Stacy's Cooking Journal

My cooking journal is an informal space for me to record what I've been up to in the kitchen. It's mainly intended for personal ideas, but feel free to check it out.

Parrozzo: Almond Cake from Abruzzo

After staring all day at Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano cookbook of Italian desserts (which I highly recommend), I became obsessed with the desire to make one cake, any cake! from the book. It's a tough book to make an impromptu recipe from, since many are laborious and call for at least one special ingredient. I settled on this Parrozzo cake recipe since I had all of the ingredients on hand. Well, except for cake flour, but I could sub regular, no problem!

Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. To start with, I knew I was walking into a potential issue with the AP flour substitute. But ankle deep in the process, I went to add the semolina, and horror! There was a dead bug lying primly on the top. Discard! Now the recipe was pretty much shot. "Forge on," I thought, and added more AP. Whatever, can't be bad, when all the ingredients are good.

For the wet ingredients, I first creamed the butter and sugar as specified in the recipe. Oh, except I used my fork. So for "creamed," read, "mixed a bit." Then I dumped in the rest of the wet ingredients all at once, instead of one at a time as specified in the recipe. It was kinda lumpy.

Gina's recipe also called for adding chopped chocolate to the batter to create a speckled look. She mentioned it looked particularly nice with the yellow from the semolina. Should I break out my cutting board again to chop the chocolate? Eh. It's 8:30pm, and I haven't even eaten dinner yet. Also, without the semolina, this is now a white cake. So no.

I proceeded to add the dry ingredients to the wet. I had added about 3/4 of the flour mix when things started to toughen up. I noticed Gina mentioned that I should "pour" the batter into the cake pan, suggesting a wetter dough than I was looking at here. I decided to stop there and tossed the rest of the flour mix.

Rather than "pour," I forced the batter into submission in the cake pan. There was no way this thing was going to rise. Should I bother with the chocolate glaze? This was now starting to seem more like a bread. I decided to wait to see the finished result before making the glaze.

When the cake was done, I took a bite. Mmm! It was just as I always say: if the ingredients are good, it can't be bad! I'm not sure it was parrozzo, but it was a soft, crumbly, buttery almond biscotti with subtle tones of lemon and vanilla. It would go well with coffee, and it didn't want the chocolate.

And maybe someday I'll make an actual parrozzo.
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12 Nov 2011 14:32
tags: desserts italian

Butternut Squash, Cannellini Beans, and Sage Soup

Reminiscent of butternut risotto, but in reverse :)

  1. Roast 1 butternut squash, halved, at 400* until slightly softened (30 min?)
  2. Meanwhile, cook 1/3 bag of (already soaked) cannellini beans until soft.
  3. Peel the squash and cut into 1 inch chunks
  4. In a soup pot, saute 8 leaves of chopped sage, 1 diced onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 finely chopped carrot, and 1 finely chopped red pepper until soft
  5. Add the squash and saute until cooked.
  6. Add the beans, some of their cooking liquid (depending on how thick you want the soup), a Parmesan rind, and a bay leaf. Cook until flavors meld, 15-20 min.
  7. Aggressively salt and pepper it!
  8. Puree 1/3 of the soup to develop a creamy base.
  9. Consider enriching with butter, cream, or creamy cheese.
  10. Add 4 more leaves chopped sage
  11. Serve with freshly ground pepper, a generous spoonful of arborio rice, & depending on how much you enriched the soup with dairy already, shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Consider adding?

  • Bitter leafy green veggie, like kale
  • Sliced green onions?
  • Hot pepper

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09 Nov 2011 12:01
tags: fall italian soups

Butternut Squash Seeds

I was making butternut squash soup over the weekend, and instead of discarding the seeds as usual, I was motivated by Halloween to rinse them, toss with olive oil, and salt for toasting. I baked them at 325* for about 25 minutes until brown. While preparing the soup, I ate them ALL. It was indeed a slaughter.

It's sad that they are gone! I guess I will have to carve some pumpkins…
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07 Nov 2011 11:15
tags: fall

Marcella Hazan Frittada with Tomatoes, Onions, and Basil

This frittada is mysterious. It baffles people. It even baffles me. It is nothing special, yet it tastes magical: rich and of some unknown ingredient that cannot quite be placed. I have been asked questions like, "Is there butter in it?" "Is there chicken stock?" "Did you cook the egg in bacon fat?" "Is it Indian?" The answer to each of these questions is, of course, no.

Nope. It's just the beauty of the first step: cook the onions slowly for a long time, until slightly brown. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until the water is mostly gone.

I've made this without the called-for butter, without salt, and without Parmesan cheese. It was delicious.

I use my traditional plate-flip method to cook both sides, and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter.

You can find the recipe in Hazan's cookbook, or here:
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04 Sep 2011 16:48
tags: hazan italian summer

Cannellini Pesto Salad

This dish was born out of ingredients I had lying around. Was very good!

  • Cannellini beans
  • "Pesto"; in my case, I have a jar of basil pureed with extra virgin olive oil in the fridge, on hand for various uses. In this variation, I didn't add any of the other usual pesto ingredients.
  • Chopped marinated sun-dried tomatoes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Little dash of white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

I like mushing it around until some of the beans break up and become part of the dressing.
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03 Sep 2011 13:45
tags: beans italian salads summer

Mario's Melanzane al Fungo

An eggplant bruschetta made without tomatoes? How can this be good?

I had some farm eggplants fading fast. The situation was so desperate that the eggplants felt…almost soupy inside. Clearly this was an eggplant emergency, but after a long day at work and few ingredients in the house, I wasn't quite sure how to deal with them.

Mario's Melanzane al Fungo to the rescue. Eggplant cooked in the style of mushrooms. In fact, I had made a version of this several times in the past from other cookbooks. It was always good, as eggplant always is. But as I have so often discovered, Mario has one or two ingredients or techniques that set his dishes apart from the usual, and so it turned out to be in this case.

After I had finished cooking the eggplant, I found the result oily, slightly bitter, and bland. I blamed it on the declining life of the eggplants themselves and with a shrug thought, "I tried." But then something happened.

Giving it up for lost, I proceeded to add more and more of what turned out to be three crucial ingredients:

  • Parsley (I have tons growing in the garden)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

It seems ridiculous, but in a dish this simple, the more you add of those three ingredients, the more the dish comes to life. By the time I was done the oily, bitter, and bland eggplant dish was transformed into a succulent, creamy, fresh-tasting festival that I could not keep from shoving in my mouth. And this was the reaction of all who ate of it.

Based on this experience, here are my recommendations for making it in the future (which should definitely happen):

  • Do use extra virgin olive oil here. This dish is so simple that the quality of the oil really matters. If the eggplant is the primary ingredient, then the oil is surely the second.
  • Use a red onion, and don't skimp.
  • Use more garlic than the recipe calls for. This dish wants the garlic.
  • If you think you've added too much parsley, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, you haven't. If you're worried that adding more of these might negatively affect the dish, it won't. Add liberally until it tastes delicious.
  • Black pepper. Black. Pepper.

See a version of the recipe here:
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03 Sep 2011 13:35
tags: italian mario summer

Roasted Beet Bruschetta

I made a variation of Mario's Roasted Beet Bruschetta, of which there is a glorious photo in the Babbo Cookbook. I did alter it quite a bit based on what I had in the house and how I wanted to cook the beets.

Instead of roasting the beets, I grilled them (as it's still, faintly summer). I then chopped the beets into large hunks. Instead of chives, I substituted green onions. And I didn't add the parmesan. Oh! And I didn't use it as a bruschetta. I just ate it directly. (In the winter, this would be great roasted. Roasting makes the beets sweeter and softer, so it would work better as a bread topping.)

The foundation of the flavor in my mind is Mario's favorite vinegar/caraway seed combination. The dish was similar to another I'm addicted to, Braised Red Cabbage. The leftovers were more potently flavored and delicious the next day.

I'm looking forward to trying this again in the winter!

See recipe here:
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03 Sep 2011 13:18
tags: italian mario winter

Fingerling Potato Salad

At my favorite stall at the farmer's market, fingerling potatoes are the cheapest option. I find that therefore I am compelled to get them. Here's a tasty salad I have been making with them with only a couple of notes:

  • I add 2 chopped scallions
  • After boiling the potatoes, I peel each one by stripping away the skin and remove the eyes, which are quite off-putting.
  • For most of the fairly small fingerlings, I slice in half lengthwise. If the potato is especially large, I might quarter it.

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21 Aug 2011 10:04
tags: salad

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