RICOTTA, CINNAMON, HONEY, ORANGE

Ricotta Cinnamon Honey Orange-1163-2

After a week of biking through Sardinia with Ciclismo Classico, I have to say the island resists being pinned down.  Rural Sardinia puts on a deceptively simple face – sleepy villages, delicious basic cuisine, agriculture based around sheep, friendly people.  But once you start to look closely things don’t appear quite Italian.  The ghost of one culture appears and lingers just long enough for a sense of certainty to develop – oh, Sardinia is really Spanish – when it disappears, replaced by a different revenant – oh, no, it really is Italian… or Phoenician, or Roman or Greek.  Signage often appears in multiple languages–Italian, variants of Sardu, the Sardinian language, and sometimes another local language, like the Catalan dialect spoken in one part of the island. Welcome signs outside of villages typically greet visitors in French, German and English, as well as Italian and Sardu. Sometimes all you can do is take experience in, ask questions, and hope you get back.  It’s unusual for Jody and me to encounter so many new culinary treats in one place. Local ingredients we thought we knew were often combined in unexpected ways. Like this dessert of Ricotta, Cinnamon, Honey and Orange, a dish we enjoyed at Trattoria da Riccardo, a Magomadas restaurant owned by the cyclist/chef Riccardo Cadoni and his family.  It’s so good, so simple, that unless you roll with a much more travelled cabal of culinary sophisticates than I do, it will be a delightful surprise to whomever you serve it.  You can pretty much do everything at table.  Simple, delicious, and a bit surprising, a description that might sum up Sardinia itself.  Enjoy.  Ken

Dorie Greenspan’s Gâteau Basque turned into Plum Cookies

Plum Cookies-9583-2

When September rolls around in New England home cooks can look a little grim at the prospect of dealing with too much.  Too much zucchini, too many tomatoes, too much corn.  Your CSA, your friends, or your own garden runs amok, filling your fridge and kitchen counter with ever more too much of a good thing.  This year a new offender for us, prune plums.  And a time crunch.  Too little time + too much fruit = Plum Cookies.  In more relaxed times we’ve made jam, or a plum cake.  We might finally get to Sophie James’s Sautéed Plums with Dark Chocolate Pudding and Crushed Amaretti Cookies, but not today.  Nope.  Just these buttery little flying saucers hoving into view with sugary purple pilots.

Summer Berries and Sabayon

Summer Berries and Sabayon-1

Making Summer Berries with Sabayon is about as easy as dessert gets.  The only thing easier would be to eat the berries with nothing, or just whipped cream.  But then you wouldn’t get the texture of sabayon, one of the cooking world’s great miracles–cooked eggs that have been prevented from forming curds.  Sabayon is foamy, yet substantive.   It can stand on its own as a dessert and offers a great medium for sweet or fortified wine, which is why it’s often made with Marsala.  Plus, if you’re feeling Italian, rather than French, you can say you just whipped up a batch of zabaglione (s/zaa-bal-YOH-nee), which to my ear sounds like something Willy Wonka eats for breakfast on holidays.

Po’s Easy Pots de Crème

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For your consideration: Po’s Easy Pots de Crème.  Po is my mother-in-law and she is a master of complicated dinner party timing.  None of the slatternly boozing it up with the help in the kitchen that characterizes entertaining chez nous.  She’s all guests-in-one-place, cooks-in-another, and the brevity of a host’s absence from her guests only redounds to her reputation for efficient culinary management.  Ninety-percent of this recipe is “Place all of the ingredients… in a blender.”  Not that you’d know it from the taste and texture.  Remember how the genie in Disney’s ALADDIN describes his life?  “ALL THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE… in a teeny little space.”  That’s this dessert.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Spicy Mango

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I know people who organize their restaurant meals around dessert.  Pas moi.  The light in my brain, my desire for dessert, flickers in fits and starts, dependent on context and the availability of something inclined to my retrograde tastes.   A slice of fruit tart is never amiss at the end of a picnic: if I know that a master of crème caramel, flying in the face of fashion, resides in the house, I can be tempted.  As I can be with homemade panna cotta, that exquisitely delicate Italian wobbler.  When Sara Cravedi, the pastry chef at Trade, introduced a coconut panna cotta onto the dessert menu, my dessert light began flashing an SOS.  Sara’s dessert includes a scoop of avocado ice cream, crumbled peanut brittle and a mango macerated with lime and habanero pepper.  It come together in an interplacy of heat, fat, sweetness, delicacy and unctuousness.  Jody’s Coconut Panna Cotta with Spicy Mango pares things down to just a pair of flavors–coconut and mango–just in case you don’t have an ice cream machine and pastry kitchen standing in readiness for the next dessert launch.  To make it even easier, there’s no need to un-mold this panna cotta–it’s served in its glass, topped with a spoonful of spicy mango.  Think of the panna cotta and mango as a couple that wandered off the terrace party to do a little dance by themselves down on the beach.

Lemon-Rhubarb Custard Soufflé

Lemon-Rhubarb Custard Soufflé-3197

Never schedule a photo shoot with your wife for the day after she disassembles and packs her Seven road bike for a trip.  Not unless you want dessert sharing the frame with epidermal roadkill.  A Photoshop alchemist might be able to redeem the damage, but my skills are more 4th-grade pick-a-card-any-card than digital wizard.  If you catch a gouged finger–and there are ten of them in this post–or a bashed nail, you know why.  But no matter–spring is here.  Somewhere people are riding bicycles.  Tufted titmice are peter-peter-peter-ing. And if this morning you woke up to a dusting of snow, as we did in Boston, you can still make yourself a sweet-tart dessert with a concentrated essence of Spring in it, Lemon-Rhubarb Custard Soufflé.  And a great dessert it is, with two kinds of tartness, and 3 different textures, even if the hands that made it look a bit worse for the wear.

On a night not fit for man nor beast – Salted Butterscotch Custard

Salted Butterscotch Custard-27

As I write this (Thursday) the Big Bad Wolf howls about our house, a slavering gale sniffing out chinks, probing for weaknesses.  The temperature is expected to plunge to 5 or 6 above zero by morning, with Boston adrift in over a foot of snow before the blizzard subsides Friday evening.  In our current larder we have bread, sweet potatoes and bitter greens that Jody made tonight, chewy papardelle noodles with smoked goose and tomato sauce–the last hurrah of our Christmas birds–and a few precious survivors of this week’s post, Salted Butterscotch Custards.  We couldn’t be snugger.

Sadie’s Gingersnaps

Sadie's Gingersnaps (1 of 26)

If you’re looking for something homemade this weekend but are ready to give elaborate cooking a rest, here’s a treat, Sadie’s Gingersnaps.  The eponymous Sadie is the grandmother of our great friend and traveling companion, Bette Ann (BA) Harris.  Several weeks ago BA arrived for dinner at our house with a plastic bag of these oversize ginger snaps.  Score!  There’s an embargo on our house for cookies, unless we make them ourselves.  It ensures quality control and minimizes temptation.  You can have a treat… as long as you make it yourself.  We do, however, issue culinary visas to all friends bearing baked goods.  After all, how often do friends show up at your door with homemade cookies?  These were definitely worth the wait.

Fig, Plum and Hazelnut Tart

Fig, Plum and Hazelnut Tart-530-8819

Oh, the things we do, the torments we endure, so you don’t have to.  The week’s Fig, Plum and and Hazelnut Tart didn’t start out as the walk in the park below.  After helping everyone become a tart shell master last week we thought we’d put the technique to good use with a simple fig and mascarpone tart.  However, after half our figs disappeared the night before we were scheduled to blog, we had to rethink our plan.  Nearby Allandale Farm had no figs, but they did have plums.  Voilà fig and plum tart.

Cherry Goat Cheese Clafoutis

Cherry Goat Cheese Clafoutis-2

I’m not a fan of cherry pie (too sweet).  How un-American is that?  You can practically hear George Washington grumbling as he rolls over in his grave.  Oh wait, George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, at least apocryphally.  Maybe he wasn’t a fan of cherry pie either.  Maybe if George had enjoyed a Cherry Goat Cheese Clafoutis once in awhile the father of the United States might have been depicted by contemporary artists looking as if he were actually pleased about it.  Clafoutis can cheer anyone up.  As a student without much money in the French-speaking part of Switzerland I would sometimes treat myself to a slice of a beautiful clafoutis displayed in a pastry shop window.  It was one of those dependable, not terribly expensive indulgences that made me feel comforted and sophisticated at the same time.  With one foot in the tart world and another in the cake world, a medium that tasted a bit like crêpes and felt like custard, how could it not brighten my day?