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I knew it was summer when zucchini appeared in my greenmarket. The first ones I saw, in the first stand I came to, I instantly bought two. Normally I check all the market’s produce before buying anything, but with the first of this season, I couldn’t resist. Outsmarted myself, I did. Because as I moved on through the market, I saw not only more of the common zucchini but also one stand with the vastly superior Costata Romanesco variety. Oh, what to do?! I bought two of them too, of course.

After eating the delicious, small, heirloom zucchini that very evening, I had to think of what to make with their bulbous lesser cousins.

 

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There was no point letting them sit around in the refrigerator, because I could pick up fresh ones any day now. In the past, my usual solution to drive-by zucchini drops from friends’ over-ebullient vegetable patches has been zucchini bread – the sweet, quick-bread type, raised by baking powder and usually including walnuts. I have several good recipes for it, but I thought I’d look for one that would be a little different.

In the Breads volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series I found a very different one: not a quick bread at all but a yeast bread, totally unsweetened and, except for the zucchini, made with nothing but flour, yeast, water, and salt. This was intriguing. What would it be like – a French baguette dotted with the vegetable? I’d give it a try.

I grated both zucchini coarsely on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, stirred two tablespoons of salt into the shreds, and left them in a bowl for half an hour to give up their excess water.

 

They did that, copiously. When I squeezed them fairly dry, they came to two cups’ worth, which would have been exactly what the recipe wanted for a very large cylindrical loaf. In a spirit of caution, I decided to make half a recipe’s worth for this experiment.
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So, into a cup of the grated zucchini I stirred 2½ cups of flour mixed with ¾ teaspoon of instant yeast. It was a dry crumbly mass, not coming together at all. For that I had to knead in “enough tepid water to make a smooth but fairly firm dough.” Half the recipe’s suggested amount of water was ¾ cup, which at first didn’t seem nearly enough, so I gave it more. But as the kneading progressed, the dough softened and got all sticky. I had to add quite a bit more flour to achieve the right texture. I should have trusted my source.

Eventually I had a properly firm dough, which I shaped into a round and set to rise – skeptically wondering if it would ever do so, with all that vegetable material holding it down. But it doubled in bulk very promptly, raising my hopes.
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And when I shaped it into a loaf and left it for a second rise, it behaved very well again.
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Just before baking, for 45 minutes at 425°, I had to brush the bread with olive oil “to prevent the pieces of pieces of zucchini on the surface from burning.” Not that there were very many of them, and they seemed to have shrunk quite a bit in the kneading. The loaf didn’t rise much more in the baking, but it came out with a rich brown crust and a pleasantly loose, airy crumb.
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It was excellent: more subtly flavorful than I’d have thought possible in a dough with no butter or oil, no egg, no milk. How the zucchini accomplished that I can only wonder, because there was only the faintest ghost of its own flavor in the bread – if you thought very hard about it.

We ate that loaf as a dinner bread, as breakfast toast, and for lunch sandwiches. It was delicious in all those roles. I wish I’d used all the grated zucchini to make a whole recipe’s worth, in two loaves like this, one for the freezer. Well, next time for sure!

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P.S.  What I did with the rest of the grated zucchini was make a traditional sweet quick bread, using a recipe given to me long ago by my friend Jennifer. As always, it was very good of its kind too: delicious toasted for breakfast, and a very nice afternoon snack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Parsi Scrambled Eggs

Eggs are wonderfully versatile foods. I’m always amazed to learn of someone who actually doesn’t like eggs. I feel sorry for people who can’t eat them often, or at all, because of the cholesterol in yolks. There are so many good ways to prepare eggs, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner! And I’ve just come upon a new egg recipe that can serve for any of those meals.

It’s Parsi Scrambled Eggs, from Madhur Jaffrey’s fine cookbook Vegetarian India. The Parsis, a relatively small ethnic group in modern India, are Zoroastrians – a very ancient sect. According to Jaffrey, eggs are a prominent feature in the carefully preserved Parsi culture and cuisine. This scrambled egg specialty is called akoori.

The dish cooks very quickly, so all the ingredients need to be set out in readiness.

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First, you saute finely chopped onions in butter for one minute.
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Stir in cumin, turmeric, chopped hot green chile, grated fresh ginger, and chopped cilantro. (I had no fresh cilantro on hand, but from my last batch I’d made some plain cilantro pesto and frozen it in an ice cube tray. One defrosted cube worked perfectly well.)
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After two minutes you add cut-up cherry tomatoes and cook for one more minute. I used a multicolored selection of flavorful grape tomatoes from Mexico.
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Then add the eggs, beaten to a froth with a little milk, salt, and pepper. Stir very gently, inward from the edges, so that they form large, soft curds.
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The eggs need to be eaten immediately, while they’re still warm and moist. Jaffrey says to serve them with bread, toast, or Indian flatbreads. For this evening meal, I used parathas, which I buy frozen from Kalustyan’s international market and Tom toasts for me in a skillet.
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This was a charming little dish. Delicately seasoned and, despite the green chile, not extremely spicy. The blend of ingredients was very pleasant: gently warming, comforting, and quite pretty. Because my eggs were jumbos, I think they might even have liked a little more of all the flavorings. I’ll try that next time.

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Early June brings two important dates for Tom and me, snugged around each side of D-Day. The 5th is my birthday, and the 7th is our wedding anniversary. Last year we celebrated them with a splendid week in Venice; this year, of course, we were confined to home. Accordingly, we indulged ourselves with two elegant dinners for those days.

 

The Birthday Dinner

The main dish at this meal was based on a long-time favorite recipe for casserole-roasted pheasant – Fagiano ai sapori veneziani – from our book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It has done great things for guinea hen, as well as for pheasant, so I thought I’d see what it would do for a chicken. The “Venetian flavors” here are celery, carrot, onion, pancetta, prosciutto, sage, rosemary, and white wine. The savory combination contributed an intriguing hint of wildness to half an excellent free-range chicken.
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Our first course was two little parmesan cheese custards, sformati di parmigiano. It’s a clipped recipe I’ve had for years and keep forgetting about, then happily rediscovering. It’s rich, easy, and good. Essentially just eggs, grated cheese, and heavy cream, baked briefly in a bain marie, unmolded and served with optional tomato sauce on the side. Makes a lovely light appetizer for company, if one could only have company again!
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The Anniversary Dinner

All through May, the season for fresh morel mushrooms, we searched markets for them, with no success. At last we acquired a single batch of big, beautiful ones.
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After cooking them all and eating half immediately, we froze the rest to save for this celebratory first course: feuilletés aux morilles à la crème. The puff pastry dough was not homemade, but I did cut and shape it into bouchée cases, which became crisp, buttery, flaky containers for the morels.
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Our main course – extravagant, elegant, and utterly simple – was one big, rare, rib of beef, cooked in an open pan on top of the stove in a way that makes it taste like a classic standing rib roast. I’ve written here about this recipe from Roger Vergé’s Cuisine of the South of France. We chose it for this evening specifically to partner with a very special bottle of red wine, which it did to perfection. (See below.) This is a fabulous preparation for the very best beef.
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The Dessert

I saw a luscious-looking raspberry ricotta cake on someone else’s blog and fell in love with it. Google found the recipe for me on the Bon Appétit website, and I made the cake to serve for both our festive dinners. The 1½ cups of fresh ricotta that went into the rich, sweet batter produced a cake as light and cushiony as a cloud. In the mix I substituted fresh raspberries for frozen, which wasn’t entirely wise: fewer fresh berries fill a measuring cup than frozen ones. Fortunately, I had extra berries to serve alongside, with big dollops of whipped crème fraiche. Heavenly! The cake held up perfectly for the second dinner, as well.
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And to Drink . . .

Both days, we started with glasses of Champagne, of course. For my birthday, even though the food was Italianate, it went beautifully with a French wine: a 1990 Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin. The anniversary meal, as I mentioned above, was chosen deliberately to match a wine: one long-cherished bottle of the extraordinary 2006 Ridge California Montebello, which we’d been waiting for just the right special occasion to drink. And, for digestifs both days, snifters of a fine Spanish brandy called 1866.
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Tom has written about the wines in his own blog, for those who’d like to know more about them.

 

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The favorite everyday desserts in our house are cakes with baked-in toppings or additions of fruit. The batter is usually quick and easy to put together – not even any separating of egg yolks and whites. The gentle contrasts of moisture, texture, and flavor are comforting and pleasing without being overly rich or sweet. I’ve written about several desserts of this kind in previous posts, such as these:
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Clockwise from top left: plum cake Cockayne, from Joy of Cooking; peach cake from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen; blueberry grunt, with a sweet biscuit dough; cherry clafoutis, with a sweet pancake dough; 1917 cake, with raisins and applesauce; polenta cake with raspberries and blueberries

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Now I have another one to add to my repertoire: Torta di Bernardone, an apple and pear cake from The Tuscan Cookbook by Wilma Pezzini. This is the third of three excellent recipes from that book that I’ve made recently. (You can find my posts on the first two here and here.)

The recipe is credited to a trattoria run by three sisters in a country town near Pezzini’s home in 1977. Today, according to Google, there’s still a restaurant and inn called Bernardone in that town. I’d love to visit it one day, when transatlantic travel is possible again!

But back to the cake. The recipe expects you to be making the batter by hand, with a wooden spoon. I chose the lazy route – my heavy-duty mixer. It quickly beat together ¾ cup of sugar and a jumbo egg, then incorporated a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, a heavy ¼ cup of kirsch, and just a drop of vanilla extract.
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The batter waited while I peeled, cored, quartered, and cut into fairly thick slices an apple and a pear.
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With the batter spread into a buttered 9-inch cake pan, I arranged apple and pear slices alternately in a pinwheel pattern over the surface – entirely covering it with fruit, as the recipe instructed.
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The cake baked in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes, until the batter had risen around the fruit and the center of the cake tested done. It surprised me a bit to see that, while the apple slices stayed pale, the pear slices had browned. In retrospect, I think it was because the pear was very ripe. They made a nice color contrast, though, giving the recipe a bit more visual appeal than I had expected.
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Really, this little cake is a classic of its kind: a simple, old-fashioned, light, homey dessert. Like similar fruity cakes, it’s good warm or cold, and also lovely for breakfast for the next few days – if it lasts that long!
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According to Pezzini, the apples and pears make this the Bernardone sisters’ winter version of the cake. In summer they do it with peaches or cherries. I look forward to trying it with those fruits too, when they come into season.

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Am I the only devoted home cook in the western world who didn’t know there were such things as savory bread puddings? I’ve long been an enthusiast for dessert bread puddings, though I came late to the appreciation of them. But savory ones? I just made my very first.

Looking in my cookbooks for new recipes to blog about, I was struck by one for Spinach and Roquefort Bread Pudding in Nick Maglieri’s Bread. Beside looking exotic to me, it seemed to be essentially a recipe framework, with many suggestions for variations of both vegetable and cheese – even additions of meat. The cheese part especially interested me because in the refrigerator I had a fair amount of gorgonzola dolce al cucchiaio – the very soft, creamy version of that Italian blue cheese – which needed to be used.

So, after acquiring a package of frozen spinach, I set out to try a scaled-down version of the dish. Half the pack of spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry; slices of my own whole wheat sandwich loaf, cubed; the gorgonzola, milk, an egg, some minced onion, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
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While the bread cubes were toasting briefly in a moderate oven, I sautéed the onion and spinach in the butter.
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Assuming the cheese would be Roquefort, the recipe next said to crumble it into the spinach pan and optionally add heavy cream. My gorgonzola was too soft and moist to be crumbled, but it melted down readily as a stand-in for both Roquefort and cream.

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When the bread cubes were toasted, I put them in a bowl, whisked together the milk, egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and poured it over them. The recipe actually wanted only half the milk mixture to go in at this point, with the rest left to pour onto the pudding in its baking pan. But my bread looked as if it needed more moisture, so I gave it the whole dose.
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Last, I added the spinach-cheese mixture to the bread bowl and blended everything together.
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I transferred the uncooked pudding to a buttered soufflé pan and baked it at 350° for almost an hour, until the center tested done. It was supposed to have browned on top, but mine didn’t. Perhaps it would have if I’d poured the second half of the milk mixture over the top, and it hadn’t fully soaked in, but I wanted the bread to be really soft.

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As you can see, I should’ve used a smaller pan! However, no problem: We ate the pudding for a simple supper, accompanied by sautéed red frying peppers.
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The dish was pleasant enough, though very mild. For our taste it would have been improved by a more assertive cheese or a stronger-tasting vegetable: frozen spinach doesn’t contribute much. The bright acidity of the peppers provided a very welcome contrast of flavor and texture.

But, as noted above, this recipe (which is also available online) can be a framework for the cook’s own creativity, and I may well try it with some variations in the future. There are many combinations that should make satisfying simple meals.

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1917 Applesauce Cake

I’m not much of a cake baker. When I was growing up, any cake my mother made came from a commercial cake mix box, so I never acquired any of the skills. (She was a good pie maker, though, so I did learn that from her.) The few cakes I do make tend to be things like this one, which I wrote about here a few years ago: a very basic batter topped with fresh fruit before baking.

About two years ago, intending to expand my baking repertoire, I bought a copy of Anne Byrn’s American Cake. I couldn’t resist its subtitle: “From colonial gingerbread to classic layer, the stories and recipes behind more than 125 of our best-loved cakes.” Ever since, alas, I’ve mainly used it as a dream book: turning pages to admire the gorgeous big color photographs and reading about cake making history and techniques; but hardly ever venturing to make something from it.

Now I’ve stepped up to the (cake) plate – albeit with one of the book’s simpler recipes. Byrn’s 1917 Applesauce Cake is a model of wartime frugality. It has very little butter, no eggs, and not too much sugar, relying on the natural sweetness of apples and raisins. Nevertheless, it makes a hearty, moist cake with plenty of flavor. Frugality should always taste this good.
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The first step in the instructions was to cream the butter and sugar. Beating a mere two tablespoons of softened butter into a cup of sugar produced something more like a feathery fluff than a cream, but I hoped that would be all right. It was.
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The dry ingredients are two cups of flour and small quantities of salt, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The raisins you see here have been tossed with a little flour, which the recipe footnote informed me keeps them from sinking as the cake bakes. The applesauce, totally unsweetened, I made from two big Winesap apples.
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I was a bit surprised to see baking soda alone as the leavening agent. I make scones, muffins, and quick breads fairly often, and whenever a recipe calls for baking soda rather than baking powder, there’s always buttermilk or yogurt for acidity. I guess the applesauce serves that purpose here.

I let my heavy-duty mixer stir the applesauce into the sugar-butter fluff, then the dry ingredients, last the raisins. The thick batter went into a buttered baking pan.
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The cake was to bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes. Mine took a little longer than that. It came out with a slight depression in the center. That was probably because the test for doneness was whether the top springs back when lightly pressed in the middle, and I had to do that three times, maybe with too much pressure. I usually test baked things with a skewer. No real harm done, though.
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This is the kind of cake I can manage: no layers, no icing, no decoration – just slice and serve. And it was fine: nothing that’s going to revolutionize my life, but just plain good. I want to call it a friendly cake. Not too sweet, not too spicy, nicely moist and gently fruity from the apple and raisin. It loved being served with a topping of crème fraiche, and I’m sure it would like whipped cream too, but it was just as pleasant on its own. It even went well with the white Rioja we’d been drinking with our dinner. You can’t ask for much more than that from an austerity-rations, wartime dessert.
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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.
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2010

Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.

 

2011

Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.

 

2012

Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.

 

2013

Bluefish Gravlax

 

Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.

 

2014

Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.

 

2015

Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.

 

2016

Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.

 

2017

Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.

 

2018

Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.

 

2019

Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.

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So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

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From my grocery shopping experience this Christmas season, I’d say there have been at least a million cartons of panettone on offer in local stores, in a dazzling array of varieties. With that abundance before me, naturally I chose to make one of my own.

I wanted a reasonably simple, traditional version of this festive bread, and I found a recipe for one in Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes. I bake breads often, but very rarely are they this kind of sweet, fruit-dotted loaf. Making this one would be a tiny adventure.
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The first thing to do was to scald milk and, off heat, let butter melt and sugar dissolve in it. Already interesting: I hadn’t ever treated bread ingredients this way before.

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While the mixture cooled a little, I assembled candied citron, candied orange peel, raisins, and the grated zest of a lemon. Let me tell you, chopping candied fruits is a gooey business!
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Then, in the bowl of my heavy-duty mixer, I dissolved yeast in warm water, added the milk-butter-sugar mixture, and beat in two eggs and two extra yolks. That many yolks would certainly make a rich bread.
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The fruits and zest went in next, and finally the flour. Oddly, so it seemed to me, the recipe didn’t say to knead the dough: only beat it for two minutes. From long bread-making habit, I couldn’t resist sneaking in a few minutes of kneading with the machine’s dough hook.

In my bread-making, correcting for dryness or stickiness is often needed as a dough comes together. But this dough behaved beautifully – it quickly became smooth and springy, requiring neither a speck more flour nor a drop more moisture than the recipe’s given amounts.
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The dough was to have its first rise in a buttered bowl, covered by a towel, until doubled in bulk. That took considerably longer than the recipe’s approximation of 1½ hours: actually almost 3 hours. I’d expected something like that, with so rich and dense a dough – and also because it’s always fairly cool in my apartment. I waited with uncharacteristic patience until it was fully risen.
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Then came the choice of baking pan. The recipe called for one nine-inch round springform pan, deep enough to create the classic tall panettone shape. I didn’t want a single loaf that big. Unlike commercial panettones, which have additives to maintain freshness, a homemade one that size would surely go stale before we could finish it. I took a small half of the dough for a six-inch round pan and divided the rest over four tiny rectangular pans, whose loaves I could freeze handily for future pleasures.
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For the second rise, in the pans, the dough was again to double in bulk: about an hour, the recipe said. Again, I was called on for uncharacteristic patience; mine took another three hours, and even then I wasn’t sure it had fully doubled. But I proceeded anyway, lest I leave it too long and the dough collapse on itself. Good thing I’d started early in the day!
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I slashed the top of each loaf, hoping the cuts would encourage higher rising in the oven. The recipe said the big loaf would need an hour’s baking at 350°. My small ones tested done in half an hour, and the large one only ten minutes later. Regrettably, they hadn’t risen very much more at all. Nor had the slashes done much to open the tops. But they looked cheerful enough and smelled fine.
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I’d like to blame their sluggish rising on the age of my yeast, which was from the last of a one-pound bag that had been stored in my freezer for many months. But that’s an easy excuse. Somehow, I think it had to have been me. Sigh.

I wrapped and froze the little loaves and left the large one in a cake carrier on the kitchen counter overnight. The next morning, I cut it open to slice and toast for breakfast. It was extremely dense and weighty: not at all like the puffy softness of a store-bought panettone.
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Mirabile dictu! It had exactly the classic panettone flavor and aroma: lightly sweet, fresh, fragrant, and appetizing. Its feel in the mouth was perfectly acceptable; just more countrified in style – definitely homemade tasting. So this little Christmas cooking story has a very happy ending. Merry merry, everyone!

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I hate how this year’s Christmas marketing bling and blitz started a whole week before Thanksgiving. It’s enough to turn anyone into a Grinch. Even now it’s too early for me to put up my usual Christmas decorations. So when we had friends over for a casual dinner the other day, there was nothing Christmas-y on the menu.
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Instead I took the opportunity to make an autumnal dessert recipe I’d been meaning to try: Apple Tart Mapie. “Mapie” was the Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose cookbook La Cuisine de France had a considerable following in the 1960s. I once had a copy of the book and was a fan of her recipe for skate with black butter, but I hadn’t thought about Mapie for decades. Then I found her recipe in the Pies & Pastries volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series.

Two things interested me about it: the apples were diced rather than sliced, and they were covered with custard of a kind I’d never made before. Seemed like a good use for some of the local fall apples I had in a brown bag in my refrigerator’s crisper drawer.

The pastry crust recommended was the book’s standard all-butter pâte brisée. Though the recipe indicated that a half quantity would work for any one-crust pie, it was barely enough to line my shallow 9-inch round tart pan, even needing a little patching.
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To start the filling, I had to melt a stick of butter and keep cooking it over low heat until it turned light brown. While waiting impatiently for that to happen, I cut up two apples.
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The butter took an unconscionably long time to color. My diced apples sat on the counter turning brown while my melted butter didn’t. Finally, I gave up and declared the butter dark enough.
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I poured it into a bowl in which I’d I put 1¼ cups of granulated sugar, stirring it well. The result looked kind of like scrambled eggs.
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Then I beat in four whole extra-large eggs, which thinned the mixture out to a slurry.
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With a final addition of three tablespoons of flour, that was the entire custard mix: no milk or cream of any kind. Can you really call that a custard? I don’t know. What I did know was that the apples alone had pretty much filled my pastry shell. Was all that dense liquid going to fit in as well? I was beginning to lose faith in this recipe.
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Fortunately, it did all fit – just!

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When I put the tart into a 400° oven, I set a sheet pan on the shelf underneath, to catch what I was sure would be an overflow as the custard swelled up. Surprise! It wasn’t needed: The custard pushed the apples up to the surface, making itself into a soft, even base layer. With a sprinkling of powdered sugar, it made quite a nice looking tart..
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A tasty one too. The custard was a little overly sweet for my taste, but everyone else said it was a fine dessert. Now I think I can finally let go of autumn and start getting ready for Christmas.

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Tom and I are just back from a week’s cruise on Portugal’s Douro river. We traveled upriver from Porto, on the Atlantic coast, about halfway to the Spanish border and back. The scenery was picturesque: vineyards, forests, vineyards, olive groves, vineyards, villages, and yet more vineyards. Above all, the Douro valley is Port wine country, but it also makes an abundance of red and white table wines.

Our ship, the Infante Don Henrique, carried 86 passengers from 8 countries, of which only we were from the USA. This was our third river cruise with the Croisieurope line. (See the others here and here.) It serves only one menu for each meal: three or four courses, at both lunch and dinner. Happily, this cruise included many Portuguese specialties, peppered among the line’s good standard hotel-style fare.

The wines – both simple ones poured generously for free and an array of better bottles to buy at modest prices – were almost all Portuguese. Accordingly, we ate and drank very interestingly (not to say excessively) throughout the trip. Here are some of the dishes we particularly liked..

Appetizers

The Portuguese influence on the ship’s cuisine was most prominent among the first courses. Here were cured ham from the prized Iberico black pig; sweet, tender melon from the Azores; a flavorful ricotta-like cheese on toasted whole-grain bread; a locally traditional meat-filled puff pastry tart; three kinds of luscious spicy sausages – chouriço, linguiça, and morcela; and a taste of the nation’s excellent olive-oil preserved sardines.
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Presunto ham and Portuguese melon

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Requeijao cheese tartine

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Pastel de Chaves

 

Grilled sausages, sardine toast

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Main Courses

For the principal lunch and dinner dishes, our chef turned mostly to international hotel-style preparations: everything meticulously designed on the plates and perfectly good, if not very exciting. There was one exception to that pattern, which I’m saving for last..
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Filet of sole with spiny lobster

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Chicken breast stuffed with linguiça

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Braised lamb

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Duck leg with fig and port wine sauce

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The Pièce de Résistance: Bacalhau com Nata
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This big dish of salt cod with cream sauce was presented to our five-person dinner table. My heart sank when I saw it. I knew that salt cod – baccalà – was practically the Portuguese national food, but I’d disliked every version of it that I’d ever tasted, in Europe or America. Nevertheless, I had to try it. Wow! It was terrific. Absolutely delicious.

The cod tasted like fresh fish. It was mingled with potatoes and swathed in a rich bechamel, probably seasoned with onions and wine. It went beautifully with the salad of baby greens and black olives. One of the first things I did when I got home was look up recipes for this dish. There are many online, and I’m going to try one very soon. Only, I’ll make it with fresh cod, not baccalà. That can’t hurt, surely? I’ll let you know.

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Before the cruise, we’d spent two days in Lisbon, where we also ate interestingly and very well. My next week’s post will be about that gastronomical adventure. Tom will also be doing a post on his blog about at least some of the wines we drank on the cruise and in Lisbon.

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