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Panelle at Case Vecchie

Move over potato chips. There’s a new kid on the block — panelle. Actually panelle aren’t new. They’re a Sicilian street food that you’ll find all around Palermo. But eating them freshly made at home – crispy and crunchy on the outside, and creamy in the center – well, that’s a whole new experience. Stay with me for a recipe at the end of this post.

Making and eating panelle is just one of the wonderful opportunities I had during my week at Case Vecchie, at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, run by Fabrizia Lanza, shown here with her beloved dog, Macchia. Fabrizia, who lived and worked in Bologna in the field of art history, moved back to Sicily to take over the cooking school founded by her late mother, Anna Tasca Lanza. The school offers lots of different programs from food writing to sketching, and even a ten week intensive course called “Cook The Farm.” Click here for more information.

The drive through the countryside approaching the farm – located near the center of the island of Sicily – was a visual delight (albeit a challenge to navigate and drive simultaneously, but fear not, there’s a train that runs nearby). Lush green fields and acre upon acre of vineyards were spread out before me, welcoming me as Springtime in Sicily laid out its thick green carpet.

Arriving at the farm, one is struck not only by the landscape, but also by the beauty of all the doors and woodwork painted in a vivid royal blue.

 

I was led to my room and threw open the shutters to enjoy this glorious view. Oh, what a joy to wake up to this each morning.

I learned so much and have so much to share with you from my week at Case Vecchie, including some of my favorite things:

Sheep (if you’ve read this, you know how much I love sheep) and cheese we ate from the milk of these animals.

Eating freshly made yogurt and preserved amarene cherries for breakfast:

pizza making using a wood-fired brick oven:

Cooking with the freshest vegetables, including wild fennel (finochietto) used in salads and in this frittata:

A visit to Regaliali Winery, adjacent to Case Vecchie and part of the original family holdings, to discover and taste a whole world of Sicilian wines beyond nero d’avola:

I even had time to paint and take a pisolino (nap) now and then — a truly relaxing week.

There’s so much more to tell, that I’ll reveal in subsequent posts, but for now, let’s return to those panelle and let me show you how they’re made. First, you stir the chickpea flour with water. It’s not that different from making polenta. Michael, the chef at the cooking school, and our very personable and knowledgable instructor for the week, led us through the steps. He likes to add fennel seeds, not usually included in panelle recipes, but they were a delicious addition. Incidentally, if you’re a cook and/or teacher looking for a job, Michael’s leaving this summer and the hunt is on for a replacement.

Spread the mixture out thinly and evenly on some plates, then let it sit and cool.

At that point, it will be easy to peel the solidified mixture off the plate. Stack them one on top of the other and slice into triangles.

Then fry them until they pop up and are golden brown.

Drain on paper towels, sprinkle a little salt over the top, and watch them disappear.

Do follow me down the road for future posts about this magical place and the some of the dishes I cooked and ate there, including cavatelli, cannoli, cassata and a most unusual eggplant rolatini. All the ingredients we ate and cooked with (including the almonds, pistachios and citrus fruits) were either grown on the farm or nearby.

And I promise to post more frequently. I’ve had computer glitches since returning. But all those frustrating hours spent with tech support on the phone are forgotten when I look at this serene path leading from Case Vecchie, a never ending source of inspiration.

Panelle from Case Vecchie
 
Author:
Cuisine: Sicilian
 
Ingredients
  • 4 cups (250 grams) chick pea flour
  • 3 cups (750 ml) cold water
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine the flour, water, salt, pepper and fennel seeds in a medium sized pan and whisk until smooth.
  2. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is like a very stiff polenta.
  3. Lower the heat if necessary to keep from burning.
  4. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan.
  5. Working quickly, spread the mixture with a wooden spatula onto plates so that it is about ¼ inch (0,5 mm) thick.
  6. Let sit until cool, 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. when dough is cool, loosen the edges with a knife and peel the "crepes" off the plates and place on a work surface, stacking one on top of the other.
  8. Cut stack into 16 wedges.
  9. In a large frying pan, heat 2 inches (5 cm) of oil until hot.
  10. Place wedges of chick pea mixture into hot oil and fry, flipping occasionally, until golden and crisp, about three minutes.
  11. Dry on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
  12. Continue frying remaining wedges and serve hot.
 

 

 

 

 

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Lake Como Writing Retreat

I don’t know about you, but when April comes each year, I start thinking about spring blossoms, new beginnings and travel. In particular, travel to Italy and the beautiful town of Varenna along Lake Como.

April is also a time for spring cleaning, not just of your closets, but a time to reassess all those projects you’ve been meaning to tackle. Maybe one of them is writing down some of those family stories you talk about across the dinner table; a childhood memory that’s starting to fade; or a funny incident that happened in high school. Our writing retreat, “Italy, In Other Words,” is the perfect place to put pen to paper and memorialize those thoughts for future generations. If you don’t write it down, it may be lost forever. And can you imagine a more inspiring place to write than by the shores of dreamy Lake Como?

You don’t have to be an experienced writer to participate. Of course, we’ve had plenty of guests who’ve been teachers or writers or worked in publishing, but we’ve also had participants who were nurses, stay-at-home moms and even a postal worker. You just have to have a desire to learn and a willingness to collaborate. Kathryn Abajian, a college professor of creative writing, will help you craft your thoughts into expressive prose that you can feel proud of by the end of the week.

But we won’t harness you to a desk all week. Oh no, mornings are for workshopping, but afternoons you’re free to wander on your own, read, write or take part in the short excursions I’ve planned for you. Come with us to the internationally renowned gardens and exquisite rooms of the 13th century Villa Monastero, where Nobel prize-winner Enrico Fermi once lectured in physics.

Join me on a jaunt to the ruins of an 11th century castle, high above the town.

Another afternoon, we’ll take a boat across the lake to Bellagio, where you can shop for silks, leather goods or myriad other items with the “made in Italy” label. Stay for dinner and enjoy a delicious meal with us on a patio  shaded by flowering vines, before heading back to Varenna by boat.

Other afternoons, you may just want to sit at one of the many cafes by the lake, waiting for the muse to strike, while enjoying a gelato or a spritz.

Or just meander up and down the cobbled streets soaking in the views:

There is no shortage of beautiful places that can inspire you, like here:

or here:

or here:

And if you’d like to try your hand at watercolor painting (no experience necessary), I know a friendly, talented artist in town who will give you a lesson:

Over the years, I’ve hand picked some favorite restaurants for you to try, where the food is always top notch.

You’ll stay at the beautiful Royal Hotel Victoria, with your own private room and bath. The hotel is conveniently located in the center of town, within easy walking distance of everything and features some lovely outdoor patios for relaxing or grabbing a bite to eat.

If weather permits, take a swim in the pool or the lake.

Bring a friend if you like. Not everyone who comes wants to write, and we have a discount for non-writing participants, although space is limited.

More than anything, you’ll leave with the satisfaction of having made new connections with like-minded people, and you’ll have experienced the food, the culture and the environment of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Life is short, so what are you waiting for? Registration is underway now for “Italy, In Other Words.” Contact me or Kathryn to register, or visit www.italyinotherwords.com

Italy, In Other Words – September 30 – October 6, 2018

Chicken with fennel and clementines

Before clementines and fennel bulbs disappear for the season, you’ve got to make this dish – if you haven’t already done so. It’s been around for a few years, and is one of my favorites from Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli chef whose recipes I go to when I have a yen for Middle Eastern food.

The combination of fennel and clementines, roasted at high temperature, along with the mustard and other ingredients, deliver an intense flavor to the chicken. I’ve taken a few liberties with the original recipe, replacing the Arak in favor of Sambuca, another anise flavored liqueur, and one that most Italian-Americans have in their pantry.

I also changed the quantities of some of the ingredients, adding more orange and lemon juice, for instance, to allow for more sauce to spoon over the chicken at the end, and to drizzle over rice or noodles you might like to serve on the side.

You’ll also notice I used chicken breasts in this recipe. Feel free to use legs or thighs, but always with the bone intact and the skin on. You could even use an entire small chicken, as Ottolenghi does, but if you do, make sure you increase the quantities of the other ingredients.

Chicken with fennel and clementines
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • For Two People:
  • 1 large chicken breast, with bones and skin, cut into four pieces
  • ¼ cup Sambuca, or any anise flavored liqueur
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ⅛ cup lemon juice
  • 2 T. grainy mustard
  • 2 T. light brown sugar
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cut into about eight pieces
  • 2 clementines, sliced, with the skin on
  • 1 T. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • fennel fronds to garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Mix the Sambuca, olive oil, orange and lemon juice, mustard and brown sugar and fennel seeds.
  3. Season the chicken pieces and fennel with salt and pepper and place in a lightly greased casserole. Scatter the clementine slices around, making sure that everything is in one layer. Pour half of the marinade over the chicken and fennel. If you have time, do this step ahead of time and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.
  4. Cook for about 35 to 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the skin is slightly charred. About ten minutes before the chicken is fully cooked, pour the rest of the marinade over everything and finish cooking. If it doesn't look "browned" enough, crank up the temperature to 500 degrees.
 

 

 

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Easter Dinner Ideas

Easter is just a few short days away and many of you have your menus all ready. But for those of you still looking for ideas, here are a few from blog posts in the past. Click on the name of the dish below the photo to take you to the recipe.

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta – This is a dish my son makes as an appetizer for Easter, using broccoli rape. No, that spelling is not a mistake, it is rape in Italian, while most Americans spell it broccoli rabe or raab. Any way you spell it, it’s delicious, and a lighter alternative to the heavier, meat-laden pizza piena.

Braided Easter Bread – This bread, studded with hard boiled eggs, is braided with soppressata, olives and cheese, and would be perfect with drinks before dinner.

Grilled Leg of Lamb – Marinated and cooked on the grill, this lamb recipe from Julia Child, is tender and full of flavor.

Honey Baked Ham with roasted grapes – This recipe will make you forget those prepared hams purchased from franchise ham shops – and it’s so easy to make too.

 Neapolitan Pastiera – This traditional Southern Italian dessert is made with ricotta and wheat berries.

Colomba Pasquale – It wouldn’t be Easter in most Italian households without this Easter dove, which you can make at home too.

Coconut covered lamb cake – A childhood favorite, I continue the tradition with the same cake mold my mother used more than sixty years ago.

chocolate lamb cake – Why not give equal time to the black sheep? This cake, decorated with crushed cookie crumbs, will please the chocolate lovers in your family.

coconut cream Easter eggs – These are a weakness of mine, which is why I can’t make them more than once every few years. Otherwise, I’d end up eating dozens of them.

Perfect hard boiled eggs – And if you don’t make any of the above recipes, you’ll probably make hard-boiled eggs at some point. If you’ve ever struggled with peeling them, here’s a primer that will help you avoid frustration.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

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Tuscan-style Pork Roast

If you’ve ever roasted a pork loin (not the tenderloin) and ended up with a tough piece of meat on your plate, this post is for you. Except for an outside layer, the pork loin has no fat and is easy to overcook. But this recipe, adapted from “America’s Test Kitchen,”  gives you a circular interior roll of marbling that adds lots of juicy flavor.

I started out with what I thought was one five pound roast, but when I untied the butcher’s string, I discovered a couple of two and a half pound roasts instead.  I needed only one of these roasts for my book club’s dinner earlier this week, and cooked the second one the following night.

Take a long, sharp knife and cut through the roast, slicing to open the piece of meat so it lies flat, trying to get an even thickness. After cutting, pound it with a meat press (keeping a piece of plastic over the meat) to help make it flatter and more even. Then season liberally on both sides with salt, pepper and fennel pollen (or fennel seed pulverized with a grinder or mortar and pestle). Set aside.

Place some chopped garlic, minced rosemary, red pepper flakes and lemon zest in a cold pan with olive oil and cook gently for a few minutes, until the garlic starts to sizzle. Drain through a strainer, reserving the oil, and placing the solids in a food processor.

Chop some pancetta and add to the mixture in the food processor.

Blend until a paste. If your pancetta is too lean (as mine was), add a little olive oil.

Spread the paste over the flattened meat.

Roll up and tie with butcher’s twine.Season the meat again on the outside with salt, pepper and fennel pollen (or crushed fennel seed).

Place on a rack and roast at 275 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, or until a thermometer reads 125 to 130 degrees. You can still end up with a tough, dry roast if it reaches too high a temperature, so keep a close watch on it.

Remove from the oven (it will not have much of a browned appearance – yet) and let rest, covered with aluminum foil for 20 minutes.

While the roast is resting, sear lemons in a hot skillet and make the lemon-olive oil sauce (recipe below).

After the roast has rested for 20 minutes or so, heat a bit of olive oil in a cast iron pan, or a heavy skillet, and sear it until the fatty side takes on a nice browned color.

Slice and serve with a lemon-olive oil sauce (recipe below).

Tuscan-style Pork Roast
 
 
Ingredients
  • Adapted from America's Test Kitchen:
  • For Two Pork Loins (2½ pounds each)
  • 16 cloves garlic (yes, that's right)
  • ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • zest of one lemon, grated
  • 2 tablespoons minced rosemary
  • 5-6 ounces pancetta (not too lean)
  • salt, pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fennel pollen (or ground fennel seed)
Instructions
  1. Put the garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon zest in a cold pan with the olive oil.
  2. Heat on low to medium for about 3 minutes or until the garlic starts to sizzle.
  3. Add the minced rosemary and stir for about 30 seconds.
  4. Pour everything (over a bowl) through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to get as much liquid through as possible. Set the olive oil aside.
  5. Cut the pancetta into small pieces and put into a food processor, along with the lemon garlic mixture (not the olive oil).
  6. Pulse about 30 seconds or until you have a paste, adding some olive oil if needed.
  7. Take a long, sharp knife and cut into the pork loin, about 1 inch from the edge, and staying even, cut it open in a "book" fashion, until the roast is one long flat piece.
  8. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the meat and pound even.
  9. Season liberally with salt, pepper and the fennel pollen.
  10. Spread the paste evenly over the inside of the roast and roll back up.
  11. Tie it with butcher's twine and place on a rack.
  12. Put it in the refrigerator at least one hour, or even overnight to allow flavors to meld into the meat.
  13. Roast in a 275 degree oven for 1½ to 2 hours, or until an internal temperature of 125 degrees to 130 degrees. The temperature will continue to rise while it's resting.
  14. Cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for twenty minutes to a half hour.
  15. Meanwhile, make the lemon olive oil sauce by cutting two lemons in half and searing the cut ends in a very hot cast iron skillet.
  16. Remove the lemons from the heat, and squeeze out the juice.
  17. Add the juice to the reserved olive oil mixture and whisk.
  18. Using a heavy skillet, heat it over high flame and pour about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil into it.
  19. Sear the fatty side of the roast in the olive oil.
  20. Slice and serve with the lemon-olive oil sauce.
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Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake

I ate one of these delightfully delicious little cakes in London not long ago, at Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant in the Spitalfields neighborhood. I was so glad to see he had included the recipe in his latest cookbook “Sweet,” and set about to make them a couple of weeks ago.

The recipe calls for them to be cooked in either a loaf pan or a round springform pan, but I wanted to make them in individual pans, since I remembered eating one in a small rectangular shape in London. I owned small rectangular pans, but opted to bake them in a pan that is traditionally used for Yorkshire puddings. After filling six of the cylindrical pans, there was a little more batter left over, so I used one of the little rectangular pans.

The cylindrical shape worked out beautifully, while the rectangular one didn’t release properly (I forgot to dust the pan with flour after buttering it and some of the cake stuck to the pan).

Either way, they were delicious, especially smeared with the chocolate “water” ganache. I had to toss out the ganache the first time I made it, since, in my experience, the recipe doesn’t have enough liquid. I made it a second time adding more water, and it was perfect.

Ottolenghi’s restaurants (there are several in various neighborhoods) sell the cakes with coconut shavings as decorations.

But since I had a bit of gold leaf in the cupboard, I chose that instead. This recipe makes an elegant dessert for company, but is rather quick and easy to prepare for everyday family meals too

.

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Connect with me on my Instagram page to follow my food adventures, both in my kitchen and elsewhere.

Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ¾ cup plus 2 T. butter/200 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 1¼ cups/250 grams granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup/60 grams finely shredded coconut (note: I put the coconut and the sugar in the food processor to ensure that the coconut was finely shredded.)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1⅔ cup/180 grams almond meal
  • For the Water Ganache:
  • 2 oz./55 grams dark chocolate, roughly chopped into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons water (note - You'll need more. I tripled this amount.)
  • scraped seeds of ¼ vanilla pod
  • 1½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ¾ inch cubes
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.)
  2. Grease (and flour) six or seven small individual pans, or a standard 8½ " x 4½" /900 gram loaf pan or a 9 inch/23 cm round sprinform pan. Set aside.
  3. Put the sugar and coconut in a food processor and pulse until coconut is finely grated.
  4. Place the butter, sugar, coconut, vanilla seeds and salt in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place.
  5. Beat on medium high speed, until pale and fluffy, about three minutes.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Turn the speed to low, add the almond meal and mix until just combined.
  8. Scrape the mixture into the pan and bake for 40 minutes (maybe 30 to 35 in the small pans) or 50 minutes if using the round pan, or until the cake is golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool in the pan before inverting onto a serving plate.
  10. Set aside until completely cool.
  11. To make the Water Ganache:
  12. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.
  13. Put the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan and place over medium low heat.
  14. Stir to combine (I found this difficult, because it stuck to the spoon, so just let it melt together over low heat until it turns a light amber color.)
  15. Remove from heat and add the water.
  16. Return to the heat and add the vanilla seeds.
  17. Stir gently and continuously until it returns to a boil and the sugar is all melted.
  18. Remove from heat and wait for a minute before pouring the mixture over the chocolate.
  19. Allow to stand for a minute or two, then whisk to combine.
  20. Add the butter, a couple of bits at a time, whisking after each addition.
  21. Continue until all the butter has been added, whisking to combine until the consistency of thick syrup.
  22. Pour the ganache over the top of the cakes, letting it run down the sides a little.

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)

I subscribe to an Italian TV channel and one of the programs I like to watch is a cooking show called “La Prova del Cuoco” (The Cook’s Test). The host, Antonella Clerici, invites well known Italian chefs, as well as members of the public to cook each day. On a recent program, this girasole rustico was prepared by chef Roberto Valluzzi, and it caught my eye right away. I thought it would be perfect to prepare for my Italian chit-chat group, since we usually offer both savory and sweet things in our weekly get-together.

This not only was delicious, but was a snap to prepare and makes a really beautiful presentation. You can make the pastry with your own recipe, but for this particular day, I took a shortcut and bought frozen pastry from Trader Joe’s.

All you really need to do is sauté some scallions with spinach and a couple of anchovies (don’t worry, it doesn’t give it a fishy taste. The anchovies “melt” and add great flavor). Let the mixture cool, then mix it with ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese.

Lay out the one layer of the pastry on a cookie sheet (I used a pizza stone) and spread the filling all around.

Crimp the edges with a fork, and place a small bowl in the center. You’ll need this as a guide.

Make cuts through the pastry in even measurements, then take each section and give it a twist.

It will look like this when you’re finished. Remove the bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Cut into sections and let people serve themselves.

Buon Appetito!

Thanks to all you readers who left a comment on my last post. Six of you will be receiving a tin of these delicious Cornish sardines and you were picked by a random number generator. I wish I had enough tins to send to everyone who left a comment. The winners are Marie, Jan Mannino, Joanne W., Claudia, Victoria Skelly, and Gloria. Please send me an email (linda@ciaochowlinda.com) with your home address so I can send you the tin. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)
 
 
Ingredients
  • 2 round sheets of your favorite homemade pastry recipe or purchased (I used Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • dash of hot pepper flakes
Instructions
  1. Sauté the scallions in the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, until the scallions are soft and the anchovies are almost "melted." Add the spinach, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes. Set aside to cool.
  2. When cool, add the spinach mixture to the ricotta and parmesan cheese and blend well in a bowl.
  3. Lay one layer of pastry on a round cooking sheet (I used a pizza stone). You may want to grease the cookie sheet just for extra insurance so it doesn't stick, or you can place the pastry on a piece of baking parchment paper.
  4. Spread the cooled spinach mixture over the pastry.
  5. Lay the second sheet of pastry over the spinach mixture and press gently all around, but more firmly at the edges. Seal by pressing fork tines around the perimeter.
  6. Place a small bowl in the center of the pastry, and cut all around the edges, stopping at the bowl.
  7. Pick up each cut piece and twist gently.
  8. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the middle of the pastry and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pastry is cooked.
 

Avocado and Sardine Toasts and a giveaway

OK, now for those of you who say you don’t like canned sardines, don’t tune me out yet. Because maybe you’ve never eaten canned sardines as good as these. They’re called pilchards in England (just another name for a large sardine) and come from the Cornwall region.  These, from The Pilchard Works, are caught off the shores of Cornwall and are hand-packed and canned in the traditional way in partnership with the oldest sardine cannery in Brittany, France. The lids of the tins are works of art, with reproductions of paintings by Newlyn School painters, Walter Langley and Frank Bramley.

I brought some home with me from my trip to Cornwall last fall, and was surprised at how much better they were than the ones I buy in the supermarkets here. So much so, that I asked my ex-pat daughter to bring some tins for me on her recent business trip from London to New York.

I am a big fan of fresh sardines and anchovies but it’s not easy to find them fresh here in the states. Canned sardines were always in our pantry when I was growing up and my 96 year-old father, who is still in good health, eats them in sandwiches regularly.

Not only do they taste delicious, they’re one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re packed with nutrients that are good for you, including vitamin D, B12 and protein. They also contain one of the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, and they help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

I’m hoping that those of you who have turned up your nose at eating sardines in the past will give these a try. All you have to do to receive a tin of these from me, is to leave a comment stating why you like sardines and how you eat them. If you don’t like them (maybe especially if you don’t like them),  I’ll send you a tin too, because I’d really love to convert you to becoming a sardine aficionado.  Just leave a way for me to contact you.

This recipe from Paula Wolfert, really is a delicious blending of flavors that I would never have thought to put together, but I will be making again and again. Even my husband, who rarely eats either avocado or canned sardines, raved about the combination. I hope you’ll try it too.

Avocado and Sardine Toasts
 
Author:
 
From the Book "Unforgettable" by Emily Kaiser Thelin
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 scant tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 (4½ ounce) cans whole sardines (I used one can)
  • 1 large firm, ripe Hass avocado
  • 4 to 6 thin slices country-style bread (I used 3 slices)
  • 4 green onions (I used one), white and green parts, cut into very thin slices
  • fresh chives, snipped
Instructions
  1. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the olive oil, parsley and vinegar.
  2. Season with salt and black pepper and red pepper flakes, if using.
  3. Divide the sardines into fillets and discard any bones.
  4. Add the sardines to the vinaigrette and marinate at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Cut the avocado in half and peel away the skin.
  6. Put it on a cutting board and cut the avocado into thin slices.
  7. Toast or grill the bread.
  8. Lightly brush the top side of each toast with the vinaigrette.
  9. Divide the avocado slices among the toasts, top with a portion of the sardines, and scatter green onions and chives on top.
  10. Serve at once.
 

Chocolate Salami

Looking for an easy treat for Valentine’s Day? You’ve got plenty of time to make this chocolate “salami” that requires no cooking, and comes together lickety-split, using ingredients you may already have in the house. I used amaretti cookies to simulate the bits of fat running through a real salami, but you could use graham crackers, digestive biscuits or even chocolate chip cookies.

Crumple them up and mix them in a bowl with nuts and dried fruit of your choice. I used pistachios, hazelnuts and dried cherries and it was a winning combination. But if you like almonds or walnuts instead, or dried cranberries or dried apricots, those would be delicious too.

Melt some chocolate. You could use milk chocolate, but I prefer dark chocolate and used Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate. If you want to spring for a more expensive chocolate, go for it, but Hershey’s Special Dark won a blind taste test on America’s Test Kitchen years ago and I’ve been using it since then for nearly all my recipes requiring dark chocolate. It costs a lot less than the specialty brands, so that’s a nice plus too. Mix the melted chocolate with all the above ingredients and add some liqueur. It’s not strictly necessary, but it does add another layer of flavor.

Some recipes for chocolate salami ask you to add raw eggs, but I thought I’d try it without, since so many people have health concerns about using raw eggs in recipes. The risk is miniscule, but still, why take any risk, I thought.

Next, dish out the chocolate into a log shape. It will be too soft to shape at this point, so put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, or until it firms.

Once firm, roll it into a log shape to make it more “solid.”

Then roll into confectioner’s sugar to simulate the white “bloom” that appears on aged salami.

If you have some butcher’s string, tie it across the chocolate salami to mimic a real salami.

Slice it and watch the surprise when people realize it’s not really cured meat, but a delightful chocolate treat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Chocolate Salami
 
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. chocolate, melted (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 stick (8 ounces) butter
  • ½ cup crumpled amaretti cookies (or graham crackers or "digestive" biscuits)
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or other nuts you prefer
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • 1 T. Cherry Marnier (or any liqueur you like)
  • powdered sugar for exterior
  • twine (optional)
Instructions
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
  2. When it is nearly melted, add the butter in pieces and melt it.
  3. Chop the amaretti cookies and nuts (I left the pistachios whole) and put in a bowl with the cherries.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate over the nuts and cookies and add the liqueur.
  5. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes until it firms up, but keep checking because you don't want it so firm that it's too hard to roll.
  6. Dish out the chocolate onto a piece of plastic or waxed paper.
  7. Roll into a log and place it back in the refrigerator until very firm, maybe an hour or so.
  8. When it's firm, sprinkle powdered sugar all over.
  9. Tie up with butcher's string if desired, and slice to serve.
 

Blue by Eric Ripert

Dear Mr. Ripert – How in the world do you do it? Your three-star Michelin restaurant in New York City – Le Bernardin – captivated me years ago from the first sip of champagne. But I didn’t expect to be equally enchanted thousands of miles away in the Cayman Islands on my visit to Blue, your restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

 However, I had a suspicion that something great was afoot when we stopped for drinks at the bar one night. The piña loca tipped me off. I mean, I knew we were in for a treat just from watching your bartender shake the drinks at the bar and deliver them in those beautiful glasses. It didn’t hurt that the charred pineapple juice and agave were mixed with cachaça.  (In case you’re taking notes, Mr. Ripert, a caipirinha – also made with that Brazilian spirit – is my favorite cocktail, although a Hendricks gin and tonic is a close second. But I digress, sorry). Anyway, we may have been tipped off by the drinks, but when we tasted the complimentary salmon rillette, it just heightened our eagerness to come back the following night for a full meal. I loved how your chef combines smoked salmon with poached fresh salmon and shallots in white wine and other ingredients. Those little toasts were the perfect transport for this delicious snack and a great way to get our evening started. I hope you don’t mind my sharing that recipe at the end of this letter.

So there we were, the next night at 6:30. Unfashionably early, I agree, but hey, we couldn’t wait much longer to savor the full menu. I loved the understated, yet elegant decor, and the wall art, designed by British artist Grahame Menage to represent the outlines of the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean nations. Oh, and please thank your lovely manager Christina who seated us at a quiet table with ample light — all the better for taking photos. Is she just naturally engaging and helpful, or do you instruct all your staff to be so kind? Because without being intrusive, everyone couldn’t have been nicer.

I was so eager to get started, I got fidgety waiting for the first course, although my husband Ron told me to cool my jets and be patient. He was so right. Patience was rewarded not long afterwards, when the chef,  Thomas Seifried, sent out this amuse bouche, including a taste of that now-familiar salmon rillette — it’s that dab in the middle cushioned by small round crackers, but you already knew that. Well, thanks for reminding me how much I loved it the night before. The little sample of raw snapper with a petite potato chip on top and surrounded by avocado cream and citrus vinaigrette was a lovely tease for the palate too, but can I just wax rhapsodic about that soup in the little cup on the left? Just know that I would happily drown in that luscious concoction – made with sunchokes, brown butter and croutons. We were both wishing for a lifetime supply of that soup (Sunchokes aren’t really a staple in our pantry, but if you sent me that recipe, I would search them out).

But we knew there was plenty more to come, beginning with the “almost raw” section of the menu. My husband chose the conch dish, tender slivers of the locally caught seafood, sprinkled with bits of puffed quinoa, basil aioli and espelette pepper.  The ponzu sauce added just the right acidity, with its flavors of rice vinegar, soy sauce and yuzu (I admit I had to look up ponzu sauce, but I first learned about yuzu – an Asian citrus  – at Le Bernardin years ago).

I opted for the snapper trio – served with slices of king crab and dollops of wasabi and avocado cream, and bathed in a seafood emulsion. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to do what we Italians call “la scarpetta,” swooshing my bread through the sauce to savor every last drop. At least I didn’t lick the plate — well, not yet at least.

Speaking of bread, I didn’t want to make a pig of myself and choose all four offerings, so I stuck to the sourdough.  I’m coming back for the others on my next visit though.

Next came the “barely touched” portion of the menu, and I’m sure you don’t know this, but when it comes to octopus on a menu, I’m a real sucker  – no pun intended (well, maybe yes it was). I have to say that I’ve eaten lots of grilled octopus in my life, but never served with a creamy chorizo emulsion. Who thinks up these unusual flavor combinations? The smoky flavor of the sauce was the perfect partner for the “meaty” chunks of octopus.  If only I had the recipe, I might rethink my Christmas eve octopus salad in favor of this.

Let me also take this opportunity, Mr. Ripert, to give a shout-out to ViJay, our server for the night, who also recommended excellent wines to pair with each course. I am usually cautious in choosing red wines to drink with fish, but ViJay suggested the perfect accompaniment each time, whether red or white. Just one example of the night’s sampling included a smooth, vibrant Portuguese red wine from the Douro Valley that cut through the richness of the octopus and the sauce.

And like me with octopus, when my husband sees pasta on a menu, he’s gonna go for it. I think he went a little weak in the knees when this appeared at the table – a tangle of fettuccine enrobed in a truffle sauce containing king crab and lobster, topped with a healthy portion of sliced truffles. Can you say ecstasy? He would have, if he could have stopped long enough to speak. Me? I was speechless too, once he let me have a taste.

Just when you think you’ve had enough truffles, (Forget I said that. You can never have enough truffles, can you?) your chef sends this voluptuous dish compliments of the kitchen – Danish langoustine atop Iberico ham, crème fraîche, a balsamic-mushroom vinaigrette and more shaved truffles. If I’d known this was coming, I might not have ordered the lobster from the next portion of the menu – the “lightly cooked” section.

Just kidding. I wouldn’t have wanted to forgo this delectable dish of butter poached lobster served with edamame beans in a fragrant lobster-ginger consomme. And how clever to include that wonton stuffed with a mousse of halibut, lobster claw and shrimp.  It was a real treat for all the senses. By the way, I forgot to mention that I love the Limoges Bernardaud porcelain plates you use in your restaurants. The white on white recessed dots are subtle yet distinctive, without stealing the show from the food.

This dish my husband chose for the main course, Mr. Ripert, might just be the “sleeper” on the menu. It doesn’t have the sexy visual appeal of some the other dishes (don’t be offended – it is mostly brown after all, except for the bits of friseé) but wow, what a fabulous flavor – not just from the delicate fish, but from that nutty brown butter sauce infused with tamarind.  Look away while I do that scarpetta thing again.

Big decisions were ahead for dessert. Even though only four offerings are listed, aside from ice cream and sorbet, it was difficult to choose. My husband selected the “Mont Blanc”  – a heavenly whipped chestnut cream spiral with rum-candied chestnuts, studded with gold leaf, and served with a quenelle of ice cream. OK, I’ll stop drooling now.

I was having a tough time. Should I order the coconut dessert, served with passion fruit and pineapple? Or should I order the babà, the Neapolitan treat I love? I decided on the coconut, and it arrived looking like a modern sculpture. Don’t get me wrong, I ate almost the whole thing, but it was encased in white chocolate, and I should have mentioned, I’m a dark chocolate lover. When Christina stopped by to ask about our desserts, she admitted that the babà was her favorite. Darn, I said. I knew I should have ordered that!Well, that’s all she needed to hear. She hurried off to the kitchen, and returned with a gift for me — my own babà, studded with caramelized pears, Cayman honey and almond crumbs, all served with a silky sauce and yogurt ice cream. Funny how I felt stuffed after all the courses and the first dessert, but the babà went down like manna from heaven. Quick, is anybody watching while I lick the plate?

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, out comes this tray of scrumptious mignardises – petite financiers, geleés, macarons and chocolates.

Thanks for such a great dinner. Sorry it took us so long to get here (considering you opened the restaurant in 2005). What a nice touch giving us that box of macarons to take home with us too.

Oh Eric, (can I call you that now that I’ve spent three hours in your restaurant?) like I said earlier, I really never expected such a Lucullan feast down here in the Cayman Islands, but Blue is every bit as wonderful as Le Bernardin, and you’ve even got that spectacular seven-mile beach outside your door. No wonder it received the five diamond award from AAA.

And as much as we love the Big Apple, the Cayman islands has won our hearts too, especially since our extraordinary meal at Blue. Hope to see you next year. And next time, I promise to keep my fingers off the plate.

Sincerely yours, Linda and Ron

Salmon Rillette
 
Author:
Serves: serves 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 pound fresh salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 ounces smoked salmon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Instructions
  1. In a shallow pan, bring the white wine and shallots to a boil.
  2. When the shallots are cooked, add the salmon and gently poach the salmon until it is just barely opaque.
  3. Remove the salmon from the wine and immediately drain on a towel-lined sheet pan.
  4. Strain the wine, reserving the shallots.
  5. Place the salmon and shallots in the refrigerator to cool.
  6. Combine the poached salmon and shallots in a mixing bowl with the smoked salmon, chives and some of the mayonnaise and lemon juice—use the mayonnaise and lemon juice sparingly to begin, and adjust to taste.
  7. Mix the rillette—do not over-mix or mix too hard.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve cold with toasted baguette slices.