Sunday, January 25, 2015

Christo's Chili

Yes, the Superbowl is coming up soon and that's reason enough to make this delicious and hearty chili. Your friends and family will love this flavorful stick-to-the-ribs dish that's traditionally served before the big game.
But I made it for another reason - as a way to honor Chef Christo Gonzales, whose life was ended too quickly last week. He had a passion for life, for work, for his beloved New Mexico, his adopted home of New York City, and most of all for his son Jackson. Although we met only once in person, he always brightened my day with his Facebook musings and his blog posts on "A Little Bit of Christo." They were frequently about food, but more often than not, they were witty, thoughtful musings about life in New York City. Those who followed him will never forget his inflatable zebra Harold, his rooftop grilling, his tirades about those who "unfriended" him, his enviable mane of grey hair, or his "gotta feed the kid" hashtag that he used when lovingly cooking for his son.
 He arrived at his profession of chef relatively late in life, but set an example of how you can achieve your goals when you work hard enough and you care enough. In short, he touched a lot of lives in a positive way, even those who knew him only through the blogosphere. It's sad and it's maddening to think that someone this creative, this passionate and this giving will no longer be here to grace this world. But hopefully, he left "a little bit of Christo" in all of us who had the pleasure of knowing him, in a real or "virtual" way.
If you'd like to donate to a fund that was set up to held his son, click here for more information.

Christo's Big Cowboy Chili
printable recipe here

1 lb ground beef (or chicken or turkey)
1 large onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
3 Tbs cumin powder
4 Tbs (use as much or as little as you want for level of heat desired) red chile powder (get it from New Mexico) 
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb dry of cooked kidney beans (I cooked a pound of dry beans in the pressure cooker you could use canned and it would probably work out to 2 quarts of beans) Make sure you have at least 3 cups of liquid with your beans
Avocado, sour cream and green onion for garnish

Brown the meat in a large skillet. When meat is brown add the onion and garlic and saute until soft. When the onion and garlic have softened then add the cumin and the chile powder and stir till everything is coated (if its not spicy enough add more red chile powder). When all of this is a nice deep red color then add the tomato paste and water. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add this mixture to your cooked beans and bean broth and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve with your garnish and cornbread of you have it.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Veggie Ribbon and Ham Tart

Here's a tart that's guaranteed to frustrate you. If you stay with it though, you'll be rewarded with a tart that's a visual stunner and tastes wonderful too. But don't say I didn't warn you when your pastry collapses, when you don't have enough strips of veggies, or you run out of ham because you're eating it  instead of tucking it into the tart shell. Can you hear the swear words across the screen? Yea, just sayin'….. 
The first glitch came with the puff pastry called for in the recipe. It said to line a springform pan and prebake it for 10 minutes. Well, good luck with that, as the buttery dough decides to slide down the sides of the pan.
Oh, I know what I'll do.  I'll use a tart pan instead, and drape the dough over the sides, then trim the edges flush with the border. 
Oh really?
 Nah, the puff pastry did its thing and "puffed" up almost to the top of the pan. And yes, I pricked the hell out of it before it went into the oven -- to no avail.  
But I wasn't going to let some bully of a puff pastry keep me from making this tart, darn it. So I moved to plan three and scratched the puff pastry idea, making a traditional tart pastry instead - and it worked. Take that, you ornery puff pastry!
OK, so the next cast of characters are these veggies - green and yellow zucchini, orange, yellow and red rainbow carrots.
You could try using a vegetable peeler to make the strips, but I used a mandoline instead.

I didn't want any accidents, so I stopped cutting when the pieces got too close to the blade. Don't waste them though. They're perfectly fine for cooking as a side dish some other time.
You'll need some ham for this too. I used a "French" ham that I find at my supermarket. It's a very delicate flavor and the closest thing to prosciutto cotto I can find in the states. It's also very delicious, which is why I couldn't stop eating it out of hand, and ran out of it before I got to the end of the rolling. 
OK, so what you do first is parboil the veggie strips for a couple of minutes, let them cool, then start rolling, beginning with a strip of one of the veggies. Alternate with the ham and continue rolling.
The parboiled strips of veggies will stick to each other, and so will the ham. This part is not hard, but time-consuming. And I didn't cut enough of the veggie strips and had to go back to the mandoline and cut more - and parboil more.
The recipe called for a 6 inch diameter pan, but I thought that was too small to serve a group of people, so I used an 8-inch pan instead. It seemed as though I'd never get the spiral large enough, but I did - finally!
The next hurdle was transferring the spiral to the (pre-baked) tart shell. I used my hands and a large spatula, and while it was a little tricky, with some of the spiral getting dislodged, in the end I managed to put everything back in place and no one was the wiser.
This part is easy - pour the filling over the top and spread in between the cracks. If you roll your spiral a little looser than mine, you'll have more space for the filling. (But warning - it will undoubtedly be harder to transfer the spiral to the tart shell.) Now, you're practically home free - just bake in the oven.
And slice open to reveal a jewel of a tart that tastes wonderful, but that I will likely never make again. But maybe you'd like to give it a go. Maybe even using puff pastry (maybe you're a masochist?) 
If you do, please write me and let me know how it worked out. If you're still speaking to me.

Veggie Ribbon and Ham Tart
adapted from
Dorian Cuisine
(the site begins in French but near the bottom the recipe is also in English. My changes are marked in red, below)
printable recipe here

 1 package of ham (use Italian ham) (I used about 1/2 cup)
1 zucchini (I used two) 
 1 yellow zucchini 
1 carrot (I used at least six, of varying colors)
1 egg 
60g full cream = ¼ c full(heavy) cream 
30g grated cheese = ½ c grated cheese 
1 roll puff pastry (I used a traditional tart pastry shell - my recipe for that is below)
salt and pepper
Start by cutting all the vegetables into strips with a vegetable peeler.
Heat a large pot of salted water and prepare a large bowl of cold water.
Put the vegetables in boiling water, let ten seconds and then retract it with a slotted spoon and put them in cold water to stop cooking, drain well and dry with paper towels.
Cut the ham slices in half lengthwise.
Start assembling spread four slices of zucchini in length. The slices should overlap slightly in length.
You'll get a long strip of zucchini.
Cover it with the yellow zucchini in the same way and with the carrot.
Repeat, green zucchini, yellow zucchini, carrot and ham this time.
Repeat two layers in the same manner.
In the end we arrive at six layers (I had many, many more "layers.")
Cut a little too much if it exceeds the width.
Roll the vegetables and ham, with four hands is easier to obtain a large roll. Drop the roller to lay flat, then you should get the same as the first picture.
Cut the puff pastry to the size of your pan and let the precooked for 10 minutes at 180°C/350°F (HA! good luck with that).
Mix the egg, cream and cheese and pour over the pastry. Place the vegetables and ham roll and press a little. It should look like the second picture.

Bake for thirty minutes at 180°C/350°F.

Ciao Chow Linda's Pastry Shell (to use if you're skipping the puff pastry)

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup ice cold water, or more as needed
For the pastry, put everything except the cold water into a food processor. Pulse until it is the consistency of damp sand. Add the cold water and pulse a few more times, until the dough sticks together. Roll into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Let it rest in refrigerator a little (if you have time and patience, even a half-hour rest helps), then roll it out on a floured board and fit into a tart pan. Prick the bottom and sides of the pan with a fork. Refrigerate the tart pan for an hour, then bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Polenta Pasticciata

If there's one dish that says "winter" to me, it's polenta. You never used to see it on menus in Italy during the summer months, but now that polenta's become as ubiquitous as pasta in some restaurants, it wouldn't surprise me. Still, I reserve it for the colder months when it's as welcome as a down comforter. In the Italian cultural organization I'm part of, we hold a polenta festa each winter, where people from the community bring all sorts of dishes featuring humble cornmeal, including desserts. This year, I brought a casserole of polenta pasticciata.
If you're scratching your head at the name, maybe the messy remainders of the casserole above will give you some clue. It's hard to translate perfectly, but "pasticcio" in Italian means a hodgepodge, or mess, ("un bel pasticcio", for example, would translate to "a fine mess") so polenta pasticciata refers to a messy polenta, or one that's mixed up with a lot of other "stuff."
Make the polenta ahead of time and spread it out on a cookie sheet or baking pan. Let it cool, then cut into triangles (or squares or any other shape you like - remember, this is a "messy" casserole). Spread some tomato sauce on top, then layer with more polenta and more sauce.
For the record, I have never used commercially prepared tomato sauce. Maybe there are some good ones now, but I'd still rather make my own. (Well, that's not exactly true. There was that time we went camping and bought a jar of some questionable tomato sauce).
However, my friend Michelle, of Majella Home Cooking, who's a caterer, also cans 3,500 pounds (yes, that number's right) of tomato sauce every summer. This is tomato sauce of a whole different category that what you buy in the store. Fortunately, she sells some of her precious jars of tomato sauce, and I bought half a dozen jars to use when I'm in a pinch. You can read about her family's tradition of making tomato sauce here (and contact her to buy some sauce if you live anywhere near New York City.)
 The sauce is just ideal as a base for any dish that requires tomato sauce, and I've used it straight from the jar for my eggplant parmigiana and other dishes. For this recipe though, I wanted to jazz it up a bit, so I added some sautéed crumbled sausage and another ingredient I recently discovered at the supermarket….. canned cherry tomatoes from Italy. 
I'm not pushing this brand or any other. In fact, the first time I bought a can of these, it was a different brand and I can't remember what the name was. But both times, they were flavorful and sweet and added texture to the sauce. I think they'd make a great pizza topping too. 

After layering the casserole (I made three layers but it's not writ in stone), just sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese on top. 
 Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and everything is thoroughly heated. I had to set the casserole off to the side to take the picture, before the crowd lapped up every last bite. 
Which is why I made a mini casserole just for me and baked it when I got home. 
Polenta Pasticciata

There's really no recipe with exact quantities per se here. Quantities depend on how much sauce you have, how much polenta you make, how large your pan is, etc. This is the kind of dish that doesn't have to be exact or perfect - remember it's a pasticcio - a "hodgepodge."
I started with about a cup and a half of polenta (I used the kind that cooks in five minutes, not the long-stirring kind) Cook according to package directions and spread on a cookie sheet. (I sometimes add half milk and half water to the polenta, and sometimes add some parmesan cheese too. It gives it more flavor. Make sure you add enough salt if you don't use the parmesan cheese.) 
Let the polenta cool, then cut into triangles or any shape you want.
Arrange a layer of the polenta triangles on the bottom of an oven proof casserole, then spread with a layer of tomato sauce. 
For the tomato sauce, I used a jar of my friend Michelle's homemade sauce (Majella Home Cooking) and added a pound of cooked and crumbled Italian sausage, plus a 14 oz. can of cherry tomatoes imported from Italy. Simmer all the sauce ingredients together for about 30 minutes before spreading on the polenta.
Spread some sauce over the polenta, then repeat two or three times, depending on how much polenta you have, how much sauce you have, and how big the casserole is. Finish with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Bake covered with foil (or a lid) for about 30-45 minutes, or until everything is piping hot, removing the foil the last 10 minutes. 

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Eggs in Purgatory

I don't know about you, but I've been on what feels like a non-stop cooking binge since mid-December. Don't get me wrong, I love cooking and having houseguests, but after the dust settles, I'm not likely to pull out the cookbooks and start whipping up something fancy for dinner. More often than not, I'll grab whatever's left in the fridge and throw something together. That's why in the last two weeks, I've made this dish twice for dinner - eggs in purgatory - a simple, quick to prepare, healthy meal of eggs poached in tomato sauce. Lots of countries have similar dishes and give it their special twist. In the middle East and North Africa, where spices like cumin are added, it's called Shakshouka. Similarly, Mexicans have their huevos rancheros, seasoned with jalapenos. Call it uova in purgatorio if you want to give it an Italian accent, as I did the most recent time I made it, adding some red peppers and a bed of ricotta cheese for the eggs.

There are as many variations as your imagination and tastes desire, but the basic recipe starts with a tomato sauce. I sautéed some onions and red and yellow peppers, then added some tomato sauce I already had on hand. I poured in a little red wine and added some spices too. 
Then take some ricotta cheese, and mix it with a little parmesan. Dab it into the sauce, then scoop out a little "well" into which you'll drop the eggs.
Carefully place the cracked eggs into the well and cover the pan. Let it cook for at least five minutes over a low flame, or put it in the oven at 350 degrees until the eggs reach the doneness you prefer.
For me, they're perfect when the egg yolk just starts to turn white on top, but is still runny most of the way through. The best way to eat these is right out of the pan, mopping up the yolk and the sauce with plenty of Italian bread. In Italian, this technique is called "la scarpetta," which literally translates to "little shoe." So "fare la scarpetta" means "to make the little shoe" or in more understandable English, using your bread to "lick the plate clean." 
And that's just what you'll want to do when you dig into this savory and satisfying dish. Your only regret will be getting to the last tasty morsel.

Eggs in Purgatory
or Uova in Purgatorio

1/4 cup minced red and/or yellow peppers
1/4 cup minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 cup prepared tomato sauce
1/4 cup red wine
a few shakes of dried basil (or fresh if it's the season)
a few shakes of hot pepper flakes
salt, pepper to taste
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 T. parmesan cheese
2 eggs

Sauté the peppers and onions in the olive oil until softened. Add the minced garlic and cook for a few minutes at low heat, then add the tomato sauce, the red wine and the spices. Let it all simmer at a low heat for about 10 minutes. Then mix the ricotta cheese with the parmesan cheese and divide into two portions, placing them in the tomato sauce. Make a "well" in each of the ricotta cheese portions and drop an egg into it. Cover and cook over low heat for at least five minutes, or until the doneness you prefer. Alternately, you could place the whole pan in the oven at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes. Enjoy with sliced Italian bread.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Chocolate Mousse

If you've already started your post-holiday detox, you may want to set this aside for another special occasion (or just go for it - dark chocolate is good for you, right?) 
Valentine's Day will be here before you know it, and any chocolate lover would be happy to dig into this. If you've got a gluten intolerant friend coming for dessert, as I did recently, this also would be most welcome. And most importantly, it's just plain delicious without being too heavy, like many chocolate mousse recipes, since this one contains no egg yolks, just the whites (well, and some heavy cream too).
It comes from a cookbook of recipes gathered together by the delightful tea shop and café called Alice's Tea Cup, with several locations in New York City. 
You can serve it in individual compotes or parfait glasses, as above, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings, or in one large bowl with crunchy meringue cookies on top, as in the photo below.
Whichever way you serve it, though, don't be surprised when it disappears in a flash.

Dark Chocolate Mousse
recipe from Alice's Tea Cup cookbook
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

9 ounces dark chocolate pistoles or quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 tsps. instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 T. hot water
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 egg whites (the eggs will not be cooked, so if there's any concern about food safety, please use pasteurized eggs)
1/3 cup sugar

extra whipped cream for topping

  1. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave oven at 1 minute intervals, stirring after each interval so it doesn't burn. (If you don't have a microwave, use a double boiler or place the ingredients in a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl set inside a saucepan filled halfway with water, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat; stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted.
  2. While the chocolate is melting, use a mixer to whip the espresso and cream in a large bowl until you have whipped cream, but don't overwhip. Set it aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, use the mixer (with clean beaters) to whip the egg whites until they start to look white and creamy. Then add the sugar and whip just to combine. Again, do not overship.
  4. When the chocolate is fully melted, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add a scoop of the whipped cream and a scoop of the egg whites, and stir them thoroughly into the chocolate. In small alternating batches, fold the remaining whipped cream and egg whites into the chocolate until the mousse is smooth and even.
  5. Cover and chill for at least an hour to set. Serve from a large bowl, or use individual ramekins or parfait glasses. Cover and chill before serving, then top with a dollop of whipped cream.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fried Calamari (Squid)

Through the years, I've gotten away from my childhood tradition of eating fried fish for Christmas eve, opting instead for dishes that are prepared in the oven or sauteéd on the stove top, like pasta with mixed shellfish, or swordfish involtini.  My kids threaten to mutiny if I omit those dishes, or the baccala mantecato or the stuffed squid (which my son now prepares) from the menu, but I have managed to wean everyone from the fried smelts, and all the other fried seafood, including squid. Aside from the difficulty of navigating several pans of sizzling, deep oil amid the chaos and confusion of choreographing seven to nine different dishes to be ready at the same time, frying fish just leaves a huge clean up job and a penetrating smell in the house that doesn't go away for a couple of days.
But a couple of nights after Christmas eve, when I was home alone and rummaging through the refrigerator, I found a container with a few squid that hadn't been used for our family dinner. I couldn't resist the urge to fry up some squid "rings." 
And let me just say, due to unforseen circumstances - which involved another leftover - namely a third of a bottle of Prosecco - these were the best fried squid rings I'd ever made - or eaten. The batter had the perfect lightness and crunch without being greasy and the squid were tender too. I've made fried squid using a simple dusting of flour, and I've made it with a batter of flour, eggs and beer. My favorite way has been to use just flour and San Pellegrino water, but I figured since I had the Prosecco, why not use the bubbly to give the batter a little "lift." With New Year's eve just a day away, you'll most likely have some Prosecco or Champagne in the house, so why not treat yourself to some fried calamari too?
Just mix some flour (I used about a cup) and pour in some Prosecco (start with 1/4 cup or so) until you get a consistency of a thin pudding. Add a little salt and a couple of dashes of cayenne pepper to give it some "zing." 
Slice the cleaned squid bodies into "rings." They're limp when you slice into them, but will take shape as soon as they hit the hot oil. Make sure the oil is good and hot. Test it first with a small piece before filling the whole pan with the squid.  Turn them over once, drain them on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt while they're hot.
Serve them immediately with lemon slices (or some tomato sauce) and hopefully, you'll have enough Prosecco leftover to pour a glass for yourself. 
But don't let my kids know I whipped up this batch of fried squid, or I'll be back on fry duty again next Christmas eve.
Buon Anno Amici! 
 May 2015 be filled with as much joy as you have given me, 
dear, faithful readers. - Ciao Chow Linda

Batter for Fried Calamari (can be used for other fish, or frying vegetables too)
printable recipe here

1 cup flour (approximately)
1/4 cup Prosecco (approximately)
dash of salt
dash of cayenne pepper

Add all the ingredients together, using a whisk to blend. Add more Prosecco (or seltzer water if you don't have enough Prosecco) until the batter is the consistency of a thin pudding.
Dip the sliced squid rings into the batter, lift with a fork to wipe off excess, then drop into hot oil. Turn once when golden on the first side and remove when golden on the second side. Drain on paper towels and season with salt immediately.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

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

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.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Intorchiate and I Trulli

I first saw these cookies - called "intorchiate" - in Rosetta Costantino's wonderful book "Southern Italian Desserts." They're from the region of Puglia and I ate them for the first time while I was there this summer and stayed in the town of Alberobello.
Alberobello is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is known for its unique limestone buildings called "trulli." They're made in a conical shape using no mortar, a type of construction that dates to prehistoric times. You see them in various places in Puglia, but nowhere near as prevalent as you see in Alberobello, where they're occupied as homes and shops.
Some of the owners have converted their trulli for visitors and rent them to paying guests. The one we stayed in this past June is the charming end unit in the photo below.
They're larger than they seem. This one had a bedroom downstairs and a second bedroom in a loft, as well as a kitchen and dining area and bathroom. Everything was brand new and beautifully renovated.
Our landlady could not have been kinder, delivering home baked breakfast treats and fresh fruit in the morning. As we departed, she presented us with a tin of the family's olive oil, beautiful linens from her shop, and these intorchiate. They were so delicious, I had to keep myself from eating the whole bag in one fell swoop.

 Fortunately, (or maybe not for my waistline), Rosetta includes a recipe for the cookies in her cookbook, and with permission from her publisher, the recipe is provided below. In her book, Rosetta explains that the word "intorchiate" is a local dialect for "intertwined" and that the cookies are meant to represent arms in an embrace. They're traditionally made for baptisms and weddings but can be found in bakeries all over Puglia.
The dough is very similar to the red wine cookies my friend Milena makes, in that there's wine and oil in the dough, and they're dredged in sugar. But these intorchiate use white wine, while Milena's call for red wine.
Once you get the right consistency, the dough is very easy to roll into these twisted shapes. Initially however, the mixture was a bit too dry, so I needed to add a bit more oil and water. The ones from Rosetta's book call for twisting the dough to make three separate spaces, although the ones I ate in Italy had four twists. I also found Rosetta's dough to be a little less sweet than the ones I ate in Alberobello, and I might add a little more sugar next time I make them.
After twisting them, roll them in granulated sugar, then nestle an almond in each space. I used Marcona almonds, my favorite. 
Since I was in a Puglia state of mind after making these intorchiate, I made a reservation for dinner at the restaurant "I Trulli" and wanted to share photos of the delicious food I ate there Saturday night. If you're close enough to New York City, make a reservation and get set for a real treat.
As soon as you walk past the bar, you'll spot a wood-fired oven that's reminiscent of a trullo, with grey stones, similar to those on trullo roofs, clinging to the exterior of the oven.
The menu is loaded with offerings in every category, but we never got past the first page, which featured a multi-course dinner of Puglian specialties. Decision made easy - no further thinking required. The first thing to arrive at the table were these two panzerotti - fried dough - one filled with tomato and mozzarella cheese, the other with a savory and unforgettably delicious mixture of olives, anchovies and scallions.
Next came burrata cheese flown in from Italy and served on crostini with a bed of radicchio, every bit as creamy and flavorful as the burrata we ate in Puglia.
For the primo piatto you could choose between two hand-rolled pasta dishes - orecchiette in a rich rabbit ragù that had me lopping up the plate with bread "scarpetta" style.
Or opt for these cavatelli with broccoli rape and toasted almonds, bringing to mind fresh spring fields of wild greens. 
The main course was either succulent roasted lamb chops with a potato tiella and sautéed Swiss chard...
Or you might prefer a zuppa di pesce laden with lobster, shrimp, calamari, and another white fish. Long pieces of cooked fennel punctuated the aromatic and flavorful broth.
Lastly came these two sweet offerings that capped the perfect ending to a perfect meal - one was a warm fried dough pillow oozing with nutella, and the other was a cartellate, a fried cookie drizzled with honey.
On the way out the door, I spotted this octopus dish sitting on the counter, waiting to go to some patron's table.  It was all I could do to keep from digging into it with my fingers. How did I miss this on the menu? Oh that's right, I got seduced by the Puglian specialties on the first page and never looked further. Well, if I didn't already have plenty of other reasons, now I know I have to go back to I Trulli to try their octopus. 
The restaurant is also open for Christmas eve, featuring a "feast of the seven fishes" dinner. 
 My family would consider it blasphemous if I didn't cook our traditional fish dinner on Christmas eve, but some year, if I ever do abandon my kitchen duties, I know where I'd like to be - at I Trulli in New York City.
Even if you can't get to I Trulli for their Southern Italian specialties, you can still make Rosetta's addictive intorchiate cookies in your own kitchen - and just in time for Christmas baking.

One last thing - the winner to my recent giveaway was Heather Zysk. Heather, please contact me for information on how to claim your slate cheeseboard.

recipe by Rosetta Costantino from Southern Italian Desserts
reprinted with permission of publisher

makes 36 cookies (I got 64)

3 3/4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar, (I would use 1 cup next time since I'd like them a bit sweeter) plus more for coating cookies
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 cup (56 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup (180 ml) white wine
about 3/4 cup (115 grams) blanched almonds for decorating

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, oil and wine and process until the mixture forms a sticky dough that balls up around the blade. (I added a little more oil and some water to the dough to get the right consistency.) Alternatively, you can mix the dough by hand, but it will require longer kneading to bring the dough together. Transfer to a flat surface and knead briefly to form a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (177 degrees C) with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Divide the dough into thirty-six approximately equal pieces; they will weigh about 3/4 ounce each (actually I got 64 cookies each weighing 3/4 ounce each). Roll a piece of dough with the palms of your hands against a flat surface to make a 10-inch rope that is about 1/2 inch thick. Fold the rope in half, then twist the two ends around one another to form a twist, with the dough strands crossing twice and meeting at the bottom to form three spaces. Press the ends together at the bottom to seal them. Space the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Continue forming the twists until you have filled one sheet with eighteen cookies. (You will make the second half while the first ones bake.)
Put about 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Take one cookie at a time and press the top side into the sugar. (I pressed both top and bottom in the sugar. If you can find a larger granulated sugar, it looks prettier.) Return the cookie to the baking sheet sugar side up. After coating all of the cookies, press three blanched almonds into each cookie - one in each space - facing the pointed ends of the nuts running down from the top to the bottom of the cookie.
Bake the cookies on the bottom rack for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and transfer it to the top rack until the cookies are light golden all over, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
While the first sheet bakes, form the remaining cookies on the second sheet. Bake the second sheet in the same manner after pulling the first from the oven.
Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
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