Category Archives: Travel

Gorgonzola and Pear Gnocchi (Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola e Pera)

Gnocci with Gorgonzola and Pears

Gnocchi alla gorgonzola e pera is actually a pretty common dish in the northern half of Italy; the kind of thing any restaurant that might be serving tourists would throw on (without regard to seasonality, local cuisine, etc), and while that might turn you off, it’s actually quite good. That said, I ate it several places in Florence, and am fairly certain I spotted it on other menus around the way.

I couldn’t find much on the history of this dish, so I think it’s more of a modern classic–prior to not-too-many-years-ago, most classic products of regions didn’t get transported or heavily used much in other regions. There was a time when gorgonzola is what you ate when you were in piedmonte; risotto is what you ate in Milan and in the far north, you ate potatoes in Alto Adige and maybe in Emilia-Romagna. Less so now, with the best of the best being desired by Italians everywhere loving food.

Gnocchi is, however, typical of Alto Adige (where potatoes are most common), and gorgonzola–if it is officially DOP gorgonzola–is from Piedmonte. For this dish, you’ll want to use the opposite of what you’d likely want to snack on in a cheese plate. You’ll use Gorgonzola Dolce, which is the young, “sweet” gorgonzola. As the cheese ages it becomes more “piquante” or spicy, hot. It’ll tickle your throat if it’s the wrong type for this job. If you don’t have a quality cheese chop that carries both and can point them out, look for gorgonzola (imported, not pre-crumbled) that has a more soft, creamy texture with less blue bits–that’s usually it.

For 3-4
3 oz gorgonzola dolce cheeese
1 ripe pear, diced
1 T butter
2 T flour
1 cup light vegetable stock
1/2 cup milk
fresh gnocchi*
salt, fresh ground pepper

Boil your water and have it ready. If you are using fresh gnocchi (which you could be!), they require VERY little cooking time, take what you think they take and cut it by half. Seconds! Otherwise, they’ll fall apart, and you’ll regret it.

Dice your pear, have your ingredients ready. You may or may not need slightly more or less veg stock & milk. Create a roux by heating the butter in a small sauce pan, until clear and stopped bubbling, medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until color darkens slightly, about 2 minutes. Continue whisking and slowly add the vegetable stock, then the milk, until you get a mac-n-cheese type consistency, or slightly thinner. Add the gorgonzola and continue whisking until smooth.

Add the gnocchi to the water and cook; remove the gnocchi as soon as they float to the top of the pan using a slatted spoon or gnocchi paddle. Add the pear to the sauce and let it warm up, adding the gnocchi to the sauce and stirring gently to coat, with a large wooden spoon (don’t use metal, you’ll chop up the dumplings).

Add some salt and black pepper to taste, serve!

Fresh gnocchi makes a huge difference over the vaccu-packed kind you’ll find on the pasta isle. It’s much less dense and has the texture of a down pillow, collapsing in your mouth. I buy mine in bulk from Rainbow market or from Faletti Foods; both carry gnocchi by the bay area’s “Pasta Shop,” which lots of local stores retail products from.

Red Velvet Macarons & Thank You Gifts

red velvet french macarons made with italian method

Another round of macarons..using the Italian method. Admittedly, I was a little rushed and a little lazy piping this out, so they are a bit unevenly sized.

Basic French Macarons (Italian Method)

Part One
1 1/2 C powdered sugar (168 grams)
1 1/2 C Almond flour (or other nut flour; 168 grams)
2 large egg whites (55 grams)
Any extracts (use sparingly, 1/4 tsp or less), cocoa powder, or food colorings are added in this stage

Part Two
2 large egg whites (55 grams)
3/4 C granulated sugar (150 grams)
1/4 C water

Equipment
Stand mixer (If you choose to use a hand mixer I recommend having four hands, or you will find this to be a pain.)
Candy thermometer or good probe thermometer
Piping bags (1 large, one smaller for the icing; I prefer to use one with a coupler)
3/8 plain piping tip
Non-temperamental oven, or oven thermometer and hawk eye

Line 2 baking sheets with silpats or parchment; You may want to create a template to place below the parchment when piping of 1 inch circles. Prep your large piping bag with the tip, using a coupler or not. Preheat the oven to 275 F.

Place two egg whites in bowl of the stand mixer and add the whisk attachment. Plug the beast in.

In a bowl, preferably with a flat bottom, mix the powdered sugar and almond flour well. Add any powders such as matcha or cocoa at this time. For RED VELVET cookies/chocolate cookies, add 20 grams cocoa powder as a replacement for some powdered sugar. Always replace powdered sugar with dry flavorings in order to keep the balance of the batter. Add the egg whites and any food coloring and extracts such as vanilla, almond, etc. Mix into a paste with a large spatula, until it shows even color.

In small saucepan on medium heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. Place the thermometer in the pan from the get-go, when it gets to 226F, begin whipping the egg whites on high. When the sugar reaches 230 (egg whites should be a bit foamy), remove it from the flame and add the liquid slowly to the whipping egg whites to create an Italian meringue. Continue whipping until the bowl is cool to touch, about 8 minutes or so, depending on the temp of the room.

Fold the cooled meringue into the almond mixture. Notice that the batter looks like shiny plastic; watch for it to look like wet plastic shortly after the ingredients are combined. Be sure not to stir the batter, but to fold* cutting in and rotating the bowl. When it looks shiny, stop, and put it in the piping bag.

*Find a youtube video on this if you aren’t sure how. The videos are all wrong, I just looked. None of them are quite right. The main thing is to put your spatula in vertical, like a knife. Then, pull it through along the side of the bowl and around, gently turning it over the center and letting the batter you scooped drop. Rotate the bowl 1/4 and cut into the center and do it again. Rinse and repeat. It’s important.

Pipe them out into even 1-inch circles spaced 1 inch apart. Bake for 12-20 minutes; Mine took about 14. Check every 2 minutes after the first twelve by touching the top of the macaron with a flat finger and trying to shake it. The cookies are done when the top moves just a little against the ruffle.  Let them cool a minute or two before attempting to remove with a small, sturdy metal spatula. They taste best if you stick them in the fridge covered overnight, or even the completed cookies this way. They’re good up to five days, and the cookies without filling can be frozen.

Cream Cheese Icing for Red Velvet Macarons
4 oz cream cheese room temp
1/2 stick butter room temp
1/2 lb confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix butter and cream cheese – whip 30 seconds or so. Slowly add sugar with a hand mixer on low, scrape sides once in a while. Add vanilla and blend until fluffy, 1 minute.

Italian Buttercream Icing – Great standard macaron filling
2 egg whites (55 grams)
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
60g unsalted butter at room temp, roughly diced (just less than a 1/2 stick)

Whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl bain-marie style (over a pot of simmering water) and heat the mixture, whisking often, for 3-5mins until the  sugar has dissolved.

Remove from heat and whisk on high speed with a hand mixer until it is stiff and shiny, similar to the Italian meringue made for the macarons. Add the butter slowly, one cube at a time, and continue to mix till all the butter is combined. Add any flavorings and refrigerate to firm up to use in a piping bag.

You can flavor and color this icing many different ways; try adding some green tea powder when the sugar is melting, or some food coloring once it’s whipped up.

ligurian olive oil

& Thank you gifts! I hosted my old roommate (of Tuscany Road Trip 2006 fame) & her friend a few weeks ago; recently a surprise package arrived! She sent me delicious fig balsamic and extremely hard-to-get-my-paws-on Ligurian Olive oil!! Way to bring back awesome times, K! I spent lots of weekends in Cinque Terre when I lived in Florence, and it just brought back amazing culinary memories. I can’t wait to use it.

Chevre Stuffed Fried Zucchini Blossoms

You could also use pumpkin blossoms for this recipe, so long as they are not too large/brittle/old.

I have finally figured out how to make my fried zucchini blossoms less oily, more light and all around prettier. The secret is really two things: 1) Thin batter. The texture of crepe batter. 2) Use something carbonated in the batter. Don’t settle for sake, wine, water. Use champagne, beer, sparkling water.

For the stuffing

1/3lb fresh goat cheese, such as Capricho di Cabra
3 T pepitas (uncooked, dried pumpkin seeds)
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Bring goat cheese to room temperature, toast the pepitas lightly and mix everything together. Stuff the clean, dry zucchini blossoms with the mixture and fold the flowers closed on it. About a tablespoon per flower.

For the batter

1 C champagne, bubbly, beer, etc
3/4 cup tempura flour mix or 2/3 cup flour + some baking soda and salt

May need to adjust the batter ratio; start with the liquid in a bowl and add the flour mixture, gently mix with a fork, it should be somewhat lumpy and thin like crepe batter.

Fry!

If you are visiting Florence, I have made a guide for you

I have made a Florence google map guide to my favorite places and picks for accomodations, shopping, restaurants and wine bars in Florence along with extensive notes for each marker and some suggestions for what to pair the stop with. I hope you’ll find it useful!

Tuscan Crepes – Crespelle (from Osteria del Circo in NY)

Tuscan Crepes - Crespelle (from Osteria del Circo in NY) recipe photo

I first learned about these Tuscan-style crepes while living in Florence, studying food and wine (both formally and inevitably informally) at Apicius. I rediscovered them when a pleasant little article popped up in the NY Times recently about them.

I made a pilgimage to Rainbow to get chestnut flour and good quality pine nuts (often rancid in my corner store). i went to work. I followed the recipe quite closely, save for the filling which I used a bit less boursoin and more sheep’s milk cheese. The rest was delightful. I wilted some spinich, squeezed half a lemon over it and we had a wonderful dinner. I’d recommend it and it’s a great one for a dinner party as you can assemble, and then pop in the oven for 10 minutes just before serving.