“Bocconotti” – Little Chocolate Treats

“Bocconotti” – Little Chocolate Treats

These chocolate treats are one of the many specialties of the region of Italy called Abruzzo. We spent a week there, as part of a recent trip to Italy, visiting my husband’s relatives who live in a small village near the Adriatic coast.
While there, we feasted each day at pranzo (lunch) and cena (dinner), moving from one cousin’s house to another, soaking up the warmth, the hospitality and the good food.
Giovanna, the cousin who is pictured here, cooked up a batch of these cookies the night before we left for us to take back to the U.S. Her culinary skills are well-known among her family and neighbors in Italy. Since returning to the U.S., I’ve been sharing her bocconotti with friends and relatives here, so her reputation has spread to the U.S. as well.
Giovanna gave me her recipe, which uses lard in the dough, but I have adapted it with butter. She also told me she uses a mixture of liqueurs in the filling — “Whatever I have in the house,” she said.
Feel free to do the same, or focus on one particular flavor. You could use rum, or brandy, or an orange-flavored liqueur, for example. Or do as Giovanna does and combine several.
They keep for a month, she said, as long as they are in a covered tin or container. Even though the recipe makes about four dozen bocconotti, you might have trouble keeping them for that long!

Bocconotti

For the dough:

10 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
2/3 cup plus 1 T. sugar
6 egg yolks
3 1/2 cups flour or enough to make a soft dough

Cream butter and sugar in a mixer. Add egg yolks, one at a time, blending well. Add flour and mix until it forms a soft dough. Break off small portions and roll out to the thickness of pie crust. Cut and fit into small metal tart tins.

For the filling:

4 ounces espresso coffee
7 ounces dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 1/3 cups almonds, toasted and finely ground
3/4 cup plus 1 T. sugar
pinch of cinnamon
peel of 1 lemon, grated
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 cup liqueur, any kind
6 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Put the chocolate into a bowl and pour the hot coffee over it, stirring until melted and smooth. Mix in the almonds, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, egg yolks and liqueur. Fold in beaten egg whites.

Pour into the tart shells. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

When cool, melt about 4 ounces chocolate in a bowl with 1 T. oil. Spread over the cooled cookies.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Gelato

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Gelato

This is my favorite gelato combo – coffee, dark chocolate and coconut – from my favorite gelateria in Rome – Giorgiagel. It’s a tiny outpost in Trastevere on via. S. Francesco a Ripa that you never read about. But after trying all the major, well-known gelaterie, this one could not be matched, at least for my benchmark flavor, dark chocolate – or “cioccolato fondente,” as they say in Italy. It’s wickedly good. Aside from the intensity of the flavor, you get the most for your euro here – this cup or “coppetta” cost only 1 euro – or the equivalent of about $1.40 during my trip. And they add a crunchy cookie. Giolitti, one of Rome’s beloved institutions, is my second favorite gelato spot in Rome. The coconut flavor here is the best I’ve tasted anywhere, with flecks of fresh coconut adding texture and more taste to an already yummy flavor. The coffee is really intense too, but the dark chocolate doesn’t hold a candle to Giorgiagel. The flavors on display in the case are myriad, with a rainbow of fruit sorbets including mango, plum and wild berries. This heaping cone cost 1.50 euro. Located at via Uffice del Vicario, 40, not far from the Pantheon.
The chocolate from Fonte della Salute, via Cardinal Marmaggi in Trastevere, looks darker than most, but it tasted like some thickener had been added in – more like a chocolate pudding. But it certainly looked like there were plenty of pleased customers there. The stracciatella (chocolate chip) nestled next to it, was delicious. cost 1.50 euro
Dark chocolate and caramel at San Crispino – another landmark gelateria in Rome with several locations – one near the Trevi Fountain and one near the Pantheon. Right off the bat, I don’t like the fact that their ice cream is served from covered stainless steel containers, so you can’t see what you’re ordering. Moreover, the price of this meager serving is double – 2 euros – what I paid for a heaping cup at Giorgiagel, and the dark chocolate is much less intense. To round out my tasting, (I had to give flavors other than chocolate a shot after all) I include photos of two other combos – a luscious amarena (sour cherry) and frutti di bosco (wild berries) — and a cup of torroncino (nougat candy) and pistachio. Both from Giorgiagel, and 1 euro each.
Sorry to put this comment from a reader here rather than in the comments section, but it’s because I had to “repost” this after I messed up the placement of the pictures and the text. I couldn’t figure out how to allow the comment from the first post to be visible in the comments section, so here it is under the text: DASKMA said… I totally agree with your assessment of Giorgiagel. We’ve been living in Trastevere for the past nine months and stop here with our daughter several times a week…it is by far the best gelato we’ve found in Rome, especially when you consider taste, price and unpretentious friendliness of the owners and staff. The gelato there is wonderful and deserves to be better known…since they have only been open a couple years, I am sure they will soon get the reputation they deserve….and I also agree with all you said about San Crispino…over-priced and too pretentious for my taste-buds… April 21, 2009 3:51 PM

Poached Pears With Ice Cream

Poached Pears with Ice Cream

After all those photos of Roman gelato, it just didn’t seem fair to all of you who aren’t planning a trip to sunny Italy any time in the future. Besides, my niece Keri who is living in Paris for several months, where she really has no reason to complain about the dearth of wonderful desserts, emailed me with the message “You’re killing me” after seeing all those photos.
So I’m offering a dessert that I first prepared when we were living in Rome where the pears were enormous. We always seemed to have a bottle of red wine on hand as well, so I combine the two with a little sugar, some lemon rind and a cinnamon stick. It’s a dessert you can easily make ahead of time and reheat in the microwave. I also like to serve it at Thanksgiving, for those who want to end their meal with something sweet, but not the heaviness of pies or cakes. Topping it with ice cream is unnecessary, but it’s a perfect complement to the warm, cooked pears. Last night, I tried a new flavor from Haagen Dazs called “caramelized pears and toasted pecans.” yumm.

Poached Pears in Red Wine

6 Pears
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup sugar
a few shavings of lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick

Peel pears, cut in half and remove core and seeds. Place into a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer over medium heat covered, about 1/2 hour, or until fork tender. Keep the lid ajar for the last 10 minutes, to help evaporate and thicken some of the liquid. Best served warm — with ice cream of course.

I Scream, We All Scream, For Gelato!

I Scream, We All Scream, For Gelato!

This is my favorite combo – coffee, dark chocolate and coconut – from my favorite gelateria in Rome – Giorgiagel. It’s a tiny outpost in Trastevere on via. S. Francesco a Ripa that you never read about. But after trying all the major, well-known gelaterie, this one could not be matched, at least for my benchmark flavor, dark chocolate – or “cioccolato fondente,” as they say in Italy. It’s wickedly good. Aside from the intensity of the flavor, you get the most for your euro here – this cup or “coppetta” cost only 1 euro – or the equivalent of about $1.40 during my trip. And they add a crunchy cookie.

Giolitti, one of Rome’s beloved institutions, is my second favorite gelato spot in Rome. The coconut flavor here is the best I’ve tasted anywhere, with flecks of fresh coconut adding texture and more taste to an already yummy flavor. The coffee is really intense too, but the dark chocolate doesn’t hold a candle to Giorgiagel. The flavors on display in the case are myriad, with a rainbow of fruit sorbets including mango, plum and wild berries. This heaping cone cost 1.50 euro. Located at via Uffice del Vicario, 40, not far from the Pantheon.

The chocolate from Fonte della Salute, via Cardinal Marmaggi in Trastevere, looks darker than most, but it tasted like some thickener had been added in – more like a chocolate pudding. But it certainly looked like there were plenty of pleased customers there. The stracciatella (chocolate chip) nestled next to it, was delicious. cost 1.50 euro

Dark chocolate and caramel at San Crispino – another landmark gelateria in Rome with several locations – one near the Trevi Fountain and one near the Pantheon. Right off the bat, I don’t like the fact that their ice cream is served from covered stainless steel containers, so you can’t see what you’re ordering. Moreover, the price of this meager serving is double – 2 euros – what I paid for a heaping cup at Giorgiagel, and the dark chocolate is much less intense.

To round out my tasting, (I had to give flavors other than chocolate a shot after all) I include photos of two other combos – a luscious amarena (sour cherry) and frutti di bosco (wild berries) — and a cup of torroncino (nougat candy) and pistachio. Both from Giorgiagel, and 1 euro each.

Time Out For “Research”

Time Out For “Research”

Just wanted to alert readers of this blog that there would not likely be any new postings for a couple of weeks.
I’m off to do some “research.”
Ciao a tutti.

Beet “Ravioli”

Beet “Ravioli”

Despite the misty and rainy weather, it was a magical time on Shelter Island last weekend when Rebecca O’Malley and Lars Weinrich got married. Shelter Island is located between the North and South fork of New York State’s Long Island. It is a verdant, naturalistic island, and the place where Rebecca was raised. The rain held off just long enough for Rebecca’s father to perform the ceremony by the placid waterfront and boats bobbing in the harbor.
The good karma started on Friday night at a pre-wedding pig roast, where guests were treated to succulent pork and delicious side dishes. The food at Saturday’s reception was no less wonderful, and several notches higher in elegance. Guests were served family-style, with food that included filet mignon with wild mushrooms, grilled sea bass and a beet “ravioli” that intrigued me.
We at the table all thought we’d be served a pasta made with beets — but no, it was an actual slice of beet stuffed with goat cheese.
Returning home, I pulled out my mandoline and set to work replicating the dish. It really does require a mandoline to get the slices thin enough. The only other ingredient is goat cheese. If you want to, you can pour dress it up with vinegar and oil, but I found it wasn’t necessary. See for yourself how easy it is to prepare. It made a great side dish, but would also work as an appetizer.

Beet Ravioli

beets
goat cheese

Trim the beets and place in a roasting pan smeared with a little olive oil. Roast for one hour at 350 degrees or until fork tender. Let the beets cool, then peel and thinly slice using a mandoline. Place a dab of goat cheese in the middle of the beet slice and fold over. That’s it!


Rebecca and Lars

Pizza With Figs And Prosciutto

Pizza with Figs and Prosciutto

If you’re a pizza purist and think it isn’t pizza if it’s not topped with tomato sauce, then you can skip this one. But I warn you, you’ll be missing out on one of the best pizzas you’ll ever taste.
We recently shared a similar pizza as an appetizer with our friends Al and Ellen Stark at Orso, a New York City restaurant that’s a favorite of theirs.
The list of ingredients blend together to create a perfect harmonic symphony of tastes: the sweetness of fresh figs, combined with the saltiness of prosciutto, the sharp tang of gorgonzola cheese, the mild goodness of mozzarella, the bitterness of arugula and the crunch of walnuts, all fused together on top of a crusty dough. It was a pizza that none of us could stop eating.
I knew I had to try duplicating it at home and guess what? The homemade version was every bit as good as the restaurant’s. And it was easy to boot. I’ve made it twice in the last week and a half, and the first time I absent-mindedly forgot the prosciutto (well, it’s got a LOT of different toppings to remember after all). For all you vegetarians out there, it was delicious even without the prosciutto. But I promise you – with the prosciutto it’s sublime.

Pizza with figs and prosciutto

You can make your own pizza dough if you like, but I went the easy route and bought some already made at a local pizzeria. I just stretched it out on a 12-inch round metal pizza pan, pierced it all around with a fork, and let it rise for about 15 minutes. Douse with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Bake it in a preheated 500 degree oven for about 10 minutes on one side, until browned. If the bottom is not substantially browned, flip over the pizza shell and bake it with the bottom side facing up for another 10 minutes. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn.
Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Scatter the following ingredients over the pizza crust:

2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
4 -6 very thin slices prosciutto
about 10 small fresh figs, quartered*
a small handful of arugula, chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until cheeses are melted.

*I haven’t tried this recipe using dried figs, but if you do, drop me a comment and let me know how it works out.

Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves

Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves

Swiss Chard – It’s known as “The Queen of Greens” and for good reason. It’s packed with valuable nutrients and a flavor that delivers – something like spinach but punchier. Growing up in an Italian household, it was not unusual to eat it cooked with a little olive oil, garlic and a dash of red hot pepper flakes. I still love to prepare it that way, but when I find myself with an abundance of the crinkly green leaves, like the one in the picture, I can’t resist stuffing them with ground meat and brown rice and stashing them in the freezer for those days when I don’t have time or inclination to cook.
I have served them with a bread crumb/parmesan cheese topping or smothered in tomato sauce. Either way, this recipe has a way of winning over any skeptics who’ve never tried this relative of the beet family.
You can be creative and use anything you like in the stuffing. I happened to have tomatoes and mushrooms on hand, but you can vary it and use anything you like – from carrots and celery to zucchini and peppers. You can even eliminate the meat entirely if you want to go strictly vegetarian.
For this recipe I chop off the thick stalks and use them separately in other recipes – soups or gratineed in a casserole. It’s like getting two vegetables for the price of one.

Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves

1 cup raw brown rice, cooked in 3 cups water
Make this ahead of time and let it cool.

swiss chard leaves, about 16-20 large

1 1/2 pounds ground meat
1/2 medium onion
3 T. olive oil
several cloves of garlic, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup parsley, minced
salt, pepper

Topping:
either a tomato sauce OR a mixture of:
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dried basil
dash of red pepper flakes

Start by bringing a large pot of water to boil. Cut off the stalks of the swiss chard and cook them in the boiling water for about two or three minutes. The point is to make them pliable enough to stuff easily. Drain and run cold water over the leaves to stop the cooking and to make them easier to work with.
Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil until translucent, then add the meat and saute until cooked through. Drain off any remaining water or oil and put into a large bowl. Saute the mushrooms until cooked, then add them to the bowl, along with the diced tomatoes, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooled rice to the bowl, then the beaten eggs and mix everything well.
Dry the swiss chard leaves a little, and lay them out on a counter top. Place about 1/4 cup of stuffing on each leaf, then start rolling up the leaves from the stalk end, folding in the sides as you roll. Place in a greased casserole. Top with either a tomato sauce or a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and herbs. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about 1/2 hour.

Growing And Eating Healthy Food For A Healthy Life

Growing and Eating Healthy Food for A Healthy Life

I’ve met a lot of remarkable people in Princeton, N.J., and Dorothy Mullen is one of them. Several years ago, she decided to try her hand at organic gardening, borrowed a book from the public library, then set about following the instructions, beginning with plowing under her front yard.
Not only did she create a garden where she generously encourages neighbors to help themselves to the abundant flowers, herbs and vegetables, but she has since expanded her vision to encompass local school children.
At several elementary schools in the community, she organized the establishment of organic gardens where kids learn first-hand where their food really comes from. It encourages healthy eating and an interest in helping the environment as well. Some of the bountiful mint grown at the schools is an ingredient in ice cream made by “The Bent Spoon,” an outstanding gelato shop in Princeton’s Palmer Square. Nearly all the proceeds from the ice-cream are donated back to the garden projects at the school.
As if that weren’t enough, Dorothy, who is a holistic health care practitioner, also can take credit for helping people with addictions of any kind – cigarettes, alcohol, food – move past them and live a healthier life. Through a program called Suppers For Sobriety that she conceived while working on her masters degree in counseling, members can learn how to move past their addiction and turn around years of damage to the body and spirit. It all starts out one supper at a time. According to the website, SuppersforSobriety.org, the format includes preparation of a simple, stability-promoting meal, a brief meditation or stress management exercise, time to share, and the Suppers forum, which involves readings of materials that may help people in recovery find the help they need. Some meetings also include outdoor walks or cooking lessons.
The only requirement for membership is the desire to lead a healthier life in body, mind and spirit, Dorothy says. “If you can make a pot of coffee, you can make a pot of soup.”

Cauliflower Soup With Caramelized Onions

Cauliflower Soup with Caramelized Onions

I’ve stared at that head of cauliflower in the fridge too long. It’s not that I don’t like cauliflower. It’s just that when I bought the monstrous thing two weeks ago at a farmer’s market, it was enough to serve the whole neighborhood. We just can’t eat it fast enough. I’ve made side dishes with it several times, but since it was as large as a soccer ball to begin with, I still had half of it begging me to come up with some other ideas. And a few brown spots were starting to appear, so the time had come to get serious. What to do, what to do? A soup came to mind, especially since the weather had taken a turn to remind us that fall is around the corner.
This is not a pretty soup to look at. It’s a rather dull-looking monochromatic exercise in brown and beige. I could have made it a white soup, had I not browned the cauliflower in olive oil first. But that step gives the soup more taste. And the taste, especially those caramelized onions resting on top, makes up for the homely appearance of this soup. DO NOT scrimp on the time needed to cook the onions. They really need the full 20 to 30 minutes to achieve that sweet and crunchy flavor. And if you’re like me, you’ll probably be wishing you had a secret stash of those caramelized onions for an extra serving.

Cauliflower Soup With Caramelized Onions

Start by peeling one large onion, slicing it, and cooking it in 1/4 cup of olive oil in a saute pan. Keep cooking and stirring for at least 20 minutes while the soup is simmering.

For the Soup:

1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
one head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups chicken stock
salt, white pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking the florets for about 10 minutes, or until they are partially browned. Add the potato, chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste. The first time I made this, I under-salted and over-peppered. My husband loved the piquancy, but I drank an entire large bottle of San Pellegrino before the heat in my mouth was tempered. To be on the safe side, try making it with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Finish by pureeing in a blender or with an immersion stick blender.
Ladle into bowls and add the caramelized onions on top.