Monday, March 29, 2010

Coconut Cream Easter Eggs

March 2010 063 You can keep your jelly beans, your Peeps, your malted milk Easter eggs. But put a coconut cream egg covered in dark chocolate in front of me and I can’t resist.  Since I’m likely to eat more than I should, I don’t make these on an annual basis. But it’s been more than five years since I last succumbed to the temptation, so I thought it was about time to give in to my weakness.

When I was first married, my mother-in-law used to make these as a fund-raiser for her church, along with peanut-butter filled eggs. They weren’t decorated like the ones above, and you don’t have to go to that trouble either. They’re equally delicious plain. But if you have the time and will, it’s not so hard to do with a little royal icing (beat an egg white with some confectioner’s sugar until it’s stiff), a pastry bag and a few basic pastry bag tips. 



It’s best to make the coconut egg mixture a day ahead of time and let it sit in a bowl overnight in the refrigerator. Otherwise, they’ll be too soft to handle and they’ll melt in the warm chocolate. In fact, it’s even better if you make the mixture two days before dipping in chocolate. One day to just firm up as a mixture. Then roll them into egg shapes and let them firm up overnight in the refrigerator before dipping.

March 2010 012 I don’t have any special equipment for dipping things in chocolate. I just use a meat thermometer to make sure the chocolate is tempered properly. Click here for information on that (and for making candied orange peel, which is also phenomenal dipped in chocolate). I find the easiest way to handle these is with two forks, wiping the excess from one egg with the other fork.

March 2010 013 Place the dipped chocolate eggs on some waxed paper. It’s not necessary to store them in the fridge, but they should be stored in a cool place. Let them harden overnight if you want to decorate them with writing or flowers and leaves.

March 2010 011 Now the reward: March 2010 048 If you’ve got guests coming for Easter, you can personalize each egg. It’s also a preventive measure in forcing me not to eat the ones with someone else’s name on them. But does that mean I get to eat not only the “Linda” egg, but also the “Ciao” and the “Chow” egg?

And what about those other ones - “Buona” ,“Pasqua”, “Happy”, “Easter” and all those without names? Hmmm – I think they’re totally up for grabs.

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Chocolate-Covered Coconut Easter Eggs

Printable Recipe Here

(makes 3 to 4 dozen, depending on the size)

1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup flaked coconut

1 box confectioner’s sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 ounces mascarpone or cream cheese, room temperature

about 12 ounces dark chocolate

Mix the butter, coconut, sugar, vanilla and cheese together until smooth. Refrigerate overnight. Shape into eggs and for best results, refrigerate overnight again. Dip into melted chocolate and place on waxed paper to solidify. Store in cool place.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spaghetti With Shrimp

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I remember the first time my son ordered pasta with shellfish in Italy. We were seated at a restaurant overlooking the Adriatic sea with my husband’s cousin Ottavio and his wife Antonella. The pasta arrived and our then-teenage son Michael proceeded to sprinkle parmesan cheese over his plate, while Ottavio looked on in horror. Well, actually he did more than merely look on – he started barking in Italian that my son had committed the culinary equivalent of defacing Michelangelo’s Pieta.  We weren’t quite sure how to remedy things since the vile act had already been committed, but Antonella thankfully defused the situation, dismissing her husband’s outrage with this phrase: “Non ti preoccupare. E’ despota.” meaning “Don’t worry, he’s a despot.”

We all chuckled at the ice-breaker but needless to say, our son Michael now eats his pasta and shellfish without parmesan cheese, the way most Italians do. Rules are meant to be broken however, and there are still some seafood dishes where cheese is introduced. This is not one of them.    

Although this is particularly suited to the Lenten season, when many people are avoiding meat on Fridays, this is one of my standard go-to meals any time of year.  I’ve usually got shrimp in the freezer at all times, and my pantry is seldom without spaghetti and canned tomatoes. The hardest part is peeling and deveining the shrimp. Boil the water for the pasta while the sauce is cooking, and you’ve got dinner on the table in 30 minutes.

Sprinkle parmesan on top at your own peril.  Just remember that in the minds of some Italians , (and many despots), you’ll be committing culinary heresy if you do and may be forever banned from the dining table.

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Spaghetti with shrimp

Printable recipe here

(Serves two)

1 15 oz. can tomatoes or tomato chunks

1 T. tomato paste

1/4 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic

3 T. olive oil

dried or fresh basil

red pepper flakes, to taste

salt, pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

about 10 uncooked and thawed shrimp

I use either whole tomatoes or tomato chunks because I prefer a sauce with more texture. If you like a smoother sauce, use pureed tomatoes. However, if you’re using whole tomatoes, crush them a little between your fingers.

Place the olive oil in a pan over low to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until onions are soft. Add the remaining ingredients except the shrimp. Let the sauce simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes or so.

In the meantime, pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel. Take the shells off and devein the shrimp. When the sauce has simmered for at least 25 minutes, add the raw shrimp. Cover the pot and let the shrimp cook in the sauce. They’ll need only a few minutes – five minutes at most. Serve over spaghetti or linguini.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Little To The East of Italy

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Those of you who read this blog regularly know that Italy is my muse and Italian cuisine is highlighted here. That doesn’t mean I don’t like food from other countries. I’m an equal opportunity eater, even if Italian food is my comfort food of choice. When I had the opportunity last week to attend an Indian cooking class, I jumped at it. Again, thanks go to my photographer friend Paul who not only lent me his camera for a couple of weeks, but also asked me to take his place when he had to miss the first night of his Indian cooking class.

A group of about ten people gathered around Ritu, our charming teacher who explained a lot about the cuisine as she cooked, including the various spices and ingredients used. The above photograph is the selection of spices Ritu used that night, starting from the bright orange chili powder on top. Going clockwise, you will find ground cumin, a tin with cinnamon sticks, green cardamom and cloves, then more tins containing cumin seeds, turmeric and coriander. Fenugreek is in the center.

Since most people were arriving from work, Ritu wanted to have something ready for people to eat as soon as they got there. She had already prepared these little potato and cilantro chutney pinwheels ahead of time, baking them as everyone was seated. They are really a snap to make, using packaged crescent rolls from the refrigerated section of the supermarket. The filling contains boiled and mashed potatoes, cilantro leaves and a mixture of spices. It’s spread on the dough, rolled up and baked.

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Next, she prepared Aloo Gobi – or potatoes and cauliflower – as we stood around the stove, taking turns stirring when she needed an extra hand. Lots of different spices were tossed in, including ginger, green chilis, cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric and coriander. Ritu also added some asafetida and fenugreek powder, not only for the flavor, but to help cut down on the gassy effects from the cauliflower. Who knew? It was garnished with more cilantro leaves.

March 2010 500 Ritu prepared a boondi raita next. Raitas are made with yogurt and other ingredients, including other spices. Even with the addition of the spices, the yogurt adds a cooling effect to counter accompanying, more spicy dishes. For this raita, Ritu added some boondi, small chick pea fritters that resemble little Kix cereal pieces. When all the ingredients were mixed together, she decorated it with cumin, chili powder and fresh cilantro.

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A mutter paneer dish was next, using Ritu’s homemade paneer, a type of freshly made cheese similar to farmer’s cheese. But before adding the paneer, Ritu fried some onions, with ginger, poppy seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cashews and raisins, then added turmeric, chili powder and coriander. After that tomatoes, tomato paste and ghee (clarified butter) were added and cooked for about 15 minutes. Finally came the green peas and the paneer and more fresh cilantro leaves for garnish. 

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The dishes were served with poori, a deep fried Indian bread. – recipe at the end of this post. But the food didn’t stop there. Ritu had a dessert up her sleeve, called Sooji Halva, made with a semolina flour, sugar, ghee, cashews, raisins and slivered almonds, with a little cardamom and saffron thrown in too.

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Everything was truly delicious and Ritu had a relaxed and friendly teaching style that put everyone at home. She encouraged us all to participate if we wanted, or to sit back and watch if we chose not to. The most fun part, aside from the eating, was watching the poori puff up in the hot oil.

Although Ritu handed out recipes for all the dishes, most of them require ingredients that I don’t normally stock in my pantry. But these poori don’t require anything esoteric – just whole wheat flour, salt and water.  Refrigerate the dough for a while to make it easier to handle, then heat some oil in a frying pan. Pinch off a small portion of the dough (about the size of a large walnut) and roll it out.

March 2010 505 When it’s about four inches in diameter, it’s about the right size.

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Push it down into the hot oil and start swishing some of the hot oil over the top. It will start to puff up instantly.

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Carefully flip it over.

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The poori puffs up nicely when it’s made properly and the temperature is just right. If the oil is too hot, the bread will brown too quickly and won’t be fully cooked. You’ll know as you go along whether you need to adjust the oil temperature.

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Here’s our lovely teacher Ritu, with a perfectly formed and cooked poori. Thanks Ritu (and Paul) for a fun evening.

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Pooris  or puri (deep fried Indian bread)

Printable Recipe Here:


  • Whole wheat flour  (chapatti flour)            2 cups
  • Water                                                                      2/3 cup or less (enough to knead a stiff dough)
  • Salt to taste and oil for deep frying


  • Put flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. 
  • Pour water slowly in the center and mix with your hand from the center of the bowl outward until you can gather the dough into a ball.
  • Continue kneading until the sides of the bowl is clean and the dough is not sticky anymore. 
  • Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rest for about 20 - 30 minutes.
  • Knead again.  Cover and refrigerate.
  • Heat enough oil in a frying pan.
  • Make a small ball and dip the side of the ball in oil and roll out the dough to about 4 inches.  Repeat the same for the rest of the dough.
  • Slip the rolled out dough against the side of the pan and gently into the oil.  The poori should puff up.  Flip once and cook until the other side is light brown.
  • Serve hot with any Indian dish.


poori, aloo gobi, mutter paneer, boondi raita, indian food

Monday, March 22, 2010

Almond Pound Cake

March 2010 581Grandaisy Bakery in New York makes a great almond pound cake  – moist, rich with almond flavor and then there’s a surprise of  whole almonds studded here and there.  I’ve wanted to duplicate it since the first time I ate it years ago.  This seemed like a good time to try, since I also wanted to bake a thank you gift to my friend Paul, a professional photographer who lent me one of his SLR cameras for a couple of weeks (Have you noticed any difference in my photos lately?)

I started out using my friend Shirley’s recipe for half-a-pound cake, a great basic pound cake recipe. But I added more flour, eggs, almond paste and made a few other changes.  This recipe made enough for one loaf pan (to give to my Paul) with enough left over to fill two small oval pans (for me!)  Not content to leave well enough alone,  I added candied orange peel I had recently prepared to some of the pound cakes.  

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If you decide to use it, don’t get the kind that’s sold in supermarkets – you know – the kind that gives fruitcake a bad name. If you don’t want to make your own candied orange peel (but it’s easy, click here), then get some from a specialty store. You can omit the peel entirely if you like, or add nothing extra at all.

March 2010 580 In one of the small pans, I pushed some whole roasted almonds into the batter. Make sure you cover them completely.

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And here’s what I got. One big one for you, two little ones for me.

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They may not taste exactly like Grandaisy’s, but they’re pretty close and pretty delicious.March 2010 574

Almond Pound Cake with Candied Orange Peel

Printable Recipe Here

3 cups flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/8 tsp. salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature

1 1/2 tsps. vanilla

8 ounces almond paste, room temperature

6 large eggs

1/4 cup diced candied orange peel, optional

whole almonds, optional

Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Place butter, sugar, vanilla and almond paste into a mixing bowl and beat until everything is blended, three or four minutes.  Add eggs, beating in one at a time. Slowly add flour mixture and beat until blended. Fold in candied orange peel, if desired  and spoon batter into a buttered and floured large tube pan or loaf pan, two small loaf pans, or one small loaf pan and two smaller pans, as shown in the photo. Insert whole almonds into pan and cover with almonds, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees. Small pans will need one hour and larger pans will take about one hour and 10 to 15 minutes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Venison Tenderloin With Pomegranate-Orange Sauce

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If sauces have you flummoxed, trust me, this one is easy to make. No boiling down bones, no demi-glace, and no shopping for a gazillion ingredients. It takes no more than 15 minutes to put together and uses only a few items. One of them is pomegranate juice. I received a case of it from the nice folks at POM and have been enjoying it in a drink at breakfast each morning. But it also works great in sauces such as this one.

I prepared this dish last weekend but it almost didn’t happen. We had some violent weather here in Central New Jersey with hurricane force winds and torrential rains. We were fortunate that we never lost power, as much of Princeton did, but the sounds of branches snapping against the house and a sump-pump working overtime did little to assuage our anxiety. We lost a couple of large trees, including a nearly 40 foot pine that snapped in half and thankfully landed in the street, not against our house. Other folks in town were not so fortunate, including the owners of this home:

March 2010 339 The next day we walked through town to get a sense of the damage, stopping by to extend a dinner invitation to friends who had lost power. We were already planning to make the venison (a gift from my brother Frank, who’s a hunter). Our friends offered to bring along a uncooked duck breast that had been slowly thawing in their freezer. The pomegranate-orange sauce was the perfect complement to both of them, and it would work equally well on pork.

I marinated the venison tenderloin for at least four hours ahead of cooking, in a mixture of red wine, rosemary, juniper berries, black pepper and garlic. Just before cooking, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Place a few tablespoons of olive oil in a black cast iron skillet (or other oven-proof pan), season the meat with salt and pepper and brown it on all sides. This will take only about five minutes or so. Then place the entire skillet with the meat, into a 375 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on your preference. The venison in the photo cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes.

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While the meat is cooking, prepare the sauce. After you remove the meat from the oven, let it rest a couple of minutes. It’s best if you pour the sauce on the bottom of the plate, or serve it in a sauceboat on the side, because once you pour it on top of the meat, the meat will lose its nice pink color.

March 2010 360

Pomegranate-Orange Sauce

Printable Recipe Here

1 cup POM pomegranate juice

1/2 cup orange juice

2 t. balsamic gelatina (This is an ingredient I bought in Italy at Acetaia San Giacomo – but you’re not likely to find it here, so use 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar instead)

1 T. butter

2 oranges, cut into segments

Put the juices into a saucepan over high heat and reduce a bit. It may take 10 minutes or so. Add the balsamic (gelatina or vinegar) and butter. It doesn’t have to be as thick as molasses, just somewhat concentrated. Add the orange segments just before serving and stir in, together with any juice that seeped out while you were sectioning the oranges and cook for another few seconds, until warmed through. Serve with the venison.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Parmesan Almond Crackers

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These are the perfect little something to savor when you’re having friends for dinner but don’t want to overdo it before the main event. Sometimes the nibbles before dinner can overwhelm the meal itself. Not so with these delicious and buttery parmesan cheese crackers. They shine on their own, but try not to put too many out at once. They’re really addictive and you’ll have people coming back for seconds, thirds, fourths and more.

They’re like slice and bake cookies – except they’re not sweet. Easy to make ahead and bake at the last minute too.

March 2010

The recipe is from a delightful book called “Antipasti – Fabulous Appetizers and Small Plates” by Joyce Goldstein.

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They’re flecked with parmesan cheese and bits of almonds.

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Parmesan Cheese Crackers

Printable Recipe Here

(From “Antipasti” by Joyce Goldstein)

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 egg

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Place the flour, cheese, salt and nutmeg into a food processor. Add 1/2 cup (1/4 pound) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon slices, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 egg, lightly beaten, and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Add 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds and pulse briefly just to combine. Pat into a log 2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Slice and bake on buttered baking sheets at 375 degrees until the crackers are firm but still pale, 15 to 18 minutes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Osso Buco

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It seems like another lifetime ago when I was only 22 years old and was meeting my mother’s sisters and brothers in Italy for the first time. Each day my aunts and uncles invited me to lunch or dinner and feted me with their finest dishes. This is what my Aunt Ave prepared for me and it’s been one of my favorite recipes since that day decades ago when I first ate it in her home. Aunt Ave never cooks anymore since she’s nearly 95 years old and lives in a nursing home. But every time I make this dish, I think of her and the spunky lady who lovingly prepared this meal for her American niece.

Many recipes for osso buco call for tomatoes, but I prefer a browner-type sauce like the one my aunt made. I do add a bit of tomato paste, but not enough to turn it into a red sauce, just enough to add some richness. Aunt Ave also included porcini mushrooms, which is not typically in an osso buco recipe, but I think they’re a terrific addition. Many people strain the vegetables and serve it with a smooth sauce, but I like the rustic bits of carrots and mushrooms floating on the plate.

The dish is traditionally served over risotto alla Milanese. While it’s great with risotto, it’s also delicious with polenta or mashed potatoes.  I served it with polenta made in a slow cooker, believe it or not.  Just pour everything into the pot, place the lid on top and press the button. Two or three hours later, you come back to creamy, soft polenta. I found the recipe in Michele Scicolone’s new cookbook, “The Italian Slow Cooker,” which I highly recommend. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other recipes in the book too.

Gremolata, (sometimes spelled gremolada) a mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon peel, is the classic accompaniment to osso buco. Some people (including my husband) find it unnecessary to introduce a garlicky-citrus component to a dish that’s already loaded with flavor. If gremolata makes your boat float, great. If not, leave it out. It’s delicious either way.

Start out with veal shanks. In case you weren’t aware, osso means bone in Italian, and buco means hole. It should be obvious why this dish is called osso buco. Normally my recipes are for smaller portions, but the amount in the recipe below is for 12 pieces since I made it for a recent dinner party. You can reduce the amount of ingredients according to your needs. It’s not like baking a cake where you have to be exact. If you add a little more or less of one or another ingredient, you’ll still get a delicious result.

Some people braise the meat in the oven. I usually cook mine on top of the stove, but either method works fine as long as you remember to brown the meat first on the stove top with a little dusting of flour.

March 2010 203 Here’s what it looks like right after it starts braising in the pan:

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And here’s what the gremolata looks like:March 2010 284 And here’s the finished osso buco:

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Osso Buco

printable recipe here

for 12 veal shanks (about 7.5 pounds)

Printable Recipe Here

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onions

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 c. chopped carrots

8 cloves garlic

1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (@40 grams)

flour, salt and pepper to dredge meat

more olive oil to saute meat, as required

1 1/2 c. white wine

liquid from the porcini mushrooms

1 cup beef  broth, and more if needed

1 T. tomato paste

4 bay leaves

1 sprig of rosemary

a few sprigs of thyme

rind from one lemon, grated finely

Soak the porcini mushrooms in room temperature water for at least 15 minutes.

Saute the onions, celery and carrots in the olive oil until limp. Add the garlic and saute until softened, then remove the vegetables and set aside. Pour more olive oil into the pan and dredge the meat with flour and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in the skillet on both sides, using more olive oil as needed. Then add the wine and the sauteed vegetables that have been set aside. Strain the liquid from the porcini mushrooms to remove any bits of sediment, and add it to the pan, along with the broth, the tomato paste, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and lemon peel. With the lid on the pan slightly ajar, cook the meat at a simmer for about two hours or until the meat is fork tender and liquid has thickened a bit. If the liquid starts to evaporate too much, add more broth as needed.

Optional, serve with a spoonful of gremolata.


The amounts are all very loose and you can add more garlic or parsley or lemon peel, depending on your taste.

handful of parsley (about 1/2 cup)

3 garlic cloves, smashed with a broad knife

rind from 1 lemon

Place the parsley, garlic and lemon rind on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, chop everything together until it becomes a fine mince. Sprinkle a little over the osso buco, if desired.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Citrus Salad

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Here’s a bit of springtime on a plate just when thoughts of fitting into last year’s warm weather clothes are beginning to nag at you. After having posted a few too many desserts in a row on the blog, it was time to give my waistline a breather. I was just enchanted by the array of colors when I first saw this salad on the blog, Sassy Radish. It just looks like an artist’s palette – provided the palette belongs to an artist who paints in Provence where the sun shines brightly, and colorful poppies are blossoming along fields of swaying golden grain.

Got the picture? Ok, so maybe you can’t be in Provence right now, but you can make this salad. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Feb. 2010 364

 Citrus Salad with Cilantro and Mint

Recipe from Sassy Radish

Printable Recipe Here

(You don’t have to adhere to the particular amounts of citrus fruits given in Sassy Radish’s recipe. I used more grapefruit and regular oranges and fewer blood oranges, for example. – Ciao Chow Linda)

3 blood oranges
1 cara cara orange
1 navel orange
1 pink grapefruit
pinch of flaky sea salt
1 shallot, chopped

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (This is more expensive than ordinary vinegar, but so worth it.- CCL)
1/2 tsp grade B maple syrup
a few squirts of fresh lime juice

1/4 tsp slivered mint
1/4 tsp slivered cilantro


1. Peel fruit making sure to remove as much pith as possible; slice into wheels. Be sure to remove the pits.

2. Layer fruit on a serving dish alternating pieces of various oranges and grapefruit to create a colorful look. Sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with the chopped shallot and slivered herbs.

3. In a cup or a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar and maple syrup. Taste to make sure the flavors are balanced and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Drizzle over the salad and serve.

Serves 4.

Italian Baby Book Winners


Thank you readers for responding to my giveaway for this adorable baby book in Italian by Sonya Caruso. I wish I could send a copy to all of you who left a comment, but the book is also available for sale for those of you who didn’t win one. Make sure to head over to Sonya’s website and use the promo code: Italyvilleamici for 20% off!

Congratulations to the five winners, who were chosen by a random number generator:

-Heather Zysk

-Jen of NJ Epicurian

-Joyce of Flour Power

-Stacey of Stacey Snacks

-Theresa of The Food Hunter’s Guide To Cuisine

Ladies, please contact me at with your street address so I can mail the book to you.

Many thanks to Joe of Italyville for informing us all of this new baby book, for supporting Sonya  by buying 50 of  her books and sending some of them to me, Claudia, Marie and Barbara to distribute.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Torta Di Grano Saraceno (Buckwheat Cake)

Feb. 2010 360-1 Every time I’m in the Dolomite mountains,  this cake tempts me. Along with other offerings, it’s there on the teatime buffet table at the hotel every afternoon when we get back from skiing. It’s made with something called grano saraceno, and I bought a bag of the flour in Italy, as well as a small cookbook with local recipes that included this cake.

Back in the U.S., I find out that grano saraceno is actually nothing more than buckwheat and I could have bought it here for half the cost at my local health food store. Live and learn.

Both grano saraceno and buckwheat are misnomers, because it’s not a form of wheat and it’s not really a grain, even though it has properties of many grains. It’s actually a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel. Below is a picture of the flower and the actual seed, before it’s milled into flour:

image image

The name buckwheat derives from the Middle Dutch words boek, for beech and weite for wheat, because the seeds resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut tree.

But to me, the Italian name - grano saraceno – sounds so much more interesting and mysterious than buckwheat. It  conjures up visions of turban-cloaked Saracens on camels crossing the Silk Road in ancient times. In fact, according to Wikipedia, it was first domesticated and cultivated in inland southeast Asia, possibly around 6000 B.C., and from there spread to Central Asia and Tibet, and then to the Middle East and Europe.

It’s a great alternative for people with celiac disease, those who have an intolerance to gluten. But it’s got a ton of beneficial health benefits for everyone. It’s useful in protecting against heart disease, lowering cholesterol, and controlling blood sugar levels, among other things.

It’s more popular outside the U.S., especially Eastern Europe and Asia. When it’s toasted, the whole form minus the hull is called groats or kasha, the Russian name. The Japanese use it for making buckwheat noodles, or soba, while Americans are most familiar with it in buckwheat pancakes. Italians in the northern regions near the Alps love it too, not only in cakes, but also in a tagliatelle-type noodle dish called “pizzocheri.”

It has a nutty taste and when baked, it can be heavy if nothing is added to lighten it, like baking powder or some all-purpose flour. In fact, in my first attempt to make this cake, I used the recipe in the Dolomite cookbook I purchased and it called for only buckwheat flour. It was a bit dense to put it mildly. My husband announced “It tastes like health food.”  Not exactly the results I was hoping for.  Not one to give up so easily, I substituted a bit of regular all-purpose flour for some of the buckwheat. (If you do have Celiac disease, omit the all-purpose flour and use only buckwheat.) In addition, I added some baking powder and some buttermilk, decreased the amount of almonds and eggs and added some lemon peel too.

I thought the revamped recipe was a great improvement and my husband did too. My Italian chit-chat group agreed after tasting the cake at our last meeting and declaring it a “winner.”  I hope you think so too. Feb. 2010 356

 Torta Di Grano Saraceno

Printable Recipe Here

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 c. sugar, softened

1 1/2 sticks of butter

1 cup almonds, finely ground

1 c. buckwheat flour

3/4 c. white flour

1 t. baking powder

1 t. vanilla

dash of salt

grated peel from 1/2 lemon

3/4 c. buttermilk

seedless raspberry jam (I used 1 full 18-oz. jar and half of another one)

Separate eggs. Beat whites until light peaks form and add half of sugar, a little at a time. Set aside. Place butter in mixer and beat with other half of sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Place almonds in food processor and pulse a few times. If you leave the processor on and walk away, you may end up with almond paste, so stay nearby and just use the “pulse” button. Add the flours to the almonds and pulse until the almonds are ground finely. Add the salt, baking powder, lemon peel and the flours and ground almonds to the egg yolk mixture, alternately adding the buttermilk. Mix just until everything is blended. Take the egg whites and fold into the mixture. Batter will be stiff. Pour into a greased and floured springform or cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean and cake shrinks in a little from sides of pan.

When cake has cooled, cut into two layers. (I leveled off the top of the cake to eliminate the “hump” and make it flatter.) Warm the jam in the microwave a few seconds to loosen it a bit. If it melts completely, don’t worry, it will solidify if you wait a bit. But don’t pour it on the cake if it’s totally liquid and melted. When it has a smooth but semi-solid consistency, spread it on top of the bottom layer. Do the same thing with the top layer, then decorate with whole raspberries tossed in sugar, and mint leaves if available.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

La Sbrisolona and Galaverna

March 2010 022

Think of a sbrisolona as a buttery, crumbly almond cookie on steroids. It’s a specialty of Mantova and I saw it in many shops there on our recent trip to Italy.  But the best ones I’ve ever eaten (sorry Mantova) are from a bakery called “La Casa Del Pane” in Castell’Arquato, a  medieval village near my mother’s hometown. They’re sold in small individual portions as well as the more traditional larger size. A stop at “La Casa Del Pane” is required whenever I’m in Castell’Arquato.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 089

This year as we approached the town, it looked even more enchanting than ever, cloaked in a mantle of white hoar frost, something I’d never seen in my life. I also learned hoarfrost is called “galaverna” in Italian.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 092 It really looked like someone had cast a magic spell over everything – including the trees and shrubs and even the chain link fences. This isn’t snow, it’s the hoarfrost:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 070 It was as ephemeral as a snowflake, and was gone as soon as the sun came out:

Castell'Arquato amid galaverna

But I digress – back to the sbrisolona – that buttery, addictive treat. There are lots of different versions of the recipe and I saw this particular one on  The Sassy Radish’s blog, but it’s originally from Suzanne Goin’s cookbook, “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” and it’s a winner.

March 2010 046 Just bring it to the table, break it open and dig in with your fingers. It’s great with a cup of coffee but even better with a glass of moscato or other sweet wine.

March 2010 087 Sbrisolona
adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin

Printable Recipe Here

3/4 C natural almonds (4 ounces) (I used a scant cup)
1 large egg yolk
1 T finely grated orange zest (I used 1 large orange)
1/4 t pure almond extract
1/4 t pure vanilla extract
1 C + 2 T flour
6 T cornmeal
1/2 t salt
3 1/2 oz (7 T) cold butter cut into 1/2” pieces
1/3 C granulated sugar
3 T brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8” springform pan.
Toast the almonds for about 10 minutes until golden. Coarsely chop into bite-sized pieces.
Combine the egg yolk, orange zest and the extracts.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Stir in both sugars and the chopped toasted almonds.
Pour the egg yolk mixture on top and work it in gently with your hands. Be careful not to over mix; the dough should be very crumbly and look like streusel.
Pour the crumbs into the prepared pan and very gently and loosely press the crumbs mostly around the edges and just very lightly across the top; the surface should be uneven and dimpled.
Bake for about 40 minutes or until it is a deep golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before unmolding. Place on a platter and dig in.