Archive | June, 2013

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella Romagnola, Illustrated

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

A Ciambella Romagnola, Romagna’s traditional ring cake, is wonderful for breakfast, dipped into warm milk or caffè latte. It’s also quite nice at the end of a meal, served either with a glass of dessert wine along the lines of Albana di Romagna, or with the slices drizzled with zabaione or a fruit sauce or glaze.

Barbara Lucchi and her husband Riccardo Menghi, run the Vecia Cantena d’La Pré in Predappio Alta, a pretty hilltop town in the Appennini southwest of Forlì. I was fortunate enough to visit them in the course of a press tour, and when I returned to the town called ahead to ask Barbara (she handles the cooking, while he serves their guests) if she could demonstrate something easy to make.

Her Ciambella Romagnola, one of the region’s traditional cakes, certainly fits the bill. Her one word of warning: Don’t scale the recipe. It works perfectly as is.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Barbara, like all Italian cooks, works by weight, and in this case I am giving weights first, followed by volume equivalents. You’ll need:

  • 250 g (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar 5 eggs
  • 200 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted over a double boiler or in the microwave and allowed to cool
  • 500 g (4 1/8 cups) unbleached flour; she uses Italian grade 00
  • The grated zest of a lemon, yellow part only as the white is bitter
  • Milk: About 250 ml (1 cup), plus a little more at the end
  • 2 16-gram packets of lievito chimico, the Italian equivalent of baking powder. Barbara’s was vanigliato, vanilla flavored. You can also use plain baking powder, about 6 teaspoons.
  • A 26 cm (10-inch) ring mold. Barbara’s had a non-stick coating (“It’s what I’ve got”).
  • More butter and flour for buttering and flouring the mold.
  • Granella di zucchero for decorating the cake. This is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.
Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Beat The Eggs with the Sugar

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Beat The Eggs with the Sugar

Begin by melting the butter, either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Let it cool. Also, preheat your oven to 180 C (360 F).

In the meantime, put the sugar in a deep round-bottomed bowl and crack the eggs into it. Beat with a mixer set to low/medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is a creamy yellow. “At this point,” Barbara says, “We have a cold zabaione.”

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Some Flour

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Some Flour

Add about a third of the flour to the egg and sugar mixture, and beat the batter for about a minute. Add another third of the flour and beat for a minute more.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add The Butter

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add The Butter

Add the melted butter and beat for another 30-40 seconds.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Lemon Zest

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Lemon Zest

Next, add the lemon zest, using either a lemon peeler or a grater. Be careful to add just the yellow part, as the white pith is bitter.

Beat in half of the milk, and half of the remaining flour. Then beat in the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour.

The next step is to butter the ring mold; be thorough, and then flour it, tapping it upside down to remove excess flour.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Baking Powder

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Baking Powder

Add the baking powder and beat it in; Barbara adds a little more milk at this point to make certain that it dissolves. The batter will be quite creamy.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to get the last of it. Give the filled pan a couple of quick shakes, and tap it once or twice against your counter top to level the batter.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Granella di Zucchero!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Granella di Zucchero!

Sprinkle some granella di zucchero over the cake. Granella di zucchero is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

You’ll want enough to cover the surface, about a cup I’d say.

Bake the ciambella on a low rack in your preheated 180 C (360 F) oven for 40-45 minutes.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Enjoy

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Enjoy

I had mine with a lightly chilled glass of Albana di Romagna, a sweet white wine, and it was superb.

Barbara’s Recipe, in a shorter page.

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella Romagnola, An Easy Italian Ring Cake

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi and her husband Riccardo Menghi run the Vecia Cantena d’La Pré in Predappio Alta, a pretty hilltop town in the mountains southwest of Forlì.

Her Ciambella Romagnola, one of the traditional cakes of the region, is quite easy to make. It’s wonderful for breakfast, dipped into warm milk or caffè latte. It’s also nice at the end of a meal, either with a glass of dessert wine along the lines of Albana di Romagna, or with the slices drizzled with zabaione or a fruit sauce or glaze.

Her one word of warning: Don’t scale the recipe. It works perfectly as is.

  • 250 g (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 200 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted over a double boiler or in the microwave and allowed to cool
  • 500 g (4 1/8 cups) unbleached flour; she uses Italian grade 00
  • The grated zest of a lemon, yellow part only as the white is bitter
  • Milk: About 250 ml (1 cup), plus a little more at the end
  • 2 16-gram packets of lievito chimico, the Italian equivalent of baking powder. Barbara’s was vanigliato, vanilla flavored. You can also use plain baking powder, about 6 teaspoons.
  • A 26 cm (10-inch) ring mold. Barbara’s had a non-stick coating (“It’s what I’ve got”).
  • More flour for buttering the mold.
  • Granella di zucchero for decorating the cake. This is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

Begin by melting the butter, either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Let it cool. Also, preheat your oven to 180 C (360 F).

In the meantime, put the sugar in a deep round-bottomed bowl and crack the eggs into it. Beat with a mixer set to low/medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is a creamy yellow. “At this point,” Barbara says, “We have a cold zabaione.”

Add about a third of the flour to the egg and sugar mixture, and beat the batter for about a minute. Add another third of the flour and beat for a minute more.

Add the melted butter and beat for another 30-40 seconds.

Next, add the lemon zest, using either a lemon peeler or a grater. Be careful to add just the yellow part, as the white pith is bitter.

Beat in half of the milk, and half of the remaining flour. Then beat in the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour.

The next step is to butter the ring mold; be thorough, and then flour it, tapping it upside down to remove excess flour.

Add the baking powder and beat it in; Barbara adds a little more milk at this point to make certain that it dissolves. The batter will be quite creamy.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to get the last of it. Give the filled pan a couple of quick shakes, and tap it once or twice against your countertop to level the batter.

Sprinkle some granella di zucchero over the cake. Granella di zucchero, as I noted above, is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

You’ll want enough to cover the surface, about a cup I’d say.

Bake the ciambella on a low rack for 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy!

Barbara’s Recipe, Illustrated

Elisabetta’s Quick & Easy Strawberry Dessert

Elisabetta's Strawberry Dessert

Elisabetta’s Strawberry Dessert

Elisabetta and I cook quite differently: I tend to leaf through a cookbook, and the first few times I make a dish follow the recipe. She instead improvises, and when we were asked to bring dessert to Aunt Adriana’s a few days ago we stopped at the supermarket on our way. I would have been frantic, but she instead selected:

  • An Abundance of Strawberries
  • A container of Gelato alla Panna, Vanilla Ice Cream (she opted for Algida)
  • A package of Biscotti Digestive, which are sweet meal biscuits originally developed by McVitie’s, a Scottish outfit
  • A bottle of chocolate syrup
  • A package of fingertip-sized amaretti (almond macaroons), found in the bakery section
  • A package of fingertip-sized meringques, again in the bakery section
  • A package of Mikado sticks, which are sticks made of wafer and dipped into chocolate

When we got to Adriana’s Elisabetta hulled and quartered the strawberries. She then took stemmed goblets with bowls large enough to contain a dessert and put a Digestive at the bottom of each, followed by a squirt of chocolate sauce and a mixture of strawberries and ice cream to fill the cup. More chocolate sauce over the strawberries, a sprinkling of macaroons and meringues, a spot of ice cream to support a mikado, and that’s it!

They went very fast.

How To Fry Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini and squash blossoms are one of the most delightful summer vegetables, and a visual treat too in the marketplace. They should look firm and fresh, and ideally should be just slightly open.

Zucchini blossoms are quite perishable, and should be used the day they’re bought, or at the most the day after. If your local supermarket doesn’t carry them, you may be able to get them from a farmers’ market, or from a farm produce stand. As a last resort, if you have a vegetable patch, you can plant some zucchini. It’s worth the effort.

When you get your blossoms home put them in the crisper section of the refrigerator until it comes time to cook them. Then wash them gently, pat them dry, and remove the pistils. You’re now ready to proceed.

My favorite way of enjoying zucchini blossoms is dipped in batter and fried, because the crunchy saltiness of the crisp golden batter beautifully complements the sweetness of the flower itself, without overshadowing the flower’s delicate flavor. Here’s a simple recipe that supposedly will serve about 6, though in my experience it’s being optimistic:

Zucchini Blossoms Washed, Pistils Removed, and Ready for Use

Zucchini Blossoms Washed, Pistils Removed, and Ready for Use

  • 18 zucchini blossoms
  • A pint (500 ml) cold water (sparkling adds a nice touch), or a mixture of beer and water
  • 3 heaping tablespoons flour, or enough to give the batter the consistency of heavy cream – it should stick to the blossoms
  • An egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt
  • Olive oil or lard, for frying

Trim the stems of the zucchini blossoms, remove the pistils, wash them gently and pat them dry just as gently.

Battering the Blossoms!

Battering the Blossoms!

Prepare the batter by combining the water (and beer if you’re using it), flour and egg.

Heat the oil.

Into Hot Oil...

Into Hot Oil…

Lightly salt the zucchini blossoms, dredge them in the batter, fry them until golden, drain them on absorbent paper, and serve them hot.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms: Enjoy!

Fried Zucchini Blossoms: Enjoy!

Zucchini Blossom Risotto with Prosecco, Risotto ai Fiori di Zucca Col Prosecco

Zucchini Blossom Risotto with Prosecco, Risotto ai Fiori di Zucca Col Prosecco

Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini Blossoms

In spring Italian markets fill with brilliant gold zucchini blossoms. The best use for them is (I think) frying, but there are other options as well, and here is a recipe for a risotto with zucchini blossoms and Prosecco. As is the recipe will serve four, but if you reduce it by half it will also be quite nice in a romantic meal.

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) Vialone Nano or other short-grained rice
  • Simmering vegetable broth (unsalted canned will work if need be; you’ll want a quart, or a liter)
  • 10 zucchini blossoms
  • 1/4 cup (25 g) freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Half a white onion, minced
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup sparkling Prosecco (warm)
  • 2 walnut-sized chunks of unsalted butter
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Wash the blossoms gently, removing the stems and pistils, and pat the yellow petals dry. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pot and gently sauté the onion, stirring it with a spoon, until it has begun to turn golden. Add the rice and turn the burner up to a brisk flame; cook, stirring, until the grains have become translucent – 3 to 5 minutes.

Add half the wine and stir until it has evaporated, then lower the flame and begin adding broth a ladle at a time, stirring gently. When the rice is almost done, thinly slice the zucchini petals and stir them in too; check seasoning, stir in the butter and the cheese, and turn off the flame. Let the risotto sit covered for about 30 seconds, then sprinkle the remaining Prosecco over it, Stir again, and it’s ready to serve.

What with? More Prosecco, of course!

How to make Risotto, Illustrated