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Plum Almond Cake

I’ve been making the well-known plum cake from Marian Burros and the New York Times for years, but recently decided to try a similar one in Domenica Marchetti’s cookbook “Rustic Italian.” Her recipes are always winners and this was no exception. It incorporates a little almond flour in addition to all-purpose flour, but what really sets this apart is the sugary-almond topping nestled over the plums. The crunchy coating takes it over the top, although it loses its crispness when it sits overnight. No problem, because it’s so delicious, you’re not likely to have any leftovers the next day.

It uses Italian prune plums, and although Domenica’s recipe calls for nine of them, mine were smaller and I needed a lot more to fill the pan. It’s a cinch to remove the pits. Just slice down the middle, twist each half in the opposite direction, and pull out the pit. Lay the plums over the batter cut side up.

Top with the almond-butter-sugar coating and bake.

The crumb is really tender, the fruit is jammy and the topping is sugary and irresistible. I don’t know what took me so long to make this cake, but it’s now at the top of my list when I have a hankering for a slice of cake. I think this would taste great with apricots, peaches or other fruits too when Italian prune plums are hard to find. Grazie mille, cara Domenica.

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Plum Almond Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup sunflower or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ cup almond meal or almond flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup half and half or whole milk
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
  • ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 9 Italian plums, halved and pitted (or more if they're small)
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8-inch springform pan. Dust tthe pan with flour and tap out the excess.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, egg, half and half (or milk), lemon juice and zest, the 1 cup sugar, and almond extract.
  4. Whisk to blend thoroughly.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  6. Pour the batter into tthe prepared pan.
  7. Arrange the plum halves, cut side up, on top of the batter.
  8. In a bowl, combine the almonds, the 2 tablespoons sugar and the butter and mix well.
  9. Dot the almond topping over the cake.
  10. Bake until the topping is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.
  12. Remove the ring from the pan and place the cake on a serving platter.
  13. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
 

Cherry Tomato Focaccia

Summer is winding down here in the Northeast U.S., but I’ve still got plenty of teensy cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine in my garden. These mini cherry tomatoes are perfect atop a focaccia, although you could certainly use regular-sized cherry tomatoes instead. The basic no-knead focaccia recipe comes from Bon Appetit, and I added the tomatoes and rosemary. Feel free to try other herbs, such as thyme or oregano if rosemary isn’t to your liking.

The hardest part of this recipe is stretching the dough across the pan. It keeps wanting to spring back, but be persistent and keep pressing and stretching until it reaches all the edges. (NOT TRUE – SEE UPDATE BELOW)

UPDATE: Let the dough rise a second time in the pan BEFORE trying to stretch it out. It works much much better that way. This is a photo of the dough when I tried to stretch it out before letting it rise a second time. It worked, but it’s much better to let the blob of dough sit in the pan to rise a second time before pressing it out.

This is a photo of the dough after it had risen a second time. Only then, did I try to stretch it while in the pan, and it had already stretched nearly to all the edges by itself. After it had risen, and I stretched it the rest of the way into the corners of the pan, I dimpled it with fingers that were wet with a little olive oil.
Then I scattered the tomatoes, minced rosemary and kosher salt on top, with another little drizzle of olive oil.

Bake it in a 450 degree F. oven for about 20 minutes to a half hour, or until lightly golden.

The recipe makes enough for a crowd, so if you can’t eat it all the same day it’s baked, it’s best to freeze the leftovers and reheat another day.

Bon Appetit’s recipe calls for a brush of melted butter on top, but I prefer to drizzle with a bit more olive oil and sea salt, Pour yourself a nice drink, and enjoy a slice of this focaccia as a perfect accompaniment.

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Cherry Tomato Focaccia
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 ¼-oz. envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ tsp.)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour
  • 5 tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1 Tbsp. Morton kosher salt
  • 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for hands
  • a bunch of cherry tomatoes
  • butter to grease the pan
  • Flaky sea salt
  • minced fresh rosemary
Instructions
  1. Whisk one ¼-oz. envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ tsp.), 2 tsp. honey, and 2½ cups lukewarm water in a medium bowl and let sit 5 minutes (it should foam or at least get creamy; if it doesn’t your yeast is dead and you should start again—check the expiration date!).
  2. Add 5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour and 5 tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1 Tbsp. Morton kosher salt and mix with a rubber spatula until a shaggy dough forms and no dry streaks remain.
  3. Pour 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil into a big bowl that will fit in your refrigerator.
  4. Transfer dough to bowl and turn to coat in oil.
  5. Cover with a silicone lid or plastic wrap and chill until dough is doubled in size (it should look very bubbly and alive), at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
  6. If you're in a rush, you can also let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 3–4 hours.
  7. Generously butter a 13x9" baking pan, for thicker focaccia that’s perfect for sandwiches, or an 18x13" rimmed baking sheet, for focaccia that's thinner, crispier, and great for snacking.
  8. The butter may seem superfluous, but it’ll ensure that your focaccia doesn’t stick.
  9. Pour 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil into center of pan.
  10. Keeping the dough in the bowl and using a fork in each hand, gather up edges of dough farthest from you and lift up and over into center of bowl.
  11. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat process.
  12. Do this 2 more times; you want to deflate dough while you form it into a rough ball.
  13. Transfer dough to prepared pan.
  14. Pour any oil left in bowl over and turn dough to coat it in oil.
  15. Let rise, uncovered, in a dry, warm spot (like near a radiator or on top of the fridge or a preheating oven) until doubled in size, at least 1½ hours and up to 4 hours.
  16. Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 450°.
  17. To see if the dough is ready, poke it with your finger. It should spring back slowly, leaving a small visible indentation.
  18. If it springs back quickly, the dough isn’t ready. (If at this point the dough is ready to bake but you aren’t, you can chill it up to 1 hour.)
  19. Lightly oil your hands. If using a rimmed baking sheet, gently stretch out dough to fill.
  20. Dimple focaccia all over with your fingers, creating very deep depressions in the dough (reach your fingers all the way to the bottom of the pan).
  21. Place cherry tomatoes throughout the focaccia, pushing them down into the dough,
  22. Drizzle with remaining 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and the minced rosemary.
  23. Bake focaccia until puffed and golden brown all over, 20–30 minutes.
  24. Drizzle with more olive oil and additional salt if needed.
  25. Focaccia is best eaten the day it's made, but keeps well in the freezer.
  26. Slice it into pieces, store it in a freezer-safe container, then reheat it on a baking sheet in a 300° F oven.

Grilled Codfish with Cherry Tomatoes

I’ve got a gazillion cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine and looking for a home. This recipe, adapted from my blogging buddy, Stacey, is the perfect place for these teensy tomatoes that are no larger than a small sourball candy. You probably won’t be able to find them this tiny, but regular-sized cherry or grape tomatoes work fine here too. Everything gets placed in a disposable aluminum pan and cooked on a hot grill, keeping your kitchen cool on a hot summer’s day. In 15 minutes, dinner is ready, and you don’t have to flip the fish at all if you keep the lid down on the grill. You needn’t limit yourself to cod either. Try it with flounder, snapper or halibut, for example, but depending on the thickness of the fish, you may have to cook it a shorter or longer time on the grill.

There is a lot of delicious sauce that oozes forth from the tomatoes and other ingredients, so serve it over rice, polenta or pasta to soak up all those juices.

Since I was heavy-handed with the tomatoes, there were a lot left over, after we had eaten all the fish. I saved a little of the rice and green beans also, and the next day had a delicious lunch heated up in the microwave.

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Codfish with Cherry Tomatoes on the Grill
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. codfish
  • whole cherry tomatoes (I didn't measure but there were at least two cups - use as many as you like)
  • 3 anchovies (anchovy haters - please don't ignore these - it won't taste like anchovies, but adds a great "umami" flavor)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • 1 lemon, half sliced and placed in pan, and half juiced and poured into the pan
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • fresh oregano leaves
  • fresh basil leaves, minced
  • fresh parsley minced
Instructions
  1. Drizzle a little olive oil onto the bottom of a disposable aluminum pan.
  2. Add the codfish, seasoning with salt and pepper and then placing a pat of butter on top
  3. Pour the juice of half a lemon over the fish.
  4. Place the rest of the ingredients (except the basil and parsley) in the pan and toss lightly to coat everything.
  5. Cook on a hot grill with the lid closed for 15 minutes, (or longer if your fish is thicker and not cooked through)
  6. Sprinkle the cooked fish with the minced basil and parsley, and serve.
 

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake

I’ve been overdosing on blueberries lately. It all started while I was in London and walked by a fruit vendor on a corner selling crates of blueberries for the equivalent of $4 U.S. I hit the mother lode, so how could I resist?  The vendor dumped the blueberries out of the crate into a plastic shopping bag, and it was heavy – nearly the same weight as my one-month old granddaughter that I’d been visiting. On my 20 minute walk home, I had to continually shift the bag from my left hand to my right to keep my shoulder from hurting.

At a certain point, I cradled the bag of blueberries in my arms, which wouldn’t have been so bad except I was wearing a stark white shirt. You know where this is going. Fast forward to a spray I found in my daughter’s laundry room that miraculously took out the blueberry stains and returned my shirt to its virgin glory. I later found out later however, that it was bathroom cleaner with bleach, not a spot remover for clothes! Well, at least now I have another tool in my arsenal for removing stains.

But I digress — back to blueberries. I used them all up (finally) to bake three blueberry cakes, two pies and a dozen and a half muffins. The first cake I made was Ottolenghi’s well-known and delicious blueberry almond and lemon cake, which I’ve made many times and the recipe is here. I wanted to try a different recipe for the second go-round, and decided on a lemon blueberry pound cake from Once Upon a Cake.  I made it, but substituted one cup almond flour for half the regular flour. It was good but it didn’t rise enough to create the attractive domed center that I was looking for. Moreover, after we each had eaten a slice of the cake, Trevor the cat found it on the kitchen counter and helped himself to a big chunk, causing us to toss the remaining cake, and wreaking havoc in Trevor’s “plumbing.”

photo credit: Ben Morse

When I got back home to the U.S., I decided to bake Once Upon A Cake’s recipe a second time, but this time exactly as it was written, eliminating the almond flour. The result was a perfectly domed center and a delicious pound cake.

I saved a few of the blueberries to cook down and tint the glaze, but you could keep the glaze white, or eliminate it entirely, dusting the top with only a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

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Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, packed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups + 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled off with a knife
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup blueberries (if using frozen blueberries, do not defrost)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1¼ cups gramulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • FOR THE GLAZE:
  • about six blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice, (about ½ lemon, or as much as needed to get the right consistency)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Adjust an oven rack to middle position.
  3. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, shaking out excess flour.
  4. (Or butter the pan and line with parchment paper, then spray with nonstick spray)
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
  6. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes while you proceed with the recipe.
  7. It will curdle, but that's fine.
  8. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, baking soda and salt.
  9. In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the remainign teaspoon of flour.
  10. Set both aside.
  11. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  12. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  13. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
  14. With the mixer on low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture, then half of the milk mixture.
  15. Beat in another third of the flour mixture, then the remaining milk mixture, followed by the remaining flour mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary.
  16. Add the flour-dusted blueberries to the batter and, using a spatula, fold until evenly combined.
  17. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  18. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a tester comes out clean.
  19. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
  20. When the cake is cool, transfer to a serving platter.
  21. Make the glaze by cooking the six blueberries with the water, pressing down on the blueberries to release the color, and cooking for a couple of minutes.
  22. Strain the blueberries, retaining the liquid and tossing the squashed blueberries.
  23. Mix the liquid with the confectioner's sugar, adding lemon juice if it's too thick.
  24. It should be very thick, almost the consistency of molasses.
  25. Spread the glaze over the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides.
 

Sweet and Sour Peppers

Roasted red peppers have been in my radar for decades, even before I was a grown up. When I was a child, my parents would roast peppers by the bushel-full on the grill each summer and fall, before preserving them in jars for the colder months ahead. As an adult, I knew all about these delectable cured vegetables long before they became ubiquitous beyond Italian family tables. So I glossed over Domenica Marchetti’s recipe for sweet and sour roasted peppers in her cookbook, “Preserving Italy,” wrongly thinking you couldn’t improve on the basic roasted pepper. Boy was I wrong, as I found out a few weeks ago, while having dinner at the home of our mutual friends, Helen and Doug. Helen prepared Domenica’s recipe and served these treats over some luscious burrata cheese. One bite and I was hooked.

I couldn’t wait to get home and make these myself. You start out by either roasting the peppers indoors at the broil setting in your oven, or roasting them on an outdoor grill, until they blacken nearly all over. Let them sit covered in a bowl for a little while, until they’re cool enough to handle. Then peel off the blackened skins, and scrape the insides, removing the seeds. Slice them and place in a clean bowl with the garlic, capers and parsley.

Follow the recipe for the brine and pour over the top. Let the peppers steep for about an hour, then drain most of the liquid, and pack into jars, topping with olive oil.

Let the flavors meld together for a couple of days (if you can wait that long) then serve any way you like. They are especially delicious and offer a perfect contrast in flavors and texture over creamy burrata cheese.

But try them simply as a topping for bruschetta; in sandwiches or however you like. I know I am utterly addicted to these sweet and sour peppers and they’re going to become a staple in my kitchen. Pack them in pretty jars to give as gifts but make sure to keep some for yourself. You won’t be able to resist.

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Domenica Marchetti's Sweet and Sour Roasted Peppers
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds ripe bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons tiny capers
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced paper-thin
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • EQUIPMENT:
  • 2 sterlized 1-pint jars and their lids
Instructions
  1. Grill the peppers until the outside skin is blistered and somewhat blacked all around.
  2. If not grilling, you can roast the ppers in the oven.
  3. Arrange an oven rack 4 inches below the broiler and preheat the broiler.
  4. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and broil, turning every couple of minutes with tongs, until they are blistered on all sides.
  5. Transfer to a bowl and cover, with a plate or with plastic wrap.
  6. Let the peppers steam for about 10 minutes
  7. Lay a pepper on a cutting board near the sink and slice or gently pull off the stem.
  8. Let any juice from the pepper drain into the sink.
  9. Cut the pepper in half and scrape off the charred skins, seeds and innards.
  10. Cut the halves lengthwise into thin strips, about ¼ inch thick.
  11. Clean and slice the remaining peppers and transfer them to a heatproof bowl.
  12. Stir in the capers and parsley.
  13. Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and garlic to a boil in a saucepan set over medium high heat.
  14. Boil the brine for two minutes to dissolve the sugar and salt, and then pour it over the peppers.
  15. Let steep for one hour.
  16. Drain the peppers, reserving a little of the brine.
  17. Pack the peppers tightly into the sterlized jars.
  18. Spoon one tablespoon brine over the peppers.
  19. Then fill each jar with enough oil to cover the peppers completely.
  20. Cover tightly and let sit at cool room temperature for 24 hours.
  21. Check to make sure the peppers are still submerged.
  22. If not, add more oil.
  23. Let the peppers cure for at least two days before using, then store in the refrigerator for up to three months.
  24. To serve, remove from the jar only as much as you plan to use and let it come to room temperature.
  25. Top off the jar with more oil as necessary to keep the remaining peppers submerged.
 

Blueberry Muffins with crumb topping

I’ve made many blueberry muffins in my day, but I have to say, these are the best I’ve ever eaten, hands down. Maybe it’s because of the addition of almond extract, or maybe it’s because they use butter instead of oil. Or maybe it’s because I added a crumb topping to the recipe that’s so irresistible I plan to double it next time I bake it. For all these reasons, you have to make these muffins. The basic recipe is from a website called “Once Upon A Chef” and for once, the batter filled all twelve muffin cups, something that rarely happens with so many muffin recipes. So go get some blueberries while they’re still in season, and make these muffins. If you like, you can slather these with butter while they’re warm for even more deliciousness (my husband is a butter fiend), but honestly, they’re so good even without a pat of butter, you’ll be tempted to eat more than you should.

Congratulations to the winner of the giveaway of wonderful products from Limone Market from my last post: Frank from “Memorie di Angelina,” chosen by a computer random number generator.  Thanks to everyone who participated and left comments on both the blog and my Instagram page.

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Blueberry Muffins
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup milk, or more as needed
  • 2¼ cups fresh blueberries
  • turbinado sugar, optional
  • CRUMB TOPPING: (I recommend doubling the crumb topping for even more joy.)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • scant ½ cup flour
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CRUMB TOPPING:
  2. In a medium bowl, combine sugars, cinnamon, salt and melted butter.
  3. Whisk until combined.
  4. Add flour, and stir until the flour is combined.
  5. Set Aside.
  6. FOR THE MUFFINS:
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and place oven rack in the middle position..
  8. Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.
  9. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  10. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar for about 2 minutes.
  11. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.
  12. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts.
  13. The batter may look a little grainy and that's ok.
  14. Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beating on low speed to combine.
  15. The batter will be very thick.
  16. Add the blueberries to the batter and fold gently with a spatula until evenly distributed.
  17. Do not overmix.
  18. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin (an ice-cream scoop with a wire scraper works well here).
  19. They will be very full.
  20. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly on top of the muffins, or scatter the crumb topping over the tops of each muffin.
  21. Bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly golden.
  22. Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.
  23. (But they taste so good when they're warm!)
  24. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin to free it from the pan if necessary (the blueberries can stick), then transfer the muffins to a rack to cool completely.
 

Italian Rice Salad and a Giveaway

I first ate a rice salad years ago in Italy, prepared by one of my cousins near Piacenza during a particularly hot summer spell. I have since seen them in many places all over Italy, whether served with a vinegar and oil base as I have here, or a mayonnaise base. Either way they’re delicious and they typically include tuna, hard-boiled eggs, peas and many other vegetables. Many even include chunks of ham, but I kept this one vegetarian. The beauty of this salad is how it adapts to whatever you have on hand in your kitchen, and you can add ingredients in whatever quantities you like. It’s a perfect salad to take to a picnic, and tastes even better the day after you make it. But it makes a fine cold lunch or dinner too, since it contains proteins as well as vegetables. Add a green salad on the side and you’ve got a healthy and delicious meal. I used arborio rice and olive oil, both sent to me by  Limone Market. The rice is a brand called “Lucedio,” from a farm in the heart of Italy’s Piedmont region.  The grains are husked only when orders are received, to ensure freshness, and they held up well to all the strong ingredients in the salad. After cooking the rice, make sure to let it cool completely before proceeding with the recipe. The oil is from an estate in Sicily called “Bona Furtuna” and is made from a single, organic variety of olive called biancolillo centinara. The oil has a mild flavor, with a slight peppery taste at the end and would work well with any type of salad, seafood or even cake recipes. Both are available at Limone Market’s online shop.

Now for the giveaway: Limone Market has graciously offered to give one of my readers an assortment of its products – arborio rice and olive oil, that I used in this salad, plus lentils and pasta. The organic pasta is made by Monogramo Felicetti with kamut, an ancient grain that originated in the Middle East. It retains its firm texture, and is an excellent source of protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals, including selenium. Plus the shape — chiocciole (snails), is great for soaking up a sauce. I served it in a meat and tomato sauce, but the next time I use it, I plan to serve it in a lighter, olive-oil based sauce, to highlight its nutty, buttery flavor.

The organic lentils are from the Umbria region, from Casa Corneli.  Although the package recommends pre-soaking them, I found this step totally unnecessary, since they have very thin skins. I used them in a salad and they retained their shape perfectly. They’d be great in a soup or as a warm side dish too.

All you have to do to receive these products is leave a comment telling me your favorite way to enjoy rice. If you’re on Instagram, follow @ciaochowlinda and @limone_market and you’ll get two extra chances to win. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more)

Italian Rice Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups arborio rice
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 6.7 oz. jar tuna in olive oil (preferably an Italian brand like Tonnino), broken into pieces
  • 2 eggs hard-boiled and roughly chopped
  • cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • ¼ cup pickled red onions, chopped into pieces
  • ¼ cup pickled or roasted peppers, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 6.5 oz. jar marinated artichokes, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, diced in small pieces and boiled until tender
  • ½ cup frozen peas, used directly from the package (not cooked)
  • minced parsley
  • salt, pepper
  • FOR THE DRESSING:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 large sprigs of basil
  • salt, pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook the rice in tthe water for about 20 minutes.
  2. Let the rice cool completely.
  3. Add the rest of the salad ingredients and mix.
  4. Place the dressing ingredients in a blender and whir until all are combined well.
  5. Pour over the rice salad and mix in thoroughly.
 

 

Blueberry Cheesecake Bars with streusel almond topping

Here’s hoping you all had a fun and happy Fourth of July, celebrating with family and friends. We spent the day with family, enjoying a delicious clambake, with these blueberry cheesecake bars for dessert. The recipe comes from a website called  Valeries Kitchen, although I gussied it up a bit with the addition of a streusel topping. You could omit that if you like, but it gave it a nice crunchy contrast to the creamy cheesecake filling. Made in a 13″ x 9″ pan, it serves a crowd. I cut it into 20 individual pieces, but you could make your pieces smaller, or larger.

Make sure to chill it unsliced at least four hours, or preferably overnight, to make it easier to slice.

They’re sure to be a hit with any crowd, whether you’re celebrating a holiday or just enjoying an ordinary day at home.

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Blueberry Cheesecake Bars with streusel almond topping
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • From www.Valerieskitchen.com
  • FOR THE CRUST:
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (you'll need 14 whole rectangle shaped graham crackers)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • FOR THE CHEESECAKE:
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (reduced fat or regular)
  • ½ cup sour cream (light or regular)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries (about 2 cups)
  • STREUSEL TOPPING (optional):
  • 4 tablespoons buttter
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Make the streusel topping by mixing the flour, sugar and cinnamon with the butter, using your fingers to blend the butter with the other ingredients.
  3. Stir in the almonds and set the streusel topping aside while you prepare the cheesecake.
  4. Coat a 13- x 9-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  5. For the Crust:
  6. Break 14 graham crackers in half and place in the bowl of a food processor.
  7. Process until they are fine crumbs.
  8. Add the sugar and melted butter and process again to combine well.
  9. Transfer the crumb mixture to the prepared baking dish and press down to form an even layer.
  10. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned.
  11. Remove dish from the oven and let cool slightly while you prepare the filling.
  12. For the Filling:
  13. Add cream cheese and sour cream to a large bowl and using hand or stand mixer, beat on medium speed until smooth.
  14. Add in the sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
  15. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  16. Blend in the vanilla extract, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice. Fold in the blueberries gently with a wooden spoon until evenly incorporated.
  17. Pour the mixture over the graham cracker crust and gently spread into an even layer with an offset spatula.
  18. Scatter the streusel topping over the cheesecake.
  19. Bake for 35 minutes or until the center appears to be just set.
  20. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  21. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before slicing and serving.
 

Fennel and Leeks Gratinée

I’m not sure why fennel and leeks aren’t as popular in the U.S. as they are in Italy and France, but I’m doing my part here. My husband hadn’t really eaten either of them until he met me, even though he also grew up in an Italian-American family. Broccoli, peas and carrots were more his standard. But fennel is a vegetable that was always on my family’s table when I was growing up. I can remember many holidays when a stainless steel tray, piled with raw fennel, olives, celery and radishes, was served before the main event. We never ate fennel cooked when I was a child, but I’ve made up for that as an adult. It’s one of my favorite vegetables and I’ve been eating it topped with gratinéed parmesan cheese ever since I first had it at a friend’s house decades ago. Leeks are a different story though, since they were never served in our house during my childhood. Even now, I usually buy them only when I want to make leek and potato soup. But they deserved a more starring role for a change, so I paired them with the fennel in this casserole, and the combination was perfect.

Start by cooking the fennel in a gently simmering pan of water. Then drain it, arrange it in a buttered baking dish, and sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper.

Do the same with the leeks, then cover everything with shavings of fresh parmesan cheese.

Place it in the oven for a short time, then turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the cheese, and decorate with some fennel fronds. Try it and see if you can’t convince more of your friends to try cooked fennel and leeks. I think my husband might finally be onboard. He even took seconds last night. But the leftovers are all mine.

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Fennel and Leeks Gratinee
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 2 large leeks
  • seasoned salt
  • black pepper
  • butter to smear on the casserole
  • water to cover
  • shaved parmesan cheese (about a half cup)
Instructions
  1. Trim the stalks off the fennel, and cut out most of the hard core.
  2. Slice the fennel into four or five thick slices (about ¼" thick).
  3. Place the fennel gently into a pan with boiling water, to cover.
  4. Cover the pan and let it bubble gently for ten minutes or until the fennel is fork tender.
  5. Remove the fennel and place in a buttered casserole.
  6. Trim the leeks, cutting off most of the top green part, leaving a portion of it on the stem.
  7. Cut in half lengthwise and place under running water to remove any dirt.
  8. Place the leeks in the boiling water cut side down and boil gently for five minutes, covered.
  9. Flip the leeks over gently and cook another five minutes in the water.
  10. Remove the leeks from the water and drain.
  11. Into a buttered casserole, arrange the fennel and leeks, then season with salt and pepper.
  12. Place thin slices of parmesan cheese on the top.
  13. Place in a 475 degree oven for ten minutes, then place under the broiler for a few minutes until lightly browned.
  14. Keep a careful watch on the dish because it can burn easily.
 

Disposable Pan Crostate

 

Jam-filled crostate (plural of crostata) are ubiquitous go-to desserts in Italy, from the north of the boot to the south, and are eaten at any time of day – even for breakfast. They’re typically baked in a round, ceramic or removable-bottom metal tart pan.  I’ve posted about them in the past, but I wanted to share with you a revelation I had recently when I baked a couple to take to my Italian chit-chat group’s annual picnic. We had just transferred to the beach house for the summer, and I hadn’t yet brought my tart pans, so I went to the grocery store and bought disposable aluminum pans to use instead. I sprayed them first with a little vegetable spray (PAM) and placed the dough and jam inside, wondering if the disposable pans would work as reliably as my old metal tart pans, although admittedly, even with my metal tart pans, I am sometimes disappointed, with soggy bottom crusts.

I needn’t have worried. I had to be a little more careful in handling the pan while transferring to and from the oven, since it wasn’t as sturdy, but the bottom crusts baked more evenly and more thoroughly than the metal tart pans I normally use. I may have to rethink tart-making from now on. The recipe below makes two tarts — using 7 1/2″ x 12″ disposable pans or two 8″ or 9″ metal tart pans. I filled one with fig jam and one with cherry jam, adding a little amaretto to both the crusts and to the filling.

They slice up nicely too, into square pieces, making them perfect finger food for a party dessert.

Dig in. Bet you can’t eat just one.

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Crostata
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ sticks of butter, (12 Tablespoons) at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk (save egg white)
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • ⅓ cup to ¼ cup amaretto, grappa, sherry or whatever liqueur you like
  • a few teaspoons of ice water, if necessary
  • fruit preserves (a 13 ounce jar or about 2 cups for each crostata), warmed to spreading consistency
  • ⅛ cup amaretto (or other liqueur of your preference) to add to the fruit preserves (for each crostata)
  • two disposable 7½" x 12" aluminum pans, or two 8" or 9" round ceramic or metal pans
Instructions
  1. Place flour and sugar into food processor and pulse for a few seconds.
  2. Add the butter in small pieces and pulse again, until it resembles coarse sand.
  3. Add the egg(s) and liqueur to the food processor, pulsing until the mixture starts to form a ball.
  4. Add a little ice water, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary.
  5. If you don’t have a food processor, mix by hand with pastry cutter or spoon.
  6. Let it rest for about ½ hour.
  7. Divide the dough into ⅔ for the bottom and ⅓ for the strips.
  8. Roll the bottom onto a floured surface and fit it into a buttered tart pan, letting any excess hang over the edge.
  9. Fill the crust with jam.
  10. Roll the remaining ⅓ of the dough on a floured surface and cut into strips.
  11. Place them lattice-fashion over the jam, attach them to the dough along the rim, then trim the edges of the crostata.
  12. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until the dough is golden brown.
  13. I place the crostata on a cookie sheet that has been preheated in the oven to 425 degrees, then lower it immediately to 375 degrees.
  14. It helps ensure the bottom crust is cooked thoroughly.