Friday, January 23, 2015

Brutti ma Boni—Hazelnut Meringue Cookies

Over the holiday season when I cooked and baked a lot, I collected almost a half-pint of leftover egg whites. I had to use them before they became too old, so I started to look for the recipes calling just for whites.

First, I made a batch of basic white meringues, which I make quite often. But I had still a lot of whites left. Looking into many culinary resources I found two other interesting recipes. One was for a soft meringue dessert which I will try some time soon. The other was for easy hazelnut cookies which many Italian cookbooks mention. They seem perfect for this season.

So today I share the recipe for meringue type cookies whose Italian name translates "ugly but good". They are in fact not too attractive looking and I had a hard time to present them in an appetizing way. But they are very crunchy and exceptionally aromatic thanks to toasted hazelnuts, my favorite nuts.

I think they are definitely worth making, especially if you have extra whites to use. As all meringues those cookies made from sugar and whites are on a sweet side but hazelnuts break nicely this sweetness with their powerful aroma. I must admit that those "ugly but good" cookies not only make a wonderful sweet "something" with an afternoon coffee but can be pretty addictive.

Hazelnut Meringue Cookies
(Makes about 16 cookies)

3 egg whites room temperature,
1 and 1/3 cup shelled and toasted hazelnuts,
3/4 cup granulated sugar,

1. If you have raw hazelnuts toast them in an oven until light brown, let them cool down and, rubbing them on a hard surface or between your fingers, peel off the skins. Chop the nuts roughly on a cutting board.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with a wax paper.
3. Place whites in a bowl of a mixer. Whisk them until foamy. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until almost stiff. Add another 1/4 cup of sugar and beat again. Finally add the third portion and beat the whites for a couple of minutes, until they become stiff and shiny.
4. Fold in chopped hazelnuts into the whites and transfer them into a medium pot. Cook the mixture on a low heat stirring often until it becomes light gold.
5. Place about a tablespoon of meringue mixture on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, until they become hard and brownish on top.

Let them cool and enjoy!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi--Quintessential Comfort Food

This cold weather we have been experiencing for the last couple of weeks inspires me to make comfort food. And in my home comfort food means Italian food. Most likely, it would be a pasta or a risotto dish. But recently, I have been experimenting with gnocchi, which my kids happened to like very much.

Sometimes, I make regular potato gnocchi which are similar to Polish potato dumplings. In Poland we serve them most often with meat sauce. However, when I make them Italian style, I usually make them vegetarian and serve them with cheese, basil or tomato sauce.

Since the potato gnocchi have already been known and well-liked in my home, last week, I decided to introduce my kids to the spinach-ricotta gnocchi. They turned out to be easy and quick to make. The only challenging part of the whole process was to form the very delicate and sticky dough into balls. Adding more flour would have helped but it would also changed the consistency of the dough. And because the dough was made mostly from cheese and spinach with very little flour, the gnocchi came out very delicate.

I used three different Italian recipes which were quite similar in the proportions of the ingredients used, but just differed in the finishing touches. I choose the one calling for pine nuts and Pecorino Romano rather than Parmesan cheese. They were excellent freshly boiled but on the next day my son got them for lunch, fried lightly in butter, which made them slightly crunchy and even more tasty.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

2 lb spinach leaves,
1 and 1/2 cup Ricotta,
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano,
3 eggs,
6 tbsp all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting,
1/2 cup unsalted butter,
1/4 cup pine nuts,
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg,
salt and pepper.

1. Blanch spinach in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain well and cool. When spinach is cool squeeze any extra water and chop it finely.
2. In a large bowl combine spinach, ricotta, slightly beaten eggs, 1/2 cup Pecorino, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Work in quickly about 6 tbsp of flour to make a smooth dough.

3. While preparing the gnocchi, bring to boil a large pot of water with a tbsp of salt. In another, smaller pot melt butter. Add pine nuts and fry them in butter until they turn slightly brown.
4. Dust generously a large cutting board with flour. Take a tbsp of dough and roll it in the flour until a round ball forms.

5. Put the gnocchi one by one in the boiling water. When they start to float on top, turn the heat down to medium and let them boil for 2–3 minutes.
6. Drain the gnocchi. Transfer them to a serving plate, pour butter with pine nuts over them and sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Crêpes Suzette in Orange Syrup--To Warm up

Originally, I had a very different idea for today's recipe but, with the subzero temperatures around, a frozen dessert I thought about seemed too cold. Instead, I will share my recipe for crêpes Suzette--a dessert to warm up.

Every two weeks, I make a batch of crêpes for my son, who eats them with Nutella. Although crêpes are a French invention, I have never made classic French crêpes Suzette before. But because this is a high season for oranges, making warm crêpes Suzette soaked in a warm orange syrup seemed to me like a great idea.

There are many crêpes recipes. When I had them in the Parisian Monmartre I asked the gentleman who made them for the recipe. I got it spelled out in the quantities he used to prepare his batter every day, that is, dozens of eggs, and many kilograms of flour and pounds of butter.

And although the Parisian crêpes are reputed to be wonderful, they were slightly too sweet for my taste. So I tried a recipe similar to the one I use every two weeks. In addition to typical crêpes ingredients, it also calls for a tiny amount of beer, which makes the crêpes a little more elastic, and easy to fold and roll. The syrup they are soaked in is aromatic from oranges, sweet and buttery and, thanks to a splash of liqueur, it can also warm you up.

All these wonderful ingredients were not enough for my son, so he added whipped cream on top. But since any dessert on a freezing winter day must be indulging, it may have been not such a bad idea after all.

Crêpes Suzette
(Makes 8 crêpes on a 10-inch frying pan)


1 cup all purpose flour,
2 large eggs,
1 tbsp sugar,
1 tbsp light vegetable oil (e.g., grape seeds or canola oil),
a pinch of salt,
2 tbsp light beer,
1 and 1/2 cup whole milk.

Orange Syrup
6 tbsp unsalted butter,
1/2 cup raw cane sugar,
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice,
2 tbsp orange zest,
4 tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueur,
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped.

1. Put flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and gently mix.
2. In another bowl mix eggs, oil, and half of milk. Pour into dry ingredients and beat with a whisker. When the batter is smooth, add the rest of milk and beer and mix until the batter becomes smooth and shiny.
3. Preheat the frying pan and when it is very hot pour about 1/3 cup of the batter. When the edges become dark gold, gently lift and flip the crêpe over.

4. Repeat with the rest of batter and set aside. (If you have no time to make crêpes just before serving them, they can be made a day ahead and kept in a refrigerator; they will be reheated automatically once you put them in the hot syrup.)

5. To make the syrup use a pan large enough for crêpes to fit in. Heat the butter and sugar on a low heat about 5 minutes, until the sugar melts and starts to caramelize.
6. Pour in orange juice and zest and let the syrup to bubble for 3 minutes.
7. Finally add the liqueur. Keeping a heat on low, place each crêpe individually in a pan. When it covers with syrup fold it in half, then in fourth.

8. Drain the crêpe (i.e., let most of the syrup it is soaked in to drip back into the pan) and place on a serving plate. Repeat with each crêpes the same way. If there is any extra syrup left drizzle it at the end on the crêpes.
9. Decorate the crêpes with whipped cream if you like and serve immediately, still warm.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Chestnut Soup with Cheddar Puffs

Chestnuts are a typical winter holiday ingredient, particularly, in the Mediterranean cuisine. They have become popular and available all over the world, already precooked or roasted. So today, I want to share a recipe for an easy, yet sophisticated and tasty chestnut soup that can be served at an elegant dinner party.

It combines elements from three different recipes, which I tested to match the right ingredients. I think the final result is very good. The soup itself is easy and can be made a day ahead. But I think that what makes this soup truly delicious are the home made cheddar puffs spiced with rosemary, which accompany the soup and add the extra sharpness and flavor to its slightly sweet taste.

Home made puffs may seem difficult to make but in fact they are not. The pastry is cooked quickly in a pot and later baked in an oven. They also can be frozen and served cold or gently warmed up.

Chestnut Soup with Cheddar Puffs

The Soup

1 cup cooked or roasted and peeled chestnuts,
2 small shallots chopped,
2 celery sticks, sliced,
2 tbsp olive oil,
1 cup of half-and-half or whole milk,
32 oz (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Heat the oil in a large heavy duty pot. Add shallots and sliced celery and fry for about 3 minutes. Add chopped chestnuts and cook together for 2 minutes.

2. Pour in half-and-half or milk, cover the pot with a lid, and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Finally, add the stock and simmer the soup on on a low heat for 15-20 minutes.
4. Purée the soup using a food processor or a blender. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Cheddar-Rosemary Puffs

1 cup flour all purpose,
1 stick unsalted butter,
1/2 tsp salt,
4 large eggs,
1 cup grated cheddar,
1/2 tsp baking powder.
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves.

1. Preheat an oven to 400 F. Grease a large baking form with butter.
2. In a medium pot boil a cup of water with a stick of butter and salt. Reduce the heat and quickly sift in flour, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes.

3. Remove the pot from the heat and cool slightly then add eggs beating well between each addition.
4. Stir in grated cheddar and chopped rosemary. Using a soup spoon scoop the dough puff by puff and place on the form.

5. Bake the puffs for about 30 minutes until they rise and become gold.
Serve them warm or at least in room temperature.