Monday, June 29, 2015

Pistachio Olive Oil Cake


I would never have made this cake if it weren't for two gifts that arrived simultaneously: a bag of pistachio flour from my neighbor Insung and a jar of pistachio paste from Gustiamo.com, importers of fine Italian artisanal foods.

As it turns out, it's not that hard to find pistachio flour. You can buy it online here. And now you can buy pistachio paste online too, from Gustiamo.com.
I had bought pistachio paste on recent trips to Italy, and used it for gelato (click here for recipe), but armed with a new jar of pistachio paste, along with the pistachio flour gift direct from Sicily, I knew that a cake was in my future.
Combining the paste with mascarpone cheese yielded a rich, spreadable frosting for the cake, and I topped it with chocolate leaves.
  Using mint leaves from my garden, I "painted" some melted chocolate on the leaves, then placed them in the refrigerator for about a half hour. Don't leave them in the refrigerator too long, or they'll become so hardened that it becomes more difficult to peel the leaves from the chocolate. In this case, I used mint leaves growing in my garden as the base. 
 You could leave the cake in one layer, but why not split it in two and provide another vehicle for frosting? Use toothpicks to help guide the serrated knife evenly through the center of the cake.
Spread a little less than half the frosting on the inside layer, then cover and spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides. Skip the chocolate leaves if that's too fussy for you, and just decorate with the chopped pistachios instead.
 Gustiamo.com threw a party this past Saturday at the company's warehouse, located in a gritty neighborhood in the Bronx. The walls at the site are decorated with highly creative and fanciful art created by local graffiti artists.
 The wall art adds a fun and spunky vibe to the outside courtyard of Gustiamo, words that could also be used to describe Neapolitan-born Beatrice Ughi, owner of the company. She started the business 15 years ago, after tossing aside her corporate career to pursue her passion for quality products from small Italian farms and producers. 
At this point, she's caught the notice of many high-end Italian restaurants, including New York City's Del Posto, who rely on ingredients from Gustiamo for their recipes.  
With my recent order, I've now got my own stash of wonderful Italian products to play with too, from small white purgatorio beans to a yellow tomato passata.  Stay tuned for future posts using these great ingredients - and check out their website on your own too. Gustiamo.com


Pistachio Olive Oil Cake

cake recipe adapted from Naturallyyella.co
 

  • Cake
  • 1½ cups (180 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (100 g) pistachio flour (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease and 8-inch round pan with oil.
  • To make the cake: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, pistachio flour, lemon zest, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey, milk, and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
  • Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the cake is golden and has domed. Let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Once the cake has cooled, run a knife along the edges to loosen. Flip the cake over onto a cake plate and finish cooling.

  • Frosting:
    8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature
    1/2 jar Pistachio paste from Gustiamo.com (the full jar is about 9.8 ounces)
    1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

    For Decoration (optional): chopped pistachios and chocolate covered mint leaves

    Mix the mascarpone cheese, sugar and pistachio paste together in a mixer until smooth. Make sure the paste is thoroughly blended into the cheese, or else you'll have lumps or streaks of pistachio paste.

    Cut the cake in half using a sharp serrated knife. Spread part of the frosting on the inside of the cake; cover with the other half of the cake, and spread the rest of the frosting on the top and sides of the cake.
    Optional: Decorate with crushed pistachios on the side of the cake and with chocolate covered mint leaves.

    To make pistachio flour, take shelled, unsalted, roasted pistachios (buy them unshelled and save yourself some time) and pulse in ¼ of the pistachios in the food processor just until beginning to break down. Pass through a sieve to get the flour and return the pistachio pieces back to the food processor. Repeat until a good amount of the pistachios are flour (you will have meal left over, use it to top the cake.) Just be careful not to over pulse the nuts and turn them into butter- patience is key. If you try to make the cake with pistachio meal, the texture won't be the same.

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    Wednesday, June 24, 2015

    Charleston - The Holy City



    Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
    This blog is primarily about food and travel, and I try to stay clear of polemic issues on this platform. But after beginning to compose a piece about my recent trip to Charleston, my brain and heart kept going back to the horrific shooting and killing of nine innocent people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city's center. 
    I would feel remiss in not mentioning it here, and I am astonished not at just the cold-blooded way in which the killer attacked his victims, but at the remarkable act of forgiveness of members of the congregation, in the face of tremendous loss and grief to their families and community.
    Unfortunately, race is still a divisive issue in the U.S., while at the same time, all across Charleston and the U.S., people of all races, creeds and backgrounds have demonstrated solidarity for the unfathomable loss of life in this beautiful city in the American South. 
    In my own town of Princeton, N.J., religious leaders of all faiths will offer prayers and reflections tonight, followed by a candlelight vigil as darkness falls, to show support for the victims of the shootings. Similar events are taking place across the country, and I am sure that in Charleston, whose nickname is the "holy city," leaders of churches there are holding similar services.
    Here are a few photos I took recently of the many beautiful churches in this extraordinarily scenic city:
    Grace Episcopal Church
    St. Michael's Church
    St. Matthew's Lutheran Church
    French Huguenot Church
    St. Philip's Episcopal Church
    Charleston also lays claim to the second oldest synagogue in the nation, and the oldest in continuous use - the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue:

    The lovely religious institutions are just one of the many reasons to visit Charleston. 
    The gracious homes in the central area beckon with their beautiful gardens and elegant architecture: 
    Many of them are designed with side porches, called "piazzas."
    The houses were designed this way to take advantage of local winds.
    The gardens surrounding the homes are frequently as show-stopping as the houses themselves, with beautiful plantings and flower boxes.

    Magnolias were in full bloom on my recent visit there.

     The twisted limbs and vibrant green leaves of the live oak tree lent a mysterious appearance to many public spaces.


    For an overview of the city, a tour in a historic carriage, complete with a narrated history lesson, can't be beat.


    You're sure to see sweetgrass baskets for sale, one of the oldest art forms of African origin in the United States. The baskets were originally crafted for collecting rice and cotton in plantation fields, but are now quite pricey.
    For something more affordable, you can always buy a small "rosette" made of palm from one of the young people making them on street corners.
    There are many reasons to visit Charleston, but for this trip, the main attraction was the Spoleto Music festival, held each year at the end of May/beginning of June. Venues range from large outdoor spaces in front of the old customs house (above), to auditoriums in the College of Charleston campus.
    There are a cornucopia of cultural offerings to please anyone's taste, including Shakespeare from London's Globe Theater (above photo); to ballet, opera, jazz, symphonic music and choral singing too.

    Charleston has become quite the town for foodies too, and we ate some really outstanding food, including an exceptional octopus and citrus salad at Trattoria Lucca, our favorite dining spot of all we tried.
    Using this as inspiration, I recreated something similar after I got home - to be posted on Ciao Chow Linda soon.
    More from Lucca's - a creamy cauliflower sformato oozing with runny egg.
    And perfectly toothsome tagliolini with local crabmeat was delicious down to the last forkful.
    The gelato and sorbet was a refreshing way to finish the meal and included the following flavors, left to right: amaretti, basil, strawberry, ricotta gelato and lemon sorbet.

    I couldn't leave South Carolina without trying some good old Southern barbecue and this pork sandwich was exactly what I hoped it would be - smoky, tender and packed with flavor.

    Grits are a staple Southern dish, so I had to buy some from a local farmer's market downtown. I'll be cooking these up soon in a traditional shrimp and grits recipe. Stay tuned on Ciao Chow Linda for a future post on this Southern classic.
    *****************************
    To read more about the individual lives that were lost to the shooting in Charleston on June 17, 2015, click here for a short bio on each person's life and history, published in the Washington Post on June 18, 2015:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/charleston-church-shooting-victims/
    May their souls rest in peace.


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    Wednesday, June 17, 2015

    Strawberry Ice Cream


    It's strawberry season for a wee bit longer here in New Jersey, so there's no better time than the present to make strawberry ice cream. If you live in a place where they're juicy and sweet right now, take advantage of the short time strawberries are still available at farm stands and farmers' markets. 
    I have a few of my own plants growing in the garden this Spring, but not nearly enough are ripening all at once to make this recipe. These ruby beauties came from a local farm stand and were luscious - perfect for making strawberry ice cream.
    I put the strawberries and some sugar into the food processor, and added a few tablespoons of this strawberry liqueur. It not only gives the strawberries a flavor boost, but the alcohol keeps the ice cream from becoming rock hard in the freezer. If you can't find it, add some kirsch, or even vodka, or a liqueur that you love.

    I don't like to use raw eggs in recipes, so I cooked the eggs, milk and sugar together for a short while, until it coated a spoon. Make sure you use low heat, or you may end up with a curdled mess. Then let it cool, preferably overnight.
    Mix all the ingredients together at this point, pop it into your ice cream machine (I got mine at a garage sale several years ago) and turn on the switch. It will do its own thing and start forming ice cream. The colder the mixture you pour in, the quicker it will become ice cream. I kept the mixture in the refrigerator overnight and once I poured it into the machine, it took about 15 minutes to turn into ice cream.
    This recipe makes a large amount and I made a mistake in churning it all in at once, instead of in two batches. As you can see, I had quite a bit of spillage.
    After I removed some of the ice cream from the machine to store in the freezer, I added some dark chocolate that I cut into bits to the remaining amount. 
     The result - strawberry chocolate chip ice cream. 
    Enjoy. 
    Don't forget - Ciao Chow Linda is now on Instagram, where I post many more food photos. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 
    And if you're in the mood for Italian gelato, instruction on memoir writing, fabulous food and a dreamy setting in Italy, consider signing up for our workshop in beautiful Varenna on Lake Como - "Italy, In Other Words." You'll be lodged at Villa Monastero, below, right on the lake, with exquisite gardens to wander through. Click here for more information and to enroll.

    Strawberry Ice Cream
    printable recipe here

    1 quart fresh strawberries
    2 T. fresh lemon juice
    3 T. strawberry liqueur (or any other liqueur you like)
    2 large eggs
    1 cup sugar
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    optional: 4 ounces dark chocolate, cut into bits

    Put the washed strawberries in a food processor and pulse until you have small pieces. Don't totally liquify it. Put into a bowl and add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the strawberry liqueur.  Let it sit a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
    Beat the eggs in a bowl and add in the rest of the sugar (3/4 cup), the milk and the cream. Put the mixture into a pot and heat it over low to medium heat, stirring until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overheat it or boil it, or you may end up with a curdled mess.
    Put the mixture into the refrigerator overnight if possible. You could let it sit for as little as four hours, but the colder it is, the less your ice cream machine will have to work and the sooner you'll have ice cream.
    The next day, pour the milk, cream and egg mixture into the ice cream maker along with the strawberry mixture. Process according to your manufacturer's instructions.
    Optional: Mix in small bits of dark chocolate when it's almost at the point where it's thick enough to eat.

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    Friday, June 12, 2015

    Berry Cheese Tart


    This was supposed to be a strictly strawberry tart with farm fresh Jersey strawberries. 'Tis the season, after all. But I couldn't resist snacking on a couple of those luscious red beauties nestled in the container beside me on my drive home from the farm. (OK, so I ate more than a couple if you must know, but how can you not at this time of year, when they're so sweet and delicious.)
    Hence, rather than make another 1/2 hour round trip to the farm, I opted for a two minute walk to my local health food store, where the organic raspberries and blueberries tempted me. 
    I've made berry tarts before, with different fillings, including this one with a traditional pastry cream, and this one with a mascarpone-lemon curd filling. 
    This time though, I opted for a cream cheese filling. I used only one eight-ounce package of cream cheese, and let the berries take the starring role, but if you prefer more filling, just double the recipe and bake it for another 10 minutes or so. Another feature of this tart is the layer of slivered almonds below the filling, above the crust. It adds more flavor but also helps to avoid a soggy crust. 
    I used Domenica Marchetti's delicious recipe for the crust, but added a little almond extract rather than the lemon, to continue with the almond theme.

    Berry Cheese Tart

    tart crust:
    Domenica Marchetti's recipe:
    • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
    • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon (I used one 1 teaspoon. almond extract instead)
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    • 1 large whole egg
    • 2 large egg yolks

    • Note: This makes a lot of dough - enough for two tarts. Or make one large one and several small ones, or one large tart and use the rest to roll out delicious cookies that taste like shortbread.

    Filling:
    1/2 cup sliced almonds
    8 ounces cream cheese, softened
    1/4 c. sugar
    2 T. heavy cream
    1/2 tsp. almond extract
    1 large or extra large egg

    Topping:
    1 quart strawberries (two if you want to use only strawberries)
    or add blueberries and raspberries
    quince jelly (or any clear jelly)

    Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.
    Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. You'll need only one of these halves for this tart. Use the rest for another tart, freeze it, or make small tarts or cookies.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit a tart pan with a removable bottom (mine was 9 inches in diameter, but you can use a smaller one) Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom all around with a fork. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
    Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. I "blind-bake" the crust by buttering some aluminum foil and pressing that lightly over the raw dough. Then add some beans or rice to weigh it down. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let it cool completely while you mix the filling. 
    Put the cream cheese, sugar, cream, almond extra and egg into a food processor and pulse until well blended and smooth.
    Spread the sliced almonds over the pre-baked crust, then pour the filling on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes or until set.
    Let the tart cool and place the berries on top. Heat some of the jelly in the microwave slightly to make it spreadable. Using a pastry brush, cover the berries with a thin layer of the jelly. Refrigerate and serve.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2015

    Springtime Farro Salad



    Spring vegetables  - asparagus, peas, artichokes and scallions  - are the stars in this farro salad, but it gets some added color and flavor from the red peppers and a little more texture from the hazelnuts too. It's the kind of salad that's really easy to make ahead of time, so it's perfect for taking to a large gathering, as I did with this one yesterday when my Italian chit-chat group held its annual picnic.
    Cook the farro in boiling water, but not too long or it will be mushy. I bought a brand that required only 15 minutes cooking time. While it was cooking, I chopped up the vegetables, some of which are parboiled (asparagus, lima beans and snap peas). Others are used fresh (scallions), and some came right from a can (artichoke hearts and red peppers). 
    This is the kind of salad where amounts (and even ingredients) don't have to be exact. You don't like artichoke hearts? Leave them out. You like broccoli instead? Add that. 
    I meant to toss in some chunks of parmesan cheese, but completely forgot. It didn't need it, but if it had the cheese, you could consider this a full meal, with complete proteins.
    Toss it with some extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and a generous amount of salt and pepper, serve with some salad greens and you've got a healthy, delicious side dish, or main course. 

    Springtime Farro Salad
    printable recipe here

    2 1/4 cups farro
    7 cups water
    1 bunch asparagus (about 1 1/2 cups, cut up)
    1 cup snap peas, cut in pieces
    1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
    1/2 cup frozen lima beans, cooked
    7 oz. jar red peppers, cut into pieces
    1/2 cup scallions, cut into small pieces
    1/4 cup parsley,minceed
    1/2 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
    Kosher or sea salt
    black pepper

    dressing:
    1/2 cup olive oil
    1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
    1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
    1/2 tsp. honey

    Cook the farro in the water for about 15 minutes or until cooked. It should have some "bite" to it.
    Drain excess water and let the farro cool. Cut the asparagus and snap peas into large pieces. In a pot of boiling, salted water, drop the lima beans and cook for five minutes. After the five minutes are up, drop the asparagus and snap peas into the water. Cook for about one or two minutes, then drain all the vegetables and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain the artichoke hearts and rinse in cold water. Drain the red peppers and cut into chunks.
    Mix the farro with all the vegetables, the parsley and the hazelnuts.
    Mix all the ingredients for the dressing. Pour the dressing over all and season with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste.
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