A Very Late Buche De Noel

A Very Late Buche De Noel

This is what I normally prepare for Christmas Day dessert, but this year I chose to make a Raspberry Bombe instead. As tasty as the bombe was, I have to say I missed the buche. The yule-log was missing from our yule.

So I took the opportunity to make it for a post-Hanukkah party this weekend. It doesn’t have to be a holiday treat. It is sensational for any large, winter gathering, with shredded coconut strewn for snow and little meringue mushrooms sprouting up around the log.

It’s not a project for the faint of heart, but if you’re patient and follow the directions carefully, you can do it. If you can read, you can cook, I always tell friends who lament that they can’t cook. Muster up your courage and go for it. Make sure you read the directions thoroughly before starting. If you really mess it up, you can throw it all in a glass bowl and call it a trifle. If you don’t tell anyone it was supposed to be a yule log, they’ll never know.
I’ll never forget my first attempt at making a chocolate souffle, decades ago. It never rose to puffy heights, but my husband proclaimed the dessert “the best brownies I’ve ever eaten.”

With a few small changes, this is adapted from a recipe for “bittersweet chocolate roulade” from an episode of “America’s Test Kitchen.”

This cake tastes best served at room temperature.

for the cake:

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup sifted cocoa, plus 1 T. for unmolding
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
1/8 t. salt
6 large eggs, separated
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/8 t. cream of tartar


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, cover pan bottom with parchment paper and spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray. Dust surface with flour and tap out excess.

2. Bring some water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine chocolate, butter and water in small heatproof bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set bowl over pan, reduce heat to medium low and heat until butter is almost completely melted and chocolate pieces are glossy and fully melted. Do not stir or let water boil under chocolate. Remove bowl from pan, unwrap and stir until smooth and glossy.

3. While chocolate is melting, sift 1/4 cup cocoa, flour and salt together into small bowl and set aside.

4. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add about 1 t. sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form, about 40 seconds. Gradually add half of sugar and beat until whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer. Do not over beat. If whites look dry and granular, they are over beaten. Remove whites into a large bowl.

5. Beat yolks at medium speed until just combined, and add half of remaining sugar. Continue to beat, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary until yolks are pale yellow and mixture falls in thick ribbons when whisk is lifted, about 8 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine, scraping down bowl once.

6. Stir chocolate mixture into yolks, a small amount at a time so you don’t scramble the eggs. With a rubber spatula, stir one quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold remaining whites until almost no streaks remain. Sprinkle dry ingredients over top and fold in quickly but gently.

7. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing batter into pan corners. Bake until center of cake springs back when touched with finger, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.

8. While cake is cooling, lay clean kitchen towel over work surface and sift remaining tablespoon cocoa over towel. With hands, rub cocoa into towel. Run paring knife around perimeter of baking sheet to loosen cake. Invert cake onto paper towels and peel off parchment. This is tricky and it’s entirely possible that the cake will crack when you’re inverting it, or rolling it, as it did for me. Don’t worry if this happens. It can be covered with frosting.

9. Roll cake, paper towels and all, into jelly roll shape. Cool for 15 minutes, then unroll cake and paper towels. Spread filling over surface of cake, almost to edges. Roll up cake gently but snugly around filling. Put cake seam-side down on top and place in refrigerator for an hour to harden the filling a bit. This will make it easier to frost.

10. Remove cake from refrigerator and trim ends at a diagonal. Spread ganache frosting on cake, including exposed edges. Take the edges that you trimmed off and attach to the top of the log as little stumps, using a long wooden skewer to help prevent them from sliding off. Spread more ganache on the little stumps reserving a teaspoonful for later. Use a fork to make wood-grain striations on the surface of the ganache before the icing has set. Refrigerate uncovered. Before serving, remove wooden skewers and patch the hole with a little dab of some frosting. Bring to room temperature before serving, for best flavor.

Filling:

Espresso-Mascarpone Cream

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
16 ounces mascarpone cheese

1. Simmer cream in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder and powdered sugar. Cool.
2. With spatula, beat mascarpone in medium bowl until softened. Gently whisk in cooled cream mixture until combined.

Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 T. unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 T. cognac

Microwave cream and butter in measuring cup on high until bubbling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Place chocolate in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. With machine running, gradually add hot cream and cognac through feed tube and process until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer ganache to medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for one hour, until spreadable.

Meringue Mushrooms

2 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
dash cream of tartar

Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and sugar, gradually, until mixture forms stiff peaks. Place into a plastic bag and trim off a bit at the corner. Or use a pastry bag. Pipe onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, some in small cap shapes and some in long “stem” shapes. Dab the tops with water to smooth out any pointy tips. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave in the oven another 1/2 hour. Let cool. Before serving cake, cut little holes in the bottom of a cap shaped piece and push a stem shaped piece into it. You can frost the bottom of the cap first if you like, but be aware that these will soften quickly once you frost them. Don’t assemble the mushrooms until you are ready to serve the cake. When all the mushrooms are placed around the cake, dust the caps and the cake with more cocoa, for a “dirt” effect.

Avocado And Pomegranate Salad

Avocado and Pomegranate Salad

There’s a line in Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well,” in which one of the characters says: “Go to, sir; you were beaten in Italy for picking a kernel out of a pomegranate.”

For this recipe, which requires dozens of pomegranate seeds, there’s no worry about being beaten in Italy. There’s only the time-consuming task of removing those seeds from those pesky, pulpy membranes. The rest of the recipe is a snap.

What you’ll end up with is a healthy and unusual salad that’s colorful as a Christmas wreath and delicious too. It requires only two ingredients – avocados and pomegranates, plus some olive oil and lemon juice as a dressing. It comes to you via my friend Anna Rosa, who spends a lot of time in Italy, but has never once been beaten for plucking a seed from a pomegranate.

Here’s the recipe:

Peel two avocados and cube. Mix in a bowl with seeds from one pomegranate. Toss with olive oil and lemon juice to taste.

Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes

It’s a conspiracy. I’ll never get rid of those extra pounds from the holiday. Cookies, cakes, ice creams, chocolates, rich roasts, luscious cheeses and fish feasts were all part of our Christmas holiday eating.
Newsflash: the holidays were extended this year. Hanukkah was moved to January.

Well, not really, but we were invited to a post-Hanukkah party by friends who normally host this gathering in December. The hostess made these addictive latkes as appetizers, which we devoured — prosecco in hand. She also prepared an intensely flavorful brisket as the main course, while the guests filled out the menu with side dishes of eggplant rollatini, roasted artichoke hearts, spinach with pine nuts and raisins, fennel gratinee and an avocado and pomegranate salad. Not full yet? Let’s hope not, because dessert included an apple galette, pound cake, rugelach, fresh fruit salad and a buche de noel.

It’s not really a conspiracy. It’s my good fortune to be included in the festivities by these gracious hosts and to share a fabulous meal with some of the nicest people and the best cooks I know.

Still, now you know why I left early for the gym this morning.

Here is my friend’s recipe for the latkes, inspired by a recipe from Gloria Kausergreen’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook.

Potato Latkes

makes about 20 latkes

3 large russet potatoes, about 2.5 pounds
1 lemon
2 extra large eggs
1 tsp. salt
2 T. flour
1 large onion
sour cream
caviar (my friend used Romanoff black caviar)
vegetable oil for frying

Peel potatoes and cut in halves or thirds. Soak in a bowl of cold water mixed with a little lemon juice to keep the potatoes from discoloring.
Peel onion, cut into chunks and add to the bowl with the potatoes.
In another large bowl, beat the eggs, flour and salt with a whisk, making sure the flour is fully blended with the egg.
Using the medium grating disk of a food processor, remove some of the potatoes from the bowl and begin to grate. Do not use the fine grating disk. The potatoes should look like strings when they come out of the food processor, so that when they are fried the latkes will look lacy.
Next take some onion and grate using the same disk. Alternate grating potatoes and onions, repeating the process in several batches.
After each batch is grated, put the potatoes and onions into a colander to drain off some of the liquid.
After all the potatoes and onions are grated and in the colander, take your hand and squeeze out handfuls, draining off the liquid.
Place the drained potatoes and onions into the bowl with the egg and flour mixture. Stir with your hands until the potatoes and onions are well integrated with the egg mixture.
Using your hands, pick up a fistful of the potato and onion mixture and squeeze forcefully into a ball, draining out as much liquid as possible.
In a heavy skillet, heat the vegetable oil to high, then lower the heat to medium or medium high, as needed.
Press the latkes into a flat, oval shape and fry in the oil, pressing down with a spatula to flatten even further.
Turn over and fry on the other side, until the latkes are crispy all over. Add more oil as needed. Drain on paper towels, and serve with a dollop of sour cream and black caviar.

Sauteed Shrimp With Celery Root And Apple Puree

Sauteed Shrimp with Celery Root and Apple Puree

Pity the poor celery root. Also known as celeriac, it must be one of the ugliest vegetables ever. I mean who wants to even pick up that gnarly tuber with all those nubby, root-like things sprouting all over it, much less cook it and eat it?

Well, I took pity on the sad vegetable and gave it a home in my kitchen. And you should too, if you’re interested in good food and new culinary adventures. It has a subtle celery flavor that pairs with nearly everything. I used only skim milk – no cream or butter in this recipe – yet it had a luscious, silky texture and was a perfect foil for the sauce oozing off the shrimp.

And for those of you avoiding carbs, this puree would be a great substitute for mashed potatoes or polenta, especially nestled beside pot roast or osso buco.

You may end up running for a Band-Aid if you’re not careful when peeling the celery root. I found it safest to trim off the thickest, nubbiest parts with a medium-sized knife in one hand, rather than a vegetable peeler, pressing down on the top of the celery root as it lay on my cutting board, rather than picking it up and trying to trim it in my hand.

Sauteed Shrimp
(serves two)

8 large shrimp
1 shallot, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt, pepper to taste
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Saute the shallot and garlic in a skillet over medium heat with the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter, just until softened. Add the shrimp, turning the heat a little higher, and quickly saute on both sides. You don’t want to cook it all the way through just yet, just brown the outsides. Remove the shrimp from the skillet and add the cherry tomato halves to the pan. Cook for another minute or two until the tomato starts to soften. Place the shrimp back in the pan, add the wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another couple of minutes, until some of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is reduced. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and swirl around on medium heat until it looks like the sauce has emulsified, or thickened. Add the lemon juice and minced parsley, swirl again over the heat and serve over the celery root puree.

Celery Root and Apple Puree

(Adapted from “A New Way to Cook” by Sally Schneider)

1 celery root, peeled and cubed (about 1 lb. to 1 1/2 lbs.)
3 cups milk (I used skim)
3/4 tsp. freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 Tablespoons white rice
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (I omitted this)

Cook the celery root in a saucepan with the milk, (I used skim milk which works fine, but the original recipe called for 2 percent milk), salt, pepper and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Stir in the rice, lower the heat, partially cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apples and simmer for 10 minutes longer, or until the celery root is very tender. (The milk will curdle, but the curds will be incorporated when the celery root is pureed.) Drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl, but save the cooking liquid.

Puree the celery root in a food processor or blender until perfectly smooth, adding some of the cooking liquid if necessary. Scrape down sides until you have a fine puree. Add the butter if desired, but I left it out and it was delicious with just the drippings from the shrimp sauce. This puree is enough for four servings.

La Befana Brings Burnt Almonds

La Befana brings burnt almonds

The legend of La Befana is an ancient Italian tradition that takes place on January 6. The benevolent but ugly old witch with a hunchback, wearing a baboushka and ragged clothing, makes her rounds to children the night of January 5, leaving treats of candy (and sometimes coal or garlic for naughty children) inside shoes or stockings left out overnight.

The legend harks back to the 12th night of Christmas, or Epiphany, when the three wise men were searching for the baby Jesus. They found La Befana sweeping her doorway and asked her to join them, but she initially declined, saying she had too much cleaning to do. Later when she realized it was the Redeemer that the wise men were in search of, she changed her mind. She left right away, but unfortunately for her, couldn’t find the baby. That’s why she still goes out each January 5 on her magic broom, hoping to find the baby Jesus, while leaving gifts for other children as well. To this day, children in Italy still receive gifts on January 6 and celebrations and parades are held all across the peninsula. Two years ago on the night of January 5, we were skiing near Bressanone, in the Italian Alps, when we heard drums in the distance. Nearer and nearer came the sound, and along with the drummers appeared a parade of people dressed in costumes from the Middle Ages, with La Befana in a carriage at the very end, tossing out candies to everyone.

This year La Befana surprised us and flew across the ocean to my hometown in Central New Jersey. There at the meeting of “Le Matte,” my weekly Italian chit-chat and coffee group, the ladies were gathered at my friend Vanda’s home. Just when we were having our second round of espresso and pannettone, who walks in but La Befana, wart-y face, babushka and all! She even handed out burnt almond treats for the women — at least the ones who had been nice this year. She truly looked wretched. I sure hope she makes it back across the ocean on that broom!

I’m including a recipe for the burnt almonds that La Befana handed out.

This recipe is taken from Delicious Day’s blog entry, Semifreddo of Burnt Almonds. I made only the almonds, not the semifreddo. The original recipe is in metric measurements, so I converted and doubled the amounts. My almonds turned out crunchy, with a hard-shell candy-like exterior, and they were good, but I must have gone astray somewhere. The ones on Delicious Day’s blog have more a more crystaline-sugary texture to them. I don’t know what I did wrong, but I do know that I have a seriously burned pot that will require a lot of steel wool and elbow grease to clean.

Burnt Almonds

2 cups almonds, with skins
1/2 cup water
2/3 c. sugar
2 T. vanilla sugar (I used vanilla)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Boil the water, sugar, vanilla sugar, and cinnamon in a large saucepan. Add the almonds and let cook over medium to high heat while stirring occasionally. The liquid will have evaporated after 5 – 8 minutes and the sugar will cover the almonds with a dry crust. Now reduce the temperature and keep stirring until the sugar turns liquid again and coats all the almonds evenly as caramel. Pour onto the prepared tray. Quickly separate the almonds from each other with two forks (not with your fingers, very hot!) and let them cool (they keep for several days in an airtight container).

Chicken Breasts Stuffed With Goat Cheese And Mushrooms

Chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms

This dish is terrific for when company’s coming. It tastes great, and it looks like you slaved all day in the kitchen. Don’t tell anyone, but it takes only 15 minutes to assemble. Then you’re home free.

Get everything prepared ahead of time, set it aside or keep it in the fridge until guests arrive. Then pop the pan in the oven and go chill out with your guests. Twenty minutes later, your main course is ready to serve. What could be simpler? But don’t wait for company to come calling to make this dish. It’s great any night of the week.

For two large servings:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 medium -size white mushrooms, finely minced
1 T. butter
goat cheese, about 3 ounces
2 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt, pepper
minced parsley

Open up the chicken breasts and pound with a mallet to flatten. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Saute the finely minced mushrooms in the 1 tablespoon of butter until cooked and liquid has evaporated – about two minutes or so. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Spread the mushrooms over the chicken breast, then divide the goat cheese evenly between the two breasts. Roll from the narrow end toward the wider end. Tie loosely with twine.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet. I used a small, cast-iron skillet. Over medium high heat, brown the chicken rolls on all sides. This should only take five minutes max. Lower heat and slowly add the white wine. Don’t add too quickly or over high heat or it could flame up. Season with salt and pepper and minced parsley.
Place an oven-proof lid on the skillet and bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove string and serve with juices from pan.

Lentil Sausage Soup

Lentil sausage soup

Buon Anno!

Want to get your new year off to a good start? No, I’m not talking about the umpteenth resolution to lose weight. I’m talking about lentils. They are traditionally eaten by many Italians on January 1 to augur a year of prosperity and good luck.

I would have gotten this to you earlier so you’d have more time to cook this today, but my computer was non compos mentis until a half hour ago, when it finally came to its senses and started working again. (Personally, I think it just wanted to watch the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade in its entirety just once.)

You can enjoy this soup any time of the year, although it’s particularly welcome on a cold winter day, joined by a hunk of freshly baked bread straight out of the oven. You did read yesterday’s post and run right out to get some yeast, right? Right.

I use Italian sausage in this recipe – the kind you get when you order a sausage and pepper sandwich at any Italian street festival. In Italy, lentils are served on New Year’s Day with a type of sausage called cotechino, or with zampone, a stuffed pig’s trotter. Neither is easy to find where I live, but truth be told, I don’t like either of them.

If you prefer, leave the sausage out entirely and make it a vegetarian soup. It will still be good, but not as rich in flavor. This makes a LOT of soup. It would be perfect to invite a gang of friends for an informal meal and serve this with a salad and some cheese and crackers. Otherwise, it stores well in the freezer.

Lentil Sausage Soup

3 links, or about 10 ounces Italian sausage
1 lb. dry lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, or 2 small carrots, sliced
4 cups Tuscan, or lacinato kale, chopped (or regular kale if you can’t find the other kind)
12 cups water
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsps. dried basil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Take the casing off the sausages and fry in a skillet, breaking up the links into bite-size pieces. Drain.
Rinse the lentils in a colander. In a separate large pot, saute the onion, celery and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the lentils and the rest of the ingredients, including the drained sausage. Cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. You may need to add more water if the soup gets too thick. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

No-knead Bread

No-knead bread

I’m sure many of you foodies have made or eaten this bread by now. It originated with Jim Lahey of the Sullivan St. Bakery in New York City, and its fame spread exponentially when Mark Bittman wrote about it in the New York Times. So much so that the weekend after the recipe was printed, food blogs reported that stores in the city were sold out of yeast.

Is all the fuss worth it? Well, if you’ve eaten it, you already know the answer. If you haven’t tried it, or made it yet, get thee to a grocery store. Quickly. Right Now. Before the stores close for the day or run out of yeast. Well, alright, read this post first.

Fresh out of the oven and placed on a board, this bread speaks to you – literally. It starts to make a crackling sound that augurs all the goodness in the eating ahead – a crust so crunchy and an interior so chewy and full of texture you’d swear it was baked by a real Italian baker in a brick oven.

My husband, whose father was a real Italian baker with a brick oven (and who later migrated to the U.S. and started his business all over again) swears this is almost as good as the bread he used to eat growing up. His cousins in Italy still maintain the bakery in a small village in Abruzzo. Having been there many times, I can say that the family’s bread (and pizza) is fantastic and special for different reasons, not the least of which is the nostalgia quotient.
But in the U.S., Lahey’s bread is the best substitute. It will spoil you against ever eating ordinary bread from a supermarket bakery again. Make this bread and you will have instant friends. Make this bread and you may even get a marriage proposal. It’s that good.

I have altered the original recipe to include more salt, since I thought Lahey’s version was a little bland in flavor. I always use King Arthur bread flour. The first time I made it, I used ordinary flour, and it wasn’t as good. Below are the ingredients for one loaf. After having made this recipe countless times, I now double the recipe and make two loaves at the same time, using two pots. The secret, as you’ll read, is in the technique. You need a good sturdy pot with a lid that can go into the oven, like a Le Creuset dutch oven pot. It doesn’t have to be cast iron or enameled cast-iron though. Even a heavy steel or aluminum pot will do. When I make it, I use one small, enameled cast-iron pot (in the photo) and one heavy aluminum pot that’s much larger and more squat. As a result, I get one small loaf that has a rounder shape, and one large loaf that is more spread out in size.

Enough explanation, here’s the recipe:

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast (yes, that’s right only 1/4 tsp.)
2 tsp. salt
1 5/8 cups water, or more as needed
cornmeal, as needed

1. In a large bowl, place the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon. It may need more water, depending on the humidity in the air that day. When I first made this recipe, I followed the recipe and used ordinary flour and the dough was very loose and impossible to work with – kind of shaggy. Now that I use bread flour, it is always a stiffer dough, and I find I have to add more water than the 1 5/8 cups. I add just enough water to make a dough that looks like it wouldn’t hold together into a ball if made outside the bowl, but not so loose that it looks like a batter. Each time you make it, you’ll get a better feel for what it should look like. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap
2. Go and solve the world’s problems (or play scrabble or go to sleep) while you let this rise a minimum of 12 hours to a maximum of 18-20 hours. After that time, remove the plastic wrap, and the dough should look like it’s dotted with little bubbles. Flour your hands as well as your work surface, and turn the dough onto the board, folding it over on itself. Let it rest for about 15 minutes.
3.Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface or fingers, shape it into a ball shape and place it on half of a linen or cotton towel (not terrycloth) that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. You can use flour if you like instead. Sprinkle the top with more cornmeal or flour and cover with the other half of the towel. Let it rise another two hours.
4. Before the two hours are up, heat your oven to 450 degrees and place your pot or dutch oven inside. Let it heat with the lid on, for 1/2 hour. Carefully remove the pot from the oven, and remove the lid. Slide your hand under the dishtowel and pick up the dough, letting any extra cornmeal fall into the sink or onto the counter top. Turn the dough upside down into the pot. Don’t worry if it’s not centered or looks a mess, or seems to have deflated. When it’s fully cooked, it seems as if magic has taken place inside the pot and you will have bread that looks professionally baked.
5. Put the lid back on the pot and cook for 1/2 hour. After that time, remove the lid and bake for another 1/2 hour.
6. Remove from the oven. At this point, an intoxicating smell will have permeated your house and it will be hard to resist cutting into the bread. Try. Try hard. The sound of the crackling of the crust will begin while it’s resting and continue for five minutes or so. It’s also much easier to cut after it’s cooled a bit. Cut into the bread while it’s warm, savor the goodness and graciously accept the kudos from all your friends and family. And ponder that marriage proposal.

This is some of the bread in my husband’s cousin’s bakery in Scerni, Italy (region of Abruzzo). Not round, but just as wonderful.

Prosciutto Log Appetizer

Prosciutto Log Appetizer

This recipe comes to you from my friend Titti, an enthusiastic member of a group I belong to called “Le Matte del Lunedi,” or “The crazy ladies of Monday.” We meet each week to chit-chat in Italian, drink espresso (and sometimes prosecco, I won’t kid ya’) and eat wonderful food prepared by that week’s hostess. It makes you
want to learn Italian just to be part of the group and eat the scrumptious food. Titti is always ready to help out anyone who needs an extra hand and frequently arrives with a special treat to help the hostess, as in the case, the prosciutto log.

The group is comprised of accomplished women who hail from nearly all parts of Italy. Titti is from the Liguria region, others from Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Campagna, and more. The discussion can range from family to politics, but almost always touches on the subject of food. With so many good cooks from so many regions of Italy, the food at the weekly meetings is always special. Once a year, we invite the husbands for an annual picnic where the ladies (and men) really pull out all the stops, culinarily-speaking. It’s an event no one wants to miss. I’ll be sharing more of the ladies’ recipes in the blog in the coming months. With New Year’s approaching, you might want to include Titti’s prosciutto log on your menu.

The recipe calls for prosciutto cotto, which translates to cooked ham. The cured prosciutto most of you know and love is called prosciutto crudo, or raw ham. Don’t use that in this recipe. Look in a specialty food shop for prosciutto cotto. If you can’t find real prosciutto cotto from Italy, used boiled ham instead, not smoked ham like a Virginia ham. Another substitute that is very close to prosciutto cotto is something that my local market sells called “French ham.” It’s as delicate in flavor as prosciutto cotto, but you’ll want to trim the fat and gelatin around the edges first. At many supermarkets, you’ll find something called “parmacotto,” but that’s not quite right for this recipe, since it normally contains a lot of other flavorings.

Prosciutto Log

1 pound prosciutto cotto, sliced
2 sticks softened butter
2 tsps. cognac
freshly ground black pepper
20 green olives, cut into small pieces

In a food processor, place the prosciutto cotto, butter, cognac and black pepper. Pulse until everything is smooth and well blended. Add the green olive bits and mix in with a spoon. Roll into a log shape and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill for a few hours before serving. Serve with bread rounds. To make a prettier presentation, trim the slices with a scallop-shaped cookie cutter, and decorate the plate with fennel fronds, as Titti did.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

For years we celebrated Christmas dinner with my friend Jan and her family. Jan would always prepare this bombe for dessert, while I made a chocolate yule log.
When I was thinking about what to serve my large family clan for dessert after our traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner, this bombe naturally came to mind. It’s refreshing, it’s light, it’s colorful and it can be made ahead of time. Plus there’s no baking involved. It’s as easy as scooping sorbet into a bowl.
You don’t have to wait for Christmas to make this though. I’ve served it at dinner parties and it’s always a hit. Plus it can serve a big crowd with no last minute fuss.
I normally make it with only one type of sorbet, as Jan does, but this time I chose to use a larger bowl than in the past and the one quart of sorbet called for in the original recipe doesn’t fill the entire bowl. So I bought another type of sorbet and filled the rest of the cavity with that. I think I’ll make it this way each time, since the contrasting colors of the sorbet makes it look even more festive. You don’t have to fuss with the whipped cream piping on the top either. You can simply turn it out from the bowl and pour the raspberry sauce on top. One other variation I make from the original recipe is to use candied walnuts rather than plain ones.

It’s a versatile recipe you can alter any number of ways – using pecans, almonds, or pistachio nuts – or using ice cream instead of sorbet. Be creative and come up with something of your own. I’d love to hear how you customize it.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

1 pint of heavy cream, whipped
fold in 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup maraschino cherries, sliced
1 1/2 cups candied walnuts (optional)

Make the candied walnuts ahead of time by taking 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tsp. water. Melt the sugar in a nonstick pan, add the water and bring to boil. Add the walnuts, stirring and cooking together for about 5 minutes at high heat, until the mixture starts to turn light tan and the sugar starts to coat the walnuts. Remove from heat and spread on waxed paper until cool.

Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla. Add the candied walnuts and sliced cherries.

Line a two-quart bowl with plastic wrap. Line the bowl with the whipped cream mixture, leaving the center hollow. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Remove from freezer and leaving a hollow semi-hemispherical space in the center, layer one quart of softened sorbet over the whipped cream mixture. I used a pomegranate sorbet, which is the pale pink color in the photo. Place in freezer again for several hours or overnight. Remove from freezer and fill the center hole with one pint of a different flavor of softened sorbet. I used raspberry sorbet here, but it would beautiful and delicious to try something like a bright orange mango sorbet too. Cover with saran wrap and place back in freezer. After several hours in the freezer, serve by turning upside down onto a plate and removing the plastic wrap. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Or you can take it one step further to make it more decorative, as I did in the photo:

About an hour or two before guests arrive, whip up one pint of heavy cream with 3 T. confectioner’s sugar. Whip until you get firm peaks, but not so firm that the cream turns to butter. Place whipped cream in a piping bag, or a plastic bag fitted with a large piping tip at one corner that has been snipped. Remove the bombe from the freezer and turn over onto a serving plate. Pipe rosettes of whipped cream over entire bombe. Place it back in the freezer as is, with no plastic covering on top. Otherwise, you will smash the pretty rosette design. Don’t leave it like this for more than a couple or three hours in the freezer though, or you may get ice crystals forming on the bombe. Decorate with candied violets or small non-pareils. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Raspberry Sauce:

Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.