Sockerbullar, Pariserbullar Or… Bomboloni Al Forno!

A few weeks ago I was honored with the prize “Premio Cake Blog Di Qualita’” (cake prize for a quality blog). The prize is given by another blogger who received it earlier. I got mine from Uno Scoiattolo In Dispensa – The Pantry Squirrel, a lovely girl based in Edinburgh who writes a food blog in both Italian and English.

Our Squirrel explicitly asked for something Swedish and sweet. It took me a while to get the right inspiration and find the right recipe, but here we are. I re-discovered a Swedish pastry that I truly can relate to, something that is not as common as Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon rolls) but that totally blew my head off the one time I had them. I am talking of Sockerbullar (socker=sugar; bullar=buns). They remind me  of bomboloni alla crema, sweet buns loaded with butter and eggs, filled with custard, and covered with sugar. The only difference, which makes Sockerbullar just a tiny bit healthier, is that bomboloni are deep fried while the Swedish equivalent is baked.

As I found out, another name for these sinful buns is Pariserbullar, buns from Paris (go figure why). I was pleased to find a detailed method for sockerbullar the old-fashioned way (gammaldags) in Jan Hedh’s bible on bread and sweet breads (Bröd och Kaffebröd), a great reference. Indeed, when a Swedish friend saw the thick volume, he proudly affirmed “you don’t need any other book, Hedh is the best baker in Sweden”. So I tested my understanding of Swedish and went through the recipe, constantly wondering if I read the text right. Judging from the outcome, I would give myself an B++ (in Swedish and maybe an A- in baking?). And here comes the sudata translation together with my personal tips.

GAMMALDAGS SOCKERBULLAR (from Jan Hedh, Bröd & Kaffebröd)

You need

Pre-ferment (Fordeg): 500 g milk, 75 g fresh yeast (18 g if instant-dried), 25 g caster sugar, 600 g all-purpose flour (I used organic, 200 g bread flour+400 all-purpose).

Vanilla Custard (Vaniljkräm): 1 vanilla pod, 500 g milk, 6 egg yolks, 125 g caster sugar, 40 g cornstarch, 25 g butter.

Final Dough (Bortgörning): 200 g butter, 150 g caster sugar, 25 g vanilla-flavored confectioner’s sugar, 5 egg yolks, 600 g all-purpose flour (I used organic, 200 g bread flour+400 all-purpose) .

How to

Pre-Ferment (Fordeg):  Dissolve the  yeast in the milk mixed with the sugar. Add the flour and knead by machine for 5-6 minutes at low-speed (or for 10 minutes by hand). Let rest covered for 30-45 minutes.

Custard (Vaniljkräm): This is better done while the pre-ferment rests (or even the day before). Divide the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrap the inner flesh into the a pot with the milk. Let cook until almost boiling, then put aside and let cool. Whip the egg yolks with the sugar and then add the flour. When the milk is only slightly warm (and not hot) pour it over the egg mixture and whip. Return to the stove, add the butter, and cook on low heat until thickened. Make sure that the custard is not hot when filling the buns.

Final Dough (Bortgörning): Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees (Celsius). Add all the ingredients of the final dough to the pre-ferment, except the butter. Knead for 5-6 minutes at low-speed by machine (or 10 minutes by hand). Add the butter, in small pieces, and work for further 10 minutes at medium-low speed (or 15-20 minutes by hand). Let rest, covered, in an oiled container for 30 minutes. Turn the dough on a flowered surface and divide in 4 pieces. Make sure to cover the pieces you are not using, so they won’t dry. Divide each piece in 7-10 parts. Each piece should weight 60 g (according to Hedh), but I like them a little bigger, so mine weighted 65-75 g. Gently flatten each piece with a rolling-pin without deflating too much the dough. Each piece has to look like a little square. Pour some custard (1 or 1/2 tea-spoon) on each square and seal the ends of the square, making it into a round. Lay the buns on baking dishes, covered with baking paper. Leave enough space in between buns. Bake for 4-5 minutes at 250 degrees and for further 4-5 minutes at 220 degrees. While still hot, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with caster sugar. They are better served warm.

 

CONSIDERATIONS: This recipe yields about 30 buns, so you may want to halve the doses. Or, you can do like me, and use part of the dough to make a braid. Really nice with coffee.

And the winners are… and now, I will give the prize to three other bloggers:

Ready?

Pamela from Spoon Feast, because she writes the most instructive and mind-changing food posts ever;

Euan from Signor Biscotti, because this British man can really bake (even Italian classics);

Kim from Foodin New England, for all the amazing cooking and baking achievements of these years.

7 (+2) Sweets that changed my life:

And to finish, as a winner, I have to mention 7 sweet things that changed my life… oh my, I could only go down to a minimum of 9!

Gelato al tartufo (chocolate truffle ice cream)/Gelato ai pinoli (Pine nuts ice cream), ex equo

Pastarelle (Italian eclair)

Salame di cioccolato (chocolate salami)/Dolce di crema e biscotti oro saiwa (custard-biscuits pudding), ex-equo

Crostata alla frutta (Italian fruit pie)

Mont blanc (chestnut-meringue French dessert)

Bomboloni alla crema

Chocolate Croissant/Chocolate Belgian Waffles, ex-equo

and which are yours?

Pane Alle Olive

It seems that I cannot go more than one week without baking some bread. This was my last enterprise, taken from Hamelman’s bible. I was immediately attracted by the idea of making a loaf loaded with olives. The same dough gives simply amazing olive focaccia. So amazingly good that it did not survive long enough to be photographed.

The method is a little time consuming but, believe me, highly rewarding. There is a discrete amount of whole-wheat in this loaf, too. And it is sourdough-based. Plus, the olives contain plenty of the good fats we all seem to be after lately.

PANE ALLE OLIVE (Hamelman’s olive levain)

You need: 369 g (13 oz) liquid levain*, 369 g (13 oz) water, 648 g (1 lb + 7 oz) bread flour, 91 g (3.2 oz) whole-wheat flour (I used Graham’s),  14 g (0.5 oz) marine salt, 230 g olives, pitted and drained**.

How to: Step 1. Combine the levain with the water, add the rest of the ingredients except the olives and mix on first speed for 3 minutes. Mix for further 3 minutes on second speed. Add the olives and mix on first speed until incorporated (I did that kneading quickly by hand). Step 2. Let rest, covered with plastic wrap, for 2 and 1/2 hours, folding the dough after the first 1 and 1/4 hour. Step 3. Divide the dough: either shape two medium small loaves or 1 loaf and a focaccia. Step 4. If you choose to make a focaccia***, let it rest, covered, for 1 hour. For the loaf (or loaves), after shaping, let rest covered for 1 and 1/2 hour and then “retard” in the fridge for 12 to 18 hours. Step 5. Brush the focaccia with olive oil and bake with steam at 230 degrees (Celsius, 450 Fahrenheit) until it looks brown and crunchy on the outside. And the bread? Hamelman does not say it, but I baked with steam for 40 minutes, lowering the temperature from the initial 275 degrees (Celsius, 527 Fahrenheit) to 230 degrees (Celsius, 450 Fahrenheit).

*liquid levain: the night before baking, take out 34 g (1.2 oz) of 100% hydration active sourdough starter and mix with 204 g (7.2 oz) water plus 165 g (5.8 oz) of bread flour. It can be used 12 to 16 hours later.

**draining olives: also the night before baking, drain the olives from their liquid and let rest in a colander in the fridge. In the morning, place in a clean kitchen towel and drain completely.

***shaping a focaccia: place some baking paper on a (not too big) round or square baking plate and flatten the dough gently with your hands (it still has to be quite tall, surely taller than a pizza) directly in the baking plate, being careful not to deflate it.

CONSIDERATIONS: I really loved making this loaf and the olive focaccia. The focaccia goes wonderfully alone, while the loaf is well complemented by soft, mild, cheeses. Guess what was my favorite match? Pane alle olive and mozzarella… yum! Grateful to Hamelman to have made me discover liquid levain. By simply diluting your sourdough the day before mixing the final dough you can obtain an extremely mild sourdough bread. And for those of you who do not like the sour taste: there is no way you could have sensed it in this loaf. Oh… and if you don’t have sourdough starter… would gladly send you mine (and actually can, if you live in Sweden). Otherwise, my post Dirty Laundry and Sourdough Starter will help you to make your own. It lasts forever (still have the culture described in last August’s post) and makes very good bread. Wish you a pleasant week-end.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

Most Chocolaty Ever Torta Caprese

So this was my birthday cake. And, as usual, I made it myself. Not that I had to, but I wanted to. An excuse for baking? Yes, please, I am digging in it. This year, I felt like something super chocolaty and I thought first of making a Sacher Torte. You don’t know what a Sacher Torte is? A popular movie director once said of someone not knowing about Sacher Torte “oh well, let’s go on like this, let’s continue martyrizing ourselves”. I did not want to martyrize myself, so I went for the Italian equivalent of Sacher Torte, Torta Caprese, originally from the Island of Capri, just outside of Naples.

What is special about Torta Caprese is that there is no flour in it. And the amazing moistness of the cake is all due to a happy combination of almonds, dark chocolate, eggs, sugar and butter…. mmmmmm… let’s see how I did mine.

TORTA CAPRESE

You need: 300 g dark chocolate, 300 g peeled almonds, 6 eggs, 150 g caster sugar, 3 table-spoon powdered sugar, 2 tea-spoon vanilla extract, 2 table-spoon cocoa powder, 180 g butter, 1/2 tea-spoon baking powder, a pinch of salt. More powdered sugar to garnish.

How To: Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees (Celsius) and grease a baking pan. Grind the almonds very finely in a food processor. Put aside. Grind the chocolate and add to the ground almonds. Add the cocoa powder and the baking powder and combine. In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks with the caster sugar. Add the melted butter, cooled off, and the vanilla extract. Combine the egg yolks mixture with the chocolate/almond mixture. In a separate bowl whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the powdered sugar until fluffy and firm. Incorporate gently to the rest of the batter and mix with a table-spoon (with a bottom up movement). Pour the mixture into the greased baking pan and bake for 40-45 minutes (until the cake looks firm). Let cool off well before serving, sprinkled with abundant powdered sugar.

CONSIDERATIONS: Did I like it? What do you think… holy yum yes! This was possibly the most chocolaty and gooey chocolate cake I have ever had and I am very happy of how tall it came out, even without the addition of flour and with only a pinch of baking powder. Almost impossible not to have too much, but today is my birthday right? What was your favorite birthday cake ever?

In Season: Asparagus And Parmesan Frittata

If you are looking for something easy, seasonal, healthy and absolutely delicious, you may want to try this frittata. It takes very little time to make and requires only a few ingredients. But, of course, you gotta have asparagus. The veggie king of spring.

FRITTATA DI ASPARAGI

You need: 4-6 asparagus, 3 eggs, 3 table-spoon grated parmesan, olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, marine salt.

How to: clean the asparagus, cutting the lowest end of the stalks. Bring to a boil a little salted water (just enough to cover them) and let the asparagus cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and cut into 1 and 1/2 cm long pieces. Whisk the eggs with a little salt and abundant black pepper, add the parmesan, and then the cut asparagus. Pour a couple of table-spoon olive oil in a medium-small frying pan and make it very hot before adding the egg and asparagus mixture. Lower the temperature and cook until the eggs start to solidify. Flip over and quickly brown also the other side. Serve warm or cold with good crunchy bread.

CONSIDERATIONS: We just enjoyed the frittata for dinner and, even if  there was other food on the table, I had only bread with it. The taste of the fresh asparagus was perfectly brought forward by the frittata and I did not want to spoil it by mixing it with other flavors. The dish, often served on the side or in a buffet, is so satisfying in its simplicity that can stand alone as a one course meal, for any meal of the day, really. This is my favorite way to eat asparagus… what’s yours?

Bergianska Trädgården And Thank You

Last Monday, for “Pasquetta” (the day after Easter), we all went to Bergianska Tädgården. The weather was pretty boring and the day cold, so it was just lovely to be inside, looking at all the blossoming flowers of Stockholm’s botanic garden while spring, outside, still waited to show up.

The flowers were beautiful and I am showing some here as a thank you for visiting my page and bookmarking, pinning, and trying out my recipes. Yesterday, the website hit the first 10,000 views and that is quite a lot to me. I had this page for only a few months, and during most of them I have not been that active, busy as I always am with work and family.

Yes, I have a demanding job, a lovely but demanding 3-year old, and an almost always patient and supportive husband, who also demands some attention every now and then. So this passion of mine for cooking, taking pictures and writing on the food I make has to be relegated to a stolen afternoon and a stolen 10 minutes photographic session when the light is good enough (generally in the morning, while running to get ready for work and get the little one ready for day-care).

Therefore, I am surprised that this page is going forward, and actually visited regularly by a few a you, notwithstanding the little time I have for it. So thank you all, the regulars, the occasional, the new and the old readers. Thank you to the commenter fellow bloggers, who really made my day oh so many times, and also to the quiet readers that just stop by for a few minutes. You all help me to keep the motivation for finding those stolen moments of creativity in my kitchen, for improving my photography, and for continuing to share my thoughts, tips, and memories with you.

Hope you all understand that the lack of regularity in posting on this page is not due to lack of interest… I would gladly stay at home for a month and just do this. But then it would become my job and not my escape. La valvola di sfogo, the way to divert my attention to colorful and savory images.

So thank you for making my favorite past-time not a solitary journey but something that makes me feel connected to people I would otherwise have no connection with. This all thing of blogging helps me realize that I am part of a bigger picture, a world-wide movement toward home-made food. I am so glad thinking that I can contribute to make also your world more savory and colorful. And possibly inspire you not to give up and stay away from the grey mass-produced food.  Thank you for helping me to make my own life more meaningful.

This was my favorite: wild saffron growing outside the botanic garden

Carciofi Alla Giudia – Roman Jewish Artichokes

My mom is visiting for Easter and she made one of her “cavalli di battaglia” (winning horses?), which is, best ever dishes, Carciofi Alla Giudia. Accoding to my mother, this is a typical Roman Easter dish, to the point some Romans had it for breakfast on Easter morning, together with the intestines of some animal (a part of the tradition that I can leave to the old generations).

This way of cooking artichokes was developed by the Jewish community which populated Rome as early as 150 b.c.  The community became so rooted in Rome that represented about 10% of Rome’s inhabitants before 1935. More info here. Anyway, as I said, they were so rooted in Rome that many of the most traditional Roman dishes are actually Roman Jewish. And it is also the case of these wonderful deep-fried artichokes that my mom learned from my grandma, an eight generations back Roman.

The peculiarity of this dish is in its simplicity. The art is in the cleaning and the cooking of the vegetables.

CARCIOFI ALLA GIUDIA – DEEP FRIED ARTICHOKES

You need: 4 artichokes (choose the smallest and most tender ones you can find), 1 cup olive oil, salt, black pepper, juice of 1 lemon.

How to: Carefully clean the artichokes, cutting the top, removing the inedible tough outer leaves (generally is enough to eliminate 1 or 2 external layers), as well as the inner white “barbetta” (little beard). Put the clean artichokes in a large bowl with water and the juice of the lemon. You can let the artichokes rest there even overnight. Drain the artichokes, generously sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper and fill with olive oil, while you open the inner leaves like a flower. Place, on the lateral side, in an iron skillet with remaining oil on high heat and make the artichokes brown on all sides, turning them often with a fork. Lower the heat, add a few spoons of water and cover the pan. Cook until tender. Toward the end of the cooking, flip the artichokes with the stem up, again opening them as flowers and pushing them slightly toward the pan. They are cooked when also the bottom part feels tender to the fork.

CONSIDERATIONS: Don’t they looks scrumptious? I am so glad I got to have real Roman artichokes (my mom brought them with her from Rome!) for Easter and that I got to follow step-by-step the traditional “Alla Giudia” way of cooking that my mom has long  been “famous” for (at least in our small family and friends community). This has been one of the nicest Easters in a long while… how was yours?

You may also like these steamed artichokes.

Rustic Sourdough Baguette

Ok. So this was supposed to be Jeffrey Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough, which is generally shaped like a torpedo (a batard in French) but somewhere on the way it became a large rustic baguette. Must have been my  memories of Italian “filoni” that got in the way…

As you may notice, also the scoring is pretty rustic: I still have not managed to get a scoring blade and one of the baguette cracked on the bottom, yet rose and cooked perfectly. I also still do not own a baking stone, but this did not prevent the bread to develop a wonderful crusty crust anyway.

I posted the detailed method on my bread blog. Here just a few pictures to show you what you can do even without professional tools. And even interpreting freely the formulas of the Masters. Not bad, isn’t it? Go to my bread blog Dreams of Bread for the complete recipe with step-by-step pictures.

Buttermilk Ciambellone And Happy Easter

Easter has always been my favorite holiday. Maybe because only on Easter I got to eat something home-baked, ciambellone. My mother did not like to bake, but each Easter morning she used to “surprise” us with a fragrant ciambellone, covered with fresh pink flowers and accompanied by all the colorful Easter paraphernalia. What an event. The cake went wonderfully with our chocolate eggs and even with… salami! Indeed, another name of this ciambellone is “pizza di pasqua”. Or, at least, that’s the way my mother called it. I know she learned this from my grandmother, a true Roman matron, which makes me think this way of mixing sweet with salty is very “Roman”. Or maybe not. Personally, I just love it. We used to have hard-boiled eggs, chocolate eggs, salami and cake all in the same, scrumptious, breakfast. Mmmm… and this Sunday I am going to relive this dear memory with my own family. Life is good.

BUTTERMILK CIAMBELLONE

You need: 1/2 cup buttermilk (filmjölk in Swedish), 3 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup good vegetable oil (I used 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup flax seed oil), 2 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, grated zest of 1/2 organic lemon (if you don’t have it, add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract), a pinch of salt.

How to: Preheat oven to 160 degrees (Celsius, 320 Fahrenheit). Mix the eggs with the sugar and the pinch of salt until fluffy. Add the oil, the buttermilk and the flavoring (vanilla and lemon zest) and mix well. Combine flours and baking powder and add to the batter. Mix until fluffy again. Butter a tube-cake pan and pour the mixture in it. Bake for 35-45 minutes, checking for doneness with a wooden stick after 35 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: This cake was so incredibly easy to bake and tasted just like the best ciambelloni my mother used to make. When we woke up this morning we had a couple of pieces with our latte. My 3-year old was ecstatic. Looking forward to bake another batch for the coming Sunday breakfast. Wishing you all a gracious Easter full of laughs and feel-good moments.

Home-Baked Fette Biscottate Or Zwieback

I’ve been thinking about this for so long, and always postponing, but yesterday it was too ugly to take my little one out (right baby?) so I felt like I finally could bake my favorite breakfast bread, fette biscottate which, I reckon, are the only way to save myself from the energy-dense breakfasts I’ve been having for a while.

Back in Italy, I used to have fette biscottate (or Zwieback, as they call them in US) with a cup of warm caffe-latte or tea in the morning, for as long as I can remember. They were filling and satisfying and light on the calorie-side. After moving abroad, breakfast became a problem. Local versions of fette biscottate, skorpor, were way too sugary and tasted like cinnamon. Not quite the same. The Italian version indeed was only vaguely sweet and had a fragrant but neutral taste that could accompany whatever I felt like spreading on them: honey, or butter, or jam or… nutella! And they were also great alone, preferably dipped into my extra-large cup of warm caffe-latte.

Anyway, not having fette biscottate available led me to switch toward salty types of breakfasts (I just can’t eat cereals), which in the end pumped up the amount of food I eat in a day. In fact, even after a rich American-style breakfast, I will still get hungry at lunch time and end up having three big meals in a day, while Italians only have two: a good lunch and a light dinner. If you want to know more about the Italian meal structure and maybe get some inspiration on how to change your food habits, I found this interesting link.

After some search, I decided this was the best recipe. And as usual I changed a few things here and there.

HOME-BAKED FETTE BISCOTTATE

You need: 500 g all-purpose flour, 75 g sugar, 1 egg, 1 tea-spoon malt extract (or honey), 12 g fresh yeast (or 5 g instant yeast), 210 g water, 4 table-spoon vegetable oil (I used cold-pressed canola), 5 g (1 tea-spoon) salt, 3 table-spoon milk. American measures coming soon.

How To: Step 1. Melt the yeast in the water with the malt extract (or honey) and let rest 5 minutes. Combine the flour with the sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg white (and put the egg yolk aside for later use), the oil, and the yeast mixture. Knead for 20 minutes by machine (or 15 by hand), adding the salt only before the last 5 minutes of kneading. Let rest for 30 minutes covered with plastic foil. Step 2. Form 3 balls and cover again with plastic foil. Let rest for 15 minutes. Step 3. Flatten each ball with a rolling-pin on a floured surface and shape 3 tight rolls. Seal the roll with your fingers and place seamed side down on 3 plum-cake forms, covered with baking paper. Let rest, covered with plastic foil for 1 to 2 hours in a lightly warm place. Brush with the egg-yolk combined with the milk. Step 4. Bake for 30 minutes at 190 degrees (Celsius) and then lower the temperature to 160, take the loaves out of the forms, and bake for further 15 minutes (they have to look golden brown). Step 5. Let cool covered with a kitchen towel for at least 12 hours (and up to 24 hours, if you wish). Cut into 1 cm wide slices and bake at 160 for about 30 minutes.

CONSIDERATIONS: Don’t they look just like store-bought ones? I am so happy I resolved to do my own fette biscottate, not only because I could not find them in Sweden, but also because, as usual, I could control the ingredients: organic flour and eggs, a little organic sugar, and good quality oil. So when I eat my favo breakfast I can now feel like I am feeding my appetite together with my body. And since home-baked anything tastes oh sooo good, I can even say that I am feeding my… soul.

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Healthier Hamburger Buns

And here is the promised recipe of the hamburger buns from my red lentils and celery root vegetarian burgers. Not suggesting you have to go for home-made all the time. But, if you ever have the time, I strongly recommend these buns. There is truly no comparison with store-bought ones and, healthwise, home-made gives the advantage of letting us play with different types of grains. I also added sourdough, more for the taste than for the rise.

MULTI-GRAIN HAMBURGER BUNS

very freely adapted from Volger’s “Veggie burgers every which way”

You need: 2 and 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose), 1 and 1/2 cups light rye flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, 1 cup milk (or rice milk), 1/2 cup water, 50 g fresh yeast (or 2 and 1/2 tea-spoon dry yeast-1 package), 2/3 cup (180 g) sourdough, 2 table-spoon olive oil, 1 table-spoon honey, 2 and 1/2 tea-spoon salt. If you do not have sourdough: omit 1 and 1/4 cup (ca 160 g) flour. Garnishing: 1 egg (or 3 table-spoon rice milk), sesame seeds, poppy seeds or flakes.

How to: dissolve the yeast in the luke-warm milk and water. Let’s stay for 5 minutes than add the sourdough (if you have it) and the honey. Add all remaining ingredients. Knead for 15 minutes by hand, or, 8-9 minutes by machine. Form the dough into a loose ball and let rest for 1-2 hours (until it doubles) in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic foil or with a wet kitchen towel. Remove from the bowl and shape into 12 rounds (I find this “buns shaping” video helpful). Place on parchment covered oven trays and let rest, loosely covered with plastic foil, for another 1-2 hours. Once they have risen again, brush with the egg mixed with a little water and sprinkle with your favorite cover. Bake at 356 degrees (Fahrenheit, 180 Celsius) for 18-20 minutes (check the bottom: ready when it’s golden-brown).

CONSIDERATIONS: I was very happy with these buns and I am sure I will use this method next time I make them. They rose wonderfully and were perfectly fluffy inside. The addition of sourdough gave depth to the flavor, but of course it can be omitted (adjusting the flour amount). Totally loved the light multi-grain feeling. I used light rye and a little whole-wheat but different combinations can also be great, and I personally look forward to experiment even more. Now my problem is: how will I, or will I ever, go back to store-bought hamburger buns? Yes, home-made bread is addictive. Just give it a try…

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Red Lentils And Celery Root Vegetarian Burger

Last summer I tried to follow a very strict no carb diet. I could do that because at the time I had convinced myself that I was basically a carnivore. But after a couple of weeks I realized that, besides the fact that life style was simply unhealthy, vegetables and bread rather than meat have always been my thing. As a child, a sandwich with home-made pickled aubergine was my favorite treat and what wouldn’t I do to steal another of my mother’s fried zucchini flowers!

Italian cuisine is indeed basically… vegetarian. And I am not talking only of our wheat-based word-famous pastas and pizzas. We also eat (or used to eat) plenty of vegetables and we have an amazing tradition on how to prepare and cook any sort of products from the land. It is not surprising if you think of how mild Italian weather is and how incredibly available and varied vegetables were in Italy in the past. Yes, we also treasured our cured meats, our yummy salami and hams. Indeed, animals were slaughtered very seldom, and when that happened we needed to make the meat last for many months, to be eaten sparsely, as a vital supplement rather than a main course.

So… after many experiments with different styles of eating/living I feel compelled to go back to the food habits of my ancestors. Eat vegetables, raw, but also cooked in mouth-watering ways, and sometimes indulge in a high-quality piece of meat. Cured and Italian, if that is what you like (I do!).

RED LENTILS AND CELERY ROOT VEGGIE BURGER

adapted from Volger’s “Veggie burgers every which way”

You need: 1 celery root, 1 cup red lentils, 1 onion, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 cup red wine, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 2 cups freshly grated bread crumbs, olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, salt.

How to: peel and chop the celery root and cut in cubes. Cover with water and boil until tender (not mushy). Meanwhile, wash and boil the lentils in 2 cups (at least) of water until soft. In a medium-sized pan saute the sliced onion with olive oil and the thyme. When soft, deglaze with the red wine and cook until that is evaporated. While the onion cools off, grate a few slices of stale bread in a food processor. Preheat the oven to 380 degrees (Fahrenheit, 190 Celsius). Combine the lentils, celery root and onions in a large bowl. Mash only part of the celery root with a fork and add the remaining ingredients. Shape the mixture into burgers and fry until golden on both sides. Transfer onto an oven dish covered with baking paper and finish cooking for 10-15 minutes (checking frequently and reducing the temperature eventually).

CONSIDERATIONS: As a vegetarian who eats meat, I can tell that these burgers were truly scrumptious and that they were healthy without tasting just healthy. Like Italian cuisine at its best. It was an extra treat to have them on some freshly baked hamburger buns, find the recipe in my post healthier hamburger buns.

Chocolate-Coffee Semifreddo With Italian Meringue

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day and I decided to honor it with a chocolate creamy dessert.

I read plenty of recipes for chocolate mousse, including the original French version, as reported by Julia Child. However, I really did not like the idea of raw egg whites in the mixture. So I looked more, and came across a way to pasteurize egg whites. It is actually an Italian method, which gives you a cooked, fluffy, meringue, without… cooking. It is called indeed Italian meringue. What is genial about it is the fact that one can “cook” the egg mixture by simply adding to it boiling sugar syrup. My inventive Italians… if only we could use our brains also in administering our country… 

To balance the sweetness of the meringue I added bittersweet chocolate and coffee. It worked out wonderfully.

CHOCOLATE-COFFEE SEMIFREDDO WITH ITALIAN MERINGUE

You need: 5 egg whites, 200 g sugar, 50 g water, 200 g bittersweet 80% chocolate, 200 g double cream, 50 g strong coffee (I made it with 40 g of water and 2 table-spoons instant coffee). White chocolate for garnishing.

How to: Whip the cream and set aside. In a metal bowl, whip the egg whites with 50 g of the sugar, until white and fluffy. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 150 g of sugar with the water. When the syrup starts bubbling then it’s time to add it to the egg mixture, continuing to whisk until the mixture is cold again. You will have a firm Italian meringue. Melt the chocolate in the micro-wave and add to the whipped cream. Add the coffee and gently stir with a spoon. Incorporate gently to the meringue. Transfer into a plastic container and freeze. 

CONSIDERATIONS: This was… let me find the word… ridiculously good. I hope the quick shots I was able to take in the morning, before running to work, can render a little bit of the sultry creaminess of this dessert. It had  the consistency of a mousse after a couple of hours, and it was a perfect semifreddo after a night in the freezer. As explained to my sweet half -who had the treat as an early Valentine present- semifreddo means almost cold. And in fact it is something between a mousse and an ice-cream. Di-vi-ne. If you care for some decoration and extra taste, melt some white chocolate (in the micro is fine) and make the desired shapes on a baking paper sheet. Chocolate is never enough, isn’t it? Happy Valentine’s day to all of you!

Lazy Almond Bread With Durum

I know… snow should be enjoyed by being outdoors and making the best out of it. No way. This year snow means to me feeling cozy and lazy at home. Mostly due to the lack of spare time (rather than inspiration) I have not baked much either. And my sourdough is sleeping in the cold too (safe and well-fed in our fridge).

Today I baked a lazy bread. Just threw all the ingredients in my kitchen machine, let all rest for the night, threw the fermented dough in a rising basket for 2 hours, and baked. The smell of roasted almonds was all over the place. Cozy. Perfect.

ALMOND BREAD WITH DURUM

You need: 500 g water, 550 g bread flour, 200 g durum wheat flour, 100 g almonds, 20 g salt, 10 g fresh yeast.

How to: mix all the ingredients together except the almonds in a mixer bowl and knead with a dough hook for 15 minutes at medium/low speed. Add the almonds and mix for further 5 minutes. Let rest for the night in the fridge, covered with plastic foil. In the morning, place the dough in a rising basket and let rise, loosely covered with plastic foil and in a plastic bag, for 2 hours. Transfer on a hot baking dish or stone and bake for 50 minutes, the first 20 minutes at 250 degrees and the rest at 190. Use steam if you like a crusty crust.  

CONSIDERATIONS: Being someone who takes bread baking seriously, I have been quite disinclined to try easy looking methods. This particular one comes from Baka, a fairly new Swedish magazine on baking, with beautiful pictures and interesting articles. But the recipes? I often find them too scant when it comes to details -thing which can lead to catastrofic results in the kitchen. This time I tried to trust them but… they wrote to bake the bread for 45 minutes at 250 degrees. Right: my loaf was almost burned after 25 minutes. So I lowered the temperature and it was ok. What if I did not check? Fire in my kitchen? Oh the wonderful food magazines…

Anyway, the bread was good. The almonds really made a difference and felt like something new to the palate. The use of durum wheat and the long kneading time made a very compact crumb, which was delish with a little butter. With my fix to the baking time and temperature this is a good method for some serious comfort bread on a very lazy day. Yawn… I think the almonds just made me more sleepy. Goodnight!

This is going to YeastSpotting.

Fettuccine Dolci… For A Snowy Carnival

And here we go. Finally posting again after a month of forced blogging eclipse. Meanwhile, Stockholm has got the right amount of snow to call it winter and we are enjoying the coziness of our homes as much as we can. Waiting for the sun to come out to make a snowman. And a snowball fight. And to run our red sled. Or simply to roll ourselves in the white sugar-like crystals…

I am thankful to the Italian group Quanti Modi Per Fare e Rifare, led by Anna and Ornella, for giving me the right inspiration (and yet another deadline) to do something creative again in my kitchen. This month the chosen dish was from Fr@, who was so nice to share her family recipe for tagliatelle dolci, a traditional Italian sweet treat that is prepared around this time of the year to celebrate Carnival. They remind me of le frappe, something my mom used to make every February.

FETTUCCINE DOLCI

You need: 350 g (little more than 3 cups) all-purpose flour, 3 table-spoon sugar, 3 eggs, 40 g (little more than 1/8 cup) melted butter, the grated zest of 3 oranges and 3 lemons (best if organic), a pinch of vanilla powder (or extract). Oil to fry, powdered sugar to garnish.

How to: Step 1. Mix all the ingredients together and form a ball. Step 2. Flatten the dough as if you were making home-made pasta (which means, make it pretty thin and elastic with the help of extra flour and a rolling-pin) and cut into fettuccine-like stripes with a knife. Step 3. Deep-fry a few fettuccine at a time until golden, making sure that the oil does not burn (keep an eye on the oil temperature, it does not have to smoke, only to lightly bubble). Drain the fettuccine on bread paper possibly (it sticks less).

CONSIDERATIONS: In the original recipe the grated zest and sugar were used as a filling. I preferred instead to mix all together, slightly increasing the amount of sugar and flour. This made it easier on my little helper… we both had a lot of fun doing these fettuccine and the all went super smooth (read it as=not a huge mess to clean up afterwards). The resulting shapes were so interesting to look at it felt a shame to eat them… but we did, yum, and they were light and incredibly zesty. Buon carnevale a tutte le fantastiche cuoche italiane vicine e lontane!

Cantucci: Traditional Tuscan Biscotti

Featuring these very special Italian biscuits today makes me happy, for several reasons. First, I truly like traditional recipes and Tuscan biscotti, or Cantucci, are as traditional as one can go. Second, these biscuits really rock. And, finally, I am happy because I made it to bake together with the Italian group Quanti Modi Per Fare e Rifare, led by two expat Italians (just like me), Anna and Ornella, writing from Japan and Greece. These gals cook and bake like no others and are always keen to share good hints (recently, they both helped me with my first Panettone).

Today’s post is based on Tiziana‘s recipe, chosen to be re-made by all of us. This fantastic method gives more than 2 kg (4 pounds) of excellent biscotti, to share with family and friends. Or to savor alone, a few at a time, for several weeks.

CANTUCCI

You need: 1 kl (2 lb) all-purpose flour [I used organic], 700 g (3 cups) caster sugar [I used unrefined organic], 1/2 kl (1 lb) unpeeled almonds, 1 lemon, 16 g (3 tea-spoon) baking powder, 8 eggs + 1 for brushing, 60 g (1/4 cup) milk. Caster sugar for coating [I skipped this].

How to: Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (Celsius, 356 Fahrenheit). Meanwhile combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, including the grated peel of the lemon. Step 2. Add the eggs, the almonds and the milk and mix until all ingredients are well combined. Step 3. Form 5 roughly shaped long rectangles over 2 oven trays covered with baking paper (the tray with three rectangles will be a little crowded but that is ok); brush the rectangles with the egg beaten with a little water. Step 4. After baking for 15-20 minute, take the trays out, move the biscotti dough with all the baking paper on a cutting board and cut the rectangles horizontally, forming several small stripes. Step 5. Put back in the oven and bake for further 20 minutes, lowering the oven temperature to 140 degrees (Celsius, 284 Fahrenheit).

CONSIDERATIONS: These almond biscotti that originally come from the town of Prato, Tuscany, were designed to last for weeks, and can actually keep fresh (without any freezing!) for a couple of months. In the past, people needed food like this, which could be packed for journeys that were usually long, when trains, airplanes, and cars did not exist. The durability (and crunchiness) of traditional biscotti is given by being baked twice. This is also the meaning of their name. I am aware that is generally considered low-class to dip cookies in beverages but… you cannot really say you have savored Cantucci unless you dip them. Preferably in sweet wine (ideally the Tuscan Vin Santo) but also in milk. Or hot chocolate. Mmmmm… ready for one more biscotto.

Walnut Pesto With Ricotta Cheese

Feels good to start the new year by posting a new version of one of my all-time favorite pastas, spaghetti with ricotta cheese. The original Italian (and very Roman) recipe is stunning in its simplicity. It consists of merely combining ricotta cheese with some of the water in which the spaghetti was cooked, and using the creamy mixture as a pasta sauce. Adding just a sprinkle of freshly grated black pepper. Oftentimes, perfection can be achieved with so incredibly few ingredients.

A couple of months ago I saw a variation on the theme in a post by Beloved Green. Walnuts were added to the ricotta cheese, which immediately sounded like a match made in heaven. The creaminess was given by butter and olive oil, rather than by the pasta water, and the taste was further enhanced by the addition of parsley, lemon, and garlic.

I adapted the new recipe by making it closer to the original ricotta sauce I grew up with. Indeed, if you know how to make good use of the pasta water (full of gluten and salt) you do not need to add butter or olive oil for creaminess and taste. Also, the addition of parsley and garlic could take away from the other ingredients, risking of overpowering them. I did keep the lemon juice. The walnuts needed it.

SPAGHETTI WITH WALNUT AND RICOTTA PESTO

You need: 500 g (1 lb.) spaghetti (all-wheat is a good choice), 150 g (1 and 1/2 cups) walnuts, 250 g (1/2 lb.) ricotta cheese, 1/2 lemon, marine salt, freshly ground black pepper.

How to: Step 1. Start with heating the water for the pasta (remember to always boil the pasta in abundant water or else you won’t have good, al dente, pasta). Just before throwing the spaghetti in, add salt to the water. The amount of salt depends on the amount of water – it is always better to add enough salt to the water so that there’s no need to put a lot of salt into the pasta sauce. Step 2. Meanwhile, quickly roast the walnuts in a frying pan (or in the oven), crash into small pieces (you can use a food processor), and mix in a bowl with the ricotta. Add the juice of the lemon. Step 3. Before draining the pasta (al dente), save 2-3 cups of the boiling water and set aside. Add some of the hot water to the pesto and then combine with the spaghetti. Add more pasta water (not necessarily all of it) and continue to mix until the pasta is perfectly creamy (not watery) and smooth. Sprinkle with pepper when the spaghetti are served.

CONSIDERATIONS: I am always silent when I start eating this pasta dish. The combination of the smooth and vaguely sweet taste of the ricotta and roasted walnuts is perfectly complemented by the hint of sour and spicy of the lemon and black pepper, making me speechless. This is generally the sign that I am truly enjoying the food. Indeed, I absolutely cannot interrupt the important activity of savoring something I really like and I am deeply annoyed if someone tries to get my attention at this point or, even worse, make me talk. Food, just alike art, sometimes is best enjoyed alone. So, if you ever cook for me, remember… if I express a positive comment too early, I am, more than likely, just being polite. If I am quiet instead… then, you’ve got me.

My Christmas Baking and Happy New Year

Christmas is gone but the holidays are still here. Both in Italy and in Sweden we consider the festive period over only by the 7th of January. No idea of how it is in the rest of the world. How is it?

This year we chose not to go to Italy to celebrate Christmas, so I could, among other things, bake and enjoy my own home. I had actually planned to start baking around the 10th of December but work got so hectic that I could not put my hands on any dough until the 23rd.

I was still able to do my “can’t live without” Christmas baking which were, as you probably have already guessed from the picture, Swedish ginger cookies - pepparkakor - and a very Italian panettone.

It was the first time I made pepparkakor dough. Previously I only dared using store-bought one (here it is possible to find the dough ready to be rolled out). The home-made dough needs a little preparation, as it has to rest in the fridge overnight, and requires a little extra work compared to regular cookie dough, as it is very hard to roll (and it breaks easily if softened). But in the end I managed to make quite a huge amount of pepparkakor to enjoy until the end of the holiday season.

The making of the panettone was quite an adventure, too, and even more so, as the moulds (ordered in November) arrived on the 23rd – and it takes 2 whole days to do the “quick” version of the panettone (!!!).  Well, I am one stubborn person and I get even more stubborn when it comes to my favorite hobby, baking. So I did it anyway and ended up with finally putting the panettone in the oven while cooking our Christmas eve dinner. A total delirium :-)

Not posting any recipe as I guess everyone can find tons of ginger cookies recipes on the net and, due to the rush, I also have not written down all the (many) changes I made to the original panettone recipe. However, if any of you feels like trying my version of either recipe, just write to me and I will gladly make the extra effort of remembering what I have done.

Anyway. This was my Christmas baking. What was yours?

CONSIDERATIONS: I wish you all a wonderful end of the old year and a great start of the new one, hoping you spent a nice Christmas with your families (or friends). Oh…. and, against all odds, the panettone really came out wonderful and I look forward to repeat the experiment again. Soon? Well… let’s see what 2012 will bring, hopefully some good energy and some extra time for baking. PS: I apologize for not being regular in posting and commenting on others’ blogs… trying to minimize the time spent on my pc and maximize the time spent with my lovely family. But I am still here and I intend on keeping this going also next year. Happy New Year!!!

White Veggie Soup

Exactly one week ago I was impatiently waiting to catch the plane that would have taken me back to my little family (always tough to leave a nice family, especially when it includes a lovely 2-year old child). Having to travel alone for work on a weekend really was not helping the moral. On top of it I had the beginning of a cold coming over me and I was actually feeling pretty cold in the impersonal, although high-tech, airport hall. But there was something that cheered me up. And, as usual, it had to do with food.

They had a small stand by the gates selling take-away soups. I opted for “white soup”, which I drank out of a plastic container. Well… that soup was amazing.

I spent the last half hour before boarding deeply absorbed in soup-related thoughts. Happy again. What I was trying to figure out were obviously the ingredients of the white soup, in order to replicate it at home. I could clearly savor parsnip and ginger. The creaminess seemed due more to the addition of potatoes and legumes (most likely white beans) than cream. I could not taste any garlic but there was probably onion. The only colored ingredient was obviously some dried thyme floating in the off white velvety liquid.

A couple of days ago I made the soup and it truly tasted like the real thing. It was even better today, re-heated with some freshly baked bread. Yum! Just love Sundays at home.

WHITE VEGGIE SOUP

You need: 5-6 parsnips, 3 potatoes, 1 can of white beans (drained), 1 yellow onion, one small fresh ginger, dried thyme, freshly ground white pepper, 1/2 cup vegetable (or chicken) stock, marine salt, olive oil.

How to: chop the fresh vegetables and grate the ginger. Place in a large pot (possibly with a thick bottom) and cover with water and chicken stock. Add a good sprinkle of thyme and white pepper (and a little salt). Boil, covered, until the vegetables are tender. Add the beans. Mix the soup to a smooth cream. Regulate salt and drizzle the soup with olive oil directly in the serving bowls.

CONSIDERATIONS: Soups and winter are synonyms to me. A warm, hearty, soup can turn the coldest and greyest winter day into something special. And homey. A bowl of warm soup and a slice of good bread. This is happiness to me.

PS: if you are wondering about that loaf in the background… that is my usual Sunday loaf. You find the method to make it yourself in my previous posts The Perfect Italian Sourdough Loaf and 50% Hydration Lazio Style Country Sourdough.

Piernik: Polish Ginger Cake With Sourdough

Just back from a short but intense work trip to Warsaw, Poland, where I fell in love with the local cuisine. In Polish cuisine, one can find a wonderful use of natural healthy ferments, like sourdough, which was common to most agricultural societies centuries (and even millennia) ago. I was actually considering changing the name of this blog into “Moj Italski Smorgaborsky”. Well, more or less.

After having tasted the amazingly tasty, earthy, and luscious Polish food, could not help but running to the first bookstore at Warsaw airport and luckily get a tiny lovely introduction to Polish cuisine. There, in the section about traditional Christmas dishes, I bumped into a chocolate glazed ginger cake with… sourdough! I want the honorary Polish citizenship for sourdough merits. Anyway, as Susan invited us to join the special issue on Christmas breads coming out this week on YeastSpotting, I run to my pantry and, wow, I had all the ingredients already at hand. And here comes the recipe.

You need: 750 g all-purpose flour, 200 g caster sugar, 300 g honey, 150 g butter, 5 eggs, 2 tea-spoon baking soda, 3 table-spoon active sourdough (or 3 table-spoon 3% fat yoghurt), 2 tea-spoons gingerbread spice mix (I made my own with 1 part ground cinnamon, 1 part ground ginger, 1/2 part ground nutmeg, and 1/2 part ground cloves), 1 table-spoon raisins, 1 table-spoon chopped hazelnuts, 1 table-spoon chopped walnuts, 1 table-spoon grated orange peel, butter and breadcrumbs for the baking pan. My addition: 150 g 3% fat yoghurt (even more if the dough looks too dry). For the chocolate glaze: 400 g dark chocolate, 150 g double cream, 75 g raisins. Conversions into American measures coming soon.

How to: Pre-heat the oven at 160 degrees (Celsius). Butter 2 oven pans and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Heat the honey, sugar and butter in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Let it cool off. Sift the flour into a bowl, adding the honey mixture gradually, then add also the eggs and the spices and the orange peel and mix well. Add the sourdough and the yoghurt (or just yoghurt if you don’t have sourdough). Finish incorporating gently the chopped nuts. Fill the pans up to 1/3 and bake for 50 minutes. Check for doneness with a wooden stick. When cooled off, melt the chocolate with the cream and then add the raisins to glaze the cake.

CONSIDERATIONS: I totally loved the taste of this Christmas cake. The sourdough created beautiful holes in the crumb and the addition of raisins to the chocolate glaze was really a great idea (that I will use for other preparations). Can’t wait to have another slice for breakfast with a cup of hot tea. Had no idea this work trip would have ended up in a boost of culinary inspiration. Totally loved the country, the people, and the food. Many thanks to Izabella Byszewska for her lovely collection of traditional Polish recipes.

This is going to YeastSpotting. Thank you Susan for the lovely initiative.

Panzanella Alla Senese

The other day, still recovering from my cold, I was reading about pane toscano (tuscan bread) and about how in the old days bread was never thrown away. Tuscan cuisine is indeed particularly renown for its bread-based recipes, like ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and panzanella.

Wow, panzanella… I suddenly realized I have not had it in years and felt like I wanted to honor this simple dish again. But first I consulted my encyclopedia (it really is) of traditional Italian cooking (24 volumes, region by region) and in Volume 1 of tuscan cuisine I found a list of something like 15 different variations of Panzanella, each coming from a very narrow area in Tuscany, often a small village, sometimes a town.

I liked the senese (from the lovely town of Siena) version of panzanella because of its simplicity and the addition of onion.

PANZANELLA ALLA SENESE

You need: stale bread (I used my spelt sourdough), ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, marine salt, olive oil, freshly ground pepper.

How to: chop the tomatoes and the basil and slice the onion very thin. Combine all in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients (except the bread). Let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile soak the sliced bread in cold water and then rinse in a kitchen towel, to drain part of the water. The bread must be wet but not mushy. Pour the tomatoes mixture over the bread.

CONSIDERATIONS: The author of the Tuscan volumes of my Italian cuisine encyclopedia is called Giovanni Righi Parenti and is an “etnogastronomo” (someone who is paid to read and write about food history) and sometimes I wish I was a professional ethno-gastronomy expert, too… it is so fun to read about the origins of dishes and then trying them out. And how interesting to find out that some dishes have remained unchanged for centuries yet can still appeal to our modern taste buds. Like this simple panzanella, which was a quick hunger fix and tasted just delicious. Easy, healthy, tasty.

This is going to YeastSpotting. Many thanks to Susan for continuing to host this event and welcome back!

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