Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Clementine Almond Cake


This cake, from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's "Jerusalem" cookbook, is a showstopper, but quite honestly, it looks better than it tastes. I've made it a couple of times now and it's good, don't get me wrong, but it could benefit from a few changes. 
First of all, that luscious-looking chocolate glaze is not the one that accompanied the Ottolenghi recipe. That one was fine, but a little too thin. 
Ever since I discovered David Lebovitz' easy chocolate sauce, (no cream, no butter) I've been sold on that one. The viscosity is just perfect for drizzling on cakes, on ice cream, and whatever else you can dream of. Plus the taste is terrific.
Another thing I'll change when I make this again is to use almonds without "skins." Sorry I don't have an interior shot for you, but the color comes out a little too tan when I used almonds that had skins on them. The texture was a little coarse too. I might even try using almond flour instead of grinding the almonds myself, to perhaps obtain a softer crumb.
Lastly, next time I make this (and there will be a next time), I'll add more peel and juice from the clementines. The cake needs a little more citrus flavor to give it more "zing."
Even so, there were no complaints when I served this at a recent dinner. Maybe the guests were just being polite, but I don't think so. Only a small sliver was left by the end of the night. Could you resist sinking a fork into this?


Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Icing

Adapted from Jerusalem
by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Serves 8 to 10

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
scant 2 cups sugar
grated zest and juice of 4 clementines (I would add juice and zest from at least five or six clementines)
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 eggs, beaten
 2-1/2 cups ground almonds (preferably without skins)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
long strips of orange zest to garnish (optional)

Chocolate Icing: (I prefer the chocolate sauce recipe below from David Lebovitz)

6 tablespoons butter, diced
5 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, broken up
2-1/2 teaspoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoon Cognac

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9-1/2 inch springform pan with butter and line the sides and bottom with parchment paper.

Place the butter, 1-1/2 cups of the sugar, and both zests in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat on low speed to combine everything well.  Do not work the mixture too much or incorporate too much air.  Add half the ground almonds and continue mixing until combined.

With the machine running, gradually add the eggs, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl a couple of times as you go.  Add the remaining ground almonds, the flour, and the salt and beat until completely smooth.

Pour the cake batter into the pan and level it with an offset spatula.

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes.  Check to see if it is ready by inserting a skewer into the center.  It should come out a little bit moist.

When the cake is almost done, place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil (the juices should total about 1/2 cup; remove some juice if needed).  When the syrup boils, remove it from the heat.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with the boiling syrup, making sure all the syrup soaks in.  Leave the cake to cool down completely in the pan before you remove it.  You can then serve it as it is, garnished with orange zest strips, or store it for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

If you wish to ice the cake, we recommend doing it on the day you want to serve it so the icing is fresh and shiny.  Put the butter, chocolate, and honey in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water).  Stir until everything is melted, then immediately remove from the heat and fold in the Cognac.  Pour the icing over the cooled cake, allowing it to dribble naturally down the sides without covering the cake completely.  Let the icing set and then garnish the center of the cake with the orange zest strips.

David Lebovitz' chocolate sauce
(Note - you'll have more than you need to decorate the cake, so store remainder in the fridge.)
The Best Chocolate Sauce
About 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, agave nectar, or glucose
  • 3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
  • 2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup (or agave or glucose), and cocoa powder.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.
Serving: You should let the Chocolate Sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit.
Storage: Store the chocolate sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Rewarm before serving. 



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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stracotto di Manzo or Italian Pot Roast


When the temperature dips to 5 degrees fahrenheit and snow blankets the ground like a down comforter, many of us seek solace in the kitchen with winter comfort foods. Foods that we wouldn't dream of cooking in July seem perfect for combatting January's frigid days - foods like this pot roast from Domenica Marchetti's book, "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy."
I love all of Domenica's cookbooks, including her latest, "The Glorious Vegetables of Italy," so deciding on a recipe for dinner wasn't easy. 
This one comes from Domenica's mother Gabriella, a delightful woman who contributed much to Domenica's love of cooking and the food of Abruzzo in particular. It's a recipe that evokes Domenica's childhood and turned the humble dish into a special occasion meal. Last night, as snow fell and the landscape turned white, I decided I needed a special occasion meal too.

 I hadn't made a pot roast in years and picked up this large chuck roast at the supermarket earlier in the day. If you buy a piece with heavy veins of fat, as this one, you could carve some of it out before cooking, or do as I did and skim the fat from the liquid once it finishes cooking.
Season the meat with salt and pepper, then sear it on all sides, a process that takes four to five minutes.
 The vegetables (celery, onion, garlic, carrots, tomatoes) and seasonings are added to the pot, along with some wine and broth, then the oven does the work for the next two and a half hours.
What emerges is a flavorful, cut-it-with-a-fork tender pot roast that will leave you wishing for even more snowy days when you can hunker indoors with a hearty meal.

 Serve with mashed potatoes, noodles, polenta or whatever starch you prefer. My side dishes were farro with peas, and steamed butternut squash. The sauce from the roast is still quite chunky, but you could puree it with a stick blender if you prefer a smoother version. Consider setting some aside and adding it to some freshly cooked pasta as a first course.

Stracotto di Manzo Alla Gabriella
From "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy"
by Domenica Marchetti
printable recipe here


  • 1 boneless chuck roast, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with the flat side of a knife blade
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup passato di pomodoro (tomato puree) or canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup beef broth (homemade is best), or water
  • Instructions
    Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Season the chuck roast with salt and pepper. In ad Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and begins to sizzle place the roast in the pot. Brown it on all sides, turning it every 3 to 4 minutes, for even coloring. Using tongs, transfer the meat to a plate.
    Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery and saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the onion is pale gold but not browned. Stir in the thyme, followed by the wine, tomatoes, and the broth. Return the meat to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Let the pot roast braise, turning the meat every 30 minutes, for about 2 1/2 hours or until it is fork tender and the sauce is deliciously thick and red-brown.
    Remove the meat from the sauce and either cut it into thin slices or large chunks. Arrange the meat on a serving platter and spoon the sauce on top.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Supplì Al Telefono


Did you pay attention to me when I told you to make extra risotto? I hope so, because if you did, you've got the ingredients you need to make these little treats. They're called supplì al telefono, because when you break into them, the mozzarella cheese comes oozing out like the cord of a telephone. Never mind that most people have cordless and/or wireless telephones. You get the idea.
Supplì are native to Rome, and are a variant of arancini, the little Sicilian fried rice croquettes that typically contain bits of meat in a red sauce, peas, and mozzarella.
 My version is a bit nontraditional, since I had leftover risotto made with small pieces of butternut squash and chestnuts, like the one below in my last post. A plain old ordinary risotto will do just fine. 
Make sure the risotto is cooled, then take a heaping spoonful, or use a small ice cream scoop, and place a little cube of mozzarella cheese in the middle. Cover with more risotto.
Roll into balls, completely covering the mozzarella.
Dip it in flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs.
Fry it in hot oil until golden brown on the outside. Don't let the flame get too high, or the inside won't have enough time to heat and melt the cheese. Don't fry them at too low a heat, or you'll have very greasy supplì. Test one out before placing all of them in the skillet. I use a cast iron skillet and fill it about half way with oil. These make a great before dinner snack, accompanied by a good glass of red wine. You can make these ahead of time too, and reheat in the oven.
The only problem is resisting the temptation to eat all of them. 

Supplì Al Telefono

leftover risotto of any kind - about one cup
mozzarella cheese, cut into small squares - about 1/4 cup or so
flour for rolling
1 egg, beaten
bread crumbs for rolling
oil for frying

Using a heaping spoonful of the cold risotto, place a small cube of mozzarella cheese in the center. Cover with more risotto, then shape into a ball. Roll the ball in flour, then in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs. I use a cast iron skillet and add enough oil to come halfway up the rice balls. Test out one first, before placing them all in the pan. You want the oil to be hot enough so that they don't become greasy, but not so hot that they brown quickly on the outside without melting the cheese within.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Risotto with Squash, Chestnuts and Prosecco



Have you got any half-full bottles of prosecco or champagne left over from New Year's festivities? OK, don't scoff -- there are some of us who don't quaff down a whole bottle in one sitting. In addition to the leftover prosecco, there were a dozen chestnuts and a small hunk of butternut squash in the fridge still uncooked and in search of a recipe. Hence the amalgam of these ingredients and birth of this risotto dish.
You can also use already-peeled chestnuts from France that come in a glass jar, but since I had these fresh ones, I cut them in half and plunked them into a pot of boiling water - not long enough to cook them through, but long enough to loosen the shell and pry out the interior. Click here for a more thorough explanation of how to do it. 
I thought I'd finally inaugurate this heavy copper pot with the risotto - a pot I bought in the town of Guardiagrele, Italy last summer, but still hadn't used.  It reminded to me that I've got a lot of kitchen tools that sit around unused because they're in cabinets where I don't often see them. So I'm taking it upon myself to pull out some of these pots, pans, and other gadgets more frequently in my attempt to "use it or lose it."
After cooking the risotto in this copper pot, I may never make risotto again in any other vessel. The heavy-gauge pan ensures really even cooking without any hot spots. And it's beautiful to look at as well.
Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients at the ready before starting to cook. Missing, but vital, to the dish, is the prosecco (use dry white wine if you haven't got prosecco), as well as butter and extra virgin olive oil. Dice the squash into small pieces because the squash needs to be small enough to cook while you're stirring it into the risotto. That should take only about 20 minutes. Make sure you make a little extra risotto, because my next post is a truly irresistible treat using leftover risotto.
First thing you do is soften the shallots in a mixture of butter and olive oil, then stir the grains of risotto about for a bit -- a process called "tostatura." You don't want the grains to turn brown, so just quickly heat the exterior for three or four minutes or until the grains are opaque. This will allow the rice to soak up the liquids without becoming soggy. By the way, make sure to use carnaroli, vialone nano or arborio rice, short grain varieties that release a lot of starch, adding a creaminess to the dish. 
Then it's time for the prosecco (or dry white wine). Don't forget the cook needs a sample!
Add the vegetables and chestnuts, and a bit of chicken broth, a ladle full at a time. When the rice is cooked (about 20 minutes or so), it's time for the "mantecatura."  Take it off the heat, add some dollops of cold butter ...
and the parmesan cheese. Dig in.

Risotto with squash, chestnuts and prosecco

printable recipe here

1 cup rice - arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano
1 large shallot
2 T. butter
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup butternut squash, diced in small pieces
1/2 cup chestnuts, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup dry white wine or prosecco
2 cups (or more) hot chicken broth
a couple more tablespoons butter and parmesan cheese to taste (1/4 cup) for the mantecatura

Place the olive oil and butter in a saucepan and add the rice. Toss the rice for a few minutes to coat, but don't let the grains brown. Pour in the prosecco and stir, then add the squash and chestnuts and a ladleful of the broth. Continue stirring and continue adding broth, one ladle at a time, until the rice is cooked and tender to the bite. Season with salt and white pepper. Remove from the heat and add the cold butter and parmesan cheese.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polenta Festa Redux

Once a year, the Italian cultural organization I'm involved with holds a polenta festa. It's always one of the most well-attended events of the year, with lots of polenta dishes to enjoy - from appetizers and main courses to dessert. This year, the nasty New Jersey weather kept some people away, but that just meant there was more for those who did show up, carrying their warm platters of the humble cornmeal dish.
Here's a sampling of the various offerings: polenta with sausages and sauerkraut from Mary Sue and Al:
Eleanor's polenta with broccoli rabe
 Polenta with sausages and melted cheeses from Ciao Chow Linda:
We had entertainment too - two students from Princeton University who played everything from "O Sole Mio" to the intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana." Bravi studenti.
 Then it was on to dessert, including Gilda's cornmeal almond cake. I've posted the recipe for this before and you can find it here.
 Cornmeal chocolate chip cookies 
 Polenta lemon cake (almost identical to a recipe I posted here
 The next night back at home, as the Polar "Vortex" made its way to Princeton, I warmed up with some polenta and wild greens, again crowned with a mixture of grated fontina and parmesan, the same topping I used on the sausage dish I took to the festa.
My dishes, the first picture with the sausage and the one above with wild greens, were assembled by making a pot of polenta (instructions for making polenta from scratch here), cooking - then slicing some Italian sausage (or cooking the wild greens in water, draining and sautéing in olive oil with garlic, salt and red pepper flakes)  and scattering it over the polenta. Top with some grated fontina cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. Heat in a 425 degree oven for a half hour or until cheese is melted and begins to turn slightly golden.

If you're a neophyte when it comes to making polenta, fear not -- take the plunge. The best polenta comes from constant stirring over a stove for 40 to 45 minutes, but I've been known to use the five-minute polenta too, and it's not bad. Cookbook author Michele Scicolone even writes of a method using a slow cooker to make polenta, in her cookbook, "The Italian Slow Cooker." And click here to learn about America's Test Kitchen  "almost no-stir polenta" recipe.  Just don't use that stuff that comes in a tube or you'll be shut out in the polar vortex. 

Polenta with Sausages (or wild greens) and Cheeses

Make polenta using one of the methods described and pour into an oven-proof dish. 
Saute sausages in a pan until cooked through (or alternately do as I did and remove casings from sausage, then simmer in some water until cooked).
Slice and arrange sausages over polenta, poking some down into it. Cover with grated fontina and parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.

For the wild greens, boil them in some water, drain. Then add a bit of olive oil to a pan, some minced garlic and let it soften. Put the drained greens back in, adding a bit of salt and red pepper flakes. Spread the mixture on the polenta, adding grated fontina and parmesan. Bake for 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.


Basic Polenta - - Michele Scicolone, "The Italian Slow Cooker" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010)
Serves 6
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1½ teaspoons salt
5 cups water (or half water and half broth)
Additional water, milk, broth or cream, optional
In a large slow cooker, stir together the cornmeal, salt and water. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir the polenta. If it seems too thick, add a little extra liquid. Cook for 30-60 minutes more, until thick and creamy. Serve hot.
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