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Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

This was one of our most fun Halloweens, because of the bustling community of kids who live here in 5B, the family ghetto, the building adjacent to the main American Academy building, (where the best unkept secret is that we have the best apartments).  Halloween really started on Friday, before dinner.  The kitchen staff had prepared trays of bat- and ghost-shaped sugar cookies, icing, chocolate cupcakes, and frosting for a big decorating party.  (Knowing the kitchen-witches here, the ingredients were as local as could be.)

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The cupcakes were so crumbly that they required adult hands, so the Roving Locavore got to work:

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Cheers, Aurelia & Lisa!

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Mid-day on Saturday, Halloween proper, Jack and Lulu got to work on the papier-mache components of their costumes.  Lulu’s parrot head paint was drying, so she helped Jack paint his fireman’s helmet:

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After we returned from Halloween party #1, at Nico’s house at 4:00 (boy, was it a heavy candy-eating day!), the Academy kids paraded and trick-or-treated around the apartments and studios of the Academy building, where the fellows were dressed as witches, death in various forms, Bacchus, a princess, John the Baptist, devil & angel, and a fortune teller.

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the tube is for the milk-bottle O2 tank on Jack's back

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who knew that Dante had hooked up with a gondoliera?

Later, when the kids were spinning and running and staggering from their sugar overdoses, we had a potluck dinner.  Everyone loved the meatballs, sangria, and the zucca lasagna.  I made a pear-apple-almond crumble with mostly local or at least organic ingredients.

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Going to Venice for a long weekend is like being transported to a different realm.  In this immersed city, we immersed ourselves in grand-scale Renaissance art, long winding walks, gelato, spritz (Amaro—a bittersweet red liqueur—and prosecco), and seafood.  What everyone says about the acoustics stands out as a strong sense memory: without the sound of cars, the ear hears the click of heels on stone, voices talking, murmuring, laughing, and the soft splash of water against stone and brick.  True, there are motor boats, but their rumble is nothing after the roar of Roman traffic.

We ate well.  Oh, yes we did.

On the first night, we turned the corner from the little alley where we were renting an apartment (with 5 others from the American Academy), and happened upon Paradiso Perdito, a wonderfully unlost paradise of seafood, pasta, off-beat music, and attractive diners and servers both young and old.  Here’s a sampling of that meal.

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antipasti

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vino di casa pump

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frito misto

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amazingly flavorful garlicky pasta with a never seen before crustacean

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squid ink pasta

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Jack fell asleep on my lap.

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see the rosemary sprig?

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nicely boned

Other highlights: The dolci, which we all agreed were better than any in Rome.

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how many pistachios are in this torta?

This place especially, which Lisa discovered at 7:30 one morning, by following the aroma of buttery baking, had the most amazing almond croissants we’ve ever had.  They weren’t overly sweet and flabby like so many, but were improbably both dense and flaky, and were almost savory in their delicate sweetness.

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bread turtle?

I didn’t actually take any photos of anyone eating gelato, because I always had a drippy cone of my own to control, usually with some combination of fruity and nutty.  My favorite duo: cherry and hazelnut.  Jack’s favorite: strawberry and cherry.  But this is the place to get it:

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We happened upon this graffito, which to me says, “Is this a gelato I see before me?”

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We also saw lots and lots of art.  Jack was inspired to do some painting, and then ran off to chase pigeons.

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We took one gondola ride, but it only went across the Grand Canal, took two minutes, and cost 50 cents.  Still, it seemed to make everyone happy.

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Susanna & Stephen

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Peter

Our last meal was at the Anice Stellato—the Star Anise—and it was a meal to remember.  I wasn’t so good at photographing every plate, but my favorite dish was a lamb tenderloin rolled in crushed pistachios.  Oh, my….  The wine, a local carmenere blend, and an antipasto plate called sarde in saor, with sardines, polenta, and pickled onions, also stood out.

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Jack enjoyed hanging with the grown-ups.  And I think they liked his company too.

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Aurelia, Jack, Richard, me

(For more photos, check out my Flickr page.)

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Fall fell in a swirl of branches, leaves, and whole trees.  Yesterday afternoon, we watched the pines and bamboo swaying in circles as the wind picked up.  Rain fell hard, and stopped quickly.  And then, the most magnificent double rainbow I’ve ever seen arched across the Rome skyline, and the mountains, free from the haze after a long hot summer, seemed etched into the sky.  This morning, the air was crisp, about 15 degrees cooler than yesterday’s, and smoke from burning piles of brush signaled the arrival of autumn.  We rode the bus to our usual stop, just past Piazza Ottavilla, where we saw a huge pile of downed trees and branches.  Later, I ran through the park at Villa Pamphili, and saw huge old pines and palms lying broken on the grass.

I had spent the morning on a long market circuit in Trastevere, stopping at my favorite shops: Antica Caciari for fresh ricotta, Canestro for organic cereals, grains, lentils, and peanut butter, and Antico Forno Roscioli for delicious bread and un cornetto integrale–a whole wheat croissant with bitter honey inside.  I knew I’d found an amazing baker when I saw the impossible combination of whole wheat flecks and buttery thin flaky pastry.  How do they do it?

I love walking around Trastevere because of its spider web of narrow off-angle streets that open onto beautiful architectural surprises.

Trast. arch

Rena sent me on a hunt for this place, which carries organic milk in a little fridge near the door.

checco

nut tart

Wow!  It looks pretty, but what would it be like actually to eat this nutty tart?

The Fontana d’Acqua Paolo, seen from the pedestrian bridge, Ponte Sisto, jutting up at the top of the hill, marked the line I’d need to walk to find the steep set of stairs that would lead me up the hill back home.

Ponte sisto

And now, the pictures we’ve all been waiting for…

Il Arcobaleno!

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I’d been cooking dinner, when Jack, sitting at the high counter in the kitchen, said, “there’s a huge rainbow in the sky.” Uh huh.  I was busy.  But then, I decided to look, and couldn’t believe it.  We ran down the stairs, but not before Jack resourcefully thought to pull on his puddle boots.  We buzzed Lulu and Jesse’s apartment, and ran outside with them to stand in the street.  The rainbow made a full half-circle.  And then we realized it was doubled by a fainter, inverted rainbow above:

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Peter called down from the terrace, where everyone else was watching it.

Peter on terrace

The view from up there was even more amazing.

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Jack

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I love the way, in Italian, the word for “bakery” also means “oven.”   It’s a word- and food-lover’s favorite instance of synecdoche.  Jeannie introduced me to the family-run Antico Forno Marco Roscioli a few weeks ago, during our little culinary tour of Trastevere.  When I went back this week, it was because I had two cravings for the two things I bought there last time: fig bread, and the treat Jack and I like to call “secret cookies.”  Next time, I’ll get some of their pizza bianca and one of their famous apple torts.

The fig bread is made with farina integrale—whole wheat flour, which comes from local growers and millers.  Roasted walnuts and dried figs are rolled into the dough as it’s shaped for its last rise, and the interior comes out looking like this:

fig bread

Need I even say that it’s delicious in the morning, toasted and spread with butter or honey, served with a caffé con latte?

These other treats go well with a post-pranza (that’s lunch) espresso:

almond cookies

Made of the most delicate blend of flour and marzipan (I think), they are topped with sliced almonds and dusted with powdered sugar.  The first time I ate one, I was savoring the sweet, tender crumb when—oh my!—I came upon the concealed sugar-soaked sour cherry.  What a delight!  Jack is crazy for these cookies, and loves boastfully to tell his friends he knows their secret.  They are so rich, though, that these will be special treats.

For more on Forno Roscioli, and for some entertaining translations—such as “biological jam” for confettura biologica, by which they mean “organic jam”—check out their website here.

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I just happened upon a new, exciting flavor combination.  With a still-heavy bag of chanterelles in the bottom of my fridge, and a ball of mozzarella needing to be pulled, I decided to make pizza.

For the crust, check out this post.  For the topping, I sauteed green onions, garlic, 1 sliced sage leaf and a small sprig of rosemary, and a big pile of chanterelle chunks in butter and olive oil.  I brushed the crust with olive oil, spread the veg, sprinkled on the mozzarella strings and some grated parmesan and salt, and baked it for about 15 minutes.

We opened a bottle of one of the staggeringly cheap, good local wines, a rosato frizzante (is just what it sounds like).

The combo was the best kind of thrilling comfort food that I love so much.

For dessert, we each had a little amaretto cookie I’d picked up this morning at the bakery on Quattro Venti.  These cookies—I tell no lies—are perfect.  The outside can be tapped with a fingernail, but is chewy, not crisp.  The inside is a moist, chewy crumb that pulls apart with delicate resistance.  The flavor is pure essence of almonds, sugar, butter.

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On Jack’s first day of school, I stayed there with him for a couple of hours, to ease him into the experience of a new school in a new language.  We left just before lunch, and took a looping, indirect way home, stopping at market stalls and shops along the way.  One of my destinations was a half-block of street closed to cars, where vendors were selling fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese, and household odds and ends.

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We bought bags of the pink-and-white-swirled fagioli borlotti, and of blackberries that taste as sweet and meaty as pears.  Not a trace of tartness, which is a surprising sensation!  To be honest, I only bought the pricey 3-Euro basket because Jack fondled them.  The unspoken rule of etiquette at the markets is: you touch it, you buy it.

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Next time, I think I’ll get some of these elegant peppers:

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The most delicious item we bought, though, was the melon.  Sweet as honey and juicy as, well, juice:

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Next, we went to the bread shop, which is the most nondescript shop I think I’ve ever seen.  What you have to do is follow the scent of baking bread with your nose, and look for a bunch of people standing around chatting happily, and moving in a constant stream in and out of a narrow door.  That’s the line for bread.

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Once inside, I was crammed shoulder to shoulder with people buying multiple bags of bread, biscotti, pizza, and cornetti (croissants).  Jack stood in a corner, with his backpack and sunglasses on, eating an apple.  He looked as nonchalent as a true Italian.  The only proper name of a bread I knew was pizza bianca (what we call focaccia), so I asked for that and used gestures and alternate “grazie”s and “per favore”s to indicate how much I wanted.  Then I asked for quattro biscotti, and pointed at these cute little lemony-almondy cookies:

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Oh, boy, were they good.

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The other rainy night, we had a little casual dinner party with my parents’ best friends of four decades, who happen now to live on the same long dirt driveway in Norwich, Vermont.  I’d been wanting to make a recipe from one of my favorite bloggers, Tribeca Yummy Mummy, for roasted tomato pasta with scallops.  It was amazingly delicious, especially with picked-that-day organic sungolds and grape tomatoes and basil.  Here are the tomatoes, slicked with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, ready to get roasty:

roast tomat

We had spicy greens in a salad, and then a berry crumble.  I like making crumble, because it’s so easy.  You don’t even need to look at a recipe for the topping if you just remember “it’s all 1.”

Mixed Berry Crumble

Topping:
1 c. flour
1 c. sugar (mix brown and white)
1 stick butter, cut into small nobs
1 tsp. salt
1 handful sliced almonds (or walnuts, or oats)

Filling:

3-4 c. mixed berries (I used blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries)
1/3 c. sugar
a sprinkle of almond extract

Preheat oven to 400.  Mix the filling in the baking pan. Frozen berries are ok.

With your fingertips, blend the topping until it all clings together in clumps.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling. Bake for 40 minutes or so.

berry crumble

Get it before it’s gone!

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

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For the crust, check out my post of June 7, 2009, but make a double portion, since you’ll need extra pastry for the lattice. Make the pastry, shape into two discs, and chill for several hours.

For the filling, you’ll need 3 cups fresh cut strawberries and 2 cups fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb.  Mix these with 1/2 c. flour, 1/2 c. sugar, and 1 tsp. corn starch.

Preheat oven to 375.  Roll out two 11-inch rounds of pastry, put one in a 9-inch pie plate, and cut the other into strips.  Pour in filling, and construct an over-under lattice with the pastry strips.  Bake (with a cookie sheet underneath in case of drips) for 45 or so minutes, until the crust is golden.

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It’s summer.  It’s hot.  The fruit is ripe.  But what the heck, let’s fire up the oven.

We have Shiro plums, the mild little yellow variety which grew originally in Japan, and now grows all over the place here.

shiso

These plums are from Dummerston, Vermont.  (The name brings to mind Fort Dummer, near Brattleboro, where we used to go cross country skiing, and where my Dad would release the squirrels he’d caught in his “Have-a-Heart” trap.  These were crazed, ferocious squirrels that chewed our wooden siding and clung to the screens of our dining room windows while we ate dinner.)

Back on topic here… plums make a scrumptious rustic galette.  I had a helper this morning making pastry.  A pinch of salt:

J baking

And a demonstration of the frissage technique, which spreads and flattens those yummy bits of butter, providing the basis for flakiness (push with the heels, fold with the fingertips, repeat):

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We also have chopped rhubarb and strawberries in the freezer–remains from an earlier season.  My sister, Bridget, has always loved strawberry-rhubarb pie.  We always thought her red hair and freckles predestined her to be a strawberry lover: strawberry ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberries on cereal, strawberry lip balm, the list goes on.  She’s moving to North Carolina this week, where strawberries and rhubarb will be distant memories.  I think I’ll make her that pie.

And serve it warm with local vanilla ice cream, of course.

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Mmmm… I have such a craving for a luscious tomato tart.  Roasting brings out such intense flavors.  And melted cheese: the deliciousness of the thought speaks for itself.

However, it’s pushing 90 today, and I won’t be turning on the oven.  How to celebrate high tomato season with something a little simpler, more “rustic” and conducive to lazing around than the pretty spiral of tomato, mozz, and basil (though I have nothing against that salad!)?

Panzanella!  A bread salad made with summer’s basics: stale bread, tomatoes, basil.

panz ingreds

The structure of this basic flavor combination provides a strong background for additions, if they come in as accents.  Have some leftover anchovies or olives?  A wedge of lemon?  Toss in a few capers, too, from that bottle that always seems full.  Some other backyard herbs would be nice too, as long as the basil sets the tone.

We’ll have this tonight, with grilled chicken.  Killdeer folks: see you soon.

For the cooler nights later this week, though, I’ll be turning to the tart.  I think I’ll try this recipe, recently posted in the Times.

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