Category Archives: Italian

Torta Caprese – Italian Flourless Almond Chocolate Cake

torta caprese - italian flourless chocolate almond cake

torta caprese - italian flourless chocolate almond cake

I spent the weekend on a decongestant induced producivity high (that pseudoephedrine stuff really makes me unable to sit still! Sure clears out the sinuses though) which turned me into a bit of a domestic superwoman– cleaning floors, and bathrooms, and reorganizing my pantry, labeling all of my spices, and fertilizing the garden, and trimming it, and doing laundry, and making a delicious dinner of tri tip, chimichurri sauce + farro with fava beans, and washing/prepping all the produce in my refrigerator (which believe me, was a lot). To boot, I made this cake. And it’s delicious.

Torta Caprese – Flourless Almond Chocolate Cake Recipe
9 ounces (255 g) quality dark chocolate
1 cup (225 g / 2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup (25 g) dark cocoa powder (I scored some Valharona)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups ground almonds*
6 eggs, room temperature

*If you have whole, slivered, or other almonds, and a high powered blender or food processor, please toast your almonds to release the oil/fragrance for about 15 minutes at 310, and then grind into a meal (but not into a butter; you may need to “pulse” instead of blend to achieve this); otherwise, buy almond meal at your grocery.
Preheat an oven to 310°F and line the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.
Slowly melt the chocolate and butter over a double-boiler. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or with a hand mixer), whisk together the melted chocolate mixture, the cocoa powder, almond extract and sugar until combined.
Add the ground almonds and whisk until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
Pour the mixture into the spring form pan.  Make sure the mixture is level and smooth on top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.
A note about oven temperature:  Make sure your oven is not hotter than 310 (or the temperature you intend to maintain through baking) when starting. You will avoid the “muffin top” problem I had by doing so; mine started at 325, so the cake puffed, and then the oven fell to 310, so it then sank, creating a two layered situation on the sides where the heat effected it most. It did take a full 60 minutes at a true 310.
Serving: I’d recommend an unsweetened whipped cream, ice cream if serving the cake warm, and/or creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese with raspberries or fruit of your choice.

Venetian Fritole Recipe (Italian Doughnuts – Fritule)

Venetian Fritole (Italian Doughnuts)

In 2006 I was living in the heart of Florence and attending culinary school. The best class I took was the regional Italian cuisine course with Marcella Ansaldo — we made a few typical dishes from pretty much every region in Italy throughout the semester. One of the recipes was for Fritole – yeast-based Italian doughnuts from Venice, traditionally eaten for Carnivale.

I posted about Fritole back in November of 2006–a few months after returning from Florence. I remade these delicious treats this morning; it is Easter Sunday and it made for a peaceful, tasty breakfast treat for the two of us. It’s a typical day in SF; the weather doesn’t know what it’s doing and it’s somewhere between heavy fog and rain, with a little bit of light poking through. We looked over our wet garden with some good coffee; fritole made the whole thing come together.

Italian Fritole inside

italian fritole with raisins

Note: You can prepare the dough the night before, leaving in a room-temp spot (not warm) overnight. Simply stir/punch down the dough in the morning, and let rise 30 more minutes before frying. It makes brunch a breeze!

Italian Fritole Recipe

1 1/2 C all purpose flour (200 grams) + 1 Tbsp
1/2 C brown sugar (60 grams; can use granulated too)
1 egg
1 packet yeast (8-10grams; fresh brewer’s yeast is great too)
1 C milk, divided (up to 200ml milk; any type)
1/4 C golden raisins (50 grams; can use other types of raisins too)
1/3 C dry sherry (or brandy, whiskey, flat champagne, etc)
1/2 tsp salt (generous three-finger pinch)
high-temp oil like peanut, safflower, or pine nut (most traditional) for frying
powdered sugar for dusting

Optional Ingredients (non-traditional):
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (add with milk) or
1/2 tsp cinnamon/nutmeg (add with flour) or
2 T chopped almonds (add with raisins; you might consider a few drops of almond extract w/ the milk too)

Combine the raisins with the sherry. You can substitute boiling water if needed. Microwave for 1 minute to warm combination and set aside to plump (5-15 minutes). Once plumped, drain the raisins and toss them with 1T flour until nicely dusted.

Warm 1/2 C of milk to about 110 degrees; add 1 tsp brown or regular sugar and stir. Add the yeast (mixture should be warm when adding). Set aside to bloom (at least 10 minutes).

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Whisk well. Use more flour if needed. Add the egg and dusted raisins, stirring gently but not thoroughly with a spoon. Add the bloomed milk mixture and stir until just combined. If the mixture is too dry (it should be sticky but combined, not runny), add more milk as needed, up to 1/2 C more. Cover the dough with saran wrap and let sit 1-2 hours in a warm spot*.

Prepare a large plate with two-three layers of paper towels (a draining rack is ok too, but the towels might remove more oil). Get some chopsticks or heat-resistant tongs ready. Put a light dusting of flour over the top of your batter to make preparation easier.

Heat oil in a wide pan with sturdy sides (like a high sided sauce pan) to medium high heat; the oil should be at least 1.5 inches deep. Once warmed, test a small dot of batter–it should rise to the top immediately and bubble around the batter, but not burn it in the course of a minute**. Using two large spoons, section just-smaller than an egg size scoops and gently place into hot oil. When deep golden brown, flip each doughnut over and cook; remove when evenly colored and cool on paper towels.

Serve with powdered sugar on top.

Makes 15 golf-ball sized fritole. 3 per person is sufficient.

*If the dough sits more than 2 hours, simply stir around to deflate and let rise 30 more minutes. This can be repeated twice if necessary.
**If the doughnuts seem to be cooking too quickly or getting too dark before you can flip them, lower the heat slightly and allow them to cook longer or else they will be gooey inside.

Scallops in Fava & Pea Puree, Littleneck Clams on White Beans, Sausage & Chard, Creme Fraiche Pannacotta with Strawberries

creme fraiche panna cotta with strawberries (sunday suppers at lucques)

I had occasion to cook last night– a Sunday– and was feeling pretty inspired by a very solid weekend of good eats. Friday night a feast in our back yard, Saturday a hike from our doorstep to the top of twin peaks, down into the mission for a stop at Delfina Pizzeria, an errand at Tartine (here’s a hint: it involved walnut bread, croissants and an eclair) and another at BiRite (which involved this steak) and yet another feast in our back yard.

There is a huge collection of cookbooks in my living room. You can tell they aren’t used often because they’re behind glass, stacked with ornamental things on top that would have to be moved to use them. I woke up around 9 on Sunday and tip toed into the living room to loot a few, returned to bed and did the most serious reading I’ve probably done since college…and the result, my final paper, if you will–this menu.

Scallop in Fava & Pea Puree from Amuse Bouche (slightly altered for scale and for oil content)
With Vouvray

Clams with White Beans, Sausage & Chard from Amuse Bouche (altered significantly)
With Vermentino from Sardegna

Creme Fraiche Pannacotta with Strawberries (From Sunday Suppers at Lucques — perfect as is but would use more milk/less cream next time)
with Moscato di Asti

White Lasagna with Kale, Sausage, & Sweet Potatoes

white lasagne with sausage, kale, sweet potatoes & leeks

For the lasagna assembly:
1 pack no-boil lasagna sheets (GASP, a shortcut!)
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
2 lbs kale (mixed is OK), blanched, drained, and chopped finely
1 lb sweet italian sausage, no casing, pan fried and set aside
2 large leeks sliced thinly and cooked at medium low heat in fat from sausage

Bechamel sauce for white lasagna

8T butter
1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp garlic powder or 1 clove fresh garlic
3 3/4 C milk
1 C chicken or vegetable stock
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 C marsala
1 C mixed grated cheese such as parmesan, pecorino, fontina, gruyere
salt & pepper

Melt the butter. Once it reduces spitting/bubbling, add flour and whisk, cooking for 3 minutes at medium heat. Slowly add the milk and the stock, raising heat to high. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sauce coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool until warm to touch.

Once warm to touch, add the beaten eggs, 1/2 C marsala, 1/2 C of cheese and salt & pepper to taste.

Assemble the lasagna

Preheat oven to 375. Pour a thin layer of bechamel sauce on the bottom of your lasagna pan (preferably 8×10 or something similar/bigger), add two layers of lasagne sheets. Spread the sausage evenly, add salt & pepper, and cover with more sauce.

Add another 2 layers of lasagna sheets, next adding the kale. Top with salt & pepper, sauce, and more lasagna sheets.

Add a thin layer of leeks, and then as if making a gratin spread the sweet potato slices in a single overlapping layer.

Add more salt & pepper, sauce, and the final layer of lasagna sheets. Top with sauce and remaining cheese.  Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour.

St. Louis Style Cannelloni with Pork, Ricotta, & Chard

cannelloni with ricotta, chard, and sausage

This recipe will feed about 4 people with a side dish or 3 hungry people without one. It helps to have a food processor available.

Filling
2/3 lb spicy or sweet Italian pork sausage, out of casing
3 cups chopped chard and/or spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese (preferably sheep’s ricotta)
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced

Cook the sausage in a medium high heat skillet in a little chunks, seperating with your fingers, until brown on one side. Add the onions, and cook until mostly tender. Add the chard/spinich, and cook briefly until wilted. Allow mixture to cool slightly in pan or in thin metal bowl, and if you have one, use a food processor to make the mixture more even/fine. Once cooled to room temperature or close to it, add the ricotta and stir until blended. Adjust seasoning.

Red Sauce
1 container chopped or strained tomatoes (I used a carton of POMI)
1 stick butter
1/2 onion, peeled and intact

Combine all ingredients in sauce pan and simmer until delicious. Add salt. About 30 minutes. Can make ahead.

White Sauce
1 T butter
2 T flour
1-2 cups milk
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp thyme or 2 tsp fresh thyme chopped

Melt the butter until the water content has fizzled off, add the flour and whisk, cooking about 1 min until slightly darker. Slowly add milk until you have a nice, somewhat thick consistency sauce. Set aside. You’ll be reheating this shortly and possibly adding more milk to pour over the cannelloni.

Pasta
2 eggs
00 white wheat flour if possible
0 semola / semolina flour

Use this recipe and roll out as thin as possible into sheets, cutting into strips about 10 inches long by 4 inches wide, roughly. It is ok if the sheets vary in size, so long as they’ll roll into a cannelloni giving it a few layers around. Boil water, add salt, and one at a time blanch the strips for 30 seconds or so, until they toughen up a bit. Remove, set on paper towels flat, not touching other pasta, in layers, to reserve for use.

Alternatively you can buy cannelloni tubes from the grocery or lasagna sheets without the ruffles.

Assembly

Put a thin layer of red sauce in your baking/casserole dish to prevent pasta from sticking to bottom. Roll several spoonfuls of filling into each pasta sheet, placing each closely against the next in the dish. Once finished, top with red sauce thoroughly, then white sauce. Top with grated parmesan or asiago, bake at 375 for 25 minutes until golden and beautiful on top.