Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Fruit

watermelon7
One of the most common ways that Italians show their pride is by wearing or displaying the national colors (red, white and green). National pride might also explain why the similarly colored watermelon is so popular in Italy and why it’s not uncommon to see street vendors selling wedges of watermelon during summer festivals and other celebrations.

Watermelon also plays a key role in many Italian holidays. During the Assumption Day celebrations – a major religious holiday observed throughout Italy – a watermelon feast is held in Venice to help “keep community ties.” In the Italian city of Villa Lagarina, legend has it that when a truckload of watermelon arrived in the 1920s, the townsfolk were astonished by the look of the fruit and placed the bounty in the fountain at the center of town. The tradition continues to this day with the “watermelon fountain” being filled each year during the three-day celebration.

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Watermelons are about 93% water, the highest water content of all fruits. They are also rich in potassium, one of the elements the body loses through sweating, as well as vitamins A and C. Watermelon’s sweetness is due in large part to some of the aromatic compounds it contains, yet they are low in calories. Watermelons originated in Tropical Africa and are in the same family that also includes cantaloupes, cucumbers, squash and zucchini. They were first cultivated by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and arrived in Europe in the 1200s with the returning Crusaders.

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People quickly realized the value of this fruit during the summer months and, as they became known amongst the country folk, they picked up local names: Anguria in much of Northern Italy, Cocomero in Tuscany and Melone D’Acqua (water melon) in parts of the south, especially around Naples. Their popularity continues and the annual Italian watermelon crop is between 550 and 600,000 metric tons, which translates to about 100 million watermelons. They first appear in the Italian markets in May and the season lasts until the beginning of September.

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Growing watermelons can be complicated. Not only because there are three basic types: normal, hybrid and seedless but each type needs a different culture. Watermelons need healthy, warm soil. Once the seeds are pollinated and there is sufficient heat, a watermelon will mature in about four months. Another important consideration is the fact that watermelon vines appreciate sufficient water, but overwatering can be a problem if the vines are not grown on fast draining sandy soils. Probably the single most common modern cultural practice in watermelon culture is the use of black plastic to cover the raised beds on which the melon plants are planted. The black plastic heats up the soil and this is quite beneficial. Watermelon fruits produced on black plastic will usually produce earlier and more quickly and with sweeter fruits.

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In Italy, many growers now grow watermelons in polytunnels – a tunnel made of polyethylene, usually semi-circular, square or elongated in shape. The tunnels significantly improve the speed of growth and sweetness of the fruits, as well as protecting the fruits from physical damage. Growers who use polytunnels are almost obligated to hand-pollinate, just because attracting enough bees inside the tunnels is a difficult task.

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Italian Watermelon Ice

Makes about 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3-pound piece chilled watermelon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

In a small saucepan simmer the water with the sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the syrup to a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and cold water and stir occasionally until the syrup until cold.

Discard the rind from watermelon and cut the fruit into 1-inch chunks. In a blender purée the watermelon chunks, syrup and lemon juice. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a 9-inch square metal baking pan, pressing hard on the solids in the sieve. Freeze the mixture, covered, until frozen, about 6 to 8 hours. The mixture can be left in the freezer for 2 days. Just before serving, scrape the watermelon ice with a fork to lighten texture and break up ice crystals. Serve in the traditional paper cups.

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Watermelon Smoothie

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups watermelon cubes
  • 1 cup vanilla frozen yogurt
  • 2 pinches ground cardamom

Directions

Combine the ingredients in a blender and purée. Serve immediately.

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Watermelon Salad with Hot Pepper and Basil

Ingredients

Makes 4 cups

  • 2 cups watermelon chunks
  • 3/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1/2 cup seedless grapes, quartered
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced hot chili peppers
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss well. Allow the flavors to blend before serving.

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Grilled Chicken Topped with Watermelon Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 medium-sized chicken breasts
  • 1/2 small watermelon, cut into large cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced fine
  • 1 pinch paprika
  • 1 pinch cumin
  • 1 Lemon, zested
  • 4 tomatoes, diced into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup olives, pitted and chopped
  • 4 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
  • Half of a small eggplant, peeled and sliced
  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the grill
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup feta cheese, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat an outdoor or indoor grill. Brush with olive oil. Brush the chicken and eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook chicken on each side for 5-6 minutes, or until cooked to 165 degrees F. Remove chicken to a clean plate to cool. Cook the eggplant about 2 minutes on each side, remove to a cutting board and cut into small dice.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic and onion. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add the diced eggplant, paprika, cumin and lemon zest. Cook for another minute.

Remove to a large bowl and add the fresh tomatoes, olives, roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes and mix gently. Stir in the parsley leaves, watermelon and feta.

Cut chicken breast into thin slices and place on individual plates. Evenly divide the tomato watermelon salad between the plates.

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Grilled Tuna with Watermelon Salsa

2 servings

Ingredients

  • Two 5 ounce fresh or frozen tuna steaks, cut 3/4- to 1-inch thick
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped seeded watermelon
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow or orange sweet bell pepper
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh mint
  • Lime wedges (optional)

Directions

Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Place fish in a large resealable plastic bag set in a shallow dish. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the ground oregano, the lime peel, lime juice, olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper and the salt. Pour over the fish in the bag; turn to coat fish. Seal bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes, turning bag occasionally.

For the salsa:

In a small bowl, combine the chopped watermelon, bell pepper, green onion, mint and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Set aside.

Drain fish, discarding marinade.

For a charcoal grill, grill fish on the greased rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 6 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, gently turning once halfway through grilling. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place fish on the greased grill rack over  direct heat. Cover and grill as above.)

Serve fish topped with watermelon mixture. If desired, serve with lime wedges.

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coffeecake
Much of the American appetite for sweet rolls and cakes comes from the German and Dutch settlements in New York, New Jersey and Delaware. Colonial cooks made fruity, buttery breakfast or coffee cakes from recipes that vary only slightly from methods used in the twentieth century. They also share some of the responsibility for the national zest for doughnuts.

Scandinavians were even more responsible than anyone else for making America as coffee-break-conscious as it is, and for perfecting the kind of food that goes well with coffee. German women had already brought the Kaffeeklatsch to their frontier communities, but it was in the Scandinavian kitchens where there was always a pot brewing on the back of the stove and where hospitality and coffee became synonymous.The term “coffee klatch” became part of the language and its original meaning–a moment that combined gossip with coffee drinking–was changed to define the American version of English tea, a mid-afternoon gathering. Like the cooks from Central Europe, most Scandinavian cooks prided themselves on simple forms of pastry making that included coffee breads, coffee cakes, coffee rings, sweet rolls and buns.

According to the book, Listening to America, by Stuart Berg Flexner, it wasn’t until 1879 that the term “coffee cake” became a common term. Historic American cook books and newspapers support this claim.

Coffee Cake – Recipe from 1875

5 cups flour, dried and sifted.

1 cup of butter.

2 cups of sugar.

1 cup of molasses.

1 cup made black coffee–the very best quality.

1/2 pound raisins, seeded and minced.

1/2 pound currants, washed and dried.

1/4 pound citron, chopped fine.

3 eggs, beaten very light.

1/2 teaspoonful cinnamon.

1/2 teaspoonful mace.

1 teaspoonful-a full one-of saleratus.

Cream the butter and sugar, warm the molasses slightly, and berate these,with the spices hard, five minutes, until the mixture is very light. Next, put in the yolks, the coffee, and when these are well mixed, the flour, in turn with the whipped whites. Next, the saleratus, dissolved in hot water, and the fruit, all mixed together and dredged well with flour. Beat up very thoroughly, and bake in two loaves, or in small round tins. The flavor of this cake is peculiar, but to most palates very pleasant. Wrap in a thick cloth as soon as it is cold enough to put away without danger of ‘sweating,’ and shut within your cake box, as it soon loses the aroma of the coffee if exposed to the air.” —Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea, Marion Harland [Scribner, Armstrong & Co.: New York] 1875 (p. 332)

Although once very popular, coffee cakes have often been forgotten over the past few years in favor of bagels, extra-large muffins and egg and sausage breakfast sandwiches.

When the occasional coffee cake does still pop up in coffee shops, it bears little resemblance to the coffee cakes of old. These newer versions are often sweet enough for dessert and topped with icing or even frosting. I still make old-fashioned coffee cakes but with healthy, fresh ingredients. To make coffee cakes healthier reduce the sugar, add fruit and use whole grains to lower the glycemic index and increase the fiber content. Don’t worry though – these cakes still taste delicious.

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Summer Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup raspberries

Topping:

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Add vanilla and milk and beat to combine. Add flours and baking powder. Stir to mix well. Gently fold in berries.

Spoon into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking dish. Combine cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle over the top of the cake. Bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool before serving.

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Whole Wheat Cranberry Coffee Cake

Filling

1 can (15 oz) whole-berry cranberry sauce, stirred to break up any clumps

Cake Batter

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup yogurt; low-fat is fine, avoid nonfat
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour

Streusel Topping

  • 2 tablespoons of white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 5 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan.

To make the streusel: In the large bowl of the electric mixer, beat together all of the streusel ingredients until even crumbs form. Scoop the mixture into a smaller bowl, and set it aside.

To make the batter: In the same bowl in which you’ve just made the streusel and beat together the butter and brown sugar until smooth.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl and again beating until smooth.

Beat in the yogurt, extracts, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour. The batter will be fairly stiff.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it to the edges.

Spread the cranberry on top of the cake.

Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the cranberry sauce.

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool for 30 minutes before serving.

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Buttermilk Coffee Cake with Plums

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 pound Italian or regular plums (4 to 5 medium), sliced
  • Brown sugar
  • Cinnamon  

Directions

Cream the butter in a medium-sized mixing bowl and beat in the sugar and eggs. Sift together the dry ingredients and add them to the butter-sugar-egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

Mix the batter, then pour it into a greased 9 inch round cake pan. Smooth the top of the batter and arrange plum slices over it in slightly overlapping concentric circles

Sprinkle the top of the cake with brown sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or longer, until the surface is firm.

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Cherry Coffee Cake

This easy coffee cake can be made even faster in a food processor.

Topping:

  • 1 tablespoon very cold hard butter chopped into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons oats

Cake:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cherries, halved (sweet or tart cherries)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a food processor mix the topping ingredients (except the oats) until small crumbs form. Briefly mix in the oats. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

In the processor or using an electric mixer, mix together the wet ingredients (oil to buttermilk).

In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Briefly mix into the wet mixture. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the cherries evenly over the batter. Spoon the rest of the batter over the cherries. (Some will show through.)

Sprinkle on the topping. Bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly browned and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes before slicing into wedges.

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Blueberry or Blackberry Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/2 cup plain fat-free yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, divided
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients in a large glass measuring cup.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Toss 1 ¼ cups blueberries with the whole wheat pastry flour and fold into batter.

Pour into a lightly greased 9-inch springform pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup blueberries.

Stir together the  2 tablespoons coarse sugar, sliced almonds and cinnamon. Sprinkle the over batter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove sides of pan and serve.

Looking for Some New Coffeecake Recipes? (jovinacooksitalian.com)

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/09/18/make-your-quick-breads-healthy/

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/07/24/healthy-breakfast-breads-to-bake/


cherries

Cherries are in season and you can use them to create sweet or savory recipes.  There’s no need to limit cherries just to desserts. Use them in muffins, coffee cakes or pancakes for breakfast or add them to salads, salsas, sauces and shakes.

Traverse City, Michigan and Vignola, Italy, both claim to be the cherry capital of the world. Traverse City grows more cherries but Vignola’s been growing them longer. It’s the Pacific Northwest, however, that accounts for 70 percent of the sweet cherry production, while Michigan produces about three-quarters of the tart variety.

Nutritionally, cherries are very much like most fruit in that they contain fiber and antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta carotene.

Choosing Cherries

Rain is the industry’s biggest problem. Ripe berries will split open if they get wet at the wrong time, making the crop sometimes unpredictable. The most popular Northwest sweet cherry is the Bing. These large cherries will be a dark burgundy color when fully ripened. The smaller, heart-shaped Lambert cherry is similar in taste to the Bing. A yellowish colored cherry is an extra-sweet hybrid called the Rainier.

In the Midwest, the Schmidt is a variety similar to the Bing. Other sweet cherry varieties of that region are the Emperor Francis and the Rainier. Tart cherries can sometimes be found at local farm stands for use in pies and jams. When picking out fresh cherries, make sure they’re firm (but not hard) and without soft spots or bruises. The stems should be green and not darkened with age.

Wash the cherries and pat dry and then store them in a plastic container for up to two weeks. Cherries deteriorate rapidly if they’re not kept refrigerated.

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If you want to take advantage of the in season prices, you can freeze cherries. The only equipment you’ll need beforehand is a cherry pitter and surgical gloves (unless you want red hands for days). A cherry pitter works very well.

To freeze, lay the washed cherries, pitted, on a jelly roll pan in a single layer and place in the freezer. When they’re solid, place them in labeled Zip-Lock freezer bags and they should keep for up to a year. Never defrost cherries, however, before using in your cooking or baking because they become mushy.

You can also make dried cherries that are great for baking or for use in granola and salads. This is a great way to use up overripe or crushed fruit. Arrange cherries skin side down on foil-covered cookie sheets or jelly roll pans. Place in a 200 degrees F oven for four to five hours or until the cherries are shriveled. They should be leathery and slightly sticky, but not hard.

Cool, then store in Zip-Lock bags or plastic containers. It is best to store homemade dried fruit in the refrigerator or freezer because the moisture that is still present in the fruit may cause some bacterial growth. Dried fruit will also taste fresher longer, if kept in a cool place.

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Tomato Bruschetta with Sweet Cherries

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 loaf good, crusty Italian bread
  • 1 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced to 1/4″ chunks
  • 1 cup bing cherries
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced, plus one whole clove for the bread
  • 2 tablespoons yellow onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for bread
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper

Directions

Place the diced tomatoes in a colander, sprinkle with the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and set aside to drain for 20 minutes. Pit and quarter the cherries. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, cherries, parsley, minced garlic and onion. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar into the olive oil.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into 1/2″ thick slices, rub with the whole clove of garlic and brush with olive oil. Toast the slices of bread in a toaster oven or under the broiler until golden and crisp. Drizzle each slice with a 1/2 teaspoon of the olive oil/vinegar mixture and then carefully spoon on the bruschetta. Garnish with a few parsley leaves and serve.

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Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette

Next time you are grilling, add a few extra chicken breasts for a summer salad the following day.

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut in half to make four pieces (about 1/4 pound each)
  • Olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper
  • Fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary, chopped fine
  • 8 cups assorted garden lettuce or greens, such as baby romaine, leaf, red oak, endive, arugula, spinach (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 10-15 radishes, sliced thin
  • Toasted pecans, optional

Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
  • 1/2 cup cherry juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger root (peeled first),
  • Dash salt, cayenne pepper and/or freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a blender, combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

Chill in a covered container until ready to use. (The dressing can be strained for a smoother appearance.)

Brush the chicken with oil and sprinkle with salt, ground black pepper and the chopped fresh herbs.

Grill the chicken and refrigerate until needed.

Wash and dry the salad greens. Toss with the onions, pecans, if using, and radishes. Slice the chicken diagonally into thin strips.

Just before serving, toss the lettuce mixture with the vinaigrette. Lay the salad on the plates and top with the sliced chicken. Garnish with additional chopped fresh herbs.

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Maple Cherry Sauce

Makes 1 cup.

This sauce  can be used hot or cold as a topping for grilled meats, yogurt, ice cream or cheesecake. Tart cherries may be used, but you’ll need to adjust the amount of sweetener.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup cherry juice or juice blend
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot flour or cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 cups pitted fresh or frozen sweet cherries, halved

Directions

In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the juice and flour or cornstarch.

In a medium saucepan, pour in the juice mixture and the maple syrup. Stir over medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken.

Add the cherries and simmer until they soften, crushing them a bit. Don’t overcook.

Cool or serve hot. The sauce will thicken a little as it cools.

Option: add 1 teaspoon grated orange rind or 1 tablespoon brandy.

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Cherry Cheesecake Bars

These healthy bars are an easy dessert to take to a family barbecue.

Ingredients

2 cups Maple Cherry Sauce (double the recipe above)

Crust

  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers (for gluten-free, use almond flour)
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Filling

  • 1-1/2 cups vanilla Greek yogurt. (Brands that contain modified food starch and/or gelatin won’t work in this recipe.)
  • 2 eight-ounce packages 1/3 less fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Have a 9-by-13-inch baking pan ready.

Place the crackers in the processor and process until fine crumbs form.  mix in the oil and sugar. Pour into the baking pan and press onto the bottom of the pan.

In the processor or using a mixer, beat the yogurt and cream cheese together. Beat in the maple syrup and vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Pour the mixture over the crumb crust in the baking pan.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the center has puffed up. (It will fall somewhat when cooled.) Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least three hours.

Just before serving, spread with the cherry sauce and cut into bars.

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Italian Old Fashioned Cherry Cake or Dolce Di Ciliegie

Servings: 6-8

This historical family recipe has been published by the famous Italian cook, Artusi, in his book, “L’arte la scienza in cucina e l’ arte di mangiar bene” in 1891.

Frozen cherries are too juicy to use in this recipe.

Ingredients

1/2 lb fresh cherries, pitted

For the Baking Pan

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 ounces almonds ( ground)
  • 1 tablespoon plain breadcrumbs (finely grated)

For the Filling

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 4 ounces powdered sugar, plus extra for the top of the cake
  • 2 ounces plain bread crumbs, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons liqueur (Amaretto or Maraschino cherry juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Butter a 10 inch pie pan or baking pan. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200°C).

Distribute the almonds and the one tablespoon bread crumbs to completely coat the bottom of thebaking pan.

Blend the egg yolks with the powdered sugar until creamy and soft. Incorporate the bread crumbs, liqueur or juice and vanilla.

Beat egg whites separately in another bowl until soft peaks form and gently fold into the egg yolk mixture. Pour into the baking pan.

Drop the cherries on top.

Bake for about 30 minutes or untilthe top is brown and the cake is cooked through.

Dust the top with powdered sugar.

Serve hot or cold.

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Duck With Cherries In Chianti

This dish was developed for a banquet to be served at the Castello di Gabbiano, south of Florence. Italian cherries were in season and the cherries were cooked in Castello’s Chianti.

The sauce was served with locally caught duck. Culinary instructor and cookbook author, Katie Caldesi, The Italian Cookery Course, is the creator of this recipe.

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 duck breasts, skin on
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Sauce

  • 3 1/2 ounces cherries, halved, pits removed
  • 2/3 cups orange juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups red wine, such as Gabbiano Chianti

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the sauce,

Put the cherries in a ovenproof dish, pour in the orange juice, then sprinkle with half the sugar. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the cherries have softened and browned a little. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, pour the wine into a saucepan with the remaining sugar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes to allow it to reduce to about a third of its volume (you want about 2/3 cup).

Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick frying pan and, when hot, fry the breasts, skin-side down, for about 6 minutes, then turn them over and fry for another 4 minutes.

This will give you medium-rare meat. If you prefer it well cooked, transfer the duck breasts to a baking pan and roast in the oven for about 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the cherries and the wine into a large frying pan and bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Slice the duck breasts and arrange them on warmed serving dishes. Pour the cherry wine sauce over and serve with plenty of creamy polenta.


whatsfordinner

Things that are fun in the summertime: going to outdoor concerts, attending fairs and festivals, walking in the park and relaxing at the pool. Something that’s not fun in the summertime: spending time cooking, especially in front of a hot stove. Here are a week’s worth of healthy recipes you can make for dinner pretty quickly.

Monday

whatsfordinner2

Farmers’ Market Pasta Salad

8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels
  • 1 cup diced firm, ripe fresh peaches (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • Parmesan Vinaigrette, recipe below
  • 6-oz penne pasta
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 10 oz.)
  • 1/3 cup torn fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup torn fresh Italian parsley

Directions

Toss together the first 6 ingredients and half of the dressing in a large bowl and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions.

Add hot the cooked pasta, chicken and basil to the vegetable mixture; toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a serving platter and top with parsley. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette.

Parmesan Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

Process Parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic, pepper and salt in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add basil and cilantro; pulse 5 or 6 times or just until blended.

whatsfordinner9

Carrot Spice Muffins

Make these when you have time and store them in the freezer for when you need them.

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup low fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (about 3)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with non-stick spray or use muffin liners.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the liquid ingredients. Add the liquid to the dry and mix just long enough to combine.

Add the carrots and stir to combine.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups–it will be very thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Tuesday

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Salmon Cucumber Boats

Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 6 oz canned pink salmon, drained or leftover cooked fresh salmon
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled

Directions

Combine the first six ingredients. Halve cucumbers lengthwise, remove seeds in each half and stuff with salmon mixture. Chill.

Salad with Tangerines

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fresh lettuce or spinach, torn into bite size pieces (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 seedless tangerine, peeled, pith removed and sectioned
  • 1/2 cup toasted nuts, coarsely chopped

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, tangerines and nuts.

In a medium bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients until well combined. Toss with salad mixture and serve.

Wednesday

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Chilled Tomato Soup with Melon

  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 of small melon, such as cantaloupe or honeydew, plus a wedge of seedless watermelon
  • 1/4 cup chopped seedless cucumber, optional
  • Basil pesto, thinned with a little water for garnish

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes with the olive oil, basil, garlic, vinegar and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook over low heat until hot but not boiling, about 10 minutes.

Pass the soup through the fine disk of a food mill into a medium bowl to remove the tomato seeds and skin.

Cover the bowl and chill the soup in the refrigerator overnight or quick-chill it by setting the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water.

Cut the melons into 1/2-inch dice. Pour the soup into bowls. Garnish with the melon, cucumber, if using and drizzle with the thinned basil pesto sauce and serve.

MAKE AHEAD The tomato soup can be refrigerated for 1 day without the garnishes.

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Grilled Shrimp Pita

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound large shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided, plus additional for brushing grill
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 3/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced and divided
  • 2 cucumbers (about 1 pound), peeled
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 small red onion, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rings
  • 4 whole-grain flat breads (pita)
  • 8 small romaine leaves

Directions

Preheat  an outdoor or indoor grill.

Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Stir together 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon oil and 1 tablespoon each dill and oregano in a medium bowl. Add the shrimp and toss to combine. Marinate, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

To make cucumber sauce: Stir together 1/4 cup of the yogurt, half of the garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon dill in a serving bowl. With a vegetable peeler, cut cucumbers into lengthwise ribbons, discarding the seeded core. Toss cucumber ribbons with yogurt mixture and pepper, to taste.

To make yogurt sauce: Combine the remaining 1/2 cup yogurt with remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, remaining 1 tablespoon dill and remaining garlic in a small serving bowl. Season with pepper, to taste.

Toss tomatoes and onion with remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in a bowl.

Grill shrimp, tomatoes and onion in a lightly oiled well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or grill pan or basket, turning once, 5 minutes or until shrimp are bright pink and cooked through, tomatoes are softened and onion is golden and tender. Transfer to a plate; cover and keep warm.

Grill flat bread until golden brown and slightly crisp. Transfer to 4 serving plates; top evenly with cucumber salad, shrimp, onions tomatoes, and romaine, if desired. Top with yogurt sauce.

Thursday

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Rib-Eye Steak with Pistachio Butter and Asparagus

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons shelled, roasted unsalted pistachios*
  • 1/2 cup arugula, packed
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 boneless rib-eye steak ( about 8 oz)
  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Process pistachios and arugula in a food processor until minced. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down the inside of the bowl as needed. Transfer to a small container and chill.

Heat a charcoal or wood-fired grill to high (450°F to 550°F; you can hold your hand 5 inches the above cooking grate only 2 to 4 seconds).

Coat steaks and asparagus with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill steaks, turning once, until done the way you like it: medium rare or medium.

Grill asparagus in the last few minutes, turning once, until tender-crisp.

Transfer the steak to a cutting board, dollop steaks with butter and tent with foil. Let rest 5 minutes. Slice steak and serve with asparagus.

Make ahead: Chilled Pistachio butter will keepup to 1 week.

*If you can’t find unsalted pistachios, use unsalted butter to balance the salty nuts.

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Fresh Grape Tomato Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 cups halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt to taste
  • Romaine leaves, optional

Directions

Mix tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and garlic powder together in a bowl. Crumble oregano between your fingers to release the flavor and add to the tomatoes; stir to coat. Season with salt. Let flavors marinate before serving, 5 minutes or up to an hour. Serve over a romaine leaf, if desired.

Friday

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Halibut Kebabs with Grilled Bread and Pancetta

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds boned and skinned halibut, cut into 2-in. chunks or firm white fish available in your area (such as grouper, swordfish, cod, etc.)
  • 4 cups 1 1/2-in. cubes crusty Italian bread, such as ciabatta
  • 3 ounces pancetta, sliced paper-thin
  • Four – 10 inch metal skewers

Directions

Heat an outdoor grill to medium (350°F to 450°F).

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Add halibut and bread. Toss to coat, then set aside for 5 minutes.

Skewer an end of 1 pancetta strip, then alternate fish and bread cubes on a metal skewer weaving pancetta between them. Repeat 3 times.

Grill kebabs, turning frequently, until fish is cooked through and the bread is slightly charred in places, about 6 minutes. Remove to a serving plate and cover with foil.

Don’t turn off the grill - you will need it to grill some of the ingredients for the salad below.

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Grilled Peach-and-Avocado Salad

Ingredients

Dressing

  • 1 large peach, peeled and chopped
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Salad

  • 2 large peaches, peeled, pitted and halved
  • 1 firm avocado, peeled and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups loosely packed arugula
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions

Dressing

Process 1 large peach, peeled and chopped; 6 tablespoons olive oil; vinegar and honey in a blender until smooth. Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

Salad

Gently toss 2 large peaches, peeled and halved and avocado in 1 tablespoon olive  oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Grill, covered with the grill lid, 2 minutes on each side or until charred. Slice and serve over arugula. Top with peach vinaigrette and cheese.


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If you are growing herbs in your garden, you’re already an expert at grabbing a handful of aromatic herbs, roughly chopping them and adding them to your favorite salads, sauces, soups and marinades. Your serving plates are garnished with greenery and your dips are made with fresh herbs instead of dried. As for pesto, you’ve made them all: basil, parsley, arugula, etc. But it’s late summer and after all that culinary creativity, do you still have an over-abundance of herbs? Before you even think about letting them go to waste, think about the following uses.

  • Branches of woody herbs such as rosemary can be used as garnishes in mixed drinks. Rosemary makes a great swizzle stick and delicate herbs like mint, coriander and lemon balm can also add a different taste to your summer cocktails.
  • Reserving a few of those sturdy rosemary branches to use as skewers for grilled kabobs. Fragrant thyme, sage or rosemary can also add flavor to barbecued food just by tossing a few dampened bunches of them directly on hot coals or in a grill box for a gas grill. The oils mingle with the smoke adding a smoky-herbal essence to whatever you’re grilling.
  • Next time you crave a cup of herbal tea, don’t search the cupboard for a stale teabag. Instead, check your garden for the most aromatic herbs you can find and steep them until you have a fragrant infusion.
  • Although herbs are usually used in savory recipes, they also lend themselves beautifully to sweet preparations. Herbs are excellent in sorbet, especially basil, lavender, rose and edible flowers such as scented geranium. Besides sauces and sorbets, simple baked goods can also benefit from the addition of herbs, for example, blueberry-sage corn muffins.
  • Make your own flavored vinegars. Start with good quality vinegars: red or white wine, or cider—but not balsamic. Then create several varieties of vinegars by using different herbs. Make sure the herbs are always covered by liquid and let it rest for a couple of weeks.

Make Compound Butters

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Lemon Herb Butter

Unsalted butter combined with lemon zest, rosemary, thyme and sage makes a nice spread for rolls or to top a grilled steak or to use as a flavorful ingredient for cooking.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Mash butter in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Mix lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and black pepper into the butter until thoroughly combined. Chill until ready to use in a recipe.

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Herb and Walnut Butter

This is a great sauce to go with grilled fish.

Ingredients

  • 2 walnut halves, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 juniper berries, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 16 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup watercress, leaves and tender sprigs only
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a small skillet, toast the walnuts over moderate heat for about 3 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool. Stir in the butter, juniper berries, orange zest and lime juice. Scrape the nut butter onto a sheet of wax paper and spread into a 3-by-6-inch rectangle; wrap in the paper. Refrigerate until firm.

Put the garlic in a small saucepan, add cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Reserving 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Drain. Transfer the garlic and reserved water to a blender. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the grapeseed oil and puree until smooth. Scrape the garlic puree into a bowl.

Add the watercress, arugula, parsley, basil and dill to the blender and pulse until finely chopped. With the machine on, pour in the remaining 1/4 cup each of olive oil and grapeseed oil and puree until smooth. Add the Parmigiano, lemon zest, lemon juice, the garlic puree and pulse to combine. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Mix well.

Spoon a little of the sauce onto a plate and top with grilled fish or steak. Unwrap the butter and place 1 tablespoon on top of the fish or steak and serve.

Make Herb Sauces

1. Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde

In Italy, salsa verde often accompanies poached chicken or fish and boiled meat. The tangy green sauce is also delicious on sautéed and grilled foods.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 3 cloves garlic, 1 whole, 2 minced
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Put the parsley, capers, the whole garlic clove, the lemon juice, anchovy paste, mustard, salt and pepper into a food processor or blender. Pulse just to chop, six to eight times.

With the machine running, add the 1/2 cup oil in a thin stream to make a slightly coarse puree. Leave this mixture in the food processor; if necessary, pulse to re-emulsify just before serving.

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Herb-Nut Salsa

This is a great addition to grilled steak.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 2 teaspoons minced tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon minced chervil
  • 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped rinsed capers
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F and toast the hazelnuts in a pie pan for 12 minutes or until the skins are blistered. Transfer the nuts to a kitchen towel; let cool slightly, then rub off the skins.

Finely chop the nuts and transfer them to a bowl. Add the parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil, anchovies, capers and shallot.

Stir in the vinegar, olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Mix well. Serve alongside grilled steak.

2. Artichoke

Smoked-Herb Mayonnaise

Serve with cooked whole artichokes or other vegetables as a dipping sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tablespoons chopped capers
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • Hot sauce
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, dill, capers, lemon zest and juice, salt and paprika. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and season the mayonnaise with pepper. Chill until serving time.

Make Something Sweet

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Pineapple and Basil Sorbet

Who knew basil paired so well with pineapple?

Ingredients

  • 1 pineapple – peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves

Directions

Blend the pineapple, sugar, pineapple juice and basil in a blender until smooth; chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Place mixture in an ice cream maker and mix according to the manufacturer’s instructions; pour into an airtight container and freeze 8 hours or overnight.

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Summer Berry and Rosemary Parfait

Ingredients

Rosemary Infusion Syrup

  • Juice from 1 large lemon, strained
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon molasses

Parfait Layers

  • 1 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 2 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
  • 10 fresh strawberries, sliced

Directions

Rosemary Infusion Syrup

In a small saucepan, combine lemon juice, sugar, molasses, vanilla and rosemary. Bring to a boil; then allow to cool.

Parfait Layers

Place berry and fruit varieties in small bowls and evenly distribute rosemary infusion syrup over each. Mix well, until the fruits are coated in the rosemary syrup.

In a glass sundae/parfait dish, layer the infused berries and fruit with yogurt.

Top with your favorite granola.

Note: Recipe amounts given should yield 2 large parfaits. Adjust amounts to desired number of parfaits.

Make Drinks

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Rosemary Lemon Margarita

Ingredients

  • 8 Lemons (juice only)
  • 24 ounces club soda
  • 4 rosemary sprigs
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 ounces Tequila

Directions

Combine lemon juice, club soda, sugar and tequila in pitcher. Mix well. Refrigerate until cold. Place 1 rosemary sprig in each of the 4 serving glasses. Add margarita and serve cold.

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Basil Iced Tea

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 4 black tea bags
  • 1 cup tightly packed chopped, fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup lime juice
  • Simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until sugar dissolves completely)
  • Ice

Directions

Bring water to a boil and then steep tea bags and basil for one hour or until the liquid comes to room temperature. When cool, remove tea bags and strain out basil leaves.

Stir in lime juice and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Pour over ice and add simple syrup to taste.

VARIATIONS

Substitute  mint or lemon verbena in place of basil for a different taste.

Make A Rub

Food & Wine, Web shoot

Spicy Herb Salt

This mildly spicy salt is delicious rubbed over big cuts of meat or thick steaks, but it is also good sprinkled on buttered bread or corn on the cob.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rosemary leaves (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup thyme leaves and tender stems (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

In a food processor or blender, pulse the herbs and garlic until chopped. Add the salt and pulse until finely chopped. Add the crushed red pepper and pulse to blend.

Spread the mixture in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and let stand, stirring occasionally, until dried, about 2 days. Transfer the mixture to a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

The herb salt can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 year.


piegaro

In 1292 the rulers of Venice decreed that all glass blowing was to move to the island of Murano, as this was a way to protect the city from burning from the glass workshops. The artists became virtual prisoners to their craft as the Venetians attempted to keep a monopoly on glass making and the blowers, under pain of death, were kept permanently on the island.

However, aided by local monks, two craftsmen did manage to escape and traveled south to Piegaro, near the shores of Lake Trasimeno.  The sturdy walled town was an ideal place to establish their own furnaces and glass making business. The wood from the local forests and sand from the bed of the River Nestore gave the men all the natural resources they needed. They soon gained a reputation for producing quality glass and in 1312 their services were called upon to make the glass tiles used in the glass mosaics of the facade for Orvieto’s new duomo. The glass workers were famous and creating mosaics and stained glass windows for many cathedrals.  Over time the glass industry in Piegaro grew and, by the 15th century, there were a number of small glass studios within the walls of the town. As the town’s fame and popularity increased they saw the creation of a large industrial sized factory, that today is the Museo del Vetro, Glass Museum. Here mechanised presses and automated annealing ovens were built to produce bottles, goblets and flasks on an industrial scale.

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There was also a profitable industry in producing the classic wicker based bottles, famously used for Chianti wines. Many women were employed within the town to weave the bases giving the bottles their distinctive raffia style.

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This glass works continued until the beginning of WWII when it was occupied by German soldiers.  This was a sad time in the history of Piegaro, for when Germans left, the beautiful Comune Palazzo building was mined and destroyed. Glass work continued through the efforts of the Marchesa, who lived in the Palazzo Pallavicini Piegaro, by making the remaining glass factories into worker owned cooperatives.

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Despite modernisation in the 20th century, by the 1960s the factory was proving to be inadequate for the levels of production necessary and a new premises built in the valley. Finally in 1968 the 750 year history of glass making with in the town center came to an end as the furnaces were shut down and left to cool.

The Annual Sagra della Castagna, The Chestnut Festival.  Chestnuts are roasting in every piazza, food booths offer Torta al Testo, chestnut pastries and the first wine, Mosto, barely fermented.  Full course feasts, pizza, music every night with dancing and theater performances fill the ten days of celebration.  Traditional crafts booths of straw weaving, jewelry making and glass blowing offer shopping opportunities.

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In August, travel back time to medieval days for the il Giorni del Vetro: Days of Glass Festival.  Don a medieval costume, join in the Royal Corteo and follow the drummers in a procession through the narrow cobblestone streets. This day honors Piegaro’s heritage and fame as a glass making capital of Italy, that is just as important as Murano.  Three days of festival with music, food, glass artisans working their craft and booths of glass art and jewelry.

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The Cuisine of Piegaro (Umbria) Italy

Having no access to the oceans has limited Umbria cooking to land based food, but the variety of dishes is no less plentiful for it.  Many of dishes rely on vegetables.  Locally grown lentils, cardoons, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts are important staple foods. The region’s olive trees are responsible for making some of the best olive oil in Italy.

Fresh produce and fruity, local olive oil, wild greens, mushrooms and truffles create luscious dishes without the need for additional ingredients.  White truffles are a delicacy eaten fresh in this cuisine.  Norcia provides most of Italy’s black truffles.  Recipes use truffles to elevate the plainest egg, pasta or meat dishes to a gourmet meal.  They are also made into a paste with garlic and anchovies.

Shepherding is important to the local economy, so sheep’s milk cheese is an important staple food.  Unlike most of Italy where Pecorino cheeses are aged in salt, Umbrian cheeses may be rubbed with tomato paste or buried in ashes in terracotta urns to age.  Some cheeses are aged in cool natural caves.  Each of these aging methods gives a unique texture and flavor.  Generally cheese is eaten plain or with preserved vegetables or meats, fresh fruits or simply out of hand with a glass of wine.

The local lentils are of especially high quality.  Fava beans are used to make a hearty soup seasoned with pork rinds and rosemary.  Onion soup is flavored with tomatoes, salt preserved pork, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Freshwater fish are available and they are often made into a mixed stew called tegamaccio.   Anguille alle brace marinates freshwater eels in white wine seasoned with pepper and bay leaves before grilling.

Poultry, wild game and roasts are cooked over pans filled with herbs.  The drippings are collected and made into a sauce after the meat is finished cooking.  Chianina beef,  lamb, wood-pigeon and free range chickens are commonly eaten.  Boar and hare are especially enjoyed and Lepre alla cacciatora braises hare in red wine and is flavored with garlic, sage and bay leaves.

Norcia is well-known for the quality and variety of their cured pork products.  Over time, Norcia has come to be the general Italian term for butcher, due to the quality of the meats from this area.  In addition to the salame, they produce mazzafegati, a pungent sausage made from liver and flavored with pignolis, raisins and orange rind. Porchetta and Prosciutto di Norcia.from Umbria are very highly prized.

Dried pasta and many handmade kinds of egg pasta are eaten in Umbrian cuisine.  Tagliatelle with meat sauces are popular.  Hand rolled ciriole and stringozzi look somewhat like the more familiar spaghetti.  These are often enjoyed with a fresh sauce of black olives, tomatoes and garlic.  Spaghetti alla norcina is served with black truffle sauce.

Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio.  Tore, springy pecorino or pork rind flavored breads, are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves.  A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit.

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Fettuccine With Black Truffle Sauce

Ingredients

12 oz fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 medium Umbrian black truffles, (or any black truffle you can get), cleaned of soil, grated
6 quarts water

Directions

While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over very low heat.
Sauté the crushed garlic for 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Remove the garlic.
Add the anchovy, cooking gently, crushing it to a paste with a wooden spoon.
Add the truffles and heat through.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Immediately mix in the truffle sauce. If you prefer the sauce moister, or it seems too dry, add one tablespoon of the reserved liquid at a time till desired moistness is reached.

Serve on pre-heated plates.

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Pork Roast Braised with Milk

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast (without skin), tied
3 juniper berries (see note, below), crushed
2 large rosemary sprigs
2 large sage sprigs
4 dried bay leaves
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups whole milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack in the middle.

Heat oil in a wide 5 to 6 quart ovenproof heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then lightly brown roast on all sides with juniper berries and herbs, 8 to 10 minutes total. Add garlic and sprinkle roast with sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then cook until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Pour wine over roast and briskly simmer until reduced by half. Pour milk over roast and bring to a bare simmer.

Cover pot and braise in oven, turning roast occasionally, until tender (milk will form curds), 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer roast to a carving board and loosely cover. Strain juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl (discard solids), reserving pot, and skim off fat. Return juices to pot and boil until flavorful and reduced to about 2 cups. Season with sea salt and pepper. Slice roast and serve moistened with juices.

Notes:

Juniper berries can be found in the spice aisle at supermarkets.
Pork can be braised 1 day ahead and chilled in liquid, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Bring to room temperature, then reheat and proceed with recipe.

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Asparagus, Peas and Basil

Ingredients

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10-ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Handful of torn basil leaves (about 3/4 cup)

Directions

Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then seal skillet with foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes.

Stir in basil and sea salt to taste.

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Apricots with Amaretto Syrup

Ingredients

10 firm-ripe large apricots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons), crumbled (1/3 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling

Directions

Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.

Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.

Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.

Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.

Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature.


semifreddo

Semifreddo desserts are easy to make but look and taste like you took a class at Le Cordon Bleu! Semifreddo is an Italian word meaning “half cold” or “half frozen.” It refers to a class of frozen desserts that are similar to ice cream, but made with heavy cream instead of churning air into the mixture while it freezes. Semifreddos are very similar to mousses and are often served in the form of ice cream cakes or tarts.

There are many different recipes for semifreddo, that use different bases to mix with the cream. In Italy, semifreddo is commonly made with gelato. Cooked custards and custard-based sauces are another common choice to mix with the cream. One of the biggest benefits of making semifreddo is that you don’t need an ice cream maker or other specialty equipment to make it. Many semifreddo recipes involve no cooking at all. The most difficult part of making semifreddo is waiting for it to freeze, which typically takes from several hours to overnight in your freezer.

Semifreddos are a great base for just about any flavor or combination of flavors. Once you learn the basics of the recipe, you can customize your semifreddo with your favorite blends of fruits, chocolate, coffee, spices and more! Best of all, the texture and flavors are delicious. For semifreddos with a crust, use a springform pan so it’s easier to remove and present. But you could just as easily form the crust in the bottom of a loaf pan and mold your semifreddo on top of that. Using individual ramekins works well, too.

semifreddo2

Raspberry & Chocolate Semifreddo

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 ounce) box chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1⁄4 cup (1 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen, unsweetened raspberries (if using frozen berries, thaw before use)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Break cookies into pieces and place in a food processor; process to finely ground crumbs. Combine crumbs with 1/4 cup of the sugar and the butter. Press crumb mixture evenly over bottom and halfway up sides of a 9 inch round and 3 inch deep springform pan. Bake 10 minutes or until crust is set; cool on wire rack 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl of electric mixer, using the whip attachment, whip cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cream; beat at medium speed until soft peaks form; transfer to another bowl and chill.

In clean bowl of electric mixer, combine egg whites and 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Place bowl over a pot of simmering water (not touching bottom of bowl); whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 130 degrees F.  Place bowl on the stand mixer; using the whip attachment, beat on high-speed until meringue forms and mixture is room temperature, 3 to 4 minutes.

Place raspberries and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor. Process until pureed. Place mixture in a strainer placed over a large bowl. Press firmly on the raspberry mixture to extract all the juice. Discard seeds. Gently stir in half the meringue. Gently stir in half of the whipped cream mixture. Repeat stirring in remaining meringue and whipped cream until well combined.

Pour mixture over cooled crust, smoothing top. Cover tightly with foil. Freeze at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, run a thin spatula between semifreddo and edge of rim to loosen. Remove rim from spring-form pan. Cut semifreddo into wedges; serve immediately. If there is any remaining semifreddo, reattach the rim of the springform pan, cover and return to the freezer for up to 1 week.

semifreddo4

Pistachio, Strawberry and Vanilla Semifreddo

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus 1/2 cup
  • 1 cup whole milk, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries (about 4 ounces), hulled, halved
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups chilled heavy(whipping) cream

Directions

Line a metal loaf pan (approximately 9x5x3″) with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.

Grind pistachios and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until very finely chopped. Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup milk; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl; strain, discarding solids. Stir in almond extract; set pistachio mixture aside.

Place remaining 1/2 cup milk in a separate small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes. Set a strainer over another medium bowl; strain, discarding solids, and chill vanilla mixture.

Purée strawberries and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a food processor until smooth. Set a fine-mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard solids. Stir in vanilla extract and set strawberry mixture aside.

Whisk eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Beat egg mixture at high-speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 170°, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from over water and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes. Add one-third of egg mixture to each of the pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend.

Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add one-third of cream to each of the pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend. Cover vanilla and strawberry mixtures separately; chill. Pour pistachio mixture into pan; smooth top. Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently pour strawberry mixture over pistachio layer; smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently fold vanilla mixture to blend; pour over and smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Fold plastic wrap over; seal tightly and keep frozen.

Uncover semifreddo. Using plastic wrap as an aid, lift from mold. Invert onto a chilled platter; peel off plastic. Slice crosswise.

semifreddo3

Triple Layer Berry Semifreddo

Ingredients

  • 1⁄4 cup (1 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1⁄3 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1⁄2 cups halved and hulled fresh strawberries (6 ounces)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups fresh blueberries (6 ounces)

Directions

Coat a 9 x 5 x 3-inch metal loaf pan lightly with cooking spray. Line pan with plastic wrap extending generously over edges of pan.

In large bowl of electric mixer, using the whip attachment, whip cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cream; beat at medium speed until soft peaks form, scraping down bowl once. Transfer to another bowl and chill.

In clean bowl of electric mixer, combine egg whites and 1/2 cup sugar.  Place bowl over a pot of simmering water (not touching bottom of bowl); whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 130 degrees F.  Place bowl on the stand mixer; using the whip attachment, beat on high-speed until meringue forms and mixture is room temperature, 3 to 4 minutes.

Combine milk and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl; set aside. Place strawberries and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a food processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to a second medium-sized bowl. Place blueberries and 1/4 cup of the sugar in clean food processor; puree until smooth. Place strainer over another medium-sized bowl; sieve blueberry mixture through strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard blueberry skins.

Gently stir 1/3 of the meringue into each of the three bowls. Gently stir 1/3 of the chilled whipped cream into each of the three bowls. Pour blueberry mixture into bottom of prepared loaf pan. Refrigerate the bowls of vanilla and strawberry mixture. Freeze loaf pan until firm, 45 minutes. Gently pour vanilla mixture over blueberry mixture; freeze 45 minutes. Gently pour strawberry mixture over the vanilla layer, smoothing top with a spatula. Pan will be full, so do not cover with foil until top is firm, about 45 minutes. Continue freezing at least 3 ½ hours or overnight.

To unmold: wrap sides of pan with a hot, wet cloth or dip briefly in a sink of warm water to loosen. Using plastic wrap as an aid, remove semifreddo from pan; place on a serving platter; discard plastic wrap.  Cut into slices; serve immediately. To store, cover and return any extra semifreddo immediately to the freezer for up to 1 week.

semifreddo1

Apricot Semifreddo with Blackberry Sauce

A healthier version.

Serves 12

APRICOT SEMIFREDDO

  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1 ½ cups sliced fresh apricots
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 pint fresh blackberries

BLACKBERRY SAUCE

  • 1/2 pint fresh blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

To make the Apricot Semifreddo:

Line 4-cup loaf pan with plastic wrap. Whisk egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until thick and light yellow, about 1 minute.

Bring milk to a boil in saucepan. Slowly pour hot milk over egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to saucepan; cook over medium-low heat (do not boil), stirring often, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Strain, and cool.

Meanwhile, place dried apricots in heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water, and let stand 15 minutes, or until softened. Drain, and cool. Put in food processor with fresh apricots, and purée until smooth. Transfer to large bowl. Add custard, sour cream and almond extract.

Put egg whites in large bowl; beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into apricot mixture.

Pour half of mixture into prepared pan. Place 3 rows of blackberries on their sides down the center of loaf pan; top with remaining mixture. Cover; freeze at least 4 hours.
To make the Blackberry Sauce:

Press blackberries through fine-meshed sieve into bowl. Stir in sugar and lemon juice. Set aside.

Remove Apricot Semifreddo from freezer; let stand 10 minutes. Unmold onto plate, and cut into 10 slices. Drizzle with Blackberry Sauce and serve.

semifreddo6

Espresso Semifreddo with Dried Cherries

Serves 8

Ingredients

Semifreddo

  • 1/3 cup freshly made strong espresso or coffee, hot
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature, yolks and whites separated
  • 6 crisp amaretti cookies

Fruit

  • 1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry liqueur)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Zest of 1/4 lemon, in strips
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (1/2 pound) dried cherries

Directions

While the espresso is still hot, add all but 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and with a wooden spoon or a spatula, push ricotta through. Add half of the espresso mixture, amaretto, lemon zest, and salt, and whisk until well combined.

Combine egg yolks and remaining espresso in a stainless-steel bowl and whisk until eggs are foamy. Set the bowl over, not in, a pan of simmering water, being careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Continue whisking until the mixture is foamy, light-colored, and tripled in bulk. This could take up to 10 minutes. If cooking too quickly, turn heat off and work over the hot water. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until foamy. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whip to stiff peaks.

Stir 1/4 cup of cooled yolk mixture into the ricotta mixture to lighten. Fold in the remaining yolk mixture and 1/3 of the whites. Gently fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon mixture into prepared loaf pan and gently smooth top. Crumble the amaretti cookies and spread over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze at least 24 hours.

For the fruit: Combine Kirsch and sugar in a medium stainless-steel saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Remove from heat and let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight at room temperature.

To serve:

Remove semifreddo from the freezer 20 minutes before serving. Uncover top; invert semifreddo onto a serving platter and remove plastic wrap. Cut into 1-inch slices, spoon on cherries, and serve.



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