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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.
 

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.
 

Very Berry Crostata

With all sorts of berries coming into season right now in the Eastern U.S., it’s time to make this tart. Two extra containers of blackberries were unexpectedly included in my last food delivery, so I had plenty to make this tart. I actually made it twice — the first time with a purchased puff pastry shell, and the second time with this dough recipe, from Domenica Marchetti. We liked the crostata made with puff pastry well enough, but the texture of the crust with Domenica’s recipe was so far superior, retaining its crispness on the bottom after baking, that I doubt I’ll use the puff pastry again for a crostata. Plus the flavor, with its touch of lemon, is better with Domenica’s recipe. Her recipe makes enough for two crostate, tarts or pies, so keep one tucked away in the freezer. By the way, a crostata in Italy is generally presented as a tart with a lattice crust, as in this recipe for fig crostata, but many recipe writers use the term interchangeably with galette, the French word for a rustic, open-faced tart. If you’re inclined to call it a galette, go right ahead, but I gravitate to the Italian word whenever given the choice.

Roll out one half of the dough to a diameter of about 16 inches. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect circle, just get it close enough, then slide it onto a Silpat- or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. I put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator in the 15 minutes it took to prepare the fruit, to help the butter bits chill and solidify, making for a flakier crust.

Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the center of the pastry. It helps as a barrier to keep the crust from getting soggy, but also adds more flavor and texture.  Mix the berries with sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch.

Carefully place the fruit in the center of the crust, over the almonds, leaving a border of about two inches all around. Flip up the border, pinching it together all around the perimeter.

Brush it with a liquid like beaten egg yolk or milk. I had buttermilk in the house, so I used that. Press some almonds all around the edges.

Placement in the oven is very important in order not to have a soggy bottom. Place the crostata on the bottom rack of  a 375 fahrenheit degree oven for a half hour. Then remove it to the highest rack for another 15 minutes. You may get some spillage of the liquid, as I did, if any of the edges had a split, as happened when I poked my nail through the crust. Don’t worry about it though, there will be plenty of other juice within the crostata.

After it has cooled, carefully slide it off the Silpat or parchment paper onto a serving dish. The fruit has a “dull” appearance when it comes out of the oven, but to give it a “glistening look,” melt a bit of quince or apple jelly and spread it on top of the fruit.

Here’s a photo of the bottom crust to show you how well baked it should be if you follow the directions exactly.

Sprinkle the edges with some confectioner’s sugar and dig in.

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Very Berry Crostata
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTRY (Domenica Marchetti's recipe makes enough for two crostate)
  • 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
  • 2 large eggs
  • FOR THE BERRY FILLING:
  • 4 cups fruit (I used two cups strawberries, and the rest a mix of blueberries and blackberries)
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted, plus more for the top
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • FOR THE TOP:
  • 1 tablespoon buttermilk, milk or beaten egg
  • slivered almonds
  • powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, granulated sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt and pulse to mix.
  2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly.
  3. Add the eggs and process just until the dough comes together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it in half, and pat it into two disks.
  5. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and freeze for another use.
  6. Wrap the second piece and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
  7. Remove it from the refrigerator and roll it out to a diameter of about 15-16 inches.
  8. Carefully transfer the pastry to a Silpat- or parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  9. Sprinkle the toasted almonds on the dough.
  10. Mix the ingredients for the filling and pile on top of the slivered almonds inside the dough, leaving a border of about 2 inches all around.
  11. Gather the border and crimp to encase the fruit.
  12. Spread some of the milk, buttermilk or beaten egg on the edges of the crostata.
  13. Sprinkle with slivered almonds.
  14. Bake on the lowest oven rack at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove it and place on an upper rack for another 15 minutes.
  15. When it cools, spread a little quince or apple jelly over the fruit to make it glisten.
  16. Sprinkle the edges with a little powdered sugar.
 

Meatless Eggplant “Meatballs”

I’ll be the first to admit that I like a sizzling steak, a juicy pork chop, or a well roasted leg of lamb. I also love vegetables, but don’t think I could ever become a vegetarian voluntarily. But every once in a while, I eat a dish – like this one – that could sway me to the other side. Aside from the health benefits of vegetarian diets (discounting the oil these were fried in), I had further reason to make this dish. We had a bumper crop of eggplants in our garden and it’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time.

It’s a traditional dish from Calabria, although plenty of other regions have notable eggplant dishes (caponata from Sicily, for example). Calabria, the region my father’s family is from, was historically one of Italy’s economically poorer regions, so housewives had to be creative with meat so scarce.

This particular recipe is adapted from my friend Domenica Marchetti’s book, “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy,” one of the many authoritative books on Italian cooking that she’s authored.

Start by roasting the eggplant whole, in the oven, until it looks shriveled. It took about an hour and a half to achieve this:

Peel off the skin (it comes off very easily using just your fingers), then scoop out the insides and either use a potato masher or knife and chopping board to mince the flesh finely. Don’t put it in the food processor or it will become too mushy.

Add the rest of the ingredients – bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, eggs, and seasonings. Mix it all together with a spoon by hand.

Roll into balls the size of a golf ball. Make them smaller if you like, and they’d be great cocktail munchies.

Roll them in bread crumbs.

Fry in hot oil until browned.

They’re delicious right out of the frying pan, but they also make a wonderful substitute for real meatballs with spaghetti or bucatini. Drop some in your favorite tomato sauce.

And serve over a heaping bowl of pasta.

Eggplant "Meatballs"
 
Author:
Recipe type: main
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ½ teaspoon slat
  • 3-4 ounces grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • breadcrumbs for dredging
  • vegetable oil for frying
Instructions
  1. Prick a large eggplant with the tines of a fork and place the eggplant on a roasting pan.
  2. Set the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for about one and a half hours, until the skin looks shriveled and the interior is completely cooked through.
  3. Let the eggplant cool, then strip off the skin.
  4. It should peel off easily with your fingers.
  5. Mince the flesh with a large chopping knife, or use a potato masher to mash.
  6. Add all the rest of the ingredients (except the breadcrumbs for dredging and the vegetable oil), and mix everything together.
  7. Roll into balls the size of a golf ball or smaller if you want to serve them as hors d'oevres.
  8. Dredge the balls in the breadcrumbs and fry in sizzling hot oil.
  9. Turn the balls over to brown the other side, then remove and drain on paper towels.
  10. Serve as is, with a sprinking of parmesan or pecorino cheese, OR, transfer the eggplant meatballs to a pot with simmering tomato sauce, and serve over pasta.
 

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Pan Seared Pork Chops with Meyer Lemon

 It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., and hopefully you’ve got some good soup stock simmering on the stove, made with the leftover carcass from all that turkey you gobbled down yesterday. 

 This recipe, from Domenica Marchetti’s “Rustic Italian” cookbook, is just the antidote for turkey overload.
These garlicky-lemony pork chops are so succulent, you’ll be tempted to gnaw the bones down to the last morsel — not to mention swiping and swishing some crusty bread through that luscious sauce in the pan. I can’t blame you since that’s just what we did.
Start by sautéing thinly sliced garlic and fresh bay leaves (or dried) in olive oil.
Remove them and set aside, then brown some lemon slices in the oil. Then remove the lemon slices while you put in the pork chops.
Season and brown the pork chops, then put the garlic, lemon and bay leaves back in. Add a splash of white wine and lemon juice and cook until done.
A lot of people complain that pork chops are too dry, but that’s mostly because they’re cooked too long. Cook just until the meat feels springy, and there’s some “give” to the meat.
Here’s another way to test doneness. Make a fist. The pork chop should sort of feel like the piece of flesh at the base of the thumb where it attaches to your hand (before the thumb reaches the wrist).
If the pork chop is a teensy bit pink, it’s ok.
Don’t cook it too long, or you’ll be eating a hard, overcooked piece of meat.
The herbal and lemon flavors blend so well in this recipe, and it was so easy and quick to make, I’ll be coming back to this one again and again. Thanks Domenica.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Meyer Lemon
(Costole di Maiale in Padella)
From Domenica Marchetti’s “Rustic Italian” cookbook
printable recipe here

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
4 fresh bay leaves, or 6 dried bay leaves
2 Meyer lemons, 1 thinly sliced and 1 halved
4 bone-in, center-cut pork chops, 6-8 oz. each
(I used 2 very thick pork chops that weighed 1.5 lbs. total)
1/2 cup dry white wine

fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the olive oil, garlic and bay leaves over medium-low heat. Sauté until the garlic is lightly golden and the oil is infused with the aroma of garlic and bay leaf, about 5 minutes. Transfer the garlic and bay leaves to a plate and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add the lemon slices. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate with the garlic and bay leaves.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Arrange in the pan and raise the heat to medium high. Sear until nicely browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Turn the chops and cook until browned on the other side, 2-3 minutes longer. Since my two pork chops were very thick, I decided to add some white wine at this point to Domenica’s recipe to help them cook more quickly. Let the wine boil down for a minute. Squeeze the lemon halves over the chops and turn to coat them with the juice. Return the garlic, bay leaves and lemon slices to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook (with a lid, if the chops are very thick, as mine were) until the chops are cooked through – 3-4 minutes longer. The pork chop should spring back but still feel tender if gently pressed with a finger, and the center should be very slightly pink.

Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter and spoon the pan juices, along with the lemon slices, over the top. Serve right away.

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

Wondering what to do with all those luscious tomatoes ripening in your garden right now? There are only so many tomato salads one can eat in a day. After making bruschetta, pizza, gazpacho and tomato sauce (and popping a few tomatoes whole into plastic bags for the freezer), I needed another idea.

Thankfully, I found it on Domenica Marchetti’s blog, Domenica Cooks. As soon as she posted this classic Roman recipe, it struck a note of nostalgia and hit one degree of separation. My late friend Clo, who was a native of Rome, (and who was also friends with Domenica’s mom) used to make these each summer. Although I’ve made tomatoes stuffed with quinoa, it was time for me to follow Domenica’s lead (and bring back memories of Clo) and stuff tomatoes with rice.
They are delicious hot, warm, lukewarm or cold – perfect to take on a picnic or a lunchbox.
Start by hollowing out the tomatoes – cut a rim with a small paring knife around the circumference of the tomato. Scoop out the pulp with a spoon.
Place the pulp into a colander and press out the juices as much as possible (or until you get tired).
Pour those juices into the cooked rice and mix with the herbs and cheeses.
Place a little oil on the bottom of the baking pan, then spoon the rice mixture into the tomatoes and cover the tops with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 1/2 hour, or until the top is nicely browned.
Ciao Chow Linda is also on Facebook and Instagram. Click here to connect with me on Facebook and  here for my Instagram page to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
And if you live in the Central N.J. area, join me on Saturday, August 29 at 11 a.m. at the West Windsor Farmer’s Market, when I’ll be on a panel discussion with other food writers and photographers, including Rome-based Katie Parla and NJ Monthly columnist Pat Tanner.
Baked Stuffed Tomatoes
Adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s “Pomodori Ripieni”
Ingredients
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 ripe round medium tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked Arborio or long-grain rice (I used arborio)
  • 1 cup cubed or shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus a few leaves for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
Instructions
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rub the bottom and sides of a baking dish just large enough to fit the tomatoes with olive oil.
Boil the arborio rice in an uncovered pan on medium heat with the water, about 12 minutes. I like to slightly undercook it since it will cook further in the oven once inside the tomatoes. Nearly all the water should be absorbed by that time. Dump into a bowl.
Slice the top off each tomato. Set a colander over a bowl and scoop out the insides of the tomatoes, leaving a wall about 1/4 inch thick. I used a small paring knife and spoon.  Just be sure not to pierce through the tomato. Set the tomatoes aside; press the pulp and seeds to extract as much tomato juice as possible into the bowl. Discard the solids that remain in the colander.
Combine the cooked rice with the juices from the tomatoes. Stir in the mozzarella and Parmigiano cheeses, along with the parsley, basil, and oregano. Season with a little salt and pepper. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and mix everything together well.
 Spoon the rice mixture into each tomato, filling to the top without overstuffing. Sprinkle a little extra shredded mozzarella on top.
Bake uncovered for 35-40  minutes;  Remove from the oven and let cool until warm or at room temperature. Scatter a few basil leaves over the top and serve. (Leftovers are delicious straight from the fridge.)

Berry Cheese Tart

 This was supposed to be a strictly strawberry tart with farm fresh Jersey strawberries. ‘Tis the season, after all. But I couldn’t resist snacking on a couple of those luscious red beauties nestled in the container beside me on my drive home from the farm. (OK, so I ate more than a couple if you must know, but how can you not at this time of year, when they’re so sweet and delicious.)
Hence, rather than make another 1/2 hour round trip to the farm, I opted for a two minute walk to my local health food store, where the organic raspberries and blueberries tempted me.
I’ve made berry tarts before, with different fillings, including this one with a traditional pastry cream, and this one with a mascarpone-lemon curd filling.
This time though, I opted for a cream cheese filling. I used only one eight-ounce package of cream cheese, and let the berries take the starring role, but if you prefer more filling, just double the recipe and bake it for another 10 minutes or so. Another feature of this tart is the layer of slivered almonds below the filling, above the crust. It adds more flavor but also helps to avoid a soggy crust.
I used Domenica Marchetti’s delicious recipe for the crust, but added a little almond extract rather than the lemon, to continue with the almond theme.
Berry Cheese Tart
tart crust:
Domenica Marchetti’s recipe:
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon (I used one 1 teaspoon. almond extract instead)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Note: This makes a lot of dough – enough for two tarts. Or make one large one and several small ones, or one large tart and use the rest to roll out delicious cookies that taste like shortbread.
Filling:
1/2 cup sliced almonds
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 large or extra large egg
Topping:
1 quart strawberries (two if you want to use only strawberries)
or add blueberries and raspberries
quince jelly (or any clear jelly)
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. You’ll need only one of these halves for this tart. Use the rest for another tart, freeze it, or make small tarts or cookies.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit a tart pan with a removable bottom (mine was 9 inches in diameter, but you can use a smaller one) Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom all around with a fork. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. I “blind-bake” the crust by buttering some aluminum foil and pressing that lightly over the raw dough. Then add some beans or rice to weigh it down. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let it cool completely while you mix the filling.
Put the cream cheese, sugar, cream, almond extra and egg into a food processor and pulse until well blended and smooth.
Spread the sliced almonds over the pre-baked crust, then pour the filling on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes or until set.
Let the tart cool and place the berries on top. Heat some of the jelly in the microwave slightly to make it spreadable. Using a pastry brush, cover the berries with a thin layer of the jelly. Refrigerate and serve.

Ciao Biscotti Giveaway

 Update March 15, 2015: The winner of the giveaway book “Ciao Biscotti” is Carolyn Immordino MacCleod.

Anytime my friend Domenica Marchetti writes a new cookbook, you can be assured it’s going to be good. Long a champion of Italian cooking, especially that of the Abruzzo region, her cookbooks are well researched and well written, apropos for a woman who worked as a newspaper journalist before moving to culinary writing. She has now published a new book – “Ciao Biscotti” – that will keep biscotti lovers happy for a very long time.
Some of the old classics are here, like almond or anise biscotti, but she’s also included some recipes for some not-so-traditional ones like browned butter and Toblerone, and cardamom-pecan. One chapter deals with the savory side of biscotti, such as crispy pancetta, or smoky gouda, giving you even more reason to uncork a nice bottle of wine and chill out with a biscotto or two.
The final chapter highlights a few cookies that aren’t biscotti, such as hazelnut meringues or Nutella sandwich cookies. The temptation to try out each of the recipes in the book is strong, but I had to limit myself to three for now —
olive oil and citrus, that I drizzled with a lemon glaze:
chocolate chunk with cherries:
 and chocolate-dipped toasted coconut:
It’s hard choosing a favorite, because they’re all so delicious, but if you were to peek inside my cookie tins, you’d find that someone’s been dipping into the chocolate-dipped coconut ones with a little more gusto than she should have. I can’t wait to try some of the other recipes in the weeks ahead.
 I’m including the recipe for the chocolate-covered coconut biscotti, but for others, you’ll just have to get the book.
You won’t be disappointed, although I have a different experience in freezing biscotti than Domenica, maybe because when I bake them a second time, I do so at a higher temperature than she does.
Let me add my nerd notes here: biscotti means twice baked, in case you didn’t already know. The prefix “bis” is used in several instances to indicate repetition of some sort or other. When you’re at the end of a performance in Italy and want the singer to perform one more song, you don’t yell “encore,” you yell “bis.” Also, while nonno is grandfather in Italian, bisnonno is a great grandfather, the same way that bisnipote is a great grandchild, or great nephew or niece.
Which brings me back to the second baking and freezing. For the second baking, I do leave them in the oven longer and at a higher temperature than Domenica suggests in the book, because I like them to be uncompromisingly hard and crunchy. I crank up the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees and leave them in for another ten to fifteen minutes or so, flipping them over halfway, until they’re golden on each side, and checking continually to make sure they don’t burn. That dries out any remaining moisture and makes them as crunchy and addictive as eating potato chips.
I find that the extra baking time and temperature means that they freeze well and never lose their crunch, even the frosted ones. But first try baking according to Domenica’s directions and see if that works best for you.
For those of you who live in the Philadelphia, Pa. area, Domenica will be at Fante’s fabulous kitchen store on 9th St., this Sat. March 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., so you can get a copy personally autographed by her. Free samples of biscotti too!
But I’d also like to give one of my readers a chance to own a copy, so I’m offering a giveaway here. All you have to do to win a copy of “Ciao Biscotti” is to leave a comment below (on the blog NOT in email, for those of you who receive updates via email). Domenica herself recently held a giveaway on her blog for a copy of the book and asked readers to leave a comment describing something sweet about Italy. I loved reading some of the comments, whether it was about a sweet Italian food, or a sweet memory of Italy — so I’m asking my readers to do the same. If you’ve never been to Italy, then describe what you love about Italian food, art or music. I’ll let the computer choose a winner with a randomly generated number. You don’t need to have a blog to enter, but if you don’t, please leave an email address so I can contact the winner. Grazie.



Chocolate-Dipped Toasted Coconut Biscotti
from “Ciao Biscotti” by Domenica Marchetti
printable recipe here

1 T. vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups/285 g. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup/50 g. unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
3/4 cup/150 g. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 cup/50 g. sliced honey-roasted almonds or sliced almonds, toasted (I used toasted pecans)
5 Tbsp/70 g. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch/12 mm. pieces, at room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz./115 g. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Lightly coat an 11 by 17 inch/28 by 43 cm. rimmed baking sheet with the oil. (I used a Silpat silicone mat and you don’t need any greasing at all.)
Combine the flour, coconut, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the almonds and mix briefly on low to combine.  Add the butter in pieces and mix on medium low speed until the mixture looks like damp sand. Pour in the eggs and mix on medium speed until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Divide it in half. Lightly moisten your hands with water and gently roll one portion of dough into a rough oval. Place it lengthwise on one half of the baking sheet and use your hands and fingers to stretch and pat the dough into a log about 2 1/2 in/6 cm wide and 12 in/30 cm long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way, moistening your hands as necessary. Press down on the logs to flatten them out a bit and make the tops oven.
Bake the logs for 25 minutes, or until the bottom edges are lightly browned and the tops are set — they should be springy to the touch and there should be cracks on the surface. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Gently slide an offset spatula under each log to loosen it from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool for 5 minutes, and them transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F/150 degrees C. (I raised it to 400 degrees F./200 degrees C.)
Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and, using a Santoku knife or a serrated bread knife, cut them on the diagonal into 1/2 in/12 mm-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut-side up, on the baking sheet (in batches if necessary) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely.
Arrange the slices cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Dip one end of each biscotto into the melted chocolate and set them on the wax paper. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until the chocolate is set. Let the biscotti return to room temperature before serving.

Italian Gals Cookie Exchange

Over the years, I’ve whittled my Christmas cookie baking to two or three types. Fortunately, I know I can count on my father’s wife to bring me a tin of pizzelle and my friend Lilli to bake me some of her almond paste cookies. But this year, I can add three more types of cookies to my cookie tray, thanks to a cookie exchange with three of my favorite Italian food bloggers, – Adri, Domenica and Marie.
We started our first annual “Italian Gals Cookie Exchange,” baking cookies and shipping them to each other at our homes across the United States – from  California and Illinois to Virginia and New Jersey.  Who says you have to live in the same town to have a cookie exchange?
The arrivals were greatly anticipated and felt like an early Christmas present.  The first two arrived on the same day, including Domenica’s delicious cranberry hazelnut biscotti, one of the recipes that will be included in the newest cookbook she’s written, about to be released in March, called “Ciao Biscotti.”
 Adri’s heavenly three-nut fingers came in a tin beautifully lined in striped tissue paper, with each pair of cookies individually delicately wrapped inside its own waxed paper envelope. The buttery cookies, with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, just melted in the mouth.
And the reputation for Marie’s legendary cucidati preceded the actual cookies. I’ve been reading about them for years, since she makes hundreds of them each Christmas and I’ve been so anxious to try them. They were every bit as delicious as what I had expected and brought back memories of Christmases with my late husband’s Aunt Jenny, who baked a similar version.
 My contribution were these chocolate-y, spicy cookies that my mother made each Christmas when I was growing up. She called them “brownies” but they’re nothing like American brownies, except for the chocolate. In addition to the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, there’s another unexpected spice that gives them a zing. For me, they’re a taste of my childhood and it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. The recipe, adapted from Alfred Portale, is listed below, but you can see step by step photos of how to make them on a post I wrote here, shortly after I started the blog in 2008. They’re actually based on a Sicilian cookie called either “tutu” or “toto,” according to reports I received from readers. Sometimes they’re even referred to as “Meatball cookies.” I think you can see why.
 Also included on the plate below are a couple of “intorchiate,” a cookie I wrote about in my last blog post.
I hope we four bloggers continue to maintain this tradition each year, and that we have inspired you to start your own cookie exchange, whether you live close to your friends, or far away. Just make sure to bake cookies that aren’t too fragile so they won’t break during shipment, and to keep it to a maximum of two dozen cookies and four people. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot on shipping and you’ll be baking until la Befana comes home on January 6.
In the meantime, Buon Natale and best wishes for a wonderful 2015 to all my readers. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog through the year and for those of you who leave comments, an extra bacione.



Cocoa Christmas Cookies
or Italian “Brownies”


printable recipe here
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 1/2 tsps. baking powder
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup milk
2 cups chocolate chips

If using raisins and walnuts as Portale did, add 1 1/2 cups of each

glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, black pepper. Combine and set aside.
2. With a heavy duty mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla, jam, and milk. Set mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating only until it is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips. The batter will be extremely stiff.
3. Place a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on the counter and flour it generously. Take a large spoon and scoop out a couple of heaping cups of the stiff batter onto the floured surface. Use a spoon to release it if needed. Flour your hands well and begin to shape the batter into a log shape, about an inch in diameter, rolling it back and forth on the floured surface. Use the paper to help mold it. Place the “logs” into the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
4. Remove from refrigerator and cut into sections about 1 1/2 inches wide. You can leave it this shape, or roll it between the palms of your hand into a flattened ball, which is the traditional shape.
5. Place balls on a parchment-lined or greased and floured cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will crack – this is normal. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool. Cover with the glaze when completely cooled.
For the glaze:

Mix sifted confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice with a spoon until the desired consistency. I make mine almost like a frosting rather than a glaze, which means you’ll need to add more sugar. If you prefer yours to be more of a drizzle, adjust with more lemon juice.

This recipe makes about 6 to 7 dozen cookies and they freeze well. Just make sure the glaze is dry before putting them in the freezer. They will get hard if you leave them at for more than a week.

Very Berry Tart

 “It’s spring! It’s spring!” Babar, the king of the elephants says one sunny day he opens his window and sees that the leaves and flowers seem to have opened overnight. Don’t ask me why that line stands out to me, (maybe because I read it hundreds of times to my kids), but that’s what I think of when I see this tart. It’s as pretty as a fine spring day, and tastes equally delicious too, with its luscious lemony filling.

The crust is really special too – it’s the same one I used for the ricotta tart I made for Easter from Domenica Marchetti. But I blind-baked it first this time, then added the filling. After you’ve placed the dough into the tart pan, use a fork to prick it all around.
Spray one side of aluminum foil with Pam, or butter it lightly, then press it down over the dough and add some beans or rice to keep the dough from puffing up during the baking.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling. (Hint – if you want to take the easy way out – go buy a pie crust all ready for the oven. I won’t tell. But Domenica’s crust recipe is so much better than anything store bought.) The filling is a snap to make, since all you do is open a jar of lemon curd and mix some of it with mascarpone cheese.
Now comes the fun part – arranging the berries in a pretty design.
Spread some clear or light colored jelly over the berries and chill before serving.
And don’t forget to open the windows to enjoy the spring flowers that seem to have opened overnight.

 

Very Berry Tart
tart crust:
Domenica Marchetti’s recipe:
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Note: This makes a lot of dough – enough for two tarts. Or make one large one and several small ones, or one large tart and use the rest to make delicious cookies that taste like shortbread.
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. You’ll need only one of these halves for this tart. Use the rest for another tart, freeze it, or make small tarts or cookies.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit a tart pan with a removable bottom (mine was 9 inches in diameter, but you can use a smaller one) Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom all around with a fork. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. I “blind-bake” the crust by buttering some aluminum foil and pressing that lightly over the raw dough. Then add some beans or rice to weigh it down. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling.
filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup lemon curd
berries for top
light colored jelly or jam for glaze
Blend the mascarpone and lemon curd together with a whisk. Spread it over the baked tart crust.
Top with berries (I used a combination of raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries), arranged in a pretty design. Spread a light colored jelly or jam over the top. I used homemade quince jelly, but apricot or apple or orange would be fine too. Warm it in the microwave first to loosen the jelly a bit so you’ll be able to spread it better.