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Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

As Thanksgiving approached last week, I had to decide on a dessert that would be my contribution to the festive dinner we have every year at the home of friends. What should it be this time? I’m a traditionalist, so my mind turned to pie – a dish that’s both generally popular and easy to transport.

pie-fixes-everything

Apple pie is always nice, but a little ordinary. Mince pie is too heavy after a rich meal. I make a very good pumpkin pie (using butternut squash), from a recipe in Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Pastry, but that’s almost too obvious. Then I remembered a recipe for pumpkin gelatin chiffon pie that I’d tried once from Joy of Cooking. Just the thing – familiar but also slightly unusual, and with a filling lighter than the dense custard of a typical pumpkin pie.

The recipe calls for a fully baked pie shell – kind not specified. With soft, moist fillings I like to use Clayton’s hot-water crust. For this type of pastry, rather than cutting chilled shortening into the flour and then adding ice water, you dissolve butter or lard in boiling water and mix the flour into the resulting cream. You lose the flakiness of a regular short crust, but the crisp shell never gets soggy from the filling, which is particularly useful for a pie that must be refrigerated.

I made the pastry the day before Thanksgiving. Also, that evening I took a pie’s worth of previously baked, strained squash from the freezer and left it to defrost overnight. The next morning I rolled out the crust, baked it, and let it cool.

baked-shell-2

(No, it wasn’t all gray on the left side. My camera was doing some strange things with light.)

For the filling I first soaked a tablespoon of unflavored gelatin in ¼ cup of water and let it hydrate while I stirred ½ cup of milk, ½ cup of sugar, 3 egg yolks, salt, and spices into my squash. Actually, I increased the recipe’s spice mixture. Rombauer calls for ½ teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg. I doubled the cinnamon, went a bit heavy on the nutmeg, and added ½ teaspoon of ginger and a pinch of cloves. The mixture cooked in a double boiler until it thickened, which took only a few minutes.

double-boiler

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Off heat, I stirred in the soaked gelatin and stirred until it dissolved. Poured that mixture into a bowl and put it in the refrigerator to chill. When the gelatin began to set, whipped three egg whites and folded them in. And that was all the “cooking” it needed.

pumpkin-egg-whites

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I filled the pie shell with the light, cushiony curds and put the finished pie into the refrigerator.

It’s only a mile walk from our home to our friends’, so in the cool late afternoon the pie traveled along with us serenely in its plastic carrier. It had another brief stint in the hosts’ refrigerator, while everyone around the table tucked into several courses of an excellent dinner, and then appeared – a perfect (if I do say so myself), spicily rich but palatally light conclusion for the feast.

pumpkin-chiffon-pie

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The tiny portion left over we took home and happily consumed the next day. It tasted just as good. I should make this excellent pie more often (enthusiastic yesses in the background from Beloved Spouse).

last-slice

A pleasant dish I made this week was an adaptation of one of my own recipes in The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. I hadn’t deliberately planned to do it; it came about because I was looking for a way to enliven a pair of artichokes that had spent too much time off the stalk.

artichokes

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My recipe, Artichokes Stuffed with Tuna, Abruzzo-style, makes a hot antipasto, using four-ounce artichokes. Their petals need to be crisp enough to bend back, snap, and peel down, leaving only the tender parts of the flesh, so that with a little further trimming and removal of the chokes, the entire remaining vegetable is edible. Then their centers are filled with a tuna stuffing, and sort of pan-roasted on top of the stove with just a little water.

These rather elderly artichokes were twice that size and their petals far too limp to snap, so I had to treat them differently. I cut off the sharp tips of the petals, pulled off some of the skinny center ones, scraped out the chokes, and left the artichokes to soak in acidulated water for a while.

Then I mixed up the recipe’s stuffing:

tuna-stuffing

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It’s olive oil-packed tuna and some of its oil, chopped anchovy fillets, capers, chopped parsley, and a pressed clove of garlic. That went into the centers of the artichokes, and I snugged them into a lightly oiled heavy-bottomed pot, with half an inch of water at the bottom and a drizzle more of oil over the veg.
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in-the-pot

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The eight small artichokes of my full recipe take 45 minutes to cook, tightly covered. These two needed an hour and 10 minutes, but they behaved well: didn’t stick, didn’t slump, didn’t fry or dry out. When they were tender and I took them out of the pot, there was enough liquid left to boil down to nicely flavored olive oil to pour over them on the serving plates.
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served

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Unlike the small artichokes, which can be eaten neatly with knife and fork, these had to be eaten by pulling off the petals one by one and dabbing on some of the stuffing. That was a pretty messy process – one set of oily fingers for the petals, and one clean hand with a fork. And a paper towel nearby! But they were tasty; the flavors went very well together. The stuffing was especially good when you got down to the artichoke bottom. So, while this is not a version of the dish I would serve to company, it was OK for a casual family meal, and it certainly livened up those somewhat tired artichokes.
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down-to-the-bottom

Readers who are familiar with my blog know that I don’t write only about my successes. If I try a recipe and it doesn’t work, I say so, and go on to consider jaffrey vegetarianwhy it didn’t: Was it my fault or the recipe’s? And what can I learn from the experience? Today’s post is about two such non-successes. Unfortunately, these are recipes from an author I respect and a book of hers with which I’ve previously had very good results: Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India.

It happened that I would be dining alone one recent evening, Beloved Spouse being out for a business dinner, so I could indulge my predilection for chicken. To liven things up a little, I thought I’d accompany my two broiled chicken thighs with a simple Indian vegetable dish and precede them with an Indian appetizer. Here’s how that worked.
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Everyday Carrots and Peas

This recipe looked like an attractive way to spice up humble vegetables. The cooking time seemed extremely brief for carrots, but I wanted to give the recipe a chance. So I defrosted half a cup of good tiny peas, cut a raw carrot into half-inch dice, and proceeded to measure out one-quarter of the indicated seasonings.

The instructions then were to heat olive oil (an approved alternative to ghee) in a frying pan. Sizzle some cumin seeds in the hot oil. Add the peas and carrots, and stir-fry them for 3 minutes. Stir in turmeric, red chile powder, freshly ground coriander, and salt. Lower the heat add a little water, cover the pan and cook “for 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.”

That last bit was the killer, as I feared it would be. After 4 minutes, the pan was dry, the peas were looking worried, and the carrots were still rock-hard. I kept adding small amounts of water, but it took almost 10 more minutes before the carrots were pierceable with a fork. And by then the peas were pretty mushy.
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peas-carrots

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The dish wasn’t a disaster: The peas and carrots were edible, and tasty enough in themselves. But neither vegetable had a proper texture – one still too firm, the other too soft – and the spices were barely discernible. Maybe they’d have been more prominent in a shorter cooking time, but then I would have had raw carrots. Maybe I should have used a very young, tender carrot, instead of the mature one that I had, but the recipe didn’t specify age – and even so, carrots don’t cook fast.

If I ever try this recipe again – and I might, because I do like the concept – I’ll probably parboil the carrots and double the spices.
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Simple Hard-boiled Egg Curry

This experiment was a total failure. Simple the recipe definitely is, and the book’s photo is quite intriguing:

eggs-in-book

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The only spices involved in the preparation are turmeric, red chile powder, salt, and black pepper – not what I’d thought of as enough to consider a curry. But Jaffrey says the dish is “beloved in the Telangana region of Andrha Pradish,” so who was I to cavil?

Once hard-boiled and peeled, the eggs are to have deep longitudinal slits cut in them – presumably to let the spices sink in. Ghee or butter is heated in a small frying pan; the spices are stirred in; then the eggs, which are to be rolled around “for about a minute, or until they are golden.” Serve right away.

Well, here are my eggs after two minutes:

eggs-2-min

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Not as who should say golden, eh? And here they are after 10 minutes of dutiful rolling around:

eggs-10-min

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Pitiful. At that point I thought I’d better take them off the heat before they turned to leather. When I cut them open, none of the color had seeped in through the slits, nor had any of the spice flavors. Just plain HB eggs, with a toughened outer skin. I ate them for my appetizer anyway, but they weren’t worth even the minor effort they took.

I wonder if the color of the eggs in the book’s picture was due to Photoshop. Either that, or there had to be some drastic errors in copyediting or proofreading the recipe. Those could also apply to the timing given for the peas and carrots, as well as the spice quantities indicated in both recipes. Improbable, but what else could it be? There was the possibility that my spices were too old and had lost their power. But that wasn’t it: When checked afterward, they were fully as aromatic as they ought to be.

Leaving aside why these recipes didn’t work, the lesson I need to learn from this experience is to put more faith my own culinary instincts. (Soft cheers in the background from Tom, who has been telling me this forever.) I knew carrots need longer cooking; I’d been surprised by the tiny quantities of spices called for; and I couldn’t see how flavors could permeate eggs in one minute. I should summon the courage to make my own changes in cases like this. As in every other field, just because something is in print doesn’t mean it’s right.

Roland Marandino, who blogs at Cooking from Books, did a post recently on how much neater and easier it is to cook sausages and peppers in the oven than in a sauté pan on top of the stove. That sounded to me like a brilliant idea, and I decided to try it, with a few alterations, for a casual dinner party a few nights ago. It was a great success.

For six people I used six individual pork ribs, six sweet Italian sausages, six hot Italian sausages, two very large chicken legs, two Spanish onions, and seven of the last of this season’s locally grown Bell peppers.
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ingredients

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Beloved Spouse did his usual expert knife work on the peppers and onions, and the rest was a slam-dunk. I oiled my biggest roasting pan, laid in all the meats and vegetables, salting and peppering as I went, and drizzled olive oil over the top.
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oven-ready

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Roland’s recipe, which was for a smaller quantity of food, said to keep the sausages in a single layer and roast at 400° for an hour. As you can see, mine was a deeply filled pan. I gave it an extra 10 minutes and stirred the mixture around a few times during the cooking. When the time was up I cut the chicken into smaller pieces and halved some of the sausages. I’d intended to transfer everything to my very largest platter, but since this was such a casual occasion I just served everyone straight from the roasting pan. No one minded.
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roasted

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I’m happy to say that all the meats and vegetables were fully cooked and very tasty. A nice crusty country loaf complemented the simple meats. Everyone ate well, and with the accompaniment of a magnum of 1997 Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello, the customary good time was had by all. So thank you, Roland, for providing the idea!

In our recent week’s vacation in Rome, Beloved Spouse and I dined only in restaurants we’d known and loved for years. We really had meant to try new places – I had a list – but once we were there, we couldn’t resist our old favorites. In my last post I wrote about our dinners at three of them; now I’ll describe the other three.
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campana-menu

We’ve been dining at La Campana for more than 30 years. It never seems to change, which is a comfort in this very unstable world. The image above is from my copy of its paper menu of July 7, 1979, all handwritten entries, reproduced in lurid purple ink. We’ve always eaten very well there and did again this time. Extravagantly, we both chose fettucine with white truffles for our first course (€50 a portion: about $55).
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white-truffle

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These truffles were much whiter than the ones Tom had a few days previously (a good thing: the paler, the better). Though they weren’t strewn as lavishly over the pasta as in the other dish, their flavor was much more intense, almost intoxicating. Interestingly, I have another of La Campana’s paper menus from fall 1990, which lists fettucine with white truffles for 35,000 lire. That amounted to $28 then, which would be about $50 in today’s dollars, so the price has hardly gone up in all that time.

For our second courses, Tom had petto di vitello arrosto, roasted breast of veal, and I had abbacchio arrosto, baby lamb, both with roasted rosemary potatoes and a light pan gravy. Both were quite simple and quite delicious Roman classics. Baby lamb here really is baby lamb: a tiny, pale-fleshed animal with a lot of gelatin and cartilage where Americans expect bone. And veal here means a milk-fed young animal, not a half-grown steer.
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vitello

abbacchio-campana

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La Campana’s menus now are multi-paged, printed, and encased in leather binders, so I fear I won’t be able to expand my collection any further. But I do cherish the old ones I have.
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sora-lella

Sora Lella is the only restaurant on the tiny Tiber Island, which stands in the middle of the river in Rome. Still family-owned and -run, it offers a large menu of classic Roman dishes, ever-so-slightly lightened. We started with two of the house’s specialty fried antipasti: suppli (rice balls) and polpettini (meat balls).
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polpettini-suppli

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Uncharacteristically for us, we skipped pasta that evening and went on to secondi: trippa alla romana for Tom, pollo alla romana for me. The tripe was of several kinds, not just the honeycomb that’s all we get in the US, well cooked to tenderness in a tomato sauce flavored with celery and cloves and generously topped with pecorino cheese. My chicken was a free-range farm bird, stewed with luscious sweet red peppers and a little tomato.
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trippa

pollo

torta.
With just room for a little dessert, we shared another very typical Roman dish: a slice of ricotta torte with a bottom layer of sour-cherry preserve.

 

 

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ar-galletto-awning

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And now I have to report the one disappointing experience of our Roman dining week: Ar Galletto. We used to love this place when it was known as Da Giovanni ar Galletto, a scruffy, unpretentious, side-street trattoria, cheerful, noisy, and much frequented by locals. A few years ago it moved a short distance to large quarters on the Piazza Farnese, decorated its rooms in chilly Milanese-modern style, extensively upgraded its menu – and sold its soul.

It disappointed us on our last trip to Rome, but we wanted to try it again this time in case it had recovered. It hasn’t. Giovanni’s brusque charm and his devotion to quality have gone forever. The waiters now seem to see their role as jollying international tourists rather than intelligently serving their food or knowing their wine list. The kitchen turns out some good dishes, but also some bad ones, apparently aiming more to impress than to please.

For example, of our pasta courses, ravioli filled with oxtail (coda alla vaccinara) and dressed with the same oxtail sauce was excellent. Short pasta alla gricia (the sauce mainly rendered guanciale and grated pecorino) was thick and gummy, not much improved by the addition of cooked artichoke.
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ravioli-gricia

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And of our main courses, abbacchio arrosto was as it should be, but maialino arrosto was inedible. The pork seemed to have been cooked and sliced in the morning, left out to dry and harden, and then heated up in a microwave.
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abbacchio-galletto

maialino-galletto

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Finally, ordering the wine produced a textbook example of waiterly ineptitude: See Tom’s blog post “Wining in Rome” for the absurd story. So, here’s one name to strike off our list of Roman restaurants to return to. But the contrast in the experience makes us appreciate the other great dining places all the more. Maybe not everything is eternal in the Eternal City, but enough good survives to make us look forward to our next visit.

My trip to Rome earlier this month was, gastronomically, very much of an auld lang syne experience. Beloved Spouse and I dined only at restaurants we’ve known and loved for years, and mostly on dishes that we’ve often eaten there and that are a large part of the reason we love them. Here are what we had on three of the days.

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fortunato-al-pantheon

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Fortunato al Pantheon
is a slightly austere establishment, favored by politicians from the nearby national Parliament. It was a modest trattoria years ago, when we first discovered it, but it has grown in elegance while still retaining its basic honesty.

The moment we walked into the dining room, we smelled truffles. Wow! We hadn’t expected the season to have started yet. We couldn’t resist them, but first we had to have antipasti: a pair of carciofi alla romana and a plate of salume.
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fortunato-1

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Then came the truffles. For Tom, tagliarini topped at tableside with shavings of a single large white truffle; and for me tagliarini already dressed with a sauce of black truffle and porcini mushrooms. By our waiter’s courtesy, I also received the last little bits of Tom’s white truffle.
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tartufi-bianchi

Tagliarini con tartufi bianchi

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tartufi-neri

Tagliarini con tartufi neri e funghi porcini

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These were both stunningly rich dishes, but after them we felt we could manage a little dessert: a dish of fragoline con panna and a small tiramisù.
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fortunato-3

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Walking back to our hotel, we pondered one of the enduring mysteries of Roman dining: How do you get fresh artichokes, wild strawberries, and truffles at the same season?
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checchino

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Another evening found us at Checchino dal 1887. It’s in Testaccio, the epicenter of Rome’s ancient quinto quarto cuisine – i.e., variety meats, or more simply, offal. Testaccio used to be the butcher’s section of the city, and the “fifth quarter” of the animal was what the poor got, after the best cuts went to the aristocracy, the clergy, the bourgeoisie, and the military. Dishes made from those innards, though not for today’s faint-hearted eater, are central to Rome’s traditional cuisine.

Here, Tom always starts with the same pasta dish: rigatoni con pajata. Pajata is the small intestine of milk-fed lamb, still filled with partially digested milk. Tied into little sausages and cooked in tomato sauce, it’s delicious beyond what you would expect. That evening I chose an equally traditional, though meatless, first course: pasta e ceci (chickpeas).
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checchino-1-1

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I made up for that reticence with my second course, padellotto alla macellara. This “butcher’s platter” was a sauté of pajata, liver, sweetbreads, and testicolo. (Yes, testicle). Not your everyday plate of protein. Tom had a bollito misto – mixed boiled meats – including on this occasion beef, calf’s tongue, and a small pig’s foot.
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padelotto.
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I must admit, we couldn’t finish either of these ample plates.
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zi-umberto

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Osteria da Zi’ Umberto
is a small, lively, bustling, casual eating place in Trastevere. Though not strong on atmosphere and looking a little run-down, it turns out very good, mostly rustic food at relatively modest prices. After starting with a few fiori fritti (batter-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies), we had first courses of pappardelle with wild boar sauce and fettuccine with porcini mushrooms.
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2-umberto-pastas

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Then Tom had oxtails – coda alla vaccinara – and I had suckling pig – maialino arrosto con patate. Both were beautifully prepared.
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coda

 

maialino-arrosto.

At all these meals we drank wine, of course – mostly wines of Rome’s Lazio region, which aren’t commonly available in New York – and ended with espressos and grappa. Many interesting kinds of grappa. Tom has written a post about the wines for his blog, which you can see here.

Our remaining three dinners in Rome are described in my next post.

Beloved Spouse and I will be in Rome next week. It’s just a short trip, to revisit the places we love in that city. Many of those places will be restaurants, because minchillidining is one of the things we most love about Rome. But in addition to our long-time favorites, we try to make some new discoveries each time we go there. Toward that end, I recently bought a copy of Elizabeth Minchilli’s book Eating Rome. Subtitled “Living the Good Life in the Eternal City,” it isn’t exactly a cookbook – more a culinary guide to Rome’s eating customs and eating places – but it does include many recipes.

I tried one of the very first ones in the book: Amor Polenta, which the author calls her favorite breakfast cake. The odd name seems to mean Cornmeal Love, and apparently it’s a very traditional bakery item throughout Italy. It’s a sort of cornmeal-flavored pound cake, though in this version, at least, there’s not a preponderance of cornmeal in it.

There are basically only two steps to the recipe. First you beat together softened butter, eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla. Second, you stir in a mixture of all-purpose flour, corn flour, ground almonds, and baking powder. The resulting batter is to be poured into a loaf pan and baked for 40 minutes. The finished cake gets a coating of powdered sugar.

I had some trouble with the recipe, though. It calls for one cup of ground almonds, which Minchilli says equals 170 grams. I weighed my almonds (170 g = 6 oz) before grinding them, and that quantity gave me two cups’ worth of fluffy particles. I decided to use them all, thinking maybe a finer grind would have compressed them into a single cup. That may have been a bad choice, because when I combined all the ingredients, I got something more like a dough than a batter.

dough

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It certainly wouldn’t pour into the pan. And when baked, it made a very dense bread. We first tasted my loaf as a dessert, and it really needed the simple fruit compote (plums, oranges, and bananas) I served alongside to lighten it.

served

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However, over the next few days, the bread turned out to be nice enough when toasted for breakfast. It even seemed to improve as time went on. Nut breads always seem to keep well. Still, I’m a little suspicious of this author, because when I subsequently checked the weight-to-volume conversions she gives for the other dry ingredients (corn flour, all-purpose flour, and sugar), not one of them agreed with the authorities I consulted.

Now, when I get to Rome I’ll have to look for amor polenta in pastry shops, to see if it’s anything like this one that I made.

BTW, since I won’t be at home, there won’t be a new post on this blog for the next two weeks.