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Monday
Jun162008

Focaccia Bread

I've tried a lot of different focaccia bread recipes over the years, but this one is my favorite.  I found it years ago and I've made it so many times, I don't even need the recipe anymore. Don't let the length of the recipe discourage you. It's lengthy because it takes about 3.5 hours to make, not because it's hard. This recipe calls for three risings of the dough. It also begins with a "sponge", which gives the dough a boost.  If you are not experienced with making breads, remember that it's important the dough be placed in a warm area to rise.  My oven has a "Proof" setting, just for this use, which is really helpful.  Lots of new ovens have this setting now.

(Confused about yeast?  This post explains it all:  Yeast Explained.)

 

Focaccia Bread

Adapted from "Focaccia" by Carol Field

For a printable recipe, click here

Ingredients:

 for the Sponge

  • 1 tsp. yeast (I use a rapid rise yeast)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

for the Dough

  • 1 tsp. rapid rise yeast
  • 1 cup water water
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Sponge, above
  • 3.25 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt 

for the Topping

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse sea salt or kosher salt 

Instructions:

To make the sponge:
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bowl (I use the mixer bowl of my KitchenAid mixer) and stir in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled and bubbly, about 45 minutes.

To make the dough:
Add the yeast, water and the olive oil to the sponge in the mixer bowl. With the dough hook running, add just under 3 cups of the flour and salt and mix thoroughly. The dough should come together in a ball in the mixer bowl and then start sticking to the sides of the bowl. When this happens, add flour by the spoonful and mix again. Each time if you see the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, keep adding flour until the dough isn't real sticky anymore. Stop the mixer and touch the dough with your finger. When it is smooth and elastic and not too sticky, it's done. Place the dough in a clean bowl that you have drizzled with a little olive oil. Roll the dough to coat in the olive oil, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1.25 hours.

Second Rise:
Punch dough down. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet and press out the dough on the sheet. Let the dough relax for a few minutes and finish stretching it until it reaches the edges. Cover with a towel and let rise again in a warm place for about 1 hour until the dough is doubled. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Just before baking, dimple the dough with your fingers, leaving indentations. Drizzle olive oil over the dough, brush lightly to coat, and sprinkle with salt.

Bake the bread til the crust is crisp and the top is golden, about 20 - 25 minutes. Slide the bread from the pan and slice.

Tip: You can actually make the dough, cover it and refrigerate it for use the next day.

Tuesday
Jun032008

Stuffed Artichokes


Aren't these beautiful? These are Big Heart artichokes which I found at Papa Joe's, in Birmingham. They're much bigger than the regular globe artichokes in the local grocery store. These are special, but you can certainly make this recipe with globe artichokes, which I usually use.

If you've never prepared an artichoke before, give it a try. Once you've done the first one, it's a cinch. It's not as hard as you would think. This is a great vegetarian dish for lunch or you can serve it as a side dish.  The stuffing is really delicious and has a little zing to it because of the red pepper flakes!


Stuffed Artichokes

 

This recipe will stuff 2 large Big Heart artichokes or 3 regular Globe artichokes.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms (use any kind you like)
  • large pinch of red hot pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs*
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup white wine

*Don't use dried bread crumbs from the grocery store.  Make your own, fresh.  Just take some sourdough bread, or any kind of bakery bread like Italian or French.  It can be stale.  Cut off the crusts and place the bread in a food processor and process until it becomes crumbs. You can keep these in a plastic container in the fridge quite a long time. They're much better than buying them.


Instructions:
First, make sure you have a really sharp knife. Have a lemon, cut in half, ready.

Slice the top inch or so of the artichoke off. These tops of the leaves are inedible.


Slice off the stem of the artichoke, so the artichoke sits flat.


Snap off the small, touch outer leaves near the bottom of the artichoke.


Using scissors, snip off the tops of the remaining leaves.


Squeeze lemon juice all over the cut leaves. This helps prevent the artichoke from turning brown.


Start pulling out the inner, purplish leaves. Keep pulling the inner leaves out until you expose the entire choke at the bottom.



Taking a small spoon, scrape out the hairy choke. Drizzle some more lemon on the inside of the artichoke.  Keep the lemon halves for later.

Make the filling:

Saute the onion in a skillet for a few minutes with a pinch of salt, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and stirring frequently, saute for 5-6 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Add the parsley, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.



Fill the artichoke with the stuffing mixture. Do not pack.



Place stuffed artichokes in a baking dish. Fill dish with water until the water comes up about an inch around the artichokes. Place cut lemons in the dish. Add the wine in the water. Cover with foil. Bake at 400 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the artichokes. To test for doneness, pull out one of the leaves and when the fleshy part is soft, it is done.

 

Monday
May262008

Stracciatella Tortoni Cake


In Italy, when you go to a gelato shop, stracciatella is the vanilla gelato with chocolate chip shavings in it. The gelato shops, of course, were a real hit with my kids. This tortoni is lighter than gelato, but still has the chocolate chip shavings in it. It's not really a cake, but a frozen dessert. It has a wonderful almond and amaretti cookie crust. The chocolate sauce is outstanding.  It was in this month's issue of Gourmet magazine, and I couldn't resist trying it out.

Stracciatella Tortoni Cake

 

Serves 6 (I cut mine into 10 slices - I thought they were big enough!)

Ingredients:

For the crust:
  • 2/3 cup finely ground amaretti cookies, about 17 cookies*
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds with skin, finely ground
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

 

For the tortoni filling:

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1.25 cups chilled heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp Disaronno Amaretto
  • 3.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao) shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds with skin

 

For the sauce:

 

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

 

Instructions:

 Make crust:

Butter a 9x5 loaf pan and line bottom and short sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on each end.

Stir together ground cookies, ground almonds, and butter, then firmly press over bottom of pan. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Make tortoni filling:

Beat egg whites with sugar, cream of tartar and 1/8 tsp salt in a large metal bowl set over a large saucepan of simmering water, using a handheld mixer at medium-high speed until whites hold soft peaks and an instant read thermometer registers 170 degrees F, about 7 minutes.

Remove bowl from pan and continue to beat meringue until it just holds stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.

Beat cream with Amaretto in another bowl at medium speed using cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks. Fold in half of meringue gently but thoroughly. Fold in remaining meringue along with chocolate. Spoon over crust, smoothing top with spatula. Sprinkle with almonds. Freeze, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.

Make sauce: 

Bring cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa, 1/8 tsp salt and half of chopped chocolate to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until chocolate is melted. Reduce heat and cook at a slow boil, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and remaining chocolate until smooth. Cool to warm.

 

To serve: Dip bottom of loaf pan in 1 inch of warm water in a pan 1 seconds, then lift tortoni out of pan using parchment paper. Transfer to a platter.

 

* Amaretti cookies are a traditional Italian almond cookie that you can find in specialty gourmet shops or order online. I get some hard to find things at A.G. Ferrari Foods.