Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘raspberries’

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.
.

.
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!
.

.

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.
.

.
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.
.

.

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.
.

 

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.
.

 

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.
.

.
Tom has written about the wines in his own blog, for those who’d like to know more about them.

 

Read Full Post »

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:
.

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

.
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.
.

.
The batter waited while I peeled, cored, quartered, and cut into fairly thick slices an apple and a pear.
.

.
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.
.

.
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.
.

.
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!
.

.
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.

Read Full Post »

Summer is officially here at last! One happy concomitant of that is the increasing abundance of local fruits and vegetables at my Greenmarket. We’d invited a pair of friends to a dinner to celebrate the season, and when I did the shopping for it, a few days ahead, I went way overboard on my purchases: inescapable rapture of the season.

Not everything shown here was for that one meal, but it all looked so good I couldn’t resist. And good it all was, too.

 

Our Italian-themed dinner party began simply, with a few Castelvetrano olives, cheddar cheese sticks (homemade), and cubes of country terrine (not homemade) to go with glasses of aperitif wine in the living room.

 

At the dinner table, we started with that quintessential summer antipasto, prosciutto and melon. It was pushing the season, but I had managed to find a single cantaloupe in the grocery store’s bin that actually smelled like a melon. Its texture was a little too stiff for full ripeness, but the flavor was right.

 

We went on to a primo of risi e bisi, another seasonal classic. This Venetian dish of rice and peas is a close relative of risotto. My version, from Tom’s and my cookbook The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, includes pancetta in addition to the usual onion, parsley, broth, butter, and parmesan cheese. Quite a substantial dish, and just lovely with young, sweet English peas.

 

Our secondo, also from that cookbook, featured a dish we call Summertime Lamb Stew. It’s lamb lightly braised with tomatoes, pancetta, and chopped aromatic vegetables. Normally it uses fresh plum tomatoes, but in June all we get are greenhouse-grown, so we made it with canned San Marzanos. Sautéed early zucchini and spring onions, lightly scented with mint, made fresh, flavorful companions to the lamb.

 

After a cheese course (which I failed to photograph), we finished with a dessert of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries in grappa – a recipe from Tom’s and my first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana – and hazelnut biscotti baked and brought to us by our guest Joan.

This was as light and refreshing as you can imagine – a perfect palate cleanser of a dessert.

 

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the array of bottles that Tom chose from his wine closet to accompany the meal. Here they are at the end of the evening:

They were:

  • 2015 Paumanok (Long Island) Festival Chardonnay as aperitifs
  • 2016 Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Veltliner with the prosciutto and melon
  • 2016 Pra Soave Classico Otto with the risi e bisi
  • 2001 Tor Calvano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with the lamb
  • 2004 Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva with the cheese
  • 2011 Dogliatti Moscato d’Asti with dessert

I hasten to point out that the four of us did not finish all six wines that evening. In fact, we didn’t finish any of them – just enjoyed the pleasure of tasting the differences from one to the next with each course.  They were still fine the next day, as Tom and I feasted on the leftovers.

Read Full Post »

???????????????????????????????I’ve been having fun making recipes from a new book this week: Michele Scicolone’s latest, The Italian Vegetable Cookbook. (Full disclosure: Michele’s a friend, and she gave me the copy.) It’s a handsome book, with lots of mouth-watering photographs of both familiar and novel dishes.

I had quite a time deciding what to try. Here are my first choices.

.

Sausage-Stuffed Zucchini Boats

I’d just bought some early zucchini at my Greenmarket, so I was drawn to this recipe. A small problem was that the recipe calls for carving out halved “medium” zucchini, leaving hulls ½-inch thick. My slender ridged ones – a Costata Romanesco type called Gadzooks – were barely more than an inch thick to begin with. I had to make the walls much thinner and worried that they might collapse in the oven.

???????????????????????????????

I parboiled the hulls and let them drain while I made the stuffing. There’s almost no limit to the number of good things zucchini boats can be filled with. This recipe’s mixture seemed like a very tasty combination – and so it proved to be.

In olive oil I sautéed chopped onion, a crumbled Italian sweet sausage, the zucchini pulp, and a chopped tomato; added a little broth and cooked until the liquid evaporated. Once the mixture had cooled, I stirred in breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano, parsley and beaten egg. Though I was making a careful half recipe’s worth (just two portions), it seemed like a lot of filling for my slender boats to accommodate. Happily, they accepted it all – heaped high.

A sprinkling of more parmigiano and into the oven they went for about 20 minutes. The boats didn’t collapse, the stuffing stayed where it had been put, the flavors blended very well, and we were happy with the balance between the savory stuffing and the tender little zucchini. They made an excellent first course for dinner.

???????????????????????????????

.

Pasta with Spicy Escarole, Tomatoes, and Olives

Another day, another Greenmarket serendipity. I’d bought a big handsome head of escarole, and here was this handy pasta recipe.

???????????????????????????????

It turned out to be an archetypical peasant dish from the south of Italy: totally simple, totally meatless, totally satisfying. You just warm sliced garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper in olive oil; add halved cherry tomatoes, chopped black olives, and chopped blanched escarole; sauté everything briefly; then stir in the cooked pasta, some grated pecorino Romano, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. It sounds like nothing much, but – take my word for this – it’s delicious.

escarole pasta

The escarole absorbed some of every single flavor from the other ingredients and made the whole dish surprisingly rich and tantalizing on the palate, given how humble a concoction it was.

I have to say I took a few small liberties with the recipe. It called for whole wheat fusilli, but I had a lot of ordinary penne rigati in my pantry, so I used that instead. After my garlic had been in the pan for a while, it started to darken too much, so I fished it out instead of leaving it in until the end. (No problem: it had left its mark on the dish, as had the crushed red pepper.) Also, we felt it needed a little salt (the recipe has none at all), and we would have liked a few more cherry tomatoes in the sauce mix, just because they were such tasty little morsels.

As we ate, we felt that countless generations of Italian contadini must have eaten countless bushels of pasta prepared very like this, and we were pleased to be continuing such a fine tradition.

.

Polenta Berry Cake

OK, blueberries and raspberries aren’t exactly vegetables, so why, you may ask, is this recipe in the book?  Well, since berries aren’t animal or mineral, I guess they count as vegetable.

The sweet cake batter, made with only 1 cup of flour and ⅓ cup of cornmeal (there: some actual vegetable) is rich with butter and eggs. The eggs go in whole, which is easier than adding just the yolks and then having to beat the whites and fold them in separately. The finished batter was very thick – also very finger-licking good.

???????????????????????????????

The batter gets spread in a buttered and floured break-away pan, the berries are strewn on top and sprinkled with a little more sugar, and the cake bakes for 45 minutes.

???????????????????????????????

I served the cake to dinner guests, and it was a big hit. The cornmeal had given the crumb a slightly coarse consistency – pleasantly toothsome and not overly sweet. The berries provided just enough moisture and fruit sweetness in each mouthful, and the crunchy edges made a nice contrast for the palate. I foresee that this is going to become a favorite in our household, to be tried with a variety of different fruits as the season progresses.

*

So: Three dishes, three winners. That’s a good introduction to a new cookbook.

Read Full Post »