Saturday, February 22, 2014

Endive Baked with Pancetta

During my recent visit to Rome, I have tried many dishes, especially local ones that until then I only had read about. Besides sight-seeing the beautiful city, on the days when it was raining most heavily, I spent hours going through all kinds of food stores looking at the shelves and products they offer. And later, I bothered my friend's mother with hundreds of questions about what I ate, saw, and should try next. I wish I could bring all the food stores with all the vegetable and cheese sections back to America.

But instead, in addition to a huge chunk of genuine Parmesan, I came home with more admiration for Italian cuisine and with many magazines and books with recipes that I now try every day. But because pastas and pizzas are my family favorites no one complained so far.

When I was in Rome, me friend's mother in law gave me an Italian cook book that I have been since studying a lot, looking for new inspirations. Last week, I prepared a dish that looked interesting to me. And I was right--easy yet delicious it became one of my favorites.

This baked endive is similar to the French dishes I ate in France but, instead of béchamel, it uses cream and pancetta, which makes this dish even simpler. It has slightly bitter taste as endive often has, but the creamy sauce flavored with pancetta balances it and makes it perfect. And a piece of fresh baguette with a glass of wine makes it simply irresistible.

Endive Baked with Pancetta

(Serves four)
8 endives,
4 tbsp unsalted butter,
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs,
4 oz sliced and finely chopped pancetta (I used the one from Trader Joe's),
4 tbsp chopped flat leaved parsley,
juice from one lemon,
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan,
1 cup heavy whipping cream,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Cut a small piece of the butter and use it to grease bottom of an oven proof dish.
3. Cut endives lengthwise and place them the dish the cut side up.
4. In a medium bowl mix pancetta, parsley, breadcrumbs, half of the Parmesan, salt an pepper, and scatter on top of endives. Drizzle with lemon juice and pieces of remaining butter.

5. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.
6. Remove the foil, pour the cream with Parmesan on top, and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the cream turns into a thicker sauce.
7. Serve hot with white breads.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Torta Caprese--Rich Chocolate Almond Torte

I almost forgot about this delightful cake until my recent visit to Rome. And there I found it displayed in pastry shops and on the menu of restaurants, next to such classic desserts as tiramisu or semifreddo. I also had a chance to try a wonderful home-made torta caprese at a dinner I was invited to by my friend's family.

So today, for Valentine's Day which is all about chocolate treats, I share a recipe for torta caprese, which in essence is a very simple cake but its secret is that it must be made of best quality delicious ingredients.

Most often I make a traditional, most neutral, version of it with ground almonds. However, my favorite torta caprese is made with hazelnuts, especially those from Oregon, which give the cake that special gianduja flavor. Almonds can also be replaced by walnuts. And I recently bought ground cashews to experiment with them next time.

Torta caprese is made without flour (as the ground nuts make up for it entirely) so it is a gluten-free dessert. It is quite rich and moist but I add also some liqueur which gave it an extra flavor and moisture.

Torta caprese can be served with a scoop of good gelato or topped with a dollop of crème fraîche or whipped cream. Anyway, in whatever variation it is served, there is no one, and particularly no true chocolate lover, who will resist a piece of torta caprese.

Torta Caprese

6 eggs, separated, preferably organic,
6 oz bittersweet good quality (preferably, Belgian) chocolate, broken in small pieces,
1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, plus extra tsp for the form,
3/4 cup sugar,
1 and 1/2 cup blanched and ground almonds (hazelnuts or walnuts),
2 tbsp Amaretto Liqueur, Frangelico, or Grand Marnier,
1 tbsp vanilla,
pinch of salt,
confectioners sugar for dusting.

1. Preheat oven to 350F. prepare a baking 9.5-inch baking form with high, removable walls. Cut out a round piece of waxed paper to the size of the form and place it at the bottom of the form. Grease it with a tsp of butter.
2. Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Add butter cut into small pieces and melt either on top of a pot with steaming water or in a microwave oven. If you use a microwave oven, first run it for 30 seconds, then mix chocolate. Repeat again 3-4 times running the microwave oven for no longer than 15-20 seconds at a time, stirring in between with a spatula, until chocolate and butter make a smooth cream. Add vanilla and liqueur to the chocolate cream.

3. In a standing mixer, beat egg yolks with sugar until pale. Add melted chocolate and mix. Sift in ground almonds and mix gently again.
4. In a separate bowl, beat whites of eggs with salt until stiff. Fold the whites into the chocolate batter gently using a spatula. Transfer the batter to the baking form. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is set. Cool, dust the top with confectioners sugar, and serve with crème fraîche or vanilla gelato.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Very Green Barley and Parsley Salad

Soon enough, I will post several exciting recipes from my recent trip to Italy. But today, I'm sharing a recipe I meant to present for a long time and which has been waiting to be published. It became a huge hit during past holidays and many friends have been enquiring me about it.

Some time ago, a friend, who is a great cook herself, brought me as a gift a cookbook "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, recommending it as a source of her many culinary inspirations. The book is beautifully published and recipes are nicely presented in a very modern way. Somehow I had not found the time earlier to go through it, imagining Jewish cuisine as the one I knew from Polish adaptations and to which I was not terribly attracted. But when this fall I started to read "Jerusalem " I absolutely fell in love with it. The book is full of wonderful recipes that are a fusion of two bordering cuisines-Palestinian and Israeli. It presents dishes that are innovative, light and, surprisingly, often vegetarian. Almost each I tried so far, I already repeated and served at dinners with friends, earning many complements.

So today, a salad from "Jerusalem", which became my favorite and even more special to me since I am very familiar with barley which has been always present in Polish cuisine. As almost all of the recipes from this cookbook, this one requires a lot of ingredients, that not everyone would have at hand in the pantry. But each of them is worth getting and trying as they make dishes complex and intriguing. And I promise that if you like this salad you will try every dish from "Jerusalem" and never will be disappointed. I already bought another book by Ottolenghi, one of "Jerusalem's" authors and, as always, I'm looking for more ideas and inspiration.

The salad I share today is quite similar to its original version with the exception of celery sticks. I added them one day as I did not have enough green pepper. It made salad even more green, crispy, and healthy, so ever since it has become my customary ingredient. The barley salad tastes great with meats or just by itself.

Barley and Parsley Salad
(Serves four)

1/4 cup pearl barley,
a small bunch of spring onion, sliced,
1 green pepper, seeded and cut into small pieces,
a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped,
2 celery sticks thinly sliced (optional),
2 garlic cloves, minced,
1/2 cup feta cheese,
6 tbsp olive oil,
1 tsp zatar (a mix of Middle Eastern herbs),
1 tsp coriander seeds toasted and crushed,
1/2 tsp ground allspice,
1/2 tsp ground cumin,
1/3 cup cashew nuts toasted and chopped,
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice,
salt and pepper.

1. Cook barley according to instruction until al dente. Drain on a colander and cool.
2. Place barley in a large bowl. Add parsley, spring onion, green pepper, celery (if used), garlic, cashew nuts, allspice, lemon juice and 4 tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix gently all the ingredients and set aside.

3. In a small bowl, place feta broken into small pieces. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil, the zatar, coriander seeds, and the cumin. Mix and leave for 10 minutes to marinate.

4. To finish the salad, sprinkle feta on top of greens and serve.