italian desserts

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.

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 4: Bellini invernale speziato alle pere

As this audience might have imagined by now, I adore cooking, but it is hard work. I often find that a little sip of something special can mitigate the fatigue. Despite the undaunted efforts of my sommelier friends to counter the tendency, I continue to enjoy light fruity drinks often based on prosecco, a bottle of which is a staple in my refrigerator.

I view prosecco as a blank slate that allows me to raid my pantry of spices, syrups, fruits and even jams...kind of like the crostata of drinks.

This is my latest toastworthy obsession, born during a recent visit to New York, where I sipped a sparkling pear concoction for the better part of a mid-Eastern flair brunch in this lovely restaurant with my darling friend Andrea.

 


 

Bellini invernale speziato alle pere

Spiced pear winter Bellini

for 1 bottle of prosecco

3 pears

1 lemon

1/4 cup+2 tablespoons+2 tablespoons fine sugar

cinnamon to taste

1 Fuyu persimmon

1 small pomegranate

 

While the prosecco is chilling, quarter, core and chunk the pears. Zest and juice the lemon.

Mix the sugar with enough cinnamon to make it agreeable to your taste.

Place the pear chunks, zest, lemon juice and the quarter cup of sugar in the blender jug and add 3 cups of room temperature water.

Start the motor and blend until a fine, runny purè is yielded.

In the meantime, slice half the persimmon paper thin and seed the pomegranate.

Fill the bottom third of a flute with the blended pear and sink in a slice of persimmon and 3 to 4 pomegranate seeds.

Slowly top with prosecco, letting it slide down the side to minimize foam.

Sprinkle the foam left on top with a pinch of the remaining cinnamon sugar.

Raise your glass and sip slowly while slaving away on that timballo di pasta.

NOTES:

  • You can swap cinnamon for a spice with a similar profile, like clove, nutmeg or even ginger
  • If you use pears with a red peel (Crimson or Red Bartlett, for example) your glass will be festively rosy
  • Use a sparkling rosè for an even more intense festive look

Food to make one happy: brownies with Baci

Forgive me for patting myself on the back, but my heartfelt pasta work did get a mention in 7x7 magazine a while back, at the reliable hands of TableHopper Marcia Gagliardi. If you don't know her work, do visit her site, it's strong, happy and robust, all adjectives that coincidentally define the meaning of her Italian last name. Anyway, all pasta aside, we are here today to address my other favorite food topic: chocolate. Do you remember me speaking of a budding synergy with Perugina Chocolates and my visit to their Casa del Cioccolato in Perugia this past summer? Those buds are flowering now, as we get closer to the winter holidays, also known as the time of the year where chocolate becomes a staple in my diet.

These past few months I have re-discovered Perugina Baci, as the bliss inducing candy in a bowl prominently in the middle of my new designer table, as the peace offering I hand my husband after we've uselessly gotten on each other about something neither of us remembers, as the memory of my mother when my own child hands me the bottom half after eating the whole hazelnut off the top. But, most of all, I have come to love Baci as the shining jar in my pantry filled with an ingredient to lift the limits of my baking repertoire to new heights.

I will be incorporating Baci based desserts in my classes and also teach those who want to learn how to produce a home made version of this candy. I will list those classes in my calendar, including the one I am planning for Valentine's Day at the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco. Until then, let me share this OMG version of brownies featuring Baci, which I reworked from a brownie recipe Jodi Liano of SF Cooking School was generous enough to share with me.

Just an alert: if calorie counting is your thing, this is NOT the recipe for you, but if you are into blissful eating with moderation, then this easy to make treats will dance on your taste buds.

Brownies al Bacio Baci browniesBrownies al Bacio I

for a 7x7” square mold: 15 Baci 3/4 cup flour 1 cup cocoa powder pinch of salt 3 sticks butter 3 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract powdered sugar

Unwrap the Baci and finely chop them in a food processor-making sure to read every single love note!

Sift the flour and cocoa together and add the salt.

Cut the butter in tablespoon size pieces and divide it in 2 ceramic bowls. Melt half the butter in the microwave and pour it over the other half. Stir to melt everything. Aim for a creamy looking butter, with a few white specks and at room temperature.

Combine the eggs and sugar and fluff on high in the mixer with a paddle attachment until they are pale yellow and have thickened considerably. Stir in the vanilla.

Change the speed to low and alternately add a bit of melted butter and some flour and cocoa mixture until it is all worked in. It should take about 3 to 4 goes. Mix in the chopped Baci.

Preheat the oven at 350˚F. Line the mold with parchment paper, leaving a bit overhanging so that you can easily extract the brownies.

Bake for 30 minutes and let slightly cool in the pan. Pull out by the edges of the parchment paper and finish cooling on a rack.

When ready to serve, cut in squares and dust with powdered sugar.

NOTES:

  • The brownies will feel barely settled at 30 minutes, but they will be ready, do not be fooled in cooking them longer or they will become too dry.

A summer tart or The importance of being Lewis

I am not always happy, indeed there are times when I feel downright disheartened. But I have always considered myself lucky. Lucky because I live, I cook, I love, I share. Lucky because my mindset and my circumstances have afforded me a life I enjoy. Lewis with tart

And lucky because in 2013 and I got to spend my Friday afternoons cooking with Lewis. You all know Lewis, he is that 13 year old into whom every mother hopes their boy will turn.

Lewis is keen, curious and polite. He's not shy but knows when to say nothing. He is engaged and engaging. He's always properly groomed but not fussy. He washes his hands when appropriate and never leaves anything on his plate. Lewis speaks 2 languages fluently and a 3rd not so shabbily. And, as if that wasn't enough, he loves to cook. He is, in short, a perfectly delightful human being and cooking companion.

I have looked hard for what is wrong with Lewis (as the mother of a 9 year old boy, I know perfection is not an innate trait in children). And though I am sure his mother will beg to differ,  I have yet to identify any flaw with which to fault him.

I am taking off to Italy for the summer this Wednesday, which makes today the last of Lewis I get until September. We are ending it sweetly, with tarts and the fruits of summer.

And by the way, I will be in touch from Italy, so stay tuned.

Crostata frangipane bionda alle albicocche Toasted almond cream and apricot tart

Let me preface that I am a less than artful baker, so this recipe relies not on originality but in putting together the well tried techniques of those whose work I find impeccable.

The pastry crust is an old Italian classic, from Pellegrino Artusi's The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, a 19th century compendium, which is one of my cooking bibles.

I have tried a number of frangipane recipes and the perfect one for my taste remains the one from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts. It is simple, easy and delicious. I do toast the almonds to a dark blond before grinding and use vanilla bean instead of almond extract, but the balance of ingredients is all Martha's. If you can find them, or have the patience to collect them when apricots are in season, you can make this with apricot kernels.

By the way, Lewis and I will be using apricots simply because I have a large bag of them hanging around, but any type of fruit will work for this recipe, so just go with your preference and your fruit bowl.

for a 9 to 10” tart pan:

Crostate frangipane

Crust: 2 cups (270 grams) flour ½ cup (115 grams) sugar ½ cup (135 grams) butter (or, even better, 90 grams butter and 45 grams lard) 4 egg yolks pinch of salt grated zest of a lemon

Filling: 1 cup almonds 10 apricots 1 vanilla bean 1 stick unsalted butter 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 3 tablespoons rum 1 tablespoon flour

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.

To make the filling, blanch the almonds, remove the skin and toast them to a dark blond in one layer. Grind them very finely and let cool. Stone and quarter the apricots. Score the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape off the contents.

Cream the butter and sugar until the are pale and fluffy. Mix in the almonds, egg and vanilla. Then add the rum and lastly work in the flour.

Roll the pastry crust to about 1/4" and line the tart pan. Prick gently. Spread the almond cream in it into an even layer rising a just above half way up the sides of the crust.

Arrange the apricot quarters attractively in rows or concentric circles. Bake at 375˚F for approximately 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center exits slightly wet but clean and clear otherwise.