Panforte di Siena

This Italian recipe dates back to the 13th century and originated in Siena. I have eaten this desert, but never made until I asked Gillian Riley for a quote  for an article I was writing on Italian desserts. I decided to develop this recipe around the ingredients in Gillian’s book, The Oxford Companion to ITALIAN FOODS. This is my version. 

Photos Francine Zaslow

Breadcrumbs for pan:

         1 tablespoon cake flour 


         1 tablespoon fine bread crumbs

         2 tablespoons ground almonds 

Preheat oven to 300° F and adjust oven rack to center position. Brush an 8-inch spring form pan with butter. Cut a dish of parchment paper, or rice paper* to fit pan bottom. Brush paper with butter and fit into pan bottom. In a small bowl, combine cake flour, breadcrumbs, and almonds; evenly scatter over sides and bottom. 

* If using Asian-style rice paper wet the paper to make it easier to cut, then trim it to the correct size with scissors.

For the cake: 


         1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, divided 


         1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided 


         1/4 teaspoon ground coriander 


         1/8 teaspoon ground clove 

         1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 


         ¼ teaspoon allspice

         1/8 teaspoon black pepper

         ¼ teaspoon cardamom 

         NOTE: Any spices may be used, If you do not like a particular spice, take it out

         1/2 cup honey 


         1/2 cup granulated sugar 


         1/2 cup candied citron, cut into small pieces 


         1/2 cup candied orange peel, cut into small pieces 


         1 cup almonds toasted and coarsely chopped**      


         Powdered (confectioner’s sugar) sugar 

** To toast nuts, preheat oven to 350° F.  Place nuts in a single layer in an ungreased shallow pan or rimmed baking sheet. Bake 5 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice during toasting to aid in even browning, or until they are golden brown. Remove from oven and remove from pan; let cool. In a small bowl, combine ½- cup cake flour, 1-teaspoon cinnamon, coriander, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, black pepper and cardamom set aside. In another small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cake four and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar; set mixture aside and save for the top.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine honey and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until mixture comes to a full boil: remove from heat. Stir in candied fruit and almonds or hazelnuts. Sift in flour mixture; stir until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth top slightly with wet fingers. Sift reserved cinnamon-flour sugar mixture over the top. Place cake in center of middle oven rack. Bake 30 minute or until panforte just starts to simmer around edge of pan. Remove from oven; cool completely on a wire rack.

Loosen from pan by running a small knife around perimeter (if using a Spring form Pan, remove sides of spring form pan). Invert onto a wire rack, letting excess cinnamon flour fall away. Use knife to peel away parchment or rice paper. Invert panforte again and transfer onto a wire rack. Dust top with powdered sugar.

When cool, it can be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil and stored in an airtight container for several weeks, or frozen for up to six months. Serve at room temperature. Before serving, dust lightly with additional powered sugar. Cut into small wedges to serve. Makes 16 servings. 

HOLIDAY RECIPES FROM THE PAST TO YOUR KITCHEN

Vintage ideas for your next special occasion

The story begins at an estate sale. I was in the kitchen of a turn-of-the-century house here on Cape Cod, checking the selection of outdated, kitschy cookbooks. I found a 9×12 booklet, Knox On-Camera Recipes, published in 1962. The food stylist in me grabbed it. The recipes are old-fashioned and fun, and many have charm.

We are all looking for ideas to brighten this unusual holiday season. Let’s have fun with our food. I will be posting some of these recipes on my blog, along with suggestions. Looking to the past, we can make some of these recipes instead of our old standbys for holiday dining and entertaining. The blog will include appetizers, salads, and many dishes to accompany the main meal. All the food can be made ahead of time. They are easy and foolproof. Here is an opportunity to add a colorful, “picture-perfect” presentation to your table.

Recipes and images from Knox On-Camera Recipes, copyright © 1962. Used with permission of Kraft Foods. For more recipes visit kraftfoods.com

TENERINA AL CIOCCOLATO

This recipe was given to me by Marco Pappalardo owner of Il Regno Seffa Pasta, a shop in Bologna where I bought fresh pasta and dolce treats. In researching this recipe, I found it is a dessert typical of the city of Ferrara. The intense chocolate flavor, moist inside, has few ingredients and is easy to make. Perfect served with a whisky flavored whipped cream, a scoop of coffee ice cream, or even a dollop of rich Mascarpone cheese.

Ingredients

         8- ounces bittersweet dark chocolate, finely chopped

         ½ cup butter. (one stick), cut into small pieces

         5 eggs, room temperature, separated

         1 cup of sugar 

         1/3 cup of all-purpose flour 

         Powdered sugar to decorate

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Butter the sides of a 9-inch spring form pan and place a buttered piece of parchment paper in the bottom. Set aside

Dissolve the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the butter until well incorporated. Let the mixture cool slightly.

Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and with an electric hand beater, beat to the soft peaks stage. Add half of the sugar a tablespoon at a time, continue beating until whites are glistened and fluffy. Set aside.

Put the egg yoks in another bowl with the remaining sugar and beat until a light golden mixture is formed. Add the cooled chocolate and mixture a little at a time beating on low speed until well combined.

With a spatula, fold 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the mixture to lighten the batter. Continue folding remaining egg whites, gently mixing from bottom to top. While folding, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time until a uniform mixture is obtained. 

 Pour the batter into the spring form pan and bake for 12 to14 minutes.

NOTE: The timing is very delicate. Start checking the time after 14 minutes. The center should be slightly soft.  

Allow to cool, remove from pan and dust with powdered Serves 6 to 8 

Oysters Rockefeller

The original recipe was created in 1889 at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s. It has many variations and interpretations. Here is one that calls for simple ingredients. It’s both delicious and easy to put together.

Photo: Francine Zaslow
Photo: Francine Zaslow

Ingredients:

2 dozen shucked oysters on the half shell

1 pound spinach, blanched and chopped

2 tablespoons finely minced shallots

1 stick butter

½ cup dried bread crumbs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 to 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Several drops Tabasco sauce

2 tablespoons Pernod

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sauté shallots in 1 tablespoon of the butter until they are translucent and start to brown slightly. Melt remaining butter and set aside.

In a bowl mix, together the shallots, spinach, bread crumbs, cheese, Worcestershire, Tabasco, Pernod, and melted butter. Salt and pepper to taste.

Top each oyster with a spoonful or more of spinach mixture, and place on a cookie sheet. (To hold the oysters upright when baking, place them on crumpled aluminum foil.)

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes until slightly brown.

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Oysters on the Half Shell

Here are three suggestions, all slightly different.

Photo: Francine Zaslow

Mignonette Sauce

This is the most classic sauce for oysters on the half shell. Usually it is make with white pepper, but I changed it to black pepper for a variation.

Ingredients:

            ¼ cup finely shallots (about 2½ ounces)

            ¼ cup champagne vinegar

            1/8 teaspoon sugar

            1/8 teaspoon salt

            1¼ teaspoons crushed black pepper (Do not use ground pepper. Crush peppercorns with the back of a large knife.)

Bloody Mary Sauce

Here is a bright, colorful sauce with a little kick, using some of the ingredients from the traditional drink.

Ingredients:    

            ¼ cup tomato juice

            1 teaspoon horseradish

            ½ teaspoon freshly minced dill

            Dash or 2 of tabasco sauce

            Dash of Worcestershire sauce

            A few shakes celery salt

Asian Sauce

For a sweet and sour sauce, this one brings the two flavors together.

            ½ cup rice wine vinegar

            1 teaspoon peeled and finely grated ginger

Ingredients:

            ½ teaspoon sugar

            1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

            1 teaspoon sesame oil

            ½ tablespoon fresh lime juice

            1 tablespoon minced chives or scallion

Directions:

For each recipe, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and let rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour in refrigerator for flavors to meld. Serve chilled with small spoon for serving.

BERGAMONT OLIVE OIL CAKE

A few years ago, I was in Calabria Italy and came across the actual Bergamont fruit (a cross between a lemon and orange). It is the sent in Earl Gray Tea. I came home and developed nine recipes using the essence and oils. I also could get the actual fruit from Sid Wainer’s in New Bedford in season January and February. This is one of my favorites. It is wonderful served by itself or with a dollop of whipped cream. It may also be served with a little sweetened fruit of raspberries or strawberries on the side of a single serving.

Photo: Francine Zaslow

Ingredients:

10 –inch Bundt pan

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • large eggs
  • tablespoon each grated lemon and orange zest
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon and orange juice
  • tablespoon bergamot extract

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350° F. 

Butter a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk the olive oil, milk, eggs, lemon and orange zest, juice and bergamot extract. Add the dry ingredients; fold until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Remove sides of pan and let cake cool for several hours before serving.

FOR THE GLAZE

         Mix 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 1 to 2 ½ tablespoons orange juice and ¼ teaspoon bergamot extract. Drizzle over top of cake and sprinkled with the zest of an orange.

Torta Sbrisolona

A classic, delicious dry almond crumble made with white and yellow corn flours, sugar, egg, lard or butter and almonds. It is the specialty of Mantua in the Lombardy region of Italy. In Italian, sbrisolona means ‘to crumble’ or ‘to fall into pieces.’ This recipe was given to me by my friend Chef Alberto Ravazzini.  On our last tour to the Emelia Romagna, he made a spectacular last meal for our group. This was one of the desserts.

Ingredients:

         1 cup Italian 00 flour

         1 cup cornmeal

         1 cup sugar

         Zest of 1 lemon

         Pinch of salt

         ¾ cup almonds, coarsely ground 

         1 cup chilled butter (2 sticks) cut into small cubes or ½ good quality lard half butter

         1 egg, room temperature

         15 to 20 almonds with skin for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.

Butter and flour a 12-inch tart pan, set aside.

In a large bowl, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar. lemon zest, salt and ground. Use your fingertips to work the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a course crumbly mixture. Add the egg, use your hands mixing until the crumbs crumble together.  

Transfer the dough evenly to the tart pan keeping it rough not smooth. 

Decorate with almonds.

Bake in a 350- degrees preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is nicely brown. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool completely. Serve broken at the table. Perfect for dunking in red wine, coffee or serve after any digestivo after your meal. 

SQUASH GNOCCHI

You also can use this technique to make potato gnocchi.

For years, I tried to find a good dish of gnocchi in the US. Never happened. In Italy, yes, but not here.

I’ve sorted and tried many gnocchi recipes over the years, including many I found online. They all horrified me. Here is mine.

Use a large winter squash. Kabocha and Hubbard are drier squashes. Butternut will work, but you likely will need more flour to absorb the moisture. Peel, remove the seeds and steam the squash until soft. Place squash in a bowl and mash with a potato masher until smooth. If it’s soft enough, you can use a whisk.

Add a good dollop of butter, about ½ to ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, grated nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. I do not measure, so use your discretion as to the amounts. I usually cook the squash for dinner, making extra to refrigerate until I’m ready to make the gnocchi.  

Take the squash out of the refrigerator. Put a small mound of all-purpose flour on your counter or a cutting board and put the squash in center of flour. Incorporate the flour into the squash mixture with your hands, kneading lightly, keeping the texture soft and smooth. (I do not use the egg that most recipes call for.) Use only enough flour to bring the squash together.

Shape the dough into sausage-like rolls about 3/4-inch thick and about 10 inches long. Cut each roll into 1/2-inch pieces. Indent each piece by putting it on the inside curve of a fork and pressing it against the prongs with a fingertip; then let drop to counter.

To cook, drop the gnocchi, a dozen at a time, into 4 quarts or more of boiling salted water. When they float to the surface, let them cook 8 to 10 seconds more, then lift out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a heated casserole dish and add a little red sauce that you’ve kept hot. Keep repeating the process until all the gnocchi are cooked. Pour the remaining sauce over the top; mix in the grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Note: Instead of serving the gnocchi with a red sauce, you can try a brown butter sauce with fresh sage.

SAUTEED FILLET OF SOLE ON BASIL TOMATOES

This dish was taught to me by my friend Sally Darr, former chef/owner with her husband of the famous La Tulipe restaurant in New York City that closed several years ago.

The only time I make this wonderful dish is during the summer months when my beefsteak tomatoes are ripe and full of flavor. The time is now! I like to use a variety of colorful tomatoes for this dish. 

Ingredients:

         1 cup milk

         4 fillets of sole, 6-ounces each

         4 tablespoons olive oil

         4tablespoons butter

         3 large tomatoes, ends and stem discarded, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 3 pounds) 

         1/4 teaspoon salt

         1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste

         2 teaspoons minced garlic

         1/2 cup chopped basil

         1/2 cup flour

         1 tablespoon minced basil

Directions:

Pour the milk into a shallow bowl and soak the sole for 5 to 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a non-stick 12-inch skillet.  

Place the flour in a pie plate or shallow plate and mix with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pinch of salt.  Dust the fillets lightly on both sides with the flour, shaking off any excess.  Carefully lay the fish in the hot oil and sauté, over high heat, for about 1 1/2 minutes each side, or until delicately brown. Arrange the fillets attractively on a large, heated platter.

Rinse out the skillet, and add the remaining 1tablespoon oil and butter to the skillet.  Set the skillet over high heat. When the oil butter is hot, add the tomato slices and sprinkle them with the salt and pepper to taste and the minced garlic.  Sauté over high heat, about 2 minutes. With a spatula flip the tomatoes over for a few minutes. They should be just a little brown and caramelized.  Immediately place them over the sole, garnish with fresh basil.

Makes 2 servings. 

Pasta with Fig and Chile

This is one of my favorite decadent pasta dishes I make with figs from my trees. If you are not fortunate to have your own fig trees, you can buy them at your local grocery store this time of year. It is a recipe from the London River Café cookbook Italian Easy.

Sweet ripe figs seasoned with chile gives this lemony pasta an unusual spiciness.

 Ingredients:

                        16 ounces of egg tagiatelle (I used my homemade pappardelle)

                        8 black figs

                        2 dried chilles

                        2 lemons

                        2 ounces Parmesan cheese

                        2 tablespoons butter, or enough to cover the bottom an Iron skillet

                        ½ cup heavy cream

Directions:

Cut each fig into 4 pieces. Crumble the chilies. Grate the peel of both lemons and squeeze the juice of one.

 Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a skillet large enough for the figs in one layer.

 Add the butter and, when the pan, is hot, carefully place the figs in the pan, turning them to caramelize. Season with a touch of salt and add the crushed chilies. 

 Drain the pasta. Stir the lemon cream mixture into the pasta. Add the figs and serve with the Parmesan.

 Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer.