Cornmeal cookies

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It’s cookie time! What is it that makes us crave cookies more than usual during the Holidays? Is it because the cold weather inspire us to bake? Or because the shorter days force us inside and we end up spending more time cooking? Or because cookies make a great, always welcomed gift?
As if we needed a pretext to create, make or eat more cookies…
Whatever your reason might be, try these cookies and I assure you that they are going to become one of your favorites: easy to make but flavorful, they are exactly what you need at any time of the day. And they have a wonderful quality: they are tiny, so you won’t feel guilty even if you eat three or four.  Fabulous with cranberry relish (see my recipe) or a tiny dab of crème fraîche, they taste even better with a sip of port wine.

Ingredients:

(Makes about 120) F W V Gf B

  • 1 cup of organic corn meal
  • 1 cup of organic gluten-free flour
  • Half cup of organic sugar
  • Grated rind of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 oz. of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 whole organic eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of corn oil

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and knead with your hands to obtain smooth dough. On a floured surface, roll small portions of the dough into “snakes”. Cut snakes into half-inch pieces, and lay them onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
Lightly press a fork on their surface to form grooves.
Bake at 350F for 12 minutes.

Tip: Make one batch with yellow corn flour and one with blue corn flour.

Hazelnut Amaretti

 

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If you are looking for a new recipe to delight family and friends for the Holiday season, these cookies from the Piedmont region of Italy are simply irresistible. The Amaretti are a light end-of-dinner sweet, the perfect companions for tea or coffee, and make a great hostess gift for any occasion. While the typical amaretti found in stores are made with bitter almonds (hence the name that means “bitter cookies”) these are made with hazelnuts that give these treats a sweeter, more delicate flavor.

The recipe comes from Piera Viarengo, owner/chef/director of “Il Fiordaliso” Bed & Breakfast in Azzano (Italy). With her passion for traditional Piedmont cuisine, organic wholesome food, kindness, attention to details, and a ton of hard work, Piera has created a small Heaven on the hills near Asti. The B&B is very tastefully appointed and welcoming, but it’s the food that makes you wants to extend your stay. While Piera’s breakfasts are always a pleasant surprise, her dinners are simply amazing. The fact that all the ingredients are seasonal, organic and come from the family farm would be enough to make the B&B cuisine tasty and enjoyable, but Piera’s has the ability to transform them into uniquely delicious dishes. She comes to your table to describe each and every course she is serving, starting from the ingredients and their provenance.                                                  I suspect that Piera’s gastronomic marvels come from an old notebook, inherited from her mother or grandmother, but I could bet that she knows most of the recipes by heart. When I asked her this recipe, she recited it like somebody else might recite the Holy Mary and with the same deference one says a prayer. She made sure that I wrote down the ingredient in a very precise order, which made replicating her recipe very easy.

Ingredients:

(serves 4)  F W  V 

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 14 Tbsp (or 7 oz.) unsalted butter (like Kerrygold Irish butter)
  • 2 cups hazelnut flour *
  • 3 tsp. baking powder

* If you cannot find hazelnut flour, you can finely grind dry roasted, unsalted hazelnuts.

Preheat oven at 340 degrees F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Melt the butter. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients to obtain a smooth dough. Take small amounts of dough and shape them into small balls (1/2 inch in diameter) with your fingertips.

IMG_7658Transfer onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving 1/2 inch between each line and each row to give the amaretti space to rise as they cook.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool at room temperature and enjoy.

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Join a CSA !

IMG_6384I ‘m always trying to inspire people to make good choices, especially when it comes to eating habits. But, in order to motivate others, I know I need to give a good example.
So a couple of weeks ago I joined a CSA, i.e. a Community Sustained Agriculture program.
What is a CSA? It’s a program that allows people to reap the benefits of eating local, seasonal, high-quality fruits and vegetables and at, the same time, ensure that the farmers stay in the business of growing organic food.

http://www.outeraislefoods.com/csa.html

It’s a very sensible and innovative concept but, if you think, it’s not very different from what we used to do in the past. It’s ironic how, with our constant need to improve, sometimes we change things that are good just as they are. Until a few decades ago, we used to eat only what was in season and only what was local, simply because we had no other choice. But transportation and refrigeration have changed completely our diets. Add the fact that we love quantity, variety and convenience and so were born the supermarkets, brimming with produce that is in-season year round, often comes from thousands of miles away, and that looks so good that it seems fake. And fake it is: genetically engineered, pumped with fertilizers, dipped in chemical baths and waxed to extend its shelf life. Have you ever noticed that apples do not rot anymore? Well, at least apparently. They actually do, but from the inside out. The artificial waxing prevents them from “breathing”, so that their surface remains firm. As it happens, Mother Nature thought about waxing before humans did and apples do produce their own natural waxy coating. Over time, though, untreated apples wrinkle. Who would buy apples that look like these?
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Actually, these apples are still delicious. I bought them eight months ago from a local organic farm and kept them in my cellar. In spite of their appearance, they are still edible. I cut them into big pieces, add water, some raisins, and cook them for twenty minutes. They absorb the water like sponges, plump up and they end up looking exactly like cooked apples bought yesterday. I eat them in the morning with my yoghurt or as a dessert.

IMG_6392After picking up my first delivery from Outer Aisle CSA – what a suggestive name! – and spreading that vegetal bounty over my counter, in my mind I thanked the good people at Outer Aisle for finding the courage to start their distribution network.
CSAs have existed for the last 25 years but where I live there simply wasn’t enough demand to support a CSA. Like all agriculture-related businesses, it’s in fact a risky and not so-profitable venture, but finally the local awareness scale has tipped towards choosing quality vs. quantity, and we can finally afford to have a CSA.

Advantages for farmers:

  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

Advantages for consumers:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown.

So find a CSA near you and join it today !

http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

Do it for yourself and do it for the people you love.
Do it to teach your children how to eat right, what is in season and what is not, but also so that they can experience what you experienced as a child when “eating your fruit” meant savoring your neighbor’s juicy peaches or your grandma’s sweet cherries, not drinking a box of juice sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
Do it to pass on to your children good habits that will keep them healthy, not only physically but also mentally and morally because processed food might be cheaper and more gratifying than real food but, like any other shortcut in life, they are going to pay later for it.

Strawberry Clafouti

Clafouti is a classic French dessert that can also become a very nice brunch dish. Its execution is very simple, yet the result is rich and pleasant.
It’s typically made with cherries (with their pit, so that all the flavor is maintained) but I propose this slight variation because cherries can be still watery at the beginning of their season, while strawberries are at their peak in May and June.
Keep enjoying
clafouti’s light texture all summer long, with different kinds of berries.

Ingredients:

(serves 6)   Sp  Sr  V   

  •  8 oz. of organic strawberries
  • ½ Tbsp. unsalted organic butter
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup of flour
  • 2 tsp. of cornstarch
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. of vanilla
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven at 350 F.
Grease a 2-quart baking dish with the butter. Continue reading

Panna Cotta

I know I promised you a rice dish for today but yesterday my gardening addiction prevailed over my blogging passion and, before I knew, it was time to prepare dinner. Then I was too tired to write down today’s recipe and decided that it would be easier to use one that was ready to be published. That’s why I’m posting – two days in advance – your dessert/indulgence recipe for this week.

Ingredients:

(serves 6)    A  V  Gf

  • 2 gelatin leaves
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 2 ¼ cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

Fill a small bowl with water, add gelatin and let it soak. Pour the milk into a saucepan and Continue reading

Alma’s Apple Cake

Another recipe from my mother-in-law’s recipe book. My husband decided to include it in the cookbook that he published on behalf of his mom because of a small note in her recipes’ notebook that read, “Bake it – very good!”
Last year we gave a copy of Alma’s cookbook to a friend of ours, whose wife later emailed me “It’s true! I made it and it’s really good!”

Ingredients:

(serves 8)   F  W  V  B

  • 3 lb. organic golden apples
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of whole-wheat all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz. of amaretto cookies
  • 3 Tbsp. organic sugar
  • 1 cup of warm milk
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (+ some for greasing the cake pan)
  • 1 Tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 lemon

Preheat the oven at 380 F.
Peel and grate the apples in a mixing bowl. Continue reading

Sand Cake

This ancient cake owes its name to its texture, due to roughness of the corn meal. It was traditionally made in the springtime in the countryside near Venice, when people had run out of wheat flour after the winter, and fresh eggs were abundant.
Its ingredients makes it naturally gluten-free.

 Ingredients:

(serves 10)   Sp  V  Gf

  • 1 + 1/3 cup organic unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of superfine sugar
  • 1 cup of potato flour
  • 1 cup of yellow corn flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch of salt

Preheat the oven at 340 F.
Bring the butter at room temperature and beat it with the sugar until pale and fluffy.
Separate the egg yolks from the whites and set the whites aside.
Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, making sure it’s well blended in before adding the next one.
Incorporate the potato flour, the yellow corn flour, and the baking powder.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt, until white, firm and fluffy. Add the beaten egg whites to the cake mixture, folding them in delicately.
Grease a tall 10-inch round cake pan with butter, dust with some flour, put the cake mixture in the pan and level it with a spatula.
Bake at 340 F for about 30-35 minutes, until golden and firm. Remove from cake pan, let it cool down on a cooling rack, dust it with confectioner sugar and serve cold.

Easter Dove Cake

This cake,  served on Easter Sunday in Northern Italy, is shaped like a dove as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. Since nowadays in Italy it can be bought anywhere from bakeries to supermarkets (in the US, many specialty stores carry it, for example World Market), very few people take the time to make it, but you can challenge yourself by baking it.
The secret lays in the patience to let it rise several times and for as long as specified in the recipe.
For a real treat, serve it with my Holidays Cream (see recipe)

  • 4 ½ cups of baking flour
  • 16 Tbsp. of butter
  • 5 oz of mixed dried or candied fruit (raisins, orange, pineapple, papaya) cut into small pieces Continue reading

Tony’s Holiday Cream

This delightful cream is guaranteed to get you tons of compliments from your very pleased guests. I serve it on special occasions – like Christmas or Easter, together with traditional Italian cakes like Pandoro, Panettone or Colomba (I find them too dry by themselves) –
but you can serve it with your favorite cake, like sponge cake or Angel Food Cake.
Or, if you want or must skip the carbs and gluten of cake, serve it in a cup (or in a martini glass) with a few curls of dark chocolate on top.
On top of all other qualities, this joy-of-the-palate is also gluten-free.


Ingredients:

(serves 8)  A  V  Gf  

  • 4 organic egg yolks
  • 4 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. of corn starch
  • 4 cups of organic 2% milk
  • a few drops of real vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (1 pint)  of organic heavy whipping cream
  • the grated rind of 1 organic lemon.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan. Remove it from heat and add the vanilla.
Wash the lemon and grate its rind; add it to beaten egg yolks.
A little at a time, incorporate the corn starch into the beaten egg yolks, stirring.
Transfer this mixture into a non-stick saucepan, add half a cup of hot milk, whisking with a hand whisk to avoid forming lumps. Put the saucepan on low heat, add the remaining milk and bring it to a boil, always stirring.
As soon as it boils, remove immediately from the heat. The result must be a smooth sauce. Let cool down at room temperature and refrigerate for at least three hours. You can prepare this base for your cream one or two days in advance, as long as you keep it refrigerated in an airtight container.
Right before serving, whip the whipping cream with an electric beater and incorporate it into the egg cream with a hand whisk. Serve cold.

Hazelnut cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year my husband – while putting some order in his mom’s documents – found a notebook with her recipes.
It brought back memories of long-forgotten recipes that he used to love as a child, growing up in the beautiful hills of Monferrato, a region in northwestern Italy.
Such a trove of traditional recipes was well worth handing down to the future generations, Continue reading