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November 2012 - Dinner in Venice

Archives for November 2012

Espresso-spiked Chocolate Ricotta Mousse


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One of the immediate consequences of receiving a Syntia machine as a thank-you token after my lecture for Lavazza Coffee and Philips Saeco  at Eataly last September, was that I started putting espresso into everything.

Literally: I experimented with stews, fish, fennel, fresh pasta, smoked cheese… with a couple of exceptions, everything seemed to taste more interesting. It’s probably because our sense of smell is responsible for about 4/5 of what we taste – that’s why we lose our appetite when we have a cold and our nose is blocked! With its intense and unique aroma, high-quality coffee is an extraordinary ingredient and can add sophistication to a variety of dishes, savory or sweet.  However, I have to admit that it was its performance in desserts to really capture my culinary imagination. You see, I wasn’t really born with a sweet tooth and I can truly appreciate sugar only when I mix it with something different, whether it’s sour (lemon gelato), salty (chocolate pretzels!), or bitter (any espresso-spiked desserts!).

Tiramisu, one of the most recent and successful “classics” of Italian cuisine, is my favorite example of the perfect marriage of sweet and creamy (mascarpone, cream and sugar) with deep and bitter (espresso and unsweetened cocoa powder). A match made in heaven! Unfortunately, it’s a bit rich, and after seeing me down it for breakfast for three days in a row, my husband politely pointed out that I was showing clear signs of addiction. Switching to a ricotta-based coffee treat seemed like a better option if I wanted to indulge myself so often. Whole milk ricotta is a cheese by-product, not a cheese, and naturally low in fat and high in protein, while still very rich and creamy in texture (cannoli, anyone?).

Let me know what you think of this espresso-spiked chocolate almond mousse. It’s light enough that you can enjoy it after a multiple-course meal without feeling too guilty!

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs (I prefer pasteurized eggs)
  • ¼ lb whole milk ricotta, drained
  • 1 shot chocolate or almond liqueur (Godiva, or Disaronno)
  • 2 shots strong espresso
  • 5 tbsps crumbled amaretto cookies or other almond cookies
  • 5 tbsps sugar
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • dark chocolate shavings and slivered almonds to decorate

Directions:

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the sugar until light and frothy. Add the ricotta  liqueur, coffee, cocoa and chocolate and combine well. Add the crumbled cookies.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and incorporate them into the ricotta using a spatula.

Pour the mix into individual bowls, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Decorate with chocolate shavings and slivered almonds before serving.

*RAW EGG WARNING and PASTEURIZING EGGS:
 some people are uncomfortable consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade AA eggs with intact shells. Still nervous? If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: for the yolks, you will just need to beat them longer with an electric mixer; as to the whites, you will need to add a touch of cream of  tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar); about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular egg whites You can buy pre-pasteurized eggs in many stores (test are not the egg-beaters but actual whole eggs, that can be separated at home into whites and yolks); or you can pasteurize them following this method.

* Disclosure: I was not paid for my review of the Philips Saeco espresso machines, apart from being given one Syntia machine to try and review. All comments are my own, honest opinion after my experience with the machine.

Thanksgiving Cornmeal Cake from the Veneto


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It was eight years ago, just a few months after moving to the City, that I experienced my first Manhattan Thanksgiving: ironically, I ended up celebrating the quintessential American holiday at an Italian friend’s home. Daniela had arrived in New York one year before me, and was so smitten with it that she scored higher on the Time Out Magazine test “Are You a Real NewYorker?” than all our American friends. It was her idea to throw an Italian-style Thanksgiving dinner, incorporating the various traditional foods of the holiday into Italian recipes. Given that she is a superb cook, carrying the extraordinary legacy of three different Jewish Italian culinary styles – the Piedmontese, the Venetian and the Ferrarese –  it’s no surprise that the meal was an absolute masterpiece. I had the impression that for the American guests, eating these Italian delicacies instead of the classic turkey with cranberry sauce also felt a little naughty! While I can’t replicate the special atmosphere of that night, after Daniela moved to Israel I adopted her tradition of remembering the Pilgrims with the regional dishes from my own country.

I’m used to cooking around symbolic foods for Passover and Rosh haShana: turkey and pumpkin, the most recognizable Thanksgiving ingredients, also appear on my Rosh HaShana table, and again on Sukkot. The connection with Sukkot runs even deeper, as both holidays are harvest festivals: some historians have gone so far as to trace the roots of Thanksgiving in Sukkot, based on encounters the Pilgrims supposedly had with Sephardic Jews in Holland before they left for the Americas.

But whether or not this story is true, Jews celebrate Thanksgiving Day with an intensity usually reserved to our most sacred holidays: it’s easy for us to empathize with the pilgrims, who had to flee religious discrimination and persecution and travel across an ocean to find freedom – and with their sweat and faith, fought against illness and scarcity, finally turning America’s wilderness into their “Promised Land”.

While the turkey and pumpkin are symbols of bounty, one food on the table is meant to remind us of the harsh winter before the first harvest, when the pilgrims barely had enough to eat. It’s the corn, as it is said that at one point there was so little food that each person was given only five kernels of corn per day. Corn bears a similar type of double-symbolism in Italian history: when it found its way to Italy from the Americas, it immediately spread through the North, and landowners started reaping huge profits by feeding their workers only maize polenta – creamy, delicious and filling, but so poor of vitamins and protein that it caused an epidemic of Pellagra, the same deficiency disease that spread in the American South during the great Depression, leading to deterioration and death. Somehow, native Americans had avoided it because they added wood ashes and lime to cornmeal, correcting its nutritional imbalance.

Cranberries can also be read as a symbol of suffering: of course we combine them with a lot of sugar to make them palatable, but their nature is extremely sour. This reminds me of the symbolism of sweet and sour dishes in Jewish Italian Cuisine, in which the sugar or honey represent the need to appreciate our present and future, while the vinegar or lemon keeps us rooted in our people’s past suffering.

While giving thanks for the plentiful new crop, and the many blessings that we enjoy each year, we also remember those who didn’t make it through that terrible first winter. 
Have a meaningful Thanksgiving!

Ingredients

  • 1 scant cup (150 gr) cornmeal maize (for polenta) or 2 cups cooked polenta (cooked dense, not liquidy)
  • 3 tbsps grappa or brandy
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries (or raisins)
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup candied fruit (mix of orange and lemon or citron) (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 organic lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (about 85 gr)
  • 1 scant cup flour (about 100 gr)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder (10 gr)
  • 1/4 cup oil (mild olive oil , vegetable oil or coconut oil)
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare the polenta with one scant cup of maize according to instructions on the package, using only about 1 1/4 cup boiling water (traditional polenta tastes better than instant, and you can make it quickly using a pressure cooker… however, instant is OK! Beretta makes a nice product). The polenta has to be on the thick side. 
When cooked, pour it over a large cutting board or platter in a wide and low heap and allow it to cool (feel free to pop it into the fridge).
 Plump the cranberries or raisins in the grappa or brandy. Dice the candied fruit very small. Discard the film that has formed over the polenta. Cut the polenta into pieces and place it into a food processor. Process it with the eggs, salt, sugar, oil, sifted flour with baking powder; add the raisins in their liqueur, the candied fruit, pine nuts, and the lemon zest and mix well. If the batter is so thick that it’s hard to pour into the pan, you can add just a couple of spoonsfuls of water or non-dairy milk.
Grease a 9″ springform pan and dust it with corn meal. If you have parchment, you should line the bottom of the pan before greasing it: this type of batter is very sticky. Pour the mix into it and bake in a pre-heated 400 F oven for about 15 minutes until it forms a golden crust, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-45 minutes (the cake should bake for 45-60 minutes total). Allow to cool before turning out. Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

Carrot Cream Soup – cream-less and dairy-free


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Creamy Cream-Less Carrot Soup (Parve) GF

In Italy, creamy soups – or “vellutate” – are not usually made with cream (an ingredient that we like to leave to the French): the texture is given by the addition of a simple potato or a handful of rice.

The starches in the rice are slowly released during the cooking, and act as a thickener and an emulsifier at the same time. Slowly-released starches are what gives creaminess to authentic risottos, and also the reason why we add the pasta cooking water to our sauce (the starches released by the pasta turn the cooking water into an emulsifier, and a thickener). Better than fairy dust! This method obviously helps limit saturated fats, but it’s also a great resource for the dairy-intolerant, or the kosher cooks who need dairy-free dishes to serve with meat.

If you love smooth textures, you can turn any vegetable soup into a vellutata simply by throwing in a boiled potato and some water and processing everything in the blender. An easy way to recycle your second-day minestrone!

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):

  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 ½ quarts vegetable stock or to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 or more tablepoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup Italian rice (short grain – Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley (or basil/parsley mix)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel the carrots and slice them thinly.
Chop the celery, onion and garlic very finely.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pot and cook the mix of celery, onion and garlic ( “il soffritto“) on medium/low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and the bay leaf and cook for 5 more minutes. Add 2/3 of the hot stock and bring to a boil, then add the rice, lower the heat, cover almost completely, and allow to simmer for about an hour.
Discard the bay leaf, process with a hand mixer, add the rest of the hot stock and the herbs, and allow to simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring continuosly. Drizzle with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and serve.

Baccalà Mantecato – Salt Cod Mousse


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This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward – to read them, click here

Baked Pears with Sorbet and Berries


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Baked Pears with Sorbet and Berries (Parve or Dairy) GF

My grandmother used to serve a lot of simple, not-too-sweet fruit desserts such as baked fruit and compotes. After the spread of commercial bakery products, many of us have forgotten about this option: it always seems easier to buy a box of cupcakes… however, when you start feeling like you’ve had way too much sugar, and you need a break, it’s time to go back to the good oldies! While you may choose them mostly because they are waistline-friendly (especially if you are switching from cupcakes), cooked fruit desserts have the added bonus of  vitamins and fiber, and many find them more appealing than raw fruit on cold fall and winter nights.

Buon appetito!

  • 4 ripe pears
  • 1 cup lemon sorbet
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, or other berries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • peel of one organic lemon
  • a teaspoon of unsalted butter, or nut oil for a non-dairy/parve version (almond, coconut)

Wash the pears and cut of a small slice from the bottom so they can stand straight.  Without peeling them, place them in a  parchment-lined pan. Sprinkle them with brown sugar, and a few flakes of butter (or brush with the almond or coconut oil).
Bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for about 30 minutes or until soft, but still firm.
Allow to cool off for a few minutes. When they are still warm, but not hot, slice off the top and core the inside. Fill the cavity with the lemon sorbet and the berries. Put the tops back on and decorate with lemon zest.

* if you don’t feel like anything frozen, you can replace the sorbet with a mix of ricotta, greek yogurt,  and honey.