Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

If ever there were a cake to knock the socks off you chocolate lovers, this is it. Picture a light chocolate sponge cake, with a luscious mousse and chopped hazelnut filling, smothered in a decadent chocolate ganache.  We first tried it at Bàcaro, our favorite restaurant in the Cayman Islands where we spend a week each winter. After enjoying it twice in one week, I asked for the recipe and Head Chef Federico Destro generously gave it to me. It was written in metric measurements, but I’ve converted them into the cups more familiar to Americans. However, if you buy a kitchen scale, I recommend using the metric system measurements, since baking by weight is always more accurate than using cups.

Federico’s recipe says it makes 30 portions, but the portions at Bàcaro are much smaller than what I served at my recent dinner party. I cut mine into 24 portions, still a huge amount for most home cooks, but I froze half of the cake for later gratification. It freezes perfectly with the chocolate mousse inside, but wait until the day you serve it to pour on the ganache, otherwise you risk losing that lovely sheen and soft texture.

Make sure you sift the dry ingredients and have the eggs at room temperature before beating them with the sugar. Beat for the required 10 minutes to give them the volume necessary for the cake to rise, since it contains no other leavening.

Pour into a pan that’s been buttered and floured. I also lined the bottom with a piece of buttered parchment paper to help release the cake without sticking.

When it cooled, I cut the cake in half down the middle since half serves 12 people, and cutting it in half then makes it easier to cut it into horizontal layers. You’ll spread the mousse between the two layers.

In my experience, the mousse is the hardest part to make, since it uses Nutella, which is stiff and difficult to incorporate smoothly with the melted chocolate, egg whites and whipped cream.

Blend in just about a third of the egg whites with the melted chocolate and Nutella to get the mixture a little lighter. Keep whisking until it starts to loosen a bit.

Add another third of the egg whites after the initial egg whites have been whisked in. It will still be stiff, but a little easier to whisk.

By the time you add the last third of the egg whites and the whipped cream, it will become much lighter in color and texture.

Spread the mousse over the bottom layer of the cake and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.

Place the top layer of cake over the mousse, then drizzle some of the diluted espresso coffee over the cake. As you can see, I lined each section of the cake in the pan with plastic wrap, to make it easier to remove one section and leave the rest in the freezer. Place the cake in the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.

After removal from the freezer, carefully cut into 12 sections.

This is the messy part — pouring the ganache on top. The recipe below includes more of the ganache than Chef Destro recommended, partly due to the fact that I’m not a chocolatier and wasted a good bit of chocolate, and partly due to the fact that I’ll take any occasion to eat more dark chocolate!

Here’s the way it’s served at Bàcaro, and you can see how much smoother the outer coating is, when a real professional is pouring the chocolate!

Still, there were no complaints about my version either. Place the cakes in the refrigerator, but set aside about 1/4 cup of the ganache and refrigerate it too. When it starts to harden just ever so slightly, scoop a little out with a demitasse spoon to make a chocolate ball on top, and place a hazelnut on top of the chocolate. I also added a small sliver of gold leaf — totally optional, but don’t forget the whipped cream!

The recipe may seem daunting, but you can make it the day before a dinner party or event, and keep it refrigerated. One caveat though – they look really tempting to husbands grazing for a midday treat. You’ve been warned.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 cups (300g) sugar
  • ¾ cup (50g) cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (50g) corn starch
  • ½ cup (50g) all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup hazelnuts (150 g)
  • 1 cup diluted espresso (250 ml)
  • FOR THE MOUSSE:
  • about 1⅓ cup (300g) dark chocolate
  • 1 13 ounce jar (300g) Nutella
  • 1¾ cup (400g) heavy cream (whipped to medium hard peaks)
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • 4 eggs
  • FOR THE GANACHE (This is enough for half the cakes, since I froze half the cakes unfrosted. Just double if frosting the entire cake).
  • 2 cups (about 425 grams) heavy cream
  • 12 oz. chocolate (I used three, 4 oz. bars of Hershey's Special Darrk)
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE SPONGE CAKE:
  2. Whisk the eggs and sugar at high speed for about 10 minutes.
  3. Sieve the cocoa powder, flour and corn starch and add them to the egg mixture gradually and folding slowly.
  4. Pour the mass into a half-size hotel pan (my pan measured 15" by 10" x 2.5" but the chef used a pan that was 20" x 10" x 2.5")
  5. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan.
  6. Let cool at room temperature, then wrap with plastic film and store in the fridge or freezer until needed.
  7. Cut the cake in half to make for easier handling, then cut each half in half horizontally, in order to have two layers.
  8. Then put some plastic wrap on the bottom and sides of the pan where you baked the cake, and put the layers inside, with separate pieces of plastic wrap for each half of the cake.
  9. That way, you can easily remove only half the cake and leave the rest frozen for later use.
  10. Each half of the cake made 12 servings, (30 for Chef Destro who cuts smaller portions) so unless you have a crowd of 24, you can keep half frozen.
  11. TO MAKE THE MOUSSE:
  12. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and set aside.
  13. Whisk the yolks with sugar and rum.
  14. Add the chocolate (previously melted) folding it slowly, then add the Nutella and combine (This is the hardest part because the Nutella is quite stiff. But keep at it.)
  15. Whisk the egg whites to hard peak, then gradually fold them into the chocolate mixture (again it's hard because the Nutella is so stiff, but once you have all the egg whites added, it loosens up and when you add the whipped cream, it will be just right consistency.)
  16. Fold in the whipped cream and set in the fridge until ready to use.
  17. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE AND FILLING:
  18. Leave the cake in the pan and remove the top layer.
  19. On the bottom layer of the sponge cake, drizzle with half the espresso.
  20. Set half the mousse on top of it and sprinkle with the hazelnuts.
  21. Place the top layer over the mousse and drizzle with the other half of the espresso.
  22. Cover and chill in the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.
  23. FOR THE GANACHE:
  24. Heat the cream, turn off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring to combine until smooth.
  25. TO FINISH THE CAKE WITH THE GANACHE:
  26. Cut the frozen cake in 24 portions, if you plan to serve all at one time.
  27. In that case, double the ingredients for the ganache.
  28. Otherwise, place half the cake in the freezer and cut the other half into 12 portions.
  29. Place them on a perforated rack and quickly coat them with the warm ganache.
  30. Place back in the freezer to harden.
  31. Repeat the coating process once more and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
  32. Save a bit of the ganache to use as a center dollop with a hazelnut perched on it.
  33. If you have any gold leaf, add a small piece to the top.
 

 

Artichoke Mushroom Lasagna

I love all kinds of lasagna – from Italian-American style red-sauce, ricotta-filled lasagna, to the traditional Italian lasagna from Emilia-Romagna that uses no ricotta but béchamel sauce instead. This recipe is the latter, and with spring upon us here in the Northeast U.S., artichokes are in season so why not make them the star of the dish? I added mushrooms too, but you can eliminate them and just feature artichokes. Feel free to trim and cook fresh artichokes, but they’re also available frozen, which is what I used, and they are a huge time-saver.

However, I did make my own pasta from scratch and it’s a game changer. If you don’t want to make your own pasta, a good substitute is a brand like Rana that’s as close to homemade as I’ve ever found (but there’s nothing like freshly homemade pasta for its toothiness and supple texture.)

Make the pasta and let it sit while you prepare the rest. You’ll use only half this amount of pasta for this recipe. Use the rest to make fettuccine or fazzoletti or whatever other shape you like.

After making the pasta, sauté the mushrooms. Make sure to cook them on high heat and leave them alone rather than continually tossing them, so they develop a nice brown outer coating.

Set the mushrooms aside in a bowl and saute the shallots and artichoke hearts in the same pan, then combine them all in a bowl. Cut some of the artichokes in half if they’re too thick.

Time to make the béchamel sauce. Place the butter in a pan with the flour and cook those together for a couple of minutes to eliminate a “flour-y” taste. Then slowly add the milk, the broth (if using), the bay leaf and other seasonings, whisking all the time. I don’t like the béchamel to become too thick, because the pasta absorbs a lot of it and the lasagna can easily become too dry if the sauce is too thick. So don’t let it get as thick as pudding, for example. If it does, thin it out with more milk or broth. It should closer in thickness to pourable brown gravy.

Now that the béchamel is made, boil the pasta sheets. They will need only a minute in the boiling water, since they’ll cook more in the casserole once it’s in the oven. Drain well, and/or pat dry.

Butter the casserole first, then pour in a little béchamel. Place the first layer of pasta in the casserole, cutting to fit.

Add half the mushroom and artichoke mixture, more béchamel, some parmesan and dabs of taleggio cheese.

Add another layer of pasta, cutting to fit.

Then layer on more béchamel, the rest of the mushrooms and artichokes, and more parmesan and taleggio.

Cover with another layer of pasta and the rest of the béchamel, more parmesan and more taleggio cheese. (A diet dish this is not!)

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour-40 minutes until browned on top and piping hot. I know it will be hard to resist cutting into it right away, but let it rest for at least 15 minutes before trying to slice it, or it will spill out and not hold its shape.

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Artichoke Mushroom Lasagna
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups 00 flour
  • (or buy already made lasagna sheets)
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • 4 cups baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons buttter
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen artichokes
  • 1 large shallot, finely minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
  • salt, pepper
  • 7 ounces Taleggio cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • FOR THE BECHAMEL SAUCE:
  • ½ cup butter
  • ⅓ cup flour
  • 4 cups milk or 2 cups milk and 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt, pepper
  • a few grindings of grated nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Make the pasta by placing the flour in the food processor add adding the eggs.
  2. Hold back about ½ cup flour and add it after you've mixed the initial flour and eggs to see if you need to add more.
  3. If it's too wet, add more flour, even more than the ½ cup you reserved,if needed.
  4. The dough should not be sticky, but should not be dry either.
  5. You want it to be pliable enough to roll out.
  6. I like to remove it from the food processor and knead it a minute or two on the board.
  7. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at least ½ hour to let the glutens relax.
  8. Roll on a pasta machine to the next to the last thin setting.
  9. When ready to assemble the lasagna, boil the pasta for just a minute, then drain and pat dry.
  10. It will continue to cook the rest of the way in the oven.
  11. FOR THE FILLING:
  12. Boil the artichokes in water for five minutes.
  13. Drain the artichokes, and remove from the water, but retain the water and let it reduce so you can use the flavored water in the bechamel sauce later.
  14. If the artichokes are too thick, slice them thinner.
  15. Place the butter in a skillet on high heat and add the mushrooms.
  16. Let them sear on high heat to get some color and caramelization.
  17. Remove from the heat and place the mushrooms in a bowl.
  18. Lower temperature of pan.
  19. Add the olive oil and the minced shallots and sauté until the shallots are wilted.
  20. Add the cooked artichokes and seasonings.
  21. Saute with the olive oil and shallots for a few minutes.
  22. Add the artichokes to the bowl with the mushrooms.
  23. TO MAKE THE BECHAMEL:
  24. Melt the butter in a saucepan.
  25. Add the flour and stir with a spoon or whisk and let the flour cook for a minute or two.
  26. Slowly add the milk and the vegetable broth (or just milk alone if not using vegetable broth.)
  27. Add the bay leaf and other seasonings and let them meld together.
  28. Keep stirring with a whisk to make sure there are no lumps.
  29. Remove the bay leaf.
  30. Set sauce aside and assemble lasagna.
  31. TO ASSEMBLE:
  32. Spread some of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of a lasagna pan or casserole.
  33. My lasagna dish measured 9" x 11½ "
  34. Add one layer of the pasta.
  35. Cover with half of the artichoke and mushroom mixture.
  36. Dabble with some of the Taleggio cheese.
  37. Spread with more of the bechamel sauce and some of the parmesan cheese.
  38. Add a second layer of pasta, the rest of the artichoke and mushroom mixture.
  39. Dabble with more taleggio cheese, bechamel and parmesan.
  40. Cover with another layer of pasta, then spread the rest of the bechamel, parmesan and taleggio cheese on top.
  41. This can all be done one day ahead of time and refrigerated.
  42. On the day of serving, remove from refrigerator and let sit for one hour on the counter to bring to room temperature.
  43. Place covered with aluminum foil, in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.
  44. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the top is browned.
  45. Remove from the oven and let the lasagna rest at least 15 minutes before serving.
 

Ham and Bean Soup

If you’re lucky enough to have a leftover ham bone from Easter with some meat on it, this is one delicious way to use it. A lot of people like to make split pea soup with ham bones, but I’ve never been a fan, preferring fresh pea soup instead. However, the way I use my ham bone is to make a bean soup, using my favorite beans from Rancho Gordo. I buy them at my local health food store, but if you can’t find them where you live, search for them online. They’re worth the hunt. They are very tender and creamy after they’ve cooked for a couple of hours and have a very thin skin. They’re named after Marcella Hazan, the doyen of Italian cooking, who struck up an online conversation with the owner of Rancho Gordo. When she told him that the sorana variety of cannellini bean was her favorite and the one she missed the most, Rancho Gordo’s owner sleuthed out the seed for the bean and grew it. However, she died just as the first harvest was taking place, and Marcella never got to try them. After contacting Marcella’s widower, Victor, Rancho Gordo’s owner decided to name the bean in Marcella’s honor. Of course you could make this recipe with any cannellini bean, but these are the best I’ve ever tried, so why bother using any other?

They don’t need to pre-soak, just let all the ingredients come to a boil, then lower to a simmer (with the lid askew). After two to two and a half-hours, (don’t stir too often or too vigorously or you’ll crush the beans) the beans will be tender and the meat will have fallen off the bone. Remove the bone from the pot, and if you like, puree a bit of the soup, just to give a little more creaminess to the mix. Salt the soup near the end of the cooking. If you salt too early, it will take longer for the beans to soften.

By the way, if you’re wondering what that Italian saying means, written in blue across the bowl in the top picture, it’s a saying my mother used to say to us when we were growing up and it translates to: “Either eat this soup or jump out the window.”

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Ham and Bean Soup
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 ham bone
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 2 carrots, diced finely
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bag Rancho Gordo Marcella beans (or 2 cups dried cannellini beans)
  • 6 cups water (or more if soup gets too thick)
  • salt, pepper
  • parmesan cheese rind
  • parsley
Instructions
  1. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil until softened.
  2. Place the ham bone into the pot, and add the water, the beans and the parmesan cheese rind.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower the water temperature to a simmer.
  4. Cook for about two hours, then add the salt and pepper to taste.
  5. If you add the salt early in the process, it delays the softening of the beans.
  6. After 2½-3 hours, the beans should be soft.
  7. Add more water if it's too thick.
  8. Optional: I like to puree a small amount of the beans when they are fully cooked, to make a creamier soup.
  9. Serve in warm bowls, sprinkled with a little chopped parsley,
 

Easter Ricotta Pie

Have you started planning your Easter dessert yet? Easter is one of my favorite holidays for the plethora of traditional foods that are found on most tables in Italian or Italian-American homes – from appetizers to main course to dessert. See the end of this post for more ideas. One of my all-time favorite Easter desserts is this ricotta pie, and there are endless variations, including one with the addition of chocolate chips. I have nothing against that – I’d happily eat a couple of slices — but for Easter, give me a pure, unadulterated ricotta pie with a hint of orange – the Italian version of cheesecake – and one that’s very popular in my household.

Feel free to use your favorite homemade pastry crust recipe or a store-bought one. I relied on Trader Joe’s this time, but it can be a bit fiddly to use since it has a tendency to split when you’re placing it in the pie plate. No problem, just press the pieces back together. Prick the pie crust and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

Make sure you drain your ricotta (full-fat only please) thoroughly. I line a sieve with paper towels, add the ricotta, cover with plastic wrap, then put a weight on top and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Look how much liquid came out. If you don’t take this step, you risk having a soggy bottom crust.

I started out with three pounds of ricotta and was left with a little over four cups after draining overnight.

Mix with the orange and lemon peels as well as the rest of the ingredients. If you don’t have orange blossom water, use some orange flavored extract. Mix it all well then place into the prepared crust.

Cover with lattice strips and crimp edges. It’s easier to weave the lattice strips if you cut them out and place them in the freezer for a bit before placing on top of the pie.

Bake and let it cool thoroughly before serving.

Buona Pasqua tutti!

Here are a few more ideas for Easter dinner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

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Easter Ricotta Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Two of your favorite homemade or store-purchased pie crusts (one for bottom and one for the lattice top)
  • 4 cups drained full-fat ricotta cheese
  • (I started out with 3 pounds of ricotta from the supermarket and there were more than 4 cups when it was all drained.)
  • 6 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • juice of one orange (a little less than ¼ cup)
  • grated rind of two oranges
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • ½ teaspoon orange blossom water (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
Instructions
  1. Drain the ricotta cheese overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. To do this, I place a paper towel in a sieve, put the ricotta cheese in the sieve, then cover with a piece of plastic wrap and finally, a heavy weight.
  3. Roll out the pie crust and place it in a deep-dish pie pan.
  4. Prick the crust with a fork.
  5. Place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes while you roll the lattice.
  6. Roll out the other pie crust on a cutting board or something that will fit in the freezer.
  7. Cut nine lattice strips and place the whole thing, cutting board and all, in the freezer.
  8. Make sure you can keep it flat.
  9. This technique of putting the strips in the freezer for a few minutes will help keep when the lattice strips from breaking apart when weaving them on the top after you have placed the filling inside.
  10. Beat the eggs gently (but don't beat too heavily or the pie will rise too much, and then deflate too much.)
  11. Mix the eggs with the ricotta and the rest of the ingredients.
  12. Place the filling in the pie shell.
  13. Place the lattice work on top, weaving over and under till you get the desired effect.
  14. Swipe the lattice with either some beaten egg, milk or cream.
  15. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven forr one hour.
  16. When cooled and ready to serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with grated orange peel.
 

 

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala isn’t usually found on any menus in Italy. If anything, you’ll find the more popular veal Marsala, but not chicken. However, with the cost of veal (not to mention the ethical reasons), chicken is the meat I prefer to use here in the U.S. It’s a meal you can partially prepare ahead of time, making it perfect for company. You can use any kinds of mushrooms, and for this post, I used baby portobello mushrooms.

Sautè the mushrooms in some butter and olive oil, then remove to a plate.

Slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise and pat dry, then season with salt and pepper, and dust with a little flour.

Brown the chicken breasts in the same saucepan you used for the mushrooms, adding a little more olive oil, then remove them to a plate before they’re thoroughly cooked through. You can do this step, and sautè the mushrooms ahead of time, then finish the recipe later.

Add the shallots to the pan with the heat turned off. The residual heat will cook them well enough in just a couple of minutes. Then add the chicken and mushrooms back into the pan, and pour in the Marsala wine. Let it cook for a minute or two, and add the chicken broth. It will take only a few minutes to cook completely through. Add the butter and swirl it around, then turn off the flame and add the lemon juice.

Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve.

Rice makes a nice accompaniment to soak up the juices, but so do noodles or polenta. Add a green vegetable and you’ve got a great meal for family or for company.

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Chicken Marsala
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 cups sliced mushrooms, or more if you like
  • 1 T. extra-virgin olive oil and 2 T. butter
  • 3 boneless chicken breasts, sliced in half and pounded flat
  • salt, pepper
  • flour to dust the chicken breasts
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced finely
  • ½ cup Marsala wine
  • ⅔ cup chicken broth
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • juice of half a lemon
  • minced parsley
Instructions
  1. Saute the mushrooms at high heat in the olive oil and butter.
  2. Remove to a platter.
  3. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and dust lightly with the flour.
  4. In a saucepan, place the 2 T. olive oil and when hot, add the chicken breasts.
  5. Make sure the pan is really hot or you won't get a nice brown color, and you also don't want to cook the breasts completely -- just to brown them.
  6. Flip once and brown quickly on the other side.
  7. Remove the breasts to a plate and turn off the heat.
  8. Add the chopped shallots to the pan, without turning on the heat.
  9. The residual heat will cook the shallots in a couple of minutes.
  10. When the shallots are softened, add the chicken and the mushrooms back to the pan.
  11. Turn the heat to medium and pour in the Marsala wine and the chicken broth.
  12. Let everything cook and blend together for only about five minutes.
  13. If the sauce is too thick, add more broth or water.
  14. If not thick enough, add a bit of cornstarch (1 teaspoon), mixed with 2 tablespoons of water or chicken broth.
  15. Keep in mind, that the sauce will thicken a bit more when you add the butter.
  16. Just before serving, add the 2 tablespoons butter, lemon juice and sprinkle with minced parsley.
 

Ukrainian Fried Pastries

These delectable and addictive pastries are from a cookbook called “Mamushka,” a compilation of recipes from the London-based Ukranian chef and cookbook author, Olia Hercules. Olia has been raising money to privately send supplies to civilian volunteers and the Ukrainian army, in their fight against the Russian invasion of their homeland, including her brother who is on the front lines. She was also among those who established the “Cook For Ukraine” initiative, where many businesses and individuals are raising money for the cause. You can follow her indefatiguable efforts on Instagram here.

In addition to donating money to various organizations helping to feed and shelter refugees from Ukraine, I hope to raise awareness by posting this recipe and sources where you can donate (see the end of the post). It’s the very least I can do when I feel helpless looking at the heartbreaking images coming from Ukraine. These pastries, “bергуни,” “verhuny” or “angel wing” pastries in English, are very similar to a pastry made all over Italy, especially at Carnevale, called “chiacchiere,” among other names. They bring back memories of my mother and my childhood too, and can’t imagine the pain of those children and women in Ukraine separated from their fathers and husbands due to the war, not knowing when or if they will ever be reunited.

Olia’s recipe calls for vodka, (we could all use a good swig right now), whereas most Italian recipes use grappa or an Italian liqueur. I followed Olia’s recipe and they were delicious.

The dough is very delicate but it rolls out easily enough on a board covered with flour. Make a slit in the center of the strips and twist one of the ends through the center.

Fry them in oil until lightly browned.

Drain them on paper towels then dust with confectioners’ sugar and enjoy. Olia’s recipe calls for serving with a dulce de leche or chocolate sauce but I prefer to eat them just with the sugar coating.

If you’re looking for places to donate, here are just a few reliable sources to check out:

World Central Kitchen – Chef Jose Andrès started this to help starving people around the world, and he’s now serving meals to Ukranian families fleeing their home and in Ukraine.

Direct Relief: – A Santa Barbara-based charity working directly with Ukraine’s ministry of health to provide medical aid.

Doctors Without Borders – As always, they are responding to medical and humanitarian needs.

Unicef – Providing life-saving support for Ukrainian children and families

Also, be on the lookout for local businesses and cooks in your area or online who are participating in the Cook For Ukraine movement, with proceeds going to help that country.


Ukrainian Fried Pastries (Verhuny"
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups (7½ oz./235 g) flour, plus extra for dusting
  • pinch of baking soda
  • ¼ cup (2 oz/60 g) butter, cubed and chilled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 5 teaspoons (25 g) superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • ¼ cup (2 oz. 60 g) sour cream
  • 1 taablespoon vodka
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (250 ml) sunflower oil
  • ½ cup (2 oz/60 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 5 black caardaamom pods, crushed and seeds extracted, then ground into a powder
  • dulce de leche or chocolate sauce, to serve (optional)
Instructions
  1. Mix the flour and baking soda together, then rub in the butter with your fingertips until well combined.
  2. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg, egg yolk, sugar, vinegar, sour cream, vodka, and salt, then mix well into a firm pastry dough.
  3. Flour your work surface really well and divide the dough into two pieces.
  4. Roll one piece of dough out as thinly as you can.
  5. Slice the dough into 1½ inch strips and then diagonally across so that you end up with 20 diamonds.
  6. (My cuts were more random and I had more thaan 20 cookies)
  7. Make a slash in the center of each diamond and pull one of the ends through the slash.
  8. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
  9. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium saucepan until very hot.
  10. Drop the diamonds in carefully and fry them briefly until they float to the surface.
  11. Lift them out with a slotted spoon aand drain on paper towels
  12. Mix the confectioners' sugar with the cardamom and sprinkle over the pastries.
  13. Dip into dulce de leche or chocolate sauce if desired.
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Flounder with canned cherry tomatoes, olives and capers

I’m a big fan of canned cherry tomatoes, especially in the winter when fresh tomatoes are so tasteless. But I use them all year long too, in soups, sauces and other ways.  They might be hard to find where you live, and if that’s the case, there are plenty of sources online to buy them. They’re definitely worth seeking with their intense, jammy flavor. With the Lenten season upon us, this makes for an easy and delicious Friday meal. It’s packed with flavor from not only the tomatoes, but also from the olives and capers. And it takes minutes to prepare and cook. Place everything in a parchment-lined tin or rimmed cookie sheet for easy cleanup. Pour a little olive oil over the parchment, place the fish over the oil, then season with salt and pepper. Spread some of the tomatoes on top, and cut up some olives (I used green olives but you could just as well use purple Kalamata olives or cured black Sicilian olives too.) Spread the olives and capers all over the fish, then add some herbs. I used oregano that I dried from my plants last summer, plus some fresh parsley. Give everything another little sprinkle of olive oil and place in the oven for five to six minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.

You could use nearly any kind of fish filets for this recipe, from flounder, to sole, to snapper to branzino, If you use cod or a similarly thicker fish, you’ll need to keep it in the oven longer than six minutes. Use a wide spatula to transfer each filet to a serving platter, otherwise the pieces will break.

Serve with rice, pasta or quinoa to soak up all those healthy, delicious juices that come oozing out after it’s cooked.

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Flounder with canned cherry tomatoes, olives and capers
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • one pound flounder, sole, branzino or snapper filets
  • canned cherry tomatoes
  • green olives
  • capers
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • dried oregano
  • fresh parsley
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet and sprinkle a little olive oil over the paper.
  3. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper.
  4. Lay the fish over the olive oil and spread the cherry tomatoes, olives and capers on top, using as much or as little as you like.
  5. Sprinkle some dried oregano and fresh parsley over the fish and give everything another drizzle of olive oil.
  6. Bake for five to six minutes, or longer if your fish is thick.
  7. Serve with rice, noodles or quinoa.
 

Boston Cream Pie

Boston Cream Pie is a classic American dessert that’s really not a pie at all. It’s a sponge cake, layered with a custard center, and topped with a river of chocolate ganache. Its origins hail back to the late 1880s, when a French chef at Boston’s Parker House Hotel created it. Apparently, cakes used to be baked in pie tins back then, hence the name.  I was inspired to try a recipe from Ina Garten’s cookbook, “Modern Comfort Food,” but made a couple of changes. The first was cooking it in a springform pan and cutting it into the traditional two layers, not four as her recipe calls for. I also took a shortcut and didn’t make the pastry cream from scratch, substituting a box of instant vanilla pudding with some whipping cream added in. I took the photos the first time I made it during a big snowstorm, but I’ve made it again several times and it always disappears quicker than a melting snowflake.

I topped it with a little gold leaf just to gussy it up a little, but the taste is so good, it really doesn’t need any help. Please use all the liquid called for in the soak. It may seems ike a lot, but the cakes just absorb it all and the flavor it adds is crucial.


Boston Cream Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • FOR THE SOAK:
  • ⅓ Cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange flavored liqueur
  • FOR THE PASTRY CREAM:
  • 1 small box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1½ cups milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon instant coffee granules
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Butter a 8 or 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper, buttering that too.
  3. Sprinkle flour over the pan, then tap out the excess.
  4. For the cake, scald the milk and butter in a small pan over medium heat.
  5. Off the heat, add the vanilla and orange zest.
  6. Cover the pan and set aside.
  7. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  8. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium high speed for 4 minutes, until thick and light yellow and the mixture falls back on itself in a ribbon.
  9. By hand first whisk in the warm milk mixture and then slowly whisk in the flour mixture.
  10. DO NOT OVERMIX.
  11. Pour the batter evenly into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  12. Let the cake cool in the pan, then release the sides and place on a baking rack.
  13. Cool to room temperature.
  14. FOR THE SOAK
  15. Combine the orange juice and sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar dissolves.
  16. Off the heat, add the orange liqueur and set aside.
  17. FOR THE PASTRY CREAM:
  18. Follow the directions on the pudding box, but instead of using 2 cups milk, mix the powder with 1½ cups milk.
  19. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form, then fold into the pastry cream.
  20. FOR THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
  21. Combine the havy cream, chocolate, corn syrup, vanilla and coffee in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally with a spoon, just until the chocolates melt.
  22. Remove from the heat and set aside for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is thick enough to fall back on itself in a ribbon.
  23. TO ASSEMBLE:
  24. Cut the cake in half horizontally.
  25. Put the bottom layer back in the springform pan.
  26. Brush half of the orange liqueur soak over the cake.
  27. Spread the pastry cream over the cake.
  28. Place the second layer over the pastry cream and brush with the rest of the orange liqueur soak.
  29. Pour the chocolate ganache on the cake, allowing it to drip down over the sides of the cake.
  30. Place in the refrigerator to firm everything, then serve.
  31. Spread the pastry cream
 

Individual Chicken Pot Pies

One of my favorite comfort foods to make is a plain old roast chicken, and it provides enough leftovers for a couple of other meals and bones for soup stock too. I usually use the leftover meat for sandwiches, or in a rice and vegetable casserole. But it was high time I made chicken pot pie, a meal my husband loves, but one I hadn’t made in decades. Homemade chicken pot pie is head and shoulders above anything you can buy from the store, not only because you can add more meat than most commercially prepared pot pies include, but also because you can choose what vegetables you want, and the amount of sauce used to bind everything together. Here I’ve used the classic combinations of carrots, celery and peas, eliminating the potato but adding leeks and shallot. You can choose to add or delete whatever vegetables you want — artichoke hearts, broccoli, mushrooms – whatever you like or what’s on hand.

I sautéed the leeks, shallot and celery first, and parboiled the carrots just a little. They’ll cook more in the pie, so you don’t want them to be completely cooked through initially.

Add them in a bowl to the chicken with the carrots. I used small peas straight from the freezer. No need to cook first. Season everything well with salt, pepper and add parsley and/or thyme.

Next, add the béchamel sauce – made by cooking a bit of flour in butter, and adding milk and chicken stock. If you want, feel free to add some grated parmesan, gruyere or other cheese of your liking. I didn’t and we didn’t miss the cheese or heavy cream that some recipes call for. If you want more sauce, increase the quantities in the béchamel, but I don’t like a gloppy pot pie, so I prefer to go easy on the sauce and make just enough béchamel to bind everything together.

Stir everything together until all is lightly coated with the sauce.

I eliminated a bottom crust (it never bakes as crispy as I’d like). I also used individual buttered casseroles, but you can put yours in a pie plate if you like. Top with a small pat of butter. If you want to use a traditional pie plate, double this recipe to get a nice, full pot pie.

I used purchased pie crusts to cut down on the work, but of course, homemade is always best. This crust from Trader Joe’s however, is really good, even though it can easily break while you’re opening from the cellophane, even after it’s thawed completely from the freezer. If that happens, just press the pieces together. Lay your casseroles over the crust, and cut a pattern that’s slightly larger than your casserole, to allow for crimping the edges.

Place the dough over the casseroles, tuck the edges under and crimp using your thumb and forefinger, then prick some holes on the top and brush with beaten egg.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown all over. If they seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with foil.

I had some some leftover chicken skin from the roast chicken, so I crisped it up a bit further in the oven, and added that to the top of my husband’s pie.

Dig in and enjoy some leftover goodness. You don’t even have to roast a chicken and wait for leftovers if you’re not up for it. Buy a rotisserie chicken from the store instead and get a head start.

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Individual Chicken Pot Pies
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Your favorite purchased or homemade pie pastry (I used Trader Joe's)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup sliced leeks
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ cup celery, minced
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into chunks
  • minced parsley (or thyme)
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 2 pats of butter
  • FOR THE BECHAMEL SAUCE:
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg, to swish over the top of pastry
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Saute the leeks, shallot and celery in the 2 tablespoons of butter until everything is wilted.
  3. Place the cooked vegetables in a bowl.
  4. Boil the carrot pieces but don't cook completely through.
  5. Drain and add to the other vegetables in the bowl.
  6. Add the chicken pieces and the parsley to the vegetables and season everything well with salt and pepper.
  7. Make the béchamel sauce by melted the butter, adding the flour and stirring with a whisk, then adding the chicken stock and whisking thoroughly.
  8. Add the milk and whisk until perfectly smooth.
  9. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and mix thoroughly.
  10. Into two buttered casseroles, place the chicken and vegetables mixture.
  11. Top with a pat of butter.
  12. Cut pieces of the pastry slighly larger than the casserole you're using.
  13. Arrange the pastry on top, turning under the edges and crimping them.
  14. Using a fork, prick the top to allow steam to escape.
  15. Brush the top with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
 

Cannoli Ciambella Bundt Cake

If you’re looking for a delicious cake that only improves as the days go by, look no further. This recipe, from Rosella Rago’s Cooking With Nonna website, is moist and packed with flavor — and it tastes even better a day or two after it’s baked. That’s because it contains ricotta, orange peel, chocolate chips and pistachios. How’s that for a winning combination? Feel free to substitute almonds if pistachios are not your thing, but they are classic flavors in a traditional cannolo and I love them all.

I made a couple of small tweaks to Rossella’s recipe and you can choose to follow them or leave the recipe exactly as she wrote it. In her recipe she says to put the pistachios in a food processor and process until fine. I found that the pistachios will turn to a paste if you’re not careful, so I added part of the flour to the food processor while processing the nuts. This way, you can be assured they’ll grind to a powdery consistency, just like the flour. For the glaze, I added orange juice to the confectioner’s sugar instead of milk, to give it a light orange flavor. I also didn’t have any candied orange peel (a situation I hope to remedy soon), so I used orange peel shavings to decorate the top, along with some of the mini chocolate chips and chopped pistachios. This is a recipe I’m sure will become a regular in my household.

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Cannoli Ciambella Bundt Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ¾ cup pistachios, crushed
  • 2¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups whole ricotta
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
  • For the glaze and toppings:
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice or whole milk
  • Candied orange peels, orange zest, mini chocolate chips and extra pistachios for decorating
Instructions
  1. To make the cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Spray a Bundt pan with baking spray, or butter and dust with flour.
  4. Set aside.
  5. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  6. Set aside.
  7. If using whole pistachios, add the pistachios to the bowl of a food processor and process until fine, about 30 seconds.
  8. (I added some of the flour mixture to the pistachios in the food processor. It helps avoid getting a pistachio paste and encourages a texture more like the fine texture of flour.)
  9. Set aside.
  10. In another mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract.
  11. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  12. Beat in the ricotta until fully combined.
  13. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully combined.
  14. Beat in the dry ingredients until just absorbed.
  15. Do not over mix.
  16. Fold in the chocolate chips and ground up pistachios.
  17. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  18. Cool completely before glazing.
  19. To make the glaze and decorate:
  20. In a bowl, whisk together the confectioners sugar and orange juice, or milk until smooth.
  21. The glaze will be thick.
  22. Pour the glaze over the cake and top with candied cherries, orange slices (or orange zest) and crushed pistachios.