Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Saffron Parfait with Pistachios

A couple of weeks ago my oven broke irreparably and I had not been able to bake anything before the new one arrived just this week. This also meant that I could not bake any cakes. Luckily, I have many recipes for the desserts that are not cakes but can be served cold. I tried a couple of them instead as I can hardly live without any dessert.

I read recently a lot about desserts made with saffron. They usually come from the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cuisine. Saffron adds beautiful color to desserts and also has this nice mysterious flavor which makes the dessert taste even more interesting.

The dessert that I made recently is most of all very easy to make. Since it is frozen it can be prepared ahead. It can be a great finale to any spicy or grilled dinner, especially on a warm day like we had for the first time this year.

Saffron Parfait with Pistachios
(Makes four servings)

A pinch of saffron thread or saffron powder,
4 eggs yolks,
1/2 cup sugar,
1 cup half and half,
1/2 cup chopped pistachios.

1. Put the saffron in milk and heat in a small pan until it nearly boils. Set aside to cool, then drain on a sieve.
2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes pale. Pour in the saffron milk to the yolks mixture and heat without letting it boil. A mixture should be thick enough to coat a wooden spoon.

3. Pour the mixture in a bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
4. Whip half and half until almost stiff. Fold in gently the saffron mixture and pistachios. Divide between small bowls and put in a freezer for 8 hours.

Take it out from the freezer 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leeks Baked with Cream and Gorgonzola

Years ago, when vegetables and fruits were only available in certain seasons, leeks were one of the few that survived winter and lasted until the first new spring vegetables were available. Maybe for that reason I still like most to cook and eat leeks from late fall to early spring. So the other day, which was still very cold and windy, I made a leek dish for dinner.

I wanted to try a simple Italian dish of leeks baked in cream. But when I was about to put a dish in the oven, I found in my refrigerator a piece of Gorgonzola cheese. I thought that Gorgonzola would go well with leeks in cream since this was an Italian dish. It seemed also that a slightly sharp cheese would add a little bit of spiciness to the mild and slightly sweet leeks. Then I came with the idea to finish the dish with shredded almonds to add some crunchiness. The dish turned out very nice and a combination of sweet leeks in cream and melted, spicy Gorgonzola was perfect.

It is a very simple dish that can be prepared ahead and finished (baked) at the last moment. It tastes great with baguette, tomato salad, and a glass of wine.

Leeks Baked in Cream and Gorgonzola

4 medium leeks (only the white and light green parts can be used),
1/2 cup table cream,
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese,
2 tbsp slivered roasted almonds,
1 tbsp butter,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Wash leeks thoroughly, especially between the leaves to remove all the dirt.
2.Put them in a pot of salted boiling water and cook about 10 minutes, until soft. Drain and cool down them down.
3. Preheat oven to 370F.
4. Butter an over proof dish (large enough for leeks to fit in) and place the leeks in it.

5. Pour on top the cream and crumbled Gorgonzola. Season generously with freshly grated pepper. Sprinkle with almond slivers.
6. Place the dish in the oven and bake about 20 minutes until the cheese melts. Serve hot.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Radicchio and Potatoes Cake

Another milestone of culinary sophistication has been attained by my local Safeway when it has started to carry radicchio treviso on a regular basis. I knew radicchio treviso  (Radicchio di Treviso) only from Italy where it is used for all cooking dishes, while the round one is mainly served fresh. So when I spotted treviso I have been buying it every couple of days and making all the dishes I have always wanted to try with a true cooking radicchio. And today's recipe is a combination of two dishes that I ate.

In a magazine that I brought last time from Italy I found a recipe for radicchio, potatoes, and ricotta cake. I made that dish some time ago and it was nice but, despite the natural bitterness of the radicchio, it seemed too bland for my taste.

Then an Italian friend served for dinner a tart on a shortcrust base, filled with layers of potatoes and radicchio, and finished with cheese. It was very good. I liked very much this combination. But since I make tarts very often, I decided to make purely a vegetable version of that dish. I think that the combination of a slightly bitter radicchio, mild potatoes, and melting cheese is very interesting, even without the crust.

The dish can be served alone in a vegetarian version but it can also accompany roasted lamb.

Radicchio and Potatoes Cake

3 heads radicchio treviso (or two of the regular round ones) cut in half and sliced,
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced,
1/2 cup white wine,
6 medium potatoes cooked in skins until tender,
3 tbsp olive oil,
1/2 lb fontina cheese, sliced,
salt and pepepr to taste.

1. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add onion and fry until transparent. Add radicchio and cook on a medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook until radicchio starts to wilt and darkens.
2. Turn off the heat and season the radicchio with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 375F.
4. Grease a 9-inch oven-proof dish with the remaining tbsp of oil.
5. Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices. Spread half of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Spread the radicchio on top. Cover the radicchio with remaining potatoes.
6. Season the top of potatoes generously with freshly ground pepper and cover with fontina slices.

7. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the dish for another 10-15 minutes, until fontina melts and becomes gold.

Serve hot.