Sunday, September 27, 2015

Italian Cake with Pears and Stale Bread

At Whole Foods, they used to sell a cake called croissant pudding. It was made out of leftover croissants, which the store could not sell on time. The pieces of the croissants were baked in a kind of pudding made from eggs, cream, sugar, and butter. It was absolutely delicious and certainly very fattening.

While looking for the recipes on how to use bread that was getting stale, in several Italian cookbooks I found a similar recipe for the croissant cake but made of old bread. In Italy it is often served for breakfast, or as a dessert. But those recipes I found were much lighter than a croissant pudding. The Italian cake was made from white country bread, milk, eggs, and most importantly pears. Pears not only made the cake moist but also lighter and very well suited for the fall season.

This recipe was invented long ago in a poor countryside where nothing was wasted. And, as it is so often in the Italian cuisine, this very simple idea yielded a very tasty cake. So, yesterday morning, I made that cake using all the old country bread I managed to collect over the last week and a couple of very ripe pears. First, my entire house started to smell wonderfully and soon I enjoyed a slice of a still warm cake with my morning coffee and later again with my afternoon espresso.

Pears and Stale Bread Cake

1 lb of European style old white country bread (or baguette) crushed into smaller pieces,
2 cups whole milk,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup sugar,
1 tsp vanilla essence,
3 ripe pears,
1/2 cup raisins,
5 tbsp unsalted butter,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
1 tbsp brown sugar,
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg.

1. Place pieces of crushed bread in a large bowl and cover with milk. Let it soak for an hour turning the pieces from time to time so they all become moist. If after that time there is some extra unabsorbed milk drain it out.

2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Soak the raisins in warm water until they get plump, drain them out.
4. Peel off pears, core and cut into small cubes. Mix with lemon juice and add to the bread following with raisins.
5. In another bowl beat sugar and eggs, adding at the end 3 tbsp melted butter and vanilla essence.Pour the mixture to the bread with fruits and mix.
6. Grease a round baking form with 1 tbsp of butter. Sprinkle with a little bit of sugar.
7. Transfer the bread mixture to the form. Brush on top a tbsp. of melted butter, sprinkle tbsp. of brown sugar and grated nutmeg.

8. Bake for about 60-70 minutes until cake is dark brown.
9. It's best if you could serve when it is slightly warm but it still great when it turns cold.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rigatoni with Dijon Mustard Sauce

My home is very gluten friendly. All kinds of pastas, noodles, pizzas, and breads are highly appreciated. And recently, after reading an article that only two percent of population suffers from gluten-related allergies and the rest of us needs gluten in diet as an ingredient that helps to absorb toxins, I feel even less guilty about my love of pasta. It is a kind of food that always brings comfort, is easy to digest, and goes nicely with a glass of wine.

So today another super easy dish--Dijon mustard sauce pasta. But I think that because of the mustard this pasta dish belongs rather to the French than to the Italian cuisine. This pasta came fortunately to my mind last week, when I had 10 minutes and no idea what to make for dinner. In two minutes the smooth and slightly spicy sauce was ready and then the pasta was on the table. My kids enjoyed it a lot.

Rigatoni with Dijon Mustard Sauce

2/3 lb rigatoni pasta,
1 cup heavy cream,
1 yolk from a large egg,
2–3 tbsp of Dijon mustard,
1/4 tsp white pepper,
3 tbsp chopped chives (or spring onion),
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

1. Cook rigatoni until al dente.
2. In a large pot pour together the cream, egg yolk, Dijon mustard, and white pepper. Mix all the ingredients and bring slowly to boil. Let it simmer for about 2 minutes.

3. Drain pasta and dump into the sauce. Mix well.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with chives and and Parmesan.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Roasted Plums Dessert

These are busy days and with the beginning of the school year we understand and appreciate the value of "easy" cooking even more than we usually do. This simple dessert that I came up with the other day perfectly fits into this category. It is also a nice seasonal dessert made of plums, which are now their tastiest peak, and ice cream.

I roasted the plums in an oven until they got soft and juicy. Then I prepared an ice cream-cookie topping for them. It melted on warm plums into a wonderful vanilla cream. Simple and delicious.

Roasted Plums Dessert
(Makes 6 portions)

2 lb round black plums,
2 tbsp brown sugar,
1 pint Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream,
1/2 cup digestive or graham cookies, crushed,
2 tbsp pistachios or slivered almonds to decorate.

1. Melt ice cream until soft. Add crushed cookies and mix gently. Freeze again.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Cut plums in halves, remove stones, and slice them into thick wages. Sprinkle with sugar and mix.

4. Put a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Spread the plums on top and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Let them cool until just warm.
5. Divide plums into serving bowls or plates, scoop ice cream on top, decorate with nuts and serve.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bread and Kale Gnocchi

During my recent vacations in Poland I did not cook at all but ate a lot. I enjoyed Polish food and most of all Polish bread. I think we have one of the best breads in the world and the richest variety of it.

In any Polish home it is almost religious to have plenty of bread in a bread box. But, because we are so obsessed with bread, we often buy too much of it. Then, on the next day, we cannot resist buying a new batch straight from the bakery, fresh and warm and this way we repeatedly end up with significant amounts of old bread which, although still good on the next day, cannot compete with the fresh one.

Unfortunately, we do not recycle bread, not even to feed animals. The only way then to use old bread is to cook with it. Today's recipe, which comes from the Italian cuisine where this gluten loaded delicacy is also very popular, is one of the great ideas how to recycle old bread. Not surprisingly, Italians being Italians use bread leftovers to make yet another variety of gnocchi.

For this particular recipe I used different types of old bread which I happened to have, mostly whole wheat and country style. Just to make it more healthy and nutritious I added kale, which also enriched the taste of my gnocchi, which can be served with butter or butter fried sage.

Bread and Kale Gnocchi

2 lb of one or two-day old bread, such as country style, cut into smaller chunks,
1/2 lb kale, preferably Tuscan,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup all purpose flour,
a pinch of nutmeg,
6 tbsp unsalted butter,
8-10 sage leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan.

1. Place bread in a large bowl and cover with milk. Let it soak for about an hour. Squeeze the milk well out and place the bread in a food processor.
2. Chop roughly kale and blanch it in a hot water. Drain well on the colander and add to the soaked bread. Puree all the ingredients until smooth.
3. Transfer the mixture to the large bowl. Sift in flour, add eggs, 1/3 cup Parmesan, salt and nutmeg. Mix well.

4. Bring to boiling a large pot of salted water. Scoop a portion of the mixture on a soup spoon and drop into a pot by dipping the spoon in boiling water. Let the gnocchi afloat and cook on a low temperature for about 4 minutes.

5. Drain the first batch of gnocchi and follow with the remaining batter.
6. To finish the dish, fry the butter in a small pot until it bubbles. Add sage leaves and fry them until crispy for about a minute. Pour the hot butter and sage on gnocchi and finish with Parmesan.