, 2/3 of the béchamel and half the grated parmigiano. Toss well and pour into the spring form pan. Cover with the smaller disc.

Seal and crimp all along the edges of the pie. Whisk the remaining egg with 3 tablespoons of cold water and use it to brush the top of the pie. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 350˚F preheated oven.

Let stand for 10 minutes before springing it out of the form. Serve while still piping hot with the extra béchamel, grated parmigiano and pistachios on the side.

My week in Italian politics

Foto ricevimento marino
Foto ricevimento marino

If you follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook (and if you don't, you should!), you know that last week our beloved consul general Mauro Battocchi picked me among the Bay Area's bevy of Italian kitchen talent to cook for Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome.

Mayor Marino addressed an audience of 50 citizens of the world on the need to help preserve the archaeological architectural heritage of Rome as I wiled away in the kitchen, doing my best to show that anyone's commitment to the culture of Italy also means we will all eat much better.

My trend of recognition continued yesterday, when my close friend Valentina Imbeni, director of La Scuola Italian International School asked that I feed breakfast/mid-morning snacks to a roomful of 20-30 people gathering for a private meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Brekafast Renzi
Brekafast Renzi

Mr. Renzi made his dedication of La Scuola's new Kindergarten through 8th grade campus his only official appearance in SF, a moving moment for a group of parents to which I belong who have fought long and hard to establish this amazing place. La Scuola started as an informal playgroup and is now on the way to become one of the best language immersion schools in the Bay Area.

The greatest pleasure of the morning was spending time with Agnese Renzi, a witty and beautiful woman, full of questions on the Scuola, the vital community it gathers and the lives of Italians in San Francisco. Most importantly, she and I were the only ones wearing ivory in a sea of black dresses and suits AND she loved my ricotta tart with figs and pears.

Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola
Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola

I leave you today with the two recipes that were most appreciated during the 2 events, an antipasto and a dessert.

Should you wish to eat just like an Italian politician, I will include many recipes from the 2 events in the context of my monthly cooking workshop at the Consulate, reprising next Wednesday. The classes are held the first Wednesday of each month and you can refer to my calendar for instructions on registering, there are some spots still open.

Acciuga fritta
Acciuga fritta

Acciughe croccanti del Sindaco

Mayoral crispy anchovies

for 8 to 10 people

1/2 pound fresh anchovies

2 eggs

bread crumbs

oil for deep frying

salt to taste

 

Rinse the anchovies and pat them dry.

Slit along the underbelly and lay flat. Carefully remove the spine and head leaving the tail attached.

Beat the eggs well and salt lightly.

Fill a frying pan with the oil about 3/4 up the sides. Heat the oil to 320˚F (use a candy thermometer to measure).

Grab and anchovy by its tail and dunk in the eggs, ensure it is all covered. Dredge it through the breadcrumbs to coat all over in a light layer. Repeat until all the fish are coated.

Fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and cooling the oil. The oil should bubble and hiss quickly around each anchovy as it goes into the oil. When the first side is golden-about 2 minutes- turn over with tongs to finish the other side.

Transfer to paper towels to let the oil drain drain.

Repeat until all the anchovies are fried and transfer them to a shallow bowl. Salt lightly and toss by shaking the bowl.

Serve immediately.

 


Crostata ministeriale di ricotta con fichi e pere

Ministerial ricotta, figs and pears tart

 

for a 9 to 10” tart pan:

Crust:

2 cups (270 grams) flour

½ cup (115 grams) sugar

½ cup (135 grams) butter

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

grated zest of a lemon

Filling:

2/3 pound fresh ricotta

1/2 cup sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

2 eggs

1 tablespoon rum or brandy

4 slightly under ripe figs

2 small pears

 

Prepare the pasta frolla: place all ingredients in the mixer with a paddle attachment, work on medium to high speed until they start coming together.

Empty on top of a piece of plastic wrap and press together with the tip of your fingers, then form a flat round ball with the palm of your hands.

Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients start coming together, and then proceed as above.

Push the ricotta through a sieve into a bowl and add the sugar and zest. Whisk together to dissolve the sugar and smooth.

Separate the eggs. Stir in the yolks and liquor into the ricotta mixture. Leave the whites at room temperature.

Roll the pasta frolla to about 1/4" and line the tart mold with it. Cut off excess crust and keep it to make cookies. Prick the bottom and return to the refrigerator.

Eliminate the stem from the figs with a pair of scissors, leaving the skin on. Cut in 8 sections.

Core and quarter the pears, cut each section into 4 slices. You will have an equal number of fig and pear slices.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold into the ricotta then pour the mixture into the tart shell just above the half way point.

Make rows or concentric circles with the fruit slices, alternating them and gently laying them on the top, without pushing into the ricotta.

Bake at 350˚F for about 1 hour, keeping the mold closer to the bottom of the oven. The edges with be a dark blond. The fruit slices will look slight withered and will have partially drowned in the filling.

Let cool before serving.

Cooking in Italy: Chocolate on my sandals

  Sandali al cioccolatoI adore these sandals, chosen by my child among several pairs he had me model during a shoe shopping session he deemed the most Mamma/Ernesto fun  we had this year. They have style, comfort. They sexily showcase my ankles-sexy ankles being a critical criterion of beauty for Italians.

And since last week they are further adorned by a permanent chocolate stain acquired at the splendid Scuola del Cioccolato Perugina in my hometown of Perugia, where I spent 2 days under the tutelage of Maestro Massimiliano Guidubaldi.

You might remember last summer's post about my incipient collaboration with Perugina Chocolate. As those buds continue to blossom, Baci and other Perugina products have inspired me to create, share, teach and immerse myself in the story of quality that is Perugina.

 

Baci making con Marina

 

Rediscovering and elaborating this part of my heritage has been a path of much joy: from creating delectable Baci based desserts, to watching the faces of children making Baci from scratch, to telling the tale of a family where so many thought out of the box and from which I am proud to descend.

 

 

 

Alcohol:Chocolate pairing

 

Massimiliano and I tempered, molded, dipped. We improvised, we taught and, as in what has by now become a yearly tradition, imbibed remarkable amounts of espresso and alcohol, including a 10am session on how to properly pair chocolate with alcohol that started with the playful match of a glass of Sagrantino Passito VS a bar of Luisa Dark 51%  and ended with reserve rum whipping the snap of a 70% Nero Sfoglia into perfect shape.

Chocolate fun in Perugia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernesto e cartigli

 

 

The 2-day chocolate marathon ended with a 4-hand bilingual class delivered to a group of 10 which included my sister Silvia and my little Ernesto, who beamed at his creations and stated: "Mamma, it's just in our genes". Well, if the stain on my sandals is any indication, then Ernesto might be right: this is something I just can't seem to scratch off.

 

 

 

I will be teaching classes modeled on my experience at Scuola del Cioccolato throughout the year-including Baci making from scratch, of course-and will integrate more chocolate work and Baci desserts from my growing collection in the Italian cooking workshops I hold at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco on the first Wednesday of each month from September to June, from 1 to 5pm. Click here for my calendar of events. As always, the teachings are for home cooks, who, as I have been learning through my work at the Scuola, can achieve professional grade results while working chocolate at home without any particular implement, other than some techniques and a lot of passion.

Until you can join one of my classes, try this creme caramel al gianduja, a creation which found much favor during a reception the Perugina team hosted at Eataly in Chicago in early May and is yet easy enough that my 18 Reasons Mother's Day kids class could make it. By the way, much credit for me managing to perfect this confection goes to the invaluable sounding board that is my friend and accomplished pastry chef Deirdre Davis.

Creme caramel al gianduja Gianduja creme caramel

Gianduja, a type of chocolate Italians call the 4th flavor, is a mix of dark and milk chocolate and hazelnut paste, created in Piedmont in the early 1800's. This sweet is best made the day before, to maximize the advantage of a careful cooling process. However, times can be shortened in a pinch (see note)

for 6 peocreme caramel al giandujaple 1/4 pound sugar 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoon Frangelico 2.5 cups milk 1 vanilla bean 1/2 cup well toasted hazelnuts 10 ounces gianduja chocolate 4 eggs 4 yolks 1/4 tsp salt

Place half the sugar, water and Frangelico in a small sauce pot. Place over medium heat and melt without stirring but often swirling the pot around.

 

The sugar will slowly melt, then start bubbling. At some point, the color will start turning from clear whitish to beige, golden and, eventually, dark brown. When a marked burnt smell can be detected, it is ready.

Pour it on the bottom of a deep circular mold with a hole in the middle. Swirl the mold all around so that the caramel coats the sides and bottom of the mold. Set it aside to cool and harden.

Heat the milk to just before boiling. In the meantime, score the vanilla bean and chop the hazelnuts.

Remove the milk from the heat and drop the vanilla bean and about 1/3 of the hazelnuts in it. Cover the pot and set it aside to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the gianduja in small pieces. Whisk the eggs, yolks and remaining sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved and it is pale yellow and a little fluffy-this can be done in an electric mixer.

Strain the milk and pour it over the cut gianduja. Whisk until it is smooth then gently pour it into the eggs and sugar mixture. Stir the mixture with care until it reaches uniform color and texture.

Strain everything twice through a very fine mesh sieve then pour it into the mold over the solidified caramel.

Heat the oven to 350˚F and set up a water bath with rack on the bottom. Set the mold in the water bath, tent with aluminum foil and bake until set, about 60 to 70 minutes.

Remove the water bath from the oven and leave the mold in until the water has completely cooled.

Remove the mold from the water bath, wrap tightly and hold overnight in the refrigerator to dissolve max amount of caramel.

To unmold, run a paring knife around the edges of the mold, place a round platter on top, turn over, tap all around and gently shake. The creme caramel will slide right off.

Sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts right before serving and enjoy cold.

NOTES:

  • If you are short on time, you can move the mold to an already cool water bath to hasten the cooling process. Leave it in for an hour or so then place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to unmold it.
  • The creme caramel will still come out, though it will be a little creamier than expected and the caramel will not be as fully dissolved as it would be in an overnight rest.
  • Lastly, the sieving passage is critical to eliminate the foam after from the mixture. An excessively foamy mixture poured into the mold will shrink down to little and be taken over by the caramel.

Truffles and chocolates

When I asked Ernesto what would he wanted for breakfast Saturday of last week, he answered: "Spaghetti al tartufo, mamma-Spaghetti with truffle, mommie". And yes, he was serious. Tartufi marzolini

The first week in March, both Ernesto's current school, Miraloma Elementary, and his former pre-school, La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, hold their yearly auctions and every year, my truffle guy ships a generous in-kind donation straight from Italy to contribute to the success of the events.

As he's a stickler for quality, Piero Cipriani always puts in a sample for Ernesto and me to test. This year, we were blessed with 300 grams of bianchetti or marzolini, white spring truffles bursting with uncomplicated earthy flavors that I find best brought out by the subtle addition of anchovies.

By the way, Piero will ship directly from Italy truffles that are dug by cousins of his. Should you be interested, I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

 

On the chocolate front, I have been putting my training at Perugina's Scuola del Cioccolato to good use...

Baci e Cioccolato 1On Valentine's Day, 50 people at San Francisco's Italian Cultural Institute learned how to say "I love you" the Italian way by making and eating Baci Perugina. We all had a blast and went home happily covered in chocolate.

Over the next 2 month, at La Scuola di Eataly in Chicago on Saturday 4/5 and in New York, on Saturday 4/12 and 5/10, during 3 classes on Baci, I will make them, chat about their history, use them as ingredients in two of my original creations, chat about how my family shaped Perugina from a high end confectionery shop in the heart of my hometown into the world wide brand it is today, and share memories of growing up under this delectable legacy.

I have worshiped at the altar of anything associated with Lidia Bastianich since my first risotto at her NYC's legendary Felidia Ristorante in the mid 80's, so I am thrilled beyond what words can express at the thought of teaching at Eataly, a place I consider the ode to all I hold sacred in my chosen field.

Click on my event calendar for details on registering for the Perugina chocolate workshops. I hope to see some of you there and, if you are reading from Chicago or New York, spread the word.

Spaghetti con salsa di tartufi bianchetti Spaghetti with March white truffles (aka: Ernesto's favorite breakfast)Spaghetti ai marzolini

for 6 people: 100 grams March white truffles 5 olive oil packed anchovies fillets 1 to 2 teaspoons green garlic (or 1/2 clove regular garlic) olive oil salt to taste black pepper to taste 1 pound bag of spaghetti 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Clean the truffles as follows: loosen the dirt with a new nail brush. Finish removing the dirt under running water while scrubbing each truffle with the brush. Dry well with a paper towel. Note that this needs to be a very quick operation, the truffles shouldn't be in the water flow for more than a couple of minutes.

Keep the smallest truffle (or a piece of truffle) whole and place the rest in the bowl of a food processor with the anchovies and green garlic.

Adding the olive oil in a stream, grind into a loose paste. Add black pepper to taste, and salt if necessary, though the sauce should be salty enough from the anchovies.

Place the truffle sauce in a warm, shallow serving bowls.

Cook the spaghetti very al dente in boiling, well salted water. If using, chop the pine nuts roughly.

Fish the spaghetti out of the water with tongs and transfer them into the bowl with the truffle sauce and toss well to coat thoroughly with the truffle sauce.

If they appear a little too dry, add a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce.

Shave the reserved truffle on top and serve immediately as it is or dusted with the pine nuts.

NOTE:

  • I find that truffles are best kept well wrapped in a paper towel then placed in an airtight container.
  • Keep the dirt on them until you are ready to use them, it helps preserve them longer.
  • I have eaten well kept truffles up until after 2+ weeks of having received them from Piero and they were still delicious, though they had lost a bit of fragrance and the texture was a little softer.
  • Should you wish to freeze them, clean them as outlined above then wrap them in paper towel and aluminum place them in an airtight container and freeze them.
  • Better to use them frozen, without defrosting.
  • Note that frozen truffles are better used in sauces rather than shaved.

The comfort of anchovies

Occasionally, I have a difficult day. No sizable reason, just a cluster of them large enough to carry an antsy undercurrent of unease. On days like this, I tend to remain hidden in bed through familiar morning rituals, rising only to thieve my computer unseen, so that I can find solace in mainstream entertainment. I opt to shut out the world and ignore responsibilities for a few hours and let the unease work its way out of me, a task better achieved with the aid of a comforting snack. A chocolate bar, cookies or a pint of gelato might seem like the obvious choice, except that comfort tastes savory to me. Savory, salty, silvery, briny and high in calcium at that.

Yes, you guessed it: anchovies are what pulls me out of a funk. In fact, when heaped on butter-slathered toasted bread they can dry my bitterest tears.

I hold little loyalty to any particular food. I favor eats because they suit an impermanent mood or they are of the season, because they assuage fear or they pique curiosity. But cornered on a desert island, a loaf of bread, a slab of butter and a jar of salt packed anchovies are what I would want with me. Well, that and my new iPhone 5S with a solar power charger.

And it's not just that anchovies are delicious as a stand-alone food, they are also a game-changing ingredient to deepen the flavor of any dish. I use them in pasta sauces and roasts, in fillings and  salad dressings. And have you ever eaten them fresh? They are perfect grilled or pan-fried, but their most sublime, crispiest death is met breaded and dropped in scalding hot oil.

From late spring into summer and at times into fall, they slither copiously in the waters of Monterey Bay and often make their way to fish counters around San Francisco.

My latest addiction are green olives stuffed with anchovies and capers by my friend Maria Luisa Manca, a native of Catania who lives in Morgan Hill. Last December, she offered them for sale at the annual Mercatino di Natale-a holiday market offering the crafts of Italian women in the Bay Area held at The Italian American Museum of San Francisco.

And one more thing...look at how good anchovies are for you!

These little pets put me in such a good mood. Here are a few ways I have enjoyed them over the past couple of weeks alone.

Before I leave you with some cooking ideas, please take the time to check my calendar for upcoming 2014 classes and events.

Pizzette di polenta bianca White polenta mini pizzas

I took white polenta leftover from my polenta class at 18 Reasons, shaped it into 6 disks about 3" in diameter and 1" in height, pan-fried them in a bit of olive oil, spread each with half a tablespoon of tomato paste, then laid a slice of fresh mozzarella and 2 olive oil packed anchovy fillets. Right before placing them in 325˚F oven for about 10 minutes I sprinkled my makeshift pizzette with dry Sicilian oregano. They and a salad made for a very happy lunch to which I invited 2 friends and a bottle of prosecco.

shapes and flavors of comfort

 

Pane burro e acciughe Bread, butter and anchovies

Here's the picture of what put me in a good mood. The anchovies I used are from Cetara, a small town on the Amalfi Coast. They came packed in salt. I washed, cleaned and re-packed them in extra virgin olive oil. The butter is Clover organic, unsalted of course. The bread is from a bag of six lovely par-baked ones I buy from Berkeley Bowl and pop in the oven when in need of crusty, steaming bread.

 

 

 

Orecchiette piccanSpigarielloti con spigariello, aglietto fresco e acciughe Spicy orecchiette with spigariello, green garlic and anchovies

Spigariello is a broccoli family curly little leafy green. The tender leaves grow around a small rapini like flower which will keep sprouting after it's cut. Its bitterness is more delicate and subtle than that of other brassicas and the leaves are tender enough to be a salad. If you do not find it, you can substitute it with rapini, broccoli rabe, romanesco, or even with good old broccoli, you will just need to cut them in small pieces and adjust the cooking time to make your green of choice quite tender.

 

 

 

 

for 6 people 3 stalks green garlic salt to taste 5 to 6 anchovy fillets in olive oil 1 pound spigariello 1 pound box orecchiette 1⁄4 cup olive oil 1 pinch red pepper flakes grated pecorino

Clean the green garlic as if they were scallions, by eliminating the root, removing 1 outer layer and eliminating the fibrous green part at the very top. Cut 2 of the garlic stalks  in chunks, add them to a large pot of salted boiling water and let cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mince the remaining green garlic and the anchovies together.

Add the cleaned spigariello to the water and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Using a strainer, fish the garlic and greens out of the water which will be reserved to cook the pasta.

Chop the greens and garlic quite finely and set them aside.

Bring the greens cooking water back to a boil and drop the orecchiette in it.

In the meantime, heat the minced garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil in saute pan over medium heat.

When the garlic is soft and translucent, add the chopped greens and saute for about 5 minutes.

When the orecchiette are still quite toothsome, transfer them to the pan using a strainer or a slotted spoon.

Gradually add small quantities of pasta cooking water, as much as it is necessary to bring to the desired tenderness. Finish with a splash of olive oil and serve immediately with the pecorino on the side.

 

Pecorino di fossa con olive paradisiache di Maria Luisa Cave aged pecorino with Maria Luisa's heavenly olivesPecorino di fossa e olive di Maria Luisa

For this heavenly snack, you will need me to cajole Maria Luisa into making her olives for you. Then I can try to track down another friend, Tiziana owner of Un Po' Pazzo Selections, who has been importing the sheep cheeses of La Parrina, an early adopter of organic and sustainable agriculture in the Maremma region, which happens a stone's throw away from where my family spends the summers about which I wrote back in July and August. Maybe I can convince Tiziana to sell some of this coveted, scarce cave aged sheep cheese. Lastly you will lounge on your couch, listening to your favorite music, nibbling on your pecorino and olive and meditating on how lucky you are to have Italian connections in the Bay Area.

Thanksgiving dessert: pears in crust with Baci and amaretti

Who'd come to my funeral if I died today? How sad would my husband be and for how long? If I really love him, I would want him to be happy without me, no? Does harboring the secret hope that he'll mourn indefinitely make me a less than ideal wife?? OMG, can't I see my marriage is in trouble??? These are but an example of the runaway thoughts that plague the recent and unsettling phenomenon of unscheduled early morning risings. I have stopped fighting them and taken the unexpected extra time to the kitchen, where a solid round of experiential cooking can always be counted on to assuage anxiety.

Here are some of the things I am finding in my early morning cooking forays:

Neil Young sounds awesome through fancy noise-canceling headphones. My friend Shakira's recipe for shrub makes the loft smell amazing. Beans simmering on the stove warm much better than a space heater. I can add one more taste memory to Ernesto's rich baggage if he rises to freshly baked cookies. Pears in crust with Baci and amaretti are a task to put together but worth the effort. My husband does love me or he wouldn't put up with this.

The above mentioned pears, which I put together for my collaboration with Perugina Chocolates and are a perfect dessert for the Thanksgiving table, will be featured in an upcoming class, the first featuring a full Baci desserts docket. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am teaching it at the Bristol Farms Cooking School in Newport Beach on December 14.

If you are not in LA, here is the recipes for those pears.

 

Pere ripiene di Baci e amaretti in crosta Baci and amaretti filled pears wrapped in pastry crust

for each 2 juicy and very ripe small to medium pearsPere ripiene Baci e amaretti 3 Baci 3 amaretti cookies 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur 1/2 tablespoon sugar your favorite pastry crust recipe 1 egg 1/2 Perugina Luisa chocolate bar 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts or almonds

Finely chop the Baci and crumble the amaretti cookies. Mix the 2 together and toss with the Amaretto and sugar.

Peel the pears and cut them in half. Using a mellon baller, carefully scoop out the core to make a small hollow on each half.

Fill the hollows with the chocolates and cookies mixture and recompose each pear by reuniting two halves.

Roll the crust to about 1/2” and carefully wrap each pear with it. If you are inclined to do so, you can make some decorations resembling leaves and a stem.

Beat the egg and brush the pastry crust with it. Carefully place the wrapped pears on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350˚F for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden. Let cool completely before serving.

When ready to serve, melt the Perugina Luisa in a double boiler and finely chop the nuts. Place each pear on a plate, top with the melted chocolate and sprinkle with the nuts. Serve right away before the chocolate hardens.