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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: cake

Fresh fruit is so plentiful now that I can’t resist baking with some of it. The question is – which fruit to use? Cherries have a short season, so I take advantage of their availability now. Peaches are so flavorful at this time of year, you will want to bring home a bag full. Here in the south figs are everywhere and there are so many things you can make with them. What is your favorite summer fruit for baking?

Louisiana Fig and Pecan Cake

Ingredients

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped fresh figs
½ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a standing mixer, whisk the eggs briefly in the mixer bowl. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about one minute.

Add oil and beat until just combined.

In a separate medium bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda.

Beginning with the flour, add flour and buttermilk mixture alternately and mix until combined.

Add the chopped figs, cinnamon, cloves, salt and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan, or into 2 loaf pans (8x4x2½).

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake, 60-70 minutes for the tube pan and 50-55 minutes for the loaf pans.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan. Allow the cake to cool completely.

Garnish with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Sweet Cherry Galette

Ingredients

1/2 package of refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury), at room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch or other pie thickener
3 1/2 cups pitted fresh cherries (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarse sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface into an 11-inch circle.

Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Mix the pitted cherries with the brown sugar, salt and liqueur.

Spoon the cherries over the dough and leave a 2-inch border.

Drop pieces of butter over the cherries and fold the edges of the dough over, pressing lightly.

Sprinkle the crust with coarse sugar and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cherries are bubbling and the crust is brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Big Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

My children and grandchildren visit in the summer because they like all the water activities that are available at this time of year. A favorite dessert for all are chocolate chip cookies. I prepare a big batch before they arrive and store them in the freezer. Serving dessert is so easy – don’t even have to think about it.

If you do not want to make a big batch, the recipe ingredients can easily be cut in half.

Ingredients

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Heat the oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. I use four baking sheets for this recipe, so I can rotate them quickly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.

Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined (do not overmix). Mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Use a cookie scoop to drop the dough onto baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Place 12 cookies on a sheet.

Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until golden around the edges but still soft in the center, 14 to 15 minutes.

Cool slightly on the baking sheets, then slide the parchment paper with cookies on it to the kitchen counter to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

I store the cookies in the freezer and when company comes, I take out a dozen or two the night before and store them in an airtight container.

You won’t have to worry about them for the next day. They will be all gone!

Peach Crisp

Ingredients

6 ripe medium peaches
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, diced

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the topping by combining all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and, using your fingers, work the butter into the mixture until crumbs form. Set aside.

For the peaches:

Peel and slice the peaches about ¼ inch thick and place in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well with a spatula.

Butter an 8×8 inch baking dish and pour the peaches into the dish. Spread the peaches to make an even layer.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the peaches.

Bake for about one hour until the peaches are bubbling away and the topping is brown and crispy.

Cool the baking dish on a wire rack. Serve the peach crisp warm with a spoonful of whipped cream on top.

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Sicilian Ricotta Birthday Cake

We recently celebrated a dear friend’s birthday with a special dinner to honor him. I offered to make his birthday cake, as I know, he is found of Italian cakes, especially if they are made with ricotta cheese. There are numerous versions of the Sicilian Cassata Cake, but this is my version. One, where, I have worked out the flavors that we like in a cake of this type. If you want to make a special occasion cake, this is a great cake to make.

Ingredients

Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pans
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk

Filling

2 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 oz finely chopped good quality chocolate
Zest from one orange

Syrup

Juice of one orange
½ teaspoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon white rum

Whipped Topping

2 cups heavy cream whipped
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon orange extract

Garnish

Candied orange peel
Cake writing decoration

Directions

To make the cake layers:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Butter two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper cut into circles to fit, butter again and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until combined (do not over-mix).

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans. The best way to get an even amount of batter in each pan is to weigh the pans on a scale. This is a tip I learned from Alton Brown and it works perfectly.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for 8-inch pans and 22 to 25 minutes for 9-inch pans. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

To make the filling:

Combine the ricotta with the remaining filling ingredients in a storage bowl with a cover. Place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake.

Once the layers are completely cool, cut each layer in half with a serrated knife to form four layers.

To make the syrup:

Combine the orange juice with the rum and agave in a small dish.Brush the syrup over the cut sides of the layers until it is all used. Let the layers rest for 30 minutes.


To add the filling:

Place one layer, cut side up on a cake plate and spread some of the ricotta filling over the layer leaving a ¼ inch edge all around the cake without the filling. (This way the filling will not ooze out of the layer when you place another layer on top.)

Place the next layer, cut side up, on top of the filling and repeat with another layer of ricotta filling.

Repeat with the third layer, cut side up. Place the fourth layer, cut side down, on top of the ricotta filling.

Place the cake in the refrigerator while you make the whipped topping.

Make the Whipped Topping:

In a mixing bowl combine the heavy cream, orange extract and powdered sugar.

Beat the mixture until the cream forms soft peaks.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the whipped cream on the sides of the cake and then on the top.

Decorate the edge of the top of the cake with candied orange peel.

Write Happy Birthday in the center, if desired.

 

 

 


Lunch Menu

Iced Tea
Deviled Eggs
Stuffed Mini Peppers
Mediterranean Grilled Tuna Salad
Spinach Triangles with Tzatziki Sauce
Bread Sticks, Pickles
Dessert: Almond Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Iced Tea

Republic of Tea: 1 Peach Ginger Iced Tea Bag and 4 Naturally Sweet Tea Bags
Slices of Lemon, Lime and Oranges
Prepare the tea according to package instructions. Pour into a serving pitcher and chill.
To serve: Pour into tall glasses, add ice cubes and fruit slices before serving.

Mediterranean Grilled Tuna Salad

Ingredients

Tuna Marinade

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus lemon wedges for serving)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic—grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 lb tuna fillet, one inch thick

For the Salad

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bottled roasted red peppers , drained and chopped
5 Kalamata (brine-cured) black olives , pitted and chopped
1 large celery rib , chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoon Italian parsley , chopped
1 teaspoon celery seed
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons toasted pignoli (pine nuts) or basil for garnish

Directions

To grill the tuna:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a measuring cup. Place the tuna in a glass dish and pour the marinade over the fish. Chill for one hour.

Cook the tuna on a hot grill for about 10 minutes or cooked through, turning and brushing regularly with the marinade.

Cool the tuna and wrap in plastic. When cold, flake the tuna.

To make the tuna salad:

Whisk together lemon juice and mayonnaise in a bowl. Add the flaked tuna and the remaining ingredients and combine. Season with pepper. Chill until serving time. Garnish with toasted pine nuts just before serving.

Stuffed Mini Peppers

Ingredients

16 mini sweet peppers
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
3/4 cup Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 lemon, zested
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large rimmed baking pan with heavy-duty foil. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the peppers in half so they will lay flat. Lay the peppers on the baking sheet, cut side up. Season the insides of the peppers with salt and pepper.

Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, anchovy paste, onion, celery. herbs, cayenne pepper and the lemon zest together in a bowl. Toss thoroughly.

Fill the peppers with a little of this mixture and then drizzle the olive oil over the peppers. (If you are making these ahead of time, just cover with some plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.)

Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and the breadcrumb mixture is golden.

Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

6 large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Directions

Place the eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold the six eggs. Cover with cold water and place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the saucepan.

Let the eggs rest in the hot water for 12 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and add some ice cubes and cold water to cover the cooked eggs.

Let them cool until you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.

Gently tap the eggs in several places and remove the shells. Place the peeled eggs on paper towels to dry.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Add the onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper. Mix well.

With a spoon fill each egg where the yolk had been with some of the mixture.

Place the eggs on a serving platter and chill. Sprinkle chives over the eggs and serve.

Spinach Triangles

Let the package of filo dough sit in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Any remaining dough can be kept in the refrigerator well wrapped in plastic for four weeks or it can go back into the freezer.

Makes about 16 triangles

Ingredients

One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 scallions (green onions), minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
48 sheets filo dough, thawed
Olive oil
Tzatziki, recipe below

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach with the scallions, parsley, dill, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth.
Keep the filo dough not being used, covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying, while you work on the triangles.

Spread one sheet of the dough on a cutting board and brush with some olive oil. Place a second sheet of dough on top and brush with oil. Repeat with a third sheet.

Cut the layered filo in half lengthwise. Place one tablespoon of filling about 1″ from the corner of each strip. Fold one corner of fillo diagonally across to the opposite edge to form a triangle.

Brush lightly with oil. Continue to fold the triangle onto itself. Brush the outside of the triangle with oil and place the triangles seam side down on parchment covered cookie sheets at least 1” apart.Repeat until all the filling is used up.

Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Rolls can be made ahead and reheated just before party time.

Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup peeled and seeded cucumber, finely chopped
1/3 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place the chopped cucumber in a fine mesh colander and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Place the colander over a bowl and let the cucumbers drain for one hour.

Turn the cucumbers over on paper towels. Squeeze all the water out.

Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Almond Flour Sponge Cake

Cake

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for the pan

For the strawberry topping:

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1-2 teaspoons sugar (or more, depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

For the whipped cream:

1 pint heavy cream, well chilled
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8″ round cake pan with oil. Swirl the oil in the pan and make sure it goes up the sides.

Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of the sugar listed in the ingredients onto the bottom of the pan.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites.

Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly beat in 1/4 cup sugar. Scrape the beaten egg whites into another bowl and set aside.

In the mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the almond extract until smooth.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients — flour, baking powder and salt — and add to the egg yolk mixture. Stir together to form a thick dough.

Fold in the egg whites, 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating them fully between each addition. The final addition should result in a smooth, fluffy batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake on the center rack for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the sides, then turn the cake out onto a serving plate.

Allow the cake to cool fully before topping with strawberries and cream.

For the strawberry topping:

Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small bowl, and set aside to allow the juices to release.

For the whipped cream:

Place the bowl and whisk attachment for your stand mixer or a metal or glass bowl and beaters for your hand mixer in the refrigerator or freezer until they are cold.

Add the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl, and beat on medium-high to high-speed until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Chill until ready to serve.


Mushroom Pizza

I often see photos of pizza with salad on top and I had been wanting to try something similar. So, keeping with what is in season, my pizza is made with onions, mushrooms and arugula salad. Serve this pizza with marinated olives and sliced tomatoes. And, don’t forget dessert!

4 servings

Ingredients

1 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
Half a large red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz mozzarella, sliced thin
½ cup feta cheese
1 cup arugula
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Spread the pizza dough in a greased pizza pan.

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for a minute and add the mushrooms.

Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until all the mushroom liquid is absorbed.

Spread the sliced mozzarella on top of the pizza dough. Spread the mushrooms over the cheese.

Sprinkle the feta on top of the mushrooms.

Bake the pizza until crispy and brown on the edges.

Mix the arugula with the lemon juice.

As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, top it with the arugula salad and freshly ground black pepper.

Cut and serve.

Italian Almond Carrot Cake (Torta di Carote)

This cake is gluten-free and made with olive oil. It is not your traditional American carrot cake.

You can also buy the carrots shredded from the supermarket.

Ingredients

Carrot cake

1/2 cup regular olive oil, not extra-virgin
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 lemon, zest finely grated and juiced

Mascarpone cream

1 cup mascarpone
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons rum

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the base of a 9 inch springform pan with a parchment paper cut to fit the bottom. Coat with olive oil spray.

Add the pine nuts to a small dry pan and toast them over low heat.

Grate the carrots in a food processor or with a coarse grater, and put them on a double layer of paper towels. Wrap the towels around the carrots to soak up the excess liquid.

Using the whisk attachment in an electric mixer, combine the sugar and olive oil until creamy.

Whisk in the vanilla and eggs. Fold in the almond meal/flour, nutmeg, grated carrots, toasted pine nuts the lemon zest and lemon juice.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. The batter will be not be very high in the pan.

Bake the cake until the top is risen and golden and a cake tester comes almost clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest on a rack for 10 minutes before removing the sides. Let cool until ready to serve. Transfer the cake to a serving platter.

Combine the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar and rum in a small bowl. Slice the cake and serve with the mascarpone cream.

 


We must give credit to Sicily for giving us some delicious desserts made with ricotta cheese. Ricotta is not a cheese but a creamy curd. The curd is cooked twice, so the name “ricotta means” re-cooked. The leftover hot whey of milk used for cheese making has milk solids and a protein called albumin, which solidifies under high heat. When the whey is reheated (re-cooked) the solid milk parts are skimmed off to drain, and this is called ricotta cheese.The foam of the whey when it is being recooked is called zabbina in Sicilian.

According to the food historian, Clifford Wright, Professor Santi Correnti, chairman of the history department of the University of Catania and a preeminent historian of Sicily, wrote that during the reign of the Sicilian King Frederick II, in the early thirteenth century, the king and his hunting party came across the hut of a dairy farmer making ricotta and, being ravenous, asked for some. The first depiction of the making of ricotta is found in an illustration in the medical treatise known as the Tacuinum sanitatis, from the eleventh century. (Pictured above.)

Ricotta is used in many Italian desserts, especially for the holidays. Here is one that we like quite a bit.

Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup almond flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Filling

2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 eggs
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Set a rack in the middle of the oven.

Combine the crust ingredients. Press evenly over the bottom and 1-1/2-inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula.

Stir the sugar and flour together and then add to the ricotta. Mix thoroughly into the ricotta.

Stir in the eggs 1 at a time. Blend in the amaretto and salt. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours tor 1 3/4 hours, until a light golden color.

Make sure the center is fairly firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack. It will sink slightly as it cools. Cover, and chill until serving time.


People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, however, Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues outside of the Middle East in Ostia Antica (near Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and historians have calculated that by the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) there were more than 50,000 Jews living in Rome and dozens of Jewish communities scattered throughout Italy.

There are differences in what is considered Kosher in various Jewish traditions. For example, the Ashkenazim consider rice to be chametz, or leavened, and therefore forbid it, while allowing chocolate, cheese and other dairy products. The Italkim and Sephardim instead allow rice, but consider chocolate and dairy products to be chametz, and thus forbidden.

Jewish cuisine through the centuries influenced modern-day Italian cuisine. Wild radicchio flavored with garlic, herb salads, omelettes, pies made with chard, spinach, leeks, marinated cabbage, turnips, eggplant, artichokes, fava beans, polenta chestnuts and raisins are just some of the ingredients contributed by the Jewish immigrants.

Here are some recipes suitable for Passover with Italian Jewish influences.

Tomato Soup with Rice

Ingredients

1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 medium carrot, slice
1 tablespoon olive oil
26 oz container Italian chopped tomatoes (such as Pomi- no salt or sugar added)
8 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons uncooked long-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Directions

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onion, celery and carrots in oil until softened but not browned.

Add the chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of the chicken broth. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the remaining chicken broth and rice. Season with salt, thyme and pepper.

Simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.

Honey Lemon Artichokes

Ingredients

1 large lemon, cut in quarters, plus the freshly squeezed juice from 2 or 3 lemons to equal 1/2 cup
4 large globe artichokes (12 to 14 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 medium roasted red bell pepper, cut into small dice

Directions

Fill a very large bowl with cold water; squeeze a few of the lemon quarters into the water, then place them in the bowl.

Rinse the artichokes. Snap off or use kitchen shears to trim all the pointed outer leaves and then slice off the center leaves at the top.

Leave 1 to 2 inches of stem attached to each artichoke; cut off the rest and discard.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove a thin layer from the remaining stems.

Working quickly so the artichokes don’t discolor, use a grapefruit spoon or a melon-ball scoop to remove the choke, or thistle part, in the center of each artichoke, making sure to remove all fibers.

Quickly transfer each trimmed artichoke to the bowl of lemon water.

Once all the artichokes are trimmed, work with them one at a time, cutting them in half and then again, so each artichoke is quartered.

Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat.

Add the artichokes cut side down, fitting them snugly into the pan.

Cook for 8 to 12 minutes, re-positioning the artichokes in the pan as needed so each one picks up golden color.

Season lightly with salt.

Stir in the lemon juice, honey and water; cover partially, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

The liquid should thicken slightly and the artichokes will be tender.

Transfer to a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the artichokes.

Garnish with the parsley and red bell pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Braised Chicken and Eggplant

Ingredients

3 lbs chicken pieces; skinned/fat removed
Salt and pepper; to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia or sweet onion; halved, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1½ lbs eggplant; unpeeled, cubed
½ lb. fresh Roma tomatoes; cored, cubed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Directions

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

In a large deep skillet, heat the oil and brown the chicken on each side.

Remove the chicken from the skillet to a bowl or platter. Don’t clean the skillet.

Add the onion, garlic and eggplant. Cook the vegetables and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.

Add bay leaf and hot pepper flakes. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet. Baste with the sauce.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. Discard the bay leaf before serving and sprinkle with basil.

Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic

Ingredients

2 pounds fingerling or small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash and pat dry the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Toss the potatoes making sure to coat them well with the herbs and oil.

Put them onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, gently moving them around on the pan halfway through cooking.

Serve at once garnished with more fresh rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil.

Almond Cake with Lemon Syrup

Lemon Syrup

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Cake

1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ground almonds (4 ounces)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped (2 3/4 ounces)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
8 large eggs, separated
Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest with 1/2 cup of water.

Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer over moderately low heat for 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat; let steep.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-by-3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; oil the paper.

Evenly coat the bottom and sides with the matzo meal, tapping out any excess. Refrigerate the pan.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the granulated sugar, almonds, lemon zest and egg yolks.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir one-quarter of the egg whites into the almond mixture to lighten it.

Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites in 3 additions.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 1 hour, or until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake.

Remove the pan sides and invert the cake onto a wire rack.

Peel off the parchment and let the cake cool to room temperature.

Reheat and strain the syrup. Transfer the cake to a plate and prick all over with a fork.

Pour the syrup evenly over the cake and set aside at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake and serve.


 

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Florence is in the Tuscany region of Italy. Much of its area lies in the plain of the Arno River and it has become a suburban sprawl around the city of Florence. The northeastern part of the city, located in the Apennines, remains less developed.

Florence is a well-known cultural and tourist center and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Major tourist attractions include the Piazza del Duomo, Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Loggia del Bigallo and Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Ponte Vecchio and many others.

Sights in Barberino di Mugello include Cattani Castle and Palazzo Pretorio. The Certosa del Galluzzo houses artworks by Pontormo. Giovanni Boccaccio’s hometown, Certaldo, is home to the Palazzo Pretorio and Boccaccio’s House, while Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, houses a museum dedicated to his work.

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Florence’s cobblestone streets are best navigated in relation to two landmarks: the Arno River, which splits the city in half from west to east and the old city doors, or porte, the remains of which mark the center of Florence, or centro storico. North of the Arno is where you’ll find the majority of famous sites and most of the tourists. The south side of the Arno is called the Oltrarno. It is similar to Paris’s Left Bank and is Florence’s bohemian quarter that is made up of art schools, artists’ studios and casual cafes. Florence is also a great base from which to take day trips into surrounding Tuscany or even nearby Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Umbria. The best time to visit is late spring, early summer or early fall, when the streets are filled with locals and the weather is pleasant.

Corn, wine and silk are the chief products in the valley regions. Silk manufacturing was an important industry in the medieval times. Industrial complexes in the suburbs produce goods from furniture, to rubber goods, to chemicals and food. However, traditional and local products, such as antiques, handicrafts, glassware, leather work, art reproductions, jewelry, souvenirs, elaborate metal and iron-work, shoes, accessories and high fashion clothes also dominate a fair sector of Florence’s economy. The city’s income relies partially on services and cultural interests, such as annual fairs, theatrical and lyrical productions, art exhibitions, festivals and fashion shows.

Food and wine have long been an important staple of the economy. The Chianti region is just south of the city and its Sangiovese grapes figure prominently, not only in its Chianti Classico wines but also in many of the more recently developed Tuscan blends. The celebrated Chianti Rufina district, geographically and historically separated from the main Chianti region, is also a few kilometers east of Florence.

Florentine food grows out of a tradition of peasant eating. The majority of dishes are based on meat. The whole animal was traditionally eaten; tripe (trippa) and stomach (lampredotto) were once regularly on the menu and still are sold at the food carts stationed throughout the city.

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Antipasti include crostini toscani (sliced bread rounds topped with a chicken liver spread) and sliced meats (mainly prosciutto and salami) that are often served with melon when in season. The typically saltless Tuscan bread, made with natural leavening, is frequently featured in Florentine courses, especially in its soups: ribollita and pappa al pomodoro or in a salad of bread and fresh vegetables called panzanella that is served in summer.

While meat is a staple of Florentine cuisine, pasta is important in the cuisine. For example, pappardelle sulla lepre. which is pappardelle (a long, wide and flat pasta) served with a sauce made from hare or other meats, such as goose.

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Bistecca alla fiorentina is a large, 1.2 to 1.5 kg [40 to 50 oz] Chianina beef steak that is cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare over a bed of arugula with slices of Parmesan cheese on top. Most of these courses are served with local olive oil, also a local product that enjoys a worldwide reputation.

It Is Almost Carnival Time In Florence

The first day of Carnival is called “berlingaccio” in Florence and it comes from an old word describing a day spent around the table eating, drinking and being happy.
The parades draw thousands of visitors of all ages, who come to see both the spectacular floats and the parade, as well as participate in the festive masquerade processions.

The following photos were taken by friends and depict their favorite costumes:

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The “Carnevale di Viareggio” actually takes place over an entire month with 5 days of processions each year. These are held on 4 Sundays and on Fat Tuesday. The parades take in the fours weeks that precede Lent (which is the forty day period before Easter).

harlequin-viareggio

The Burlamacco is the character shown above and is the official symbol for the Carnival in Viareggio. It is inspired by characters of Italian “commedia dell’arte” including Harlequin, Balanzone, Pierrot and Rugantino. Burlamacco is dressed in a long red and white checkered suit with a cocked hat and a long black cape at his shoulders.

In each of the parades, the Burlamacco is accompanied by a float composed of female participants called the “Ondina” in honor of Viareggio’s association with the sea (onda means wave in Italian).

Recipes For Carnival Time

The three most common, must-eat foods in Florence during Carnival are:

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Cenci

Cenci or Chiacchiere – Cenci meaning “rugs” are slices of fried dough that are drenched in powdered sugar and sometimes dark chocolate.

Ingredients

240 gr or 2 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, large
20 gr or 1 oz butter, softened
20 gr or 1 oz sugar, granulated
1 espresso cup of Vin Santo, Marsala or milk
Pinch of salt
Zest of one lemon
Oil for frying ( I use extra virgin olive oil, but corn oil is fine)
Powdered sugar (icing sugar) for dusting.

Directions

Beat the softened butter with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and the liquid (Vin Santo). Add the flour. Mix well. The dough will be hard.

Knead and when smooth, cover and let rest for one hour. Heat oil for frying. Roll out the dough as thin as possible or use a pasta machine. Cut into 3 inch wide strips.

Then cut a slit in the middle of the strip, leaving the ends attached. Deep fry in hot oil until lightly golden. Remove to a paper towel, let drain and serve dusted with powdered sugar.
rice

Frittelle di riso (Rice Fritters)

Frittelle di Riso – Imagine rice pudding that is rolled up, fried and immersed in sugar. That is what a frittelle di riso is. Sometimes, the bakers inject custard cream or chocolate nutella into the center of the pastries. These sweets are also bite-size, so they are easy to pop in your mouth.

Ingredients

400 gr or 2 cups short grain rice, Arborio
1 litre or 4 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
Peel of one lemon, grated (zest, only the yellow part)
1 ounce liqueur (sherry, brandy or amaretto)
80 gr or 3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (lievito in polvere)
Pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated

Directions

Bring the rice to a slow boil in the milk with sugar and lemon zest. Stir occasionally to avoid the rice sticking. When the rice is cooked, it will have absorbed all the milk.

Place the rice in large bowl, add the liqueur, egg yolks, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well and let cool. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.

Whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the rice mixture.

In a heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil for frying. Drop the fritters by teaspoons into the hot oil. Fry quickly and remove them when they are golden. Do not brown.

Drain on paper towels and serve sprinkled with granulated sugar. They are best hot but can also be served cold or reheated.

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Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a sweet flatcake, traditional to Florence, made with citrus flavors and sometimes spread with chantilly cream in the middle. It is also coated in powdered sugar and in Florence, you find the fleur de lis “giglio” crest of Florence etched in with powdered cacao.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups (300 grams) plain flour
3/4 ounce (20 grams) fresh yeast dissolved in some warm water
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) lard (or, less traditional, butter)
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar and powdered bittersweet cocoa for dusting (optional)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour and fresh yeast (along with the water) until a dough forms. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.

Beat in the lard, sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt until well combined. Place the dough in a buttered rectangular tin. It should be about 2 cm or 2/3 inch in height.

Cover with a tea towel and let the schiacciata rise for 2 more hours. Bake at 350 ºF (180ºC) for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Turn onto a wire rack to cool and when cooled completely, dust liberally with powdered sugar. If you like, cut out a mask of the Florentine lily and dust with cocoa powder.

If desired, cut through the middle of the cake and fill with some slightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream or pastry cream before dusting with powdered sugar.

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Ribollita

This very simple Tuscan peasant soup is commonly called ribollita because it is served the day after its preparation when it is warmed up in a pot with extra-virgin olive oil and reboiled. Ribollita is simple, inexpensive and its base is made with stale unsalted Tuscan bread and a variety of winter vegetables including Tuscan kale.

It is good to have on hand to make a quick supper on Carnival days.

10 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1- 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound cavolo nero (lacinato kale, Tuscan kale), stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
4 cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini
1/2 pound Italian bread (such as ciabatta), crusts removed
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
Zest of one lemon
Parmesan Cheese

Directions

In a thick-bottomed soup pot over medium heat combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoid browning them.

Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit. Stir in the kale, 3 cups of the beans, and 8 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, mash or puree the remaining beans with a small amount of water until smooth. Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Stir both the beans and bread into the soup.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 – 30 minutes. Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed. Stir in the lemon zest.

Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight. Serve reheated the next day and finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.

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Panini di Lampredotto

The lampredotto sandwich is real Italian street food! The Florentines eat it at any time: breakfast, lunch with a glass of wine or dinner with friends.

The tradition of eating tripe and entrails in Florence is very old and probably arises from the need to combine simple bread with something inexpensive but nourishing.
Typically, tripe wagons offer a couple of options for their sandwiches: salt and pepper, salsa verde (a green sauce commonly made with parsley, capers, garlic and anchovies, among other ingredients); and salsa piccante (basically, chili oil). Also, you can opt to have the roll briefly dipped ( bagnato ) in the cooking broth.

1 – 1.5 kg will make about 8 hearty panini or about 20 mini ones. You don’t often find lampredotto in small portions, as it is generally sold whole, so if you have leftovers, you can freeze it.

For the lampredotto:

1 kg lampredotto (abomasum tripe or stomach)
3 litres of water
1 stalk of celery
1 brown onion
1 carrot
1 tomato
5 whole black peppercorns
Salt

For the salsa verde:

2 anchovy fillets
¼ of an onion
1 garlic clove
Bunch of parsley
Handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
Lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil

For the lampredotto:

Prepare a broth by roughly chopping the vegetables and adding them to the water in a large pot with a generous amount of salt and the peppercorns. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the lampredotto, whole, and cook until soft, covered with a lid. The cooking time is really a case of checking and testing, it may take about one hour.

Make sure the lampredotto is always submerged under the broth, you can add more water as necessary. Keep the lampredotto warm, in the broth, until you are ready to use it.

For the salsa verde:

Chop the anchovies, onion, garlic, capers and herbs together finely (with a knife or a food processor) and add olive oil and lemon juice to bind it into a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the panini:

Roughly slice the tripe and chop enough to generously heap onto the panino roll. The bread rolls are normally, split open in half and a bit of the bread in the middle is taken out to have more space for the filling.

Add a heaping spoonful of salsa verde on top and season with extra salt and pepper. Dip the top half of the roll into the broth if desired.

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