Chocolate and Ricotta Tart: let’s try to sweeten the end of summer!

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Here I am, posting for the second week in a row, a cake recipe! I blame the approach of summer’s end, the shortening of the daylight, and the turning of tree’s leaves, that lately I have been really craving comfort foods! Or perhaps, making this recipe, which has been in my mom’s recipe book as long as I can remember, is my way of overcoming my recurrent homesickness. This ricotta tart is, without a doubt, a fond memory of my Italian youth. It’s the cake my mom use to make for my birthday, since it was (actually, it still is) my favorite. This is the cake that, on my birthday, I now prepare for myself!! I know the recipe by heart, and I can not help but make it at least one a month… because it’s that good!

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The combination of crust pastry and sweet, creamy, intense ricotta cream make this seemingly simple and frugal  tart a real surprise to the palate.  And here is a bonus… I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but occasionally I forget a package of ricotta in the very back of the refrigerator, only to find it once it’s already expired. Super frustrating, if you hate to waste food as much as I do. Well, this tart is the perfect solution. If the ricotta hasn’t really gone bad yet, but you don’t trust eating it raw, make this tart, and not only will you avoid the food-waste guilt, but you’ll also be guaranteed a delicious outcome! And that is a WIN-WIN!! Absolutely easy to be prepared, it takes very little “hands-on” time. However, the crust pastry needs to chill in the refrigerator at least half hour before assembling the tart, and it does need to bake for about 40 minutes.

INGREDIENTS for a 9″ round pan

FOR THE PASTRY

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter – 100 gr. burro a temperature ambiente

1 egg – 1 uovo intero

4 Tbs. sugar – Quattro cucchiai di zucchero

1 Tbs. vanilla extract – 1 fialetta aroma alla vaniglia

2 cups all purpose flour – 300 gr. di farina

FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM

15 oz. (1 small package) ricotta cheese – 500 gr. ricotta

1 yolk – 1 tuorlo

1 tbs. melted unsalted butter – 20 gr. burro fuso

1/2 cup (4 oz.) sugar – 100 gr. zucchero

FOR THE DECORATION

dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips

SUGGESTION

If you can, use a springform cake pan.

DIRECTIONS

At least half hour before assembling the cake, prepare the crust pastry: In a bowl, combine the butter and sugar first until they are well mixed. Then add the egg and keep stirring. Add now the flour. Stir until all the egg, sugar, and butter have been absorbed into the flour and the mixture has a crumbly texture.

THE MIXTURE WILL BE LUMPY and that is right and normal. Put the bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (no covering is needed).  Now you can go for a thirty-minute walk (so you will gain the right to eat a piece of this delicious cake :-)!). Whenever you are ready, in a food processor mix together the ricotta cheese with the sugar and the vanilla extract. Then add the yolk, and finally the melted butter (be careful not to add a too-warmed butter: you will cook the yolk!). You will obtain a velvety and dense cream (absolutely good to be eaten raw!).

Now arrange the pie: Butter the pan and sprinkle with flour (or breadcrumbs). Spoon 3/4 of the crumbly dough mixture into the prepared pan (you will keep the rest to decorate the top of the cake). Spread the dough evenly, completely covering the bottom of the pan. Then, using your fingers, press the dough to create a firm crust. Be sure to press the dough up the sides of the pan at least 1/4 inch. This is important to contain the ricotta cream while it bakes.

Pour the ricotta cheese cream on top of the firmed crust, then sprinkle the top with chocolate chips or dark chocolate shavings. Decorate the sides of the cake using the tines of a fork. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the cream.

Bake at 365 F. (180 C.) for about 40 minutes. It will be ready when the crust becomes golden and the ricotta cream changes color.

Let the cake cool off before taking it out of the springform pan infact, even if the temptation to eat a piece right away is strong, this tart tastes better at room temperature (not too warm or too cool).

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LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

Tips: – If you want to make a less fat tart, you can use partskim ricotta cheese. Of course the taste would not be as delicious as the regular cream, but good enough to be enjoyed;

– This cake can last up to one week, even if not refrigerated.

Fluffy apple coffee cake: irresistible!

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A good rule for being confident in cooking is using fresh and seasonal ingredients: this little trick significantly increases the probability of obtaining a great result (see reason #8 of “The 10 funny (but true) reasons why you are a disastrous cook). And since apple season is just around the corner (see this very useful chart for year 2016), I would love to share with you another precious family recipe that makes the most of all these delicious apples, and is guaranteed to amaze your family or guests. And if you still have leftover apples after making this, remember these other two delightful recipes: “Apple crumble pie” and “Golden Apple muffins”

This scrumptious apple coffee cake is almost totally made out of apples (about 2 or more pounds of apples for a 9″ round pan) and few other ingredients. It takes about an hour to be prepared. Most of that time is the tedious work of peeling and cutting the apples. With the use of a food processor the dough will be ready in the blink of an eye! As for the taste, this fluffy, moist, fragrant pie is perfectly suited for a tea/coffee snack, or considering the strange similarity to “brioches“, Italians opt for it as a perfect  sweet and “light” breakfast, or,  sided by a warm custard and sprinkled with sliced almonds could also be served as a fancy dessert.

INGREDIENTS for a 9″ round pan

about 4-5 apples (better if Golden Apples) – 4-5 mele Golden

1 stick plus 1 tbs. warm unsalted butter (9 tbs.) – 130 gr. burro

2 eggs – 2 uova

1 yolk – 1 tuorlo

1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour – 200 gr. farina

2 Tbs. baking powder – 1 bustina di lievito per dolci

2/3 cup sugar – 150 gr. zucchero

2 tsp. almond (or orange) extract – 2 cucchiaini aroma alla mandorla o arancia

juice of 1 lemon (to prevent apple slices from browning/oxidizing) – il succo di un limone

3 Tbs. warm milk – tre cucchiai di latte tiepido

1 pinch of sea salt – 1 pizzico di sale

about 2-3 Tbs. apricot preserves – 2-3 cucchiai circa di marmellata di albicocche

(To assemble the cake use a springform cake pan) – meglio usare una tortiera a cerniera

optional: almond slices or powdered sugar to decorate – facoltativi delle mandorle a lamelle o zucchero a velo per decorare

DIRECTIONS

Remove the butter and the eggs from the fridge at least 20 minutes before making the cake. You need those at room temperature.  Butter the pan and sprinkle with flour (or breadcrumbs).  Peel the apples, cut them in two, remove the core and slice three of them in thin slices and cut the rest in small cubes (just to be sure about the proportions between slices and cubes, I usually arrange the apples slices in the bottom of the pan, and when it looks totally covered I start cutting cubes instead).

Move the sliced apples into a colander and cover them with lemon juice, to prevent them from oxidizing.

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Put the apple cubes and add 2 tbs. of butter in  small pan and cook them at medium heat for about 5-8 minutes, until they become golden, stirring sometimes.

Pre-heat the oven at 365 F (180 C.).
In the mean time you are cooking the apple’s cubes, in your food processor combine, in order:

a) the remaining butter (should be 7 tbs.) with the sugar and a pinch of sea salt;

b) then the 2 eggs and 1 yolk plus the flavoring you picked (almond or orange);

c) next add the flour sifted with 2 Tbs. of baking powder;

d) finally, add three Tbs. of warm milk (not too hot! you don’t want to mess up the rising process and/or cook the dough’s eggs!) that will make the dough liquid enough to be poured in the pan.

Now that the dough is ready, pour a thin layer of it on the bottom of the pan (just enough to not let free spot).

Then, spread out evenly the cooled off apple’s cubes.

Cover the cubes with all the remaining dough and dry the apple slices very well with a paper towel.

Decorate the cake arranging neatly the apple slices and few apricot preserve flakes.

Bake the cake for abut 50 minutes making sure the cake doesn’t burn on top. The right way to make sure your cake is ready is pinching it in the middle with a teeth stick. If the stick come out of the cake dirty with dough it means the cake it’s not ready (so cover the top of it with an aluminum foil and cook it for few more minutes).    Before to eat the cake, good rule (according to my mom) is to allow the cake to cool on the inside. On the opposite side, I love eating it still warm!!! To not ruin the estethic of the cake, though, better taking it out of the spring pan only when it is completely cooled off.

By the way, whatever you decide to serve it, I highly recommend to sprinkle it with almond slices or (and this options suits better kids tastes) dust with powdered sugar. The apotheosis would be serving it with few tbs. of warm custard aside, but I understand that would mean more work!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe to  receive every week one new recipe for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

TIPS:

– Be very careful with this cake: it could be really addictive! At my house, when I make it, it lasts no more than 24 hours! I’m warning you just because even if the fluffy consistency of the cake could lure you to think that it is a light one, well, considering the amount of butter in it, don’t yield to temptation of more than two slices in a row😉.

The 10 funny (but true) reasons why you are a disastrous cook :-)

How could it be possible- every. single. time? You try a new recipe, and no matter whether it’s complicated or not, you follow it systematically, and end up with a disaster? Baking and cooking are not for the faint of heart, and it’s true, some recipes are terribly written. (Not mine, of course!!) But you can’t always blame the recipe… especially when you have these major malfunctions on a regular basis!

So here are the ten (funny, but true) reasons you are a disaster in the kitchen…

1)  YOU HAVEN’T READ THE RECIPE, FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, AT LEAST TWICE: Novice or seasoned pro, if you start cooking before you have a clear idea of all the steps involved in the recipe, you will discover in the middle of cooking that you’re completely out of- or do not have enough of- some ingredient, or that the ingredient you THOUGHT you had is covered in fuzzy green mold, or that the oven had to be preheated, or the butter at room temperature, or suddenly realize you lent out your Kitchen Aid to your best-friend’s sister, or forgot to get your cake pan back after that potluck at your neighbor’s. To be sure a recipe you have never experienced previously will turn out well, it is always good practice to review it at least twice. Reset the danger of drawbacks and failure; assemble all ingredients and equipment BEFORE you start.

2) YOU APPROXIMATE: Behind the recipe’s directions of quantities and steps, there is always one or more hidden “chemistry” reasons, usually unbeknownst to the common cook. If you follow the precise amounts indicated, in the order instructed, the probability that the chosen dish succeeds rises exponentially. A kitchen scale is a great help (sometimes essential) for following recipes gracious enough to have ingredients listed also by weight, not just cups or quantities.

3) YOU DON’T RESPECT INDICATED COOKING TIMES (also known as, “YOU APPROXIMATE -PART II”): Cooking requires certain timing. If you forget to set the kitchen timer, and have to guess on doneness, you will likely misjudge. If you do not respect the importance of cooking times given in a recipe, or you attempt to alter the temperature of the stove or oven to hurry the recipe along, a mess is your guaranteed result! Soggy pie crusts, singed tops, dry crunchy edges and an undercooked goopy center, mushy pasta, meats as tough as shoe leather… any of this sound familiar to you???

4) YOU ARE NOT FOCUSED ON COOKING: TV on, phone pinging alerts of new emails and texts, kids either running through your legs or asking you something every 3 minutes (depending on their age), a husband asking when dinner will be ready… I don’t know why you can’t concentrate on following that recipe!😉 These things are real life, but ALL enemies of a successful plate. It’s actually a wonder that MORE recipes don’t end as house fires!😀

5) YOU ARE DAZED AND CONFUSED: Often this issue is presented in conjunction with the reasons listed above, but sometimes it’s just you. Those discombobulated days when your head is in a fog, it’s risky to cook at all, let alone expect perfection in the kitchen. You’ll forget to read the recipe in advance, most possibly you’ll miss a step or forget to add an ingredient (Ever have pumpkin pie without sugar? Ha!), or misread the indicated quantity, then you’ll forget to set the kitchen timer and burn whatever you’re making. Who do you think will eat that crap?!?

6) YOU ARE CREATIVE (presumptuously): Do not misunderstand, culinary intuition is great, and creativity in the kitchen is appreciable as in any other kind of art, BUT the important distinction is to only exercise your creative liberty altering recipes you’ve already tested, and liked -but didn’t love- the first time around. If you improvise on a dish you’ve never attempted to prepare before, failure is lurking around the corner!

7) YOU ARE A CALORIE-PHOBIC HEALTH NUT: Does it always seems to you that the amount of oil/butter indicated is exaggerated? Or do you think, “Wait a minute, I don’t think all that sugar is necessary!” or, “Instead of whole milk, better to use 1%, or skim”….  Well for sure you will have saved calories, but do not expect an explosion of goodness.

8) YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE INGREDIENTS: There’s really nothing more to add to this. If you pick fresh, quality ingredients, you’ll have a higher probability of achieving a culinary success. Sometimes, it takes a little research and cooking experience to learn about better alternatives, too.

9) YOU NEVER TASTE WHILE COOKING (especially directed to the calorie-phobes): It is only a legend that good cooks never taste while cooking. Or rather, it’s true only after years and years of experience. In fact, here in the U.S. I have heard the phrase, “Never trust a skinny cook!” Maybe better advice!😉 So, before serving a sauce without salt (or extra-salted) … why not taste it? A few calories, to save you the embarrassment of serving another unpleasant dish.

10) YOU COOKED DURING YOUR PERIOD: REALLY!?! You didn’t know that cooking while having your period makes foods sour? HA, ha, ha, ha!! There is this old belief that women should avoid things like canning pickles or tomato sauce, or that a woman’s period would ruin the leavening of bread or pizza dough. I’m not kidding! It’s based on  some religious beliefs or traditions in Nepal, Bali and also in some regions of Southern Italy. Now you have a scapegoat for your cooking fails every month! And even if you’re not so religious, what a great excuse to get out of cooking one week each month!!

FRESH TOMATO FETTUCCINE: Bring on the tomato bounty!

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Summer is coming to an end, which means two things: the kids are back in school, and gardens are overflowing with a favorite Italian staple-tomatoes! If you have your own garden, or have a kind friend or neighbor who shares their garden bounty with you, right now you probably have more beautiful, meaty, red tomatoes than you know what to do with! It can be an overwhelming blessing when all those tomatoes ripen at the same time- especially if canning is not an option, or an option you prefer. ITALIAN GOODNESS TO THE RESCUE🙂 !!

Just a few days ago a dear friend gave me a bag of fresh organic tomatoes so perfect, I couldn’t help but take a picture! So I decided to make one of my favorite pasta recipes- one that calls for up to a pound per person of fresh tomatoes, and creates a delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and family-friendly dinner. If you think you may like my idea, harvest your tomatoes and get ready to cook!

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Just two warnings: 1) if you want this dish to come out best, use only fresh, firm tomatoes (just picked very recently)  2) this recipe requires just 30 minutes to create, but tomatoes need to be cleaned and drained at least *three hours* before cooking.

INGREDIENTS for 2-3 servings

2/3 pack of fettuccine or spaghetti (about 300 gr.)

about 2-3 lb. fresh tomatoes

1/2 finely chopped medium sized white onion

1 clove garlic

1 pinch of crushed red pepper

2 tsp. rosemary (fresh or dry)

2-3 leaves fresh basil (or a couple of pinches dry basil)

              olive oil (enough for the pan)

              sea salt (to taste)

DIRECTIONS:

At least 3 hours before cooking:

Wash the tomatoes, take away any green parts, cut them in two, and squeeze them to eliminate all the seeds. Put the tomatoes in a drainer until it is time to cook the pasta. I know, it will look like a tons of tomatoes, but believe me, after few minutes on the stove they’ll halve their volume.

At dinner time:

Cut the tomatoes in cubes. In a big pan (the biggest you have, so all the tomatoes will touch the olive oil at least on one side), pour enough olive oil to evenly cover the bottom of the pan, and at medium heat, brown the onion and the clove of garlic. In the mean time put the water pot for the spaghetti (or fettuccine) on the stove to boil.

As soon as the onion become translucent, add the fresh tomato cubes. The best sauce will be obtained if the tomatoes saute’ in a single layer, not stacked upon each other. If they don’t touch the hot oil directly, they will instead become boiled. Keep the tomatoes at high heat: they should release their water which will prevent them from burning. In about ten minutes the tomatoes should start getting dry. This will be about the time the pot of water for the pasta starts boiling and you are ready to add in the pasta and salt. And, about this time, you will be inebriated by the appetizing smell the sauce will emit all around your kitchen!😉

At this point, flip the tomatoes cubes upside down, and let them cook (always at high heat) until all their water is absorbed. You’ll notice that once you’ll flip the tomatoes cubes, they will release water again which will prevent your tomatoes from burning to the pan. It will take about ten more minutes.

Switch off the heat, sprinkle with sea salt, and stir in the crushed red pepper, rosemary, and basil.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained well, add it to the pan of tomatoes, and stir gently to distribute the sauce evenly.

  And that’s it!! Your colorful, aromatic, extraordinary dish is ready to be enjoyed! So easy, and SO delicious!

 LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

Tips:

– In my personal experience, this recipe appeals to all the family members’ tastes…but it can happen that the kids eat just the spaghetti and push the tomatoes cubes aside. That is fine: you can use the leftover to make a special bruschetta!

– As I already mentioned in the recipe, spaghetti and fettuccine are perfect for this kind of dressing, but almost any noodle would be ok. However, I personally would avoid short shaped pasta like maccheroni and penne, because they wouldn’t give justice to the taste of the sauce.

 

 

 

 

Spaghetti alla CARBONARA: one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes

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Although the target audience of this blog is intended to be Americans and those not already familiar with Italian cooking and customs, a consistent part of my audience is, in fact, Italian! And it has been a while since my Italian followers made fun of me because I haven’t yet published the recipe of Carbonara Pasta. You see, together with “Spaghetti al pomodoro, bucatini all’amatriciana, e tagliatelle al Ragu”, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the most famous pasta dishes in Italy! So now that the taunting has subsided, ;-) I will share with all of you the recipe for this Italian classic!

Like many other popular Italian dishes, this pasta dish requires just few fresh ingredients (bacon or better- pork jowl, eggs, spaghetti and parmesan cheese).  It’s super-easy, quick to prepare (ready in 20 minutes), and would be perfect for any kind of occasion. It is absolutely “kid friendly” (my daughters love it), appealing to even the pickiest eaters. I mean, who- especially in the U.S.- doesn’t love bacon and cheese?!?

Just like the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, the main ingredient of this sauce should be pork cheek or jowl (“guanciale”). However, it could be hard to find or a bit expensive. So since bacon here in the U.S. is really DELICIOUS, you have my blessing to go ahead and make it with bacon! Even Italians often make it simply with bacon! Whichever you choose, I assure you that by making this spaghetti sauce you will for sure bring a breeze of Italy to your table!

Since this recipe is pretty popular, before writing my post, I pried on some American cooking websites to see how knowledgeable the American audience is of how to make an authentic Carbonara. Well, no matter what you may read, Italians don’t use any parsley, onion, peas or tomatoes in this recipe. The only variant I’ve known (typical from Rome’s area) is that you can use Pecorino cheese instead of Parmesan.

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4 serving INGREDIENTS

1 package spaghetti

3 egg yolks (of medium-sized eggs)

1 medium sized egg

about 10 slices bacon (approximately half a pound)

1 tsp. black pepper

3 handfuls of parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Start heating a pot of salted water to cook the spaghetti (if you want to be sure to cook your pasta in the authentic Italian Style, follow these easy directions).

In the meanwhile, cut the bacon into small cubes.

When the water reaches boiling, toss the spaghetti in to cook. Then move the bacon into a pan (no oil or butter, just let the bacon cook in its own grease) and saute at medium heat for about five minutes, or until it looks crisp and the fat is rendered.

Drain the fat from the bacon, throwing away the grease.

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In a good sized bowl (you will need to fit all the spaghetti and bacon in it) beat the yolks and the egg. Add the parmesan cheese and the black pepper and mix altogether, stirring very well. Honestly, when I cook for my family, I avoid the black pepper at this stage, and instead my husband and I just add it on top of our spaghetti once it’s plated.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain well. Then, while the pasta is still very hot, mix it into the bowl with the egg mixture using a fork. The heat of the pasta will cook the raw eggs into a creamy sauce. (Be sure you do NOT do this in the pot or on the stove or you will be eating “Spaghetti alla Frittata” ;) instead of Carbonara!) Add in the bacon and continue mixing quickly, until the eggs thicken.

That’s it!

Serve your Carbonara with some extra parmesan cheese and black pepper on the table (in case somebody would like to add a bit more) and Enjoy!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Tips:

– Prepare the dressing while the pasta is cooking,  to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready at the same time as the dressing.

– It is very important that the pasta is still very hot when you add it to the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs, and just as important, that the beaten eggs are never combined with pasta on the stove because the eggs would cook too quickly on the bottom of the pot, ruining the creaminess of the sauce. The eggs MUST be mixed with the drained pasta, in the bowl where they were beaten.

– This pasta is very rich- both in taste and calories- so it would work perfectly as a complete meal.

– If you enjoy having a breakfast of bacon and eggs, this could also be considered as a “parachutes” choice when you have no idea what’s for dinner, or a way to use some leftovers.

 

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia