Tuesday, November 17, 2009

joe's birthday dinner

What do get for someone that has everything? That was my dilemma this past weekend. It was Joe's birthday and I couldn't figure out what to give him. I guess I could give him some cuff links made by my favorite jeweler Massimo Melis in Rome. That might work! Or he loves the moisturizer from Villa D'Este on Lake Como where we got engaged. I could have a couple bottles sent from Italy. OK, those two things will work but what about cooking a wonderful dinner just for him!

So that's what I did! I called a few good friends and his daughters. Before I knew it, I had a party!

As we stood in the kitchen and toasted, we ate the most delicious pizza topped with sweet butternut squash, smoked bacon and scamorza with a glass of Louis Roderer champagne. The pizza had a pronounced smokiness that paired well with the toasty champagne. And my dough had just the right balance between crunch and chewiness!

To the table! For a first course, I made a roasted carrot and parsnip soup with spiced creme fraiche. The wine couldn't have been better, - a 2008 Navarro Gewurztraminer. I don't want to sound like a wine snob but the sweet spiciness of the wine matched the soup perfectly! Navarro makes great Gewurztraminer and the price is so reasonable! Remind me to get a case!

Get ready, the next course is Joe's absolute favorite... homemade fettuccine with wild mushrooms. OMG! I made this dish with my students in the Piedmont when I first met Joe and he was traveling with me in Italy. He might say this pasta hooked him! Savary Chablis 2005 had just the right of acidity to cut through the richness of the sauce. If you can, try to pick up a bottle at Kermit Lynch.

And now for the main course! I reverted to my days of studying cooking with Madeleine Kamman in France. I made a roulade of grass-fed beef tenderloin rolled with wilted greens and an essence of beef. I served it with a gratin of potatoes, caramelized leeks and fennel, inspired by my alma mater, Chez Panisse. Our friend Keith brought 3 bottles of Gaja 2001 Barbaresco as a birthday gift for Joe! (I guess he knew what to get Joe!) The wine had such finesse with red cherry, plum and licorice notes, very full bodied and the silkiest tannins and stood up well to the beef.

And finally for dessert, I made a rich almond cake with the creamiest homemade salted caramel ice cream and Moscato-poached Concorde pears. Alongside, we had a little sip of 2008 Oddero Moscato d'Asti.

By the end, we were all doing dishes a la Big Chill and dancing in the kitchen!

Happy birthday Joe!


3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces smoked mozzarella
3 ounces fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 small butternut squash
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces smoked bacon, diced
4 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped

Preheat an oven to 500 F. Place a pizza brick or unglazed quarry tiles on the bottom shelf of the oven.

Combine the garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil and let stand 30 minutes. Grate the mozzarella and smoked mozzarella and combine.

Peel the butternut squash and cut in half. Remove the seeds and discard. Slice the squash into 1/4" slices. Blanch in salted water for 3 minutes. Remove and pat dry. Melt the butter and warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the squash and cook until just golden on the edges and cooked through. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cool.

Cook the bacon over medium high heat until they just turns golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.


2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water (110°F/43°C)
2 cups unbleached bread flour (preferably Kind Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, combine the yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1/4 cup flour. Let it stand for 30 minutes. Add the remaining 13/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water, and salt. Mix the dough thoroughly and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth, elastic, and a bit tacky to the touch, 7 to 8 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl and turn to cover with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (about 75°f/24°c) until it doubles in volume, 1 to 11/2 hours. Or, let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, let it come to room temperature and proceed with the recipe.

Punch down the dough and form into two round balls. Place on a well-floured work surface and let rest 5 minutes. Roll one piece of the dough into a 9-inch circle, 1/4" thick. Transfer to a heavily floured pizza peel. Brush the dough to within 1/2-inch of the edge with the garlic oil. Sprinkle half of the combined cheese evenly over the top and then half of the sliced onions. Place slices of the squash on top of the onions, leaving space in between each slice. Sprinkle the bacon and sage on top. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle ½ tablespoon olive oil. Transfer the pizza onto a stone and bake until golden and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and topping ingredients.

Makes 2 pizzas, 9" each


1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
3 cups homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ pound button or cultivated mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 recipe handmade fettuccine

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl. Pour the boiling water over the mushrooms and let them stand until the water is cool, 30 minutes.

In the meantime, place the heavy cream in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Reserve. Place the chicken stock in another saucepan and simmer until reduced to ½ cup. Reserve.

When the mushrooms are cool, strain the mushrooms and reserve. Place the mushroom soaking liquid in a saucepan and simmer until reduced to ¼ cups. Reserve.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the sliced fresh mushroom and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms give off any liquid and the liquid evaporated 8 to 12 minutes. Add the revived dried wild mushroom and stir together. Add the reduced cream, chicken stock and reduced mushroom soaking liquid. Stir until mixed.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 2 to 4 minutes. In the meantime, warm the mushroom sauce over medium high heat. Drain the pasta and add the mushroom sauce and half of the Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss together and serve garnished with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano. Serve immediately.

Serves 6


1 1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces almond paste
1 1/4 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Confectioner's sugar

Beat sugar with the almond paste until the almond paste is in fine pieces. Or better, pulverize it in a food processor. Beat in the butter and the vanilla, then cream the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the whole eggs, one at a time - the eggs should be at room temperature - beating well after each addition so the eggs are thoroughly mixed in. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt and beat in just until thoroughly blended.

Preheat an oven to 325F. Butter and flour a 9" springform pan and turn the batter into it, smoothing the top evenly. Bake the torte until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the center feels springy when you push it gently, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Slice the cake and serve with the Creamiest Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

Serves 8 to 10


1 1/3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean split and scraped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 egg yolks

In a large heavy stainless steel frying pan over medium heat, melt the sugar by swirling the pan to melt the sugar uniformly. Cook until the sugar starts to turn golden brown or caramel color. Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the heavy cream and milk. The caramel will seize and get hard. Place the pan over the heat and stirring constantly, heat the cream to melt the caramel.

When the caramel is melted, add the vanilla bean and salt over medium heat, heat the mixture until there are bubbles around the edges and a skin that forms on the top.

Place the egg yolks in a bowl. Temper the egg yolks by slowly adding the warm caramel cream mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. When all of the warm caramel cream mixture has been added, pout the contents into a heavy saucepan. Using a rubber spatula or a flat bottom wooden spoon, stir the mixture constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon or spatula, about 2 to 4 minutes.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Immediately whisk the caramel mixture to cool it slightly. Cover the bowl with plastic and place in the refrigerator until cold.
Freeze the ice cream according to the directions with your particular ice cream machine.

Makes almost 1 quart

Friday, November 6, 2009

felicita's pesto recipe

I'm home in San Francisco and in the middle of a fall harvest cooking class in my kitchen and still I can't get the Cinque Terre out of my head. I'm supposed to be thinking clove zabaglione, roasted fall vegetables, braised beef in Cabernet and poached pears but I keep flashing back to basil, pine nuts and fruity Ligurian olive oil.

I remember hearing years ago that in Liguria, where pesto reigns supreme, they never pick basil over 6-inches tall. After being there, I now know that to be true but there's a whole lot more to the story.

The first class I had with my students in the Cinque Terre, I invited Felicita, the owner of the albergo, to come and show us how she makes pesto. After all her family has been in the Cinque Terre for generations, she'd have to be pretty good at it.

We all think we know how to make pesto. Throw all the ingredients into the food processor and pulse until you have a bright green puree. Nope, not here, think again!

You can't start with just any basil. It has to be Genovese basil and it's true, it can't be taller than 6-inches. The leaves have to be small and really tender. Pick the leaves from the stem meticulously making sure you don't get any stem whatsoever. Wash the basil and place it on towels to dry. There can't be any water on the basil at all.

Now you need a mortar and pestle. Felicita's mortar was passed to her from her mother who got it from her mother. She thinks it's about 100 years old.

What about the pestle? It has to be made of beech wood, she told us. (The next day after our lesson, I got so excited when I saw a man selling beech wood pestles in the market. I bought one but had to draw the line when it came to the 25 pound mortar! I've carried a lot of things home in my suitcase but not this time.)

You place the basil (two big handfuls for two people or about 80 leaves) in the mortar and with the pestle you grind the basil until there's shinny green liquid at the bottom mortar and the basil is pulverized. Next you add a clove of garlic and continue with the pestle until the garlic is also pulverized. Add about 2 tablespoons of Italian pine nuts (Felicita picks them herself from her trees) and mash them until the mixture is a paste.

She said some people like to add a combination of Pecorino and Parmigiano but it's all personal preference. She prefers a good handful of Parmigiano and again she grinds the mixture to make a paste. And finally don't forget a good splash of Liguriuan olive oil and mash until you have a creamy consistency.

I slathered as much as I could on a tiny wedge of bread. How was it? It had to be the sweetest, most delicate, bright emerald green pesto I've ever tasted. I thought about the pesto we make with strong, bitter, tough basil... How did I feel after that lesson with Felicita? Like I couldn't make pesto again anywhere outside Liguria.

How often does Felicita eat pesto? "At least 3 to 4 times a week!" she said.

I can see why!