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Blueberry cornmeal pancakes. Credit:

A new cookbook serves up breakfast inspiration. Eight innkeepers who have served more than 184,200 breakfasts in their collective 150 years of feeding happy guests joined together to write “Eight Broads in the Kitchen” (Winters Publishing, 2014).

The book includes advice on stocking your pantry and a wide range of sweet and savory dishes and many muffins, scones, waffles and breads. Recipes include unusual breakfast fare like refreshing chilled peach soup, Maryland blue crab quiche and birchermuesli, a classic Swiss dish of rolled oats, fruit and nuts created by Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner in the early 1900s as a health food.

Below are six recipes that range from those simple enough for a workday to others perfect for a leisurely weekend, and all sure to brighten any morning.

Pineapple Napoleon

This pineapple napoleon is quick and easy to make. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen.”

Pineapple Napoleon

The William Henry Miller Inn

Prep time: 15 minutes

No cooking time

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 ripe pineapple

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

4 tablespoons pineapple ice cream topping, such as Smuckers

3/4 cup sifted confectioners sugar, plus more for dusting

Dash of salt

Fresh berries, for garnish

Directions

1. Remove top of pineapple and cut rind off so that you are forming a “square.” Slice pineapple into thin square slices. Use an apple or pineapple corer to remove the tough center.

2. Using a sharp knife, carve out the good pineapple inside the rind of the pineapple to use as “center slices.”

3. Mix cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream topping, confectioners sugar and salt, and stir until creamy.

4. Layer slices of pineapple with cream. Each serving uses 3 or 4 slices of pineapple. Top with fresh raspberries, strawberries, or your choice of berries, and a generous sprinkling of confectioners sugar.

scones

These scones are made with white chocolate and cranberries. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

White Chocolate and Cranberry Scones

The White Oak Inn

Prep time: 10 minutes

Baking time: 12 minutes

Yield: 12 to 14 scones

The secret to good scones is to keep all the ingredients cold and handle the dough as little as possible.

Ingredients

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter, using either the pulse setting on a food processor or by hand with a pastry blender. Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs, with no visible chunks of butter.

3. Separate one of the eggs, setting the white aside. Beat the yolk with the other whole egg and the half-and-half. Add this to the dry mixture, along with the white chocolate chips and cranberries. Stir with a fork until barely mixed.

4. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead gently, about 6 to 8 times. Roll or pat dough out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter.

5. Place on an ungreased baking sheet about an inch apart and brush the tops with the reserved egg white.

6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until top is golden brown.

ZESTER BOOK LINKS


Eight Broads in the Kitchen

"Eight Broads in the Kitchen"

Winter Publishing, 192 pages, 2014

» Click here to buy the book

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

The Beechmont Inn Bed and Breakfast

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: Sixteen 4-inch pancakes

Cornmeal adds a delightful crunch and bit of sweetness.

Ingredients

2 cups flour, plus 1 tablespoon for blueberries

1 cup ground cornmeal

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 cups milk

4 large eggs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

2 cups blueberries

Directions

1. In large bowl, combine the 2 cups of flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Use a whisk to blend.

2. In a separate smaller bowl, blend the yogurt, milk, eggs, melted butter, vanilla and orange zest.

3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and blend, being careful not to overmix. Lightly coat the blueberries with a tablespoon of flour and add blueberries to mixture.

4. Preheat an electric griddle to 350 F. Cook pancakes on hot griddle until done.

5. Serve with warm syrup and your favorite bacon or sausage.

Crustless Veggie Quiche

This veggie quiche can be made with seasonal vegetables. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

Crustless Veggie Quiche

The White Oak Inn

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Vary the vegetables based on what’s in season. Change the seasonings with the ingredients: For an Italian twist combine tomatoes, onions and artichokes and Parmesan with traditional Italian herbs such as oregano, basil and parsley. For a Mexican flair, use chorizo, green chilies, tomatoes and onions, topped with Monterey jack cheese.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup diced onion

1 large yellow or green zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch slices

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

5 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup fresh diced tomatoes

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray.

2. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with basil and oregano. Sauté for about 3 or 4 minutes.

3. Combine the eggs, milk, flour and baking powder in a blender or food processor.

4. Spread the onion/zucchini mixture in the bottom of the pie plate. Spread the diced tomatoes, cheddar and feta cheeses evenly over top. Gently pour the egg batter over all.

5.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until set in the middle. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing into 6 wedges.

Raised Waffle

Brampton Bed and Breakfast Inn

Prep time: 10 minutes, plus refrigerate overnight

Cook time: 20 minutes

Yield: 8 waffles

These waffles are light and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The batter is best made in advance and will keep refrigerated for up to three days.

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups whole milk, divided

1 tablespoon dry yeast

2 cups unbleached flour

2 tablespoons ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 stick, 4 ounces, unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Directions

1. Put the 1/4 cup milk into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast on top. Let stand for 5 minutes. Yeast will dissolve and start to bubble.

2. In a separate large bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar. Set aside.

3. To another large bowl, add the 2 cups warmed milk (make sure milk is less than 110 F or it will kill the yeast), melted butter, eggs and bubbly yeast mixture, and whisk until everything is well incorporated. Add flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. The batter should be smooth.

4. Cover with plastic wrap and set bowl on a large rimmed cookie tray to catch the overflow if necessary, as the batter will double in volume. Refrigerate overnight.

5. In the morning, preheat the waffle iron to high.

6. Whisk batter and then it will deflate. Let batter rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.

7. Pour about 3/4 cup of batter per waffle onto hot waffle iron. Bake until waffles are golden and edges are crisp.

8. Serve topped with warm maple syrup, any berries of your choice, or lightly sweetened fresh pineapple.

garden baked eggs

The secret to these garden baked eggs is the thyme. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

Garden Baked Eggs

Chambered Nautilus Bed and Breakfast Inn

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

Yield: 6

The real secret to this recipe is the thyme. It enhances the flavor of both the eggs and veggies. Serve with your favorite muffins, breads or potatoes.

Ingredients

12 eggs, 2 per person

1/2 cup half-and-half

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon thyme (dried or fresh)

2 cups of your favorite chopped vegetables such as green and red peppers, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, green onions

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (to sprinkle on top)

Chives, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray six (6-ounce) ramekins with cooking spray.

2. Blend eggs, half-and-half, salt, pepper and thyme (a 4-cup measuring cup with pouring spout is useful).

3. Fill ramekins with 1/3 cup chopped vegetables.

4. Put egg mixture in ramekins over the vegetables. Top with cheddar cheese and chives.

5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until set.

Main caption: Cornmeal is added to these blueberry pancakes for a delightful crunch and bit of sweetness. Credit: “Eight Broads in the Kitchen”

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Galleggiante

You can order espresso in dozens of ways: corto, a shot made with just a little water, or lungo, a shot made with more water. Ask for a splash of milk or foam and you get caffé macchiato, “marked” coffee and, of course, with lots of foam for classic cappuccino. There are many riffs on caffé corretto, espresso “corrected” with a splash of spirits.

But in addition to the long list of standards, each of Italy’s 20 regions has several specialty coffee drinks little known in the United States.

Here are five of my favorites, including a gorgeous bay leaf-infused spiked espresso, a riff on Negroni, and three iced coffee drinks.

Three-layer Espresso “Float” (Galleggiante)

This hot coffee drink is popular in the province of Lucca in Tuscany. A shot of espresso “floats” over warm spirits infused with aromatic bay leaf, creating three distinct layers: spirits, espresso and its crema. The bay leaf adds a surprisingly delightful aroma and flavor to espresso.

Ingredients, per serving

2 tablespoons each rum, cognac and Sassolino

1 heaping tablespoon granulated sugar

1 bay leaf

1 thick strip lemon peel, including white pith

Directions

1. Combine the spirits, sugar and bay leaf in a heatproof container and heat using the steam wand. Pour into a short glass, reserving the bay leaf for garnish.

2. Carefully place the lemon peel on top of the spirits and set the glass under the espresso machine so the espresso pours onto the lemon, a technique that allows the espresso to “float” on top of the liquor. Insert the bay leaf and serve.

Salento-Style Iced Coffee (Caffé in Ghiaccio Salentina)

Caffé in Ghiaccio Salentina

Salento-Style iced coffee (Caffé in Ghiaccio Salentina). Credit: Roof Garden at Risorgimento Resort

This is a shot of espresso served over ice sweetened with homemade almond syrup. Invented in the 1950s in the Salento province of Puglia, it’s still one of southern Italy’s most popular summer drinks.

Ingredients

Homemade almond syrup

Latte di mandorla

Makes 1 quart

2 pounds blanched almonds

4 cups water

8 ounces granulated sugar

Directions

1. Grind the almonds, a little at a time, in a mortar and pestle or food processor slowly adding water throughout until a homogenous paste.

2. Let rest, for 3 to 6 hours, stirring occasionally, and then strain through a fine cloth. Discard the almonds. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Creamy Espresso Slushy (L’Espressino Freddo)

(L’Espressino Freddo

Creamy Espresso Slushy (L’Espressino Freddo). Credit: Mozart Caffé

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 long shots espresso

2 teaspoons granulated sugar, plus more to taste

1 cup whipped cream

2 savoiardi or other cookies, optional

Directions

1. Put the hot espresso and sugar in a shaker with several ice cubes and shake until cold. Divide half of the strained cold espresso between 2 martini glasses.

2. Stir the remaining cold espresso into the whipped cream until just combined, spoon over the espresso and serve with a cookie, if you like.

Negroni “AJ” from Florence

Negroni, invented in Florence circa 1919, gets an update in the town of its origin. Created by Italy’s coffee expert Andrej Godina for ditta Artigianale, a cutting-edge new coffee bar in Florence, a shot of espresso is added to the classic cocktail recipe, creating a pleasing hint of bitterness and added depth of flavor and aroma.

Negroni

Negroni “AJ” from Florence. Credit: Francine Segan

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 shot freshly brewed hot espresso

Orange slice

Lemon peel

Directions

Fill a short chilled glass with lots of ice. Pour the ingredients into the glass and stir well. Top with hot espresso. Garnish with orange slice and lemon peel.

Espresso in a Shaker (Caffé Shakerato)

Espresso in a Shaker

Espresso in a Shaker (Caffé Shakerato). Credit: Francine Segan

One of Italy’s most popular ways to enjoy iced coffee north of Rome is shakerato, hot espresso shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker, then strained into a martini glass.

Ingredients

1 long shots freshly brewed espresso

Sugar syrup

Directions

1. Combine the freshly brewed espresso, sweeten to taste with sugar syrup, and 3 to 4 ice cubes into a cocktail.

2. Shake vigorously until cold, about 10 seconds.

3. Strain into a martini glass. Open the shaker, and using a spoon, remove the coffee foam, placing a little on top. Serve immediately.

Main caption: Three-layer Espresso “Float” (Galleggiante) has a shot of espresso floating over warm spirits, infused with a bay leaf. Credit: Antica Locanda di Sesto

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pumpkin carbonara

Succulent summer tomatoes are a distant memory, but luckily wonderful pasta sauce can be made with fall’s beautiful bounty of pears and pumpkins.

My passion for pasta with fruit began while researching my first cookbook “Shakespeare’s Kitchen,” during which I discovered the many sweet-savory pasta dishes of the Renaissance. Now, I’m always on the lookout for fruit and pasta pairings when in Italy and constantly pester my Italian friends to send me recipes. In Italy you’ll find pasta paired with all sorts of fruit, both dried and fresh — prunes, dates, oranges and lemons — each adding lovely color, brilliant acidity and delicate sweetness to the sauces.

 Pears and pasta

I’m especially partial to pears as they stand up nicely when cooked and add a savory sweet fresh flavor. Grating fresh pear onto pasta tossed with simple jar tomato sauce makes it taste delicately sweet. Adding diced pear to a simple mac ‘n’ cheese adds crunch and a surprisingly almost wine note to a simple dish.

“Open” ravioli with a meat and pear sauce. Credit: “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan

Pear is a popular ravioli filling as it pairs so wonderfully with cheese. A classic pear ravioli from the Lombardy region is casconcelli, a decadently delicious, very unusual ravioli, made with an odd but oh-so-tasty assortment of ingredients: sausage, roast beef, raisins, crushed almond cookies and pears. Making ravioli can be a little daunting, so I was thrilled to discover that in Italy they often use the ravioli filling as condiment for dried pasta! Called ravioli aperto, or “open ravioli,” it uses ravioli filling as a sauce, as was popularized by the famous Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi, who first introduced it back in the ’80s. Nowadays, many Italians, pressed for time, forgo ravioli-making and turn the filling into a free-form sauce for pasta. The flavors are the same and it saves time.

“Open” Pear Ravioli (Casoncelli alla Bergamasca “Aperto”)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

From “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

The pear filling for casoncelli, ravioli from the Bergamo section of Lombardy, makes an exceptionally tasty, very unusual sauce for any shape of dried pasta.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter
2 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
1 sweet sausage
¼ pound roast beef, thinly sliced then cut into strips
1 garlic clove, minced
3 to 4 small fresh sage leaves
1 large pear, thinly sliced with peel left on
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound calamarata or any shape pasta
Zest of ½ lemon
Grana padano or other aged cheese
Ground cinnamon
Nutmeg
½ bunch fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 amaretti cookies, crushed, optional

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.

2. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes.

3. Remove the meat from the sausage casing and crumble into the pan; cook until browned.

4. Add the roast beef, garlic, whole sage leaves, pear, raisins and broth.

5. Cook the mixture until the pears are soft, about 5 minutes.

6. Meantime, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until almost al dente.

7. Drain and toss into the sauce. Stir well and cook, adding cooking liquid, if needed, until al dente.

8. Stir in the zest, ⅓ cup of grated cheese, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg and minced parsley to taste, until well amalgamated. Season with salt and pepper and serve topped with more shaved or grated cheese and a sprinkling of amaretti crumbs, if using.

Pumpkins and pasta

In Italy all sorts of pumpkins and fall squash are incorporated into pasta sauces, lasagna, ravioli and gnocchi. You can add diced roasted pumpkin to meat sauce or layer it into lasagna for a savory touch of fall. You can top virtually any pasta dish with thin slices of fried pumpkin for a pop of texture and sweetness.

Pumpkin is especially delicious added to one of Italy’s most iconic pasta dishes: carbonara – hot pasta tossed with raw egg to create its own creamy sauce, punctuated by crisp bits of pancetta and a shower of grated cheese.

It would be difficult to improve on that magical combination of simple ingredients, but by substituting caramelized onions and pumpkin in place of the pancetta, it not only turns it into a vegetarian delight, but creates an even more creamy sauce.

Pumpkin Pasta Carbonara

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

From “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Ingredients

1 large onion, thinly sliced
Olive oil
2 cups diced pumpkin or kabocha squash, seeds and skin removed
Salt and pepper
1 pound pasta, any shape
2 eggs
Pecorino or other aged cheese

Directions

1. In a large frying pan over medium heat, cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until the onion is very soft, about 8 minutes, then raise the heat to high and continue cooking until golden and caramelized, about 4 more minutes. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.

2. In the same pan, adding another tablespoon or 2 of oil, fry the squash until tender and golden at the edges, about 8 minutes. Return the onions to the pan, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and keep warm.

3. In a large serving bowl, beat the eggs with 2 heaping tablespoons of grated pecorino cheese.

4. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and toss in the egg mixture, stirring until creamy, then stir in the hot onion-squash mixture. Serve topped with grated or shaved cheese.

Main photo: Pumpkin is especially delicious added to one of Italy’s most iconic pasta dishes: carbonara. Credit: “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan

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Willy Wonka might not agree, but not all chocolate is created equal. To find out what makes the difference between a $1 candy bar and an artisanal, single-origin chocolate, I went to Tuscany, Italy, to tour the headquarters of Amedei, a four-time winner of the Oscars of chocolate — the coveted Golden Bean award. There I went on a guided tasting of chocolate that Food & Wine Magazine calls “the world’s best.”

My visit began with a tasting of the various Amedei products, including tiny bars called Napolitains, assorted handmade pralines, and finally the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted, dense and rich with a hint of toasted almonds.

Amedei is the only Italian chocolate company that supervises chocolate production at every stage, from growing the cocoa bean to the finished product. During the visit, Cecilia Tessieri, owner of the Amedei chocolate company, explained chocolate’s complexity and gave an insider’s peek at how the pros taste chocolate.

Chocolate tasting tips

Tessieri says that to truly appreciate fine chocolate, you must use all five of your senses.

See. Start with your eyes. Great chocolate should have a nice sheen, but not be too glossy. Too glossy means that instead of using only expensive cocoa butter, less costly vegetable oils were added.

Hear. Break off a piece. Do you hear a snap? That’s a sign that the cocoa butter was properly crystalized.

Smell. Fine chocolate offers lovely complex aromas, and depending on where it’s from, may show off hints of toasted almonds, honey or dried fruit. Defective or lesser chocolate smells burnt or metallic.

Touch and taste. Put a small piece of chocolate onto the center of your tongue, but don’t chew! Fine chocolate has multiple flavor levels and chewing doesn’t allow time for them to reveal themselves. Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, but soft at body temperature, giving us the chance to experience the silky feel of the chocolate as it melts in the mouth.

How chocolate is made

The visit continued with a video on harvesting chocolate and then a tour through Amedei’s facility for converting cacao beans into award-winning chocolate. “It all starts with the cocoa beans,” said Cecilia, holding a handful of aromatic toasted cocoa beans. A single cacao tree bears about 30 usable pods each year, yielding roughly 1,000 cacao beans, enough for about 2 pounds of chocolate.

The mature pods are handpicked and then carefully cut open so as not to damage the beans, which must remain intact to maintain a full chocolate flavor.  When a cacao pod is first opened, it has no hint of chocolate fragrance. Instead, the white fruit pulp has a lovely peach and tropical flower aroma and a fruity tart-sweet flavor.

The pulp and the beans are pulled out of the pod and placed in a container, often a simple wooden box lined with banana leaves, where it is left for seven to nine days. The beans ferment in the pulp’s juices, infusing them with additional flavor. They are then spread out to dry in the sun for about a week where they are gently turned, often by women on tiptoe, in what Cecilia calls the “the cacao dance.”

When the beans arrive at Amedei, Cecilia begins the process of converting these precious cacao beans into chocolate.

1. Cecilia does a “cut test,” slicing a sample of the beans in half to confirm their quality. Cacao beans must be perfect to be included in Amedei chocolate—uniform and smooth.

2. Then they are roasted in special proprietary indirect fire equipment.

3. After that, the concasseur, or nibbing machine, separates the husks from the beans to obtain tiny bits of cacao beans, the “nibs.”

4. Next, the nibs are ground into a thick paste called cocoa mass. I tasted the warm, fragrant mass and found it perfect, but Cecilia explained that it was still too acidic and dense. The missing crucial step is called “conching.” a slow, gentle grinding process lasting 72 hours that results in a silky smooth chocolate with perfect flavor. Finally comes tempering, melting the chocolate to just the right temperature to crystallize the cocoa butter. At this stage, the chocolate is ready to be made into the various Amedei products.

Cacao pod

Cacao pod
Picture 1 of 6

Mature cacao pods are hand-picked and then carefully cut open so as not to damage the beans. Credit: Amedei.

From around the world

Cru, a French term meaning “growth,” refers to wines from a particular area. Since the ’80s the term is also used with other products that change flavor depending on where they’re made, including beer, whisky and chocolate.

“Chocolate can taste very different depending on where it comes from,” explains Cecelia during our tour. She scours the globe in search of the very best tasting beans. She illustrated those differences in a guided tasting of Amedei’s Cru line, which includes chocolates made exclusively from cocoa beans from various countries, explaining the special aroma and taste of each:

Grenada

Delicate, creamy taste with a lovely long-lasting finish.

Madagascar

Smells like hot chocolate with hints of lavender and herbs.

Rich with lovely hints of citrus and mint that almost tingles on the tongue.

Ecuador

Delicate roasted cacao aroma and the intriguing scent of a forest in the fall. The taste is just as complex, with a sequence of flavors revealing themselves, from green tea to pistachio and almonds to tropical fruit.

Jamaica

Fabulously complex aroma of dates, figs, apricot jam and ginger with a touch of carob, olives and freshly cut wood. The taste delivers all that the aroma promises, with the tang of candied orange peel and jam and richness of butter. Deep dark chocolate taste, yet not at all bitter.

Trinidad

Gourmet aromas of cocoa powder, Cuban cigars and a summer garden filled with fresh tomatoes with a taste of walnuts, vanilla and sweet persimmons.

Venezuela

Delicate aroma of sugar, warm melted butter, dried fruit and sandlewood. Naturally nutty taste of hazelnut, walnut, almond and cashew with slightly spicy hints. Intense flavor that is long lingering and rich.

Groups of at least four, and up to ten guests, can schedule a tour of Amedei in Italy. For information and reservations, go to their website, call 011-39-0587-48-4849 or e-mail office@amedei.it

There is one Amedei store in the United States, so if you can’t get to Italy, you can visit their shop at 15 East 18th St. in New York City, which features daily free samplings.

Torta Tenerina is a five-ingredient flourless chocolate cake. Credit: Francine Segan.

Torta Tenerina is a five-ingredient flourless chocolate cake. Credit: Francine Segan.

Torta Tenerina (5-Ingredient Italian Chocolate Cake)

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 8

This flourless cake has a crisp, macaroon-like top layer and a dense, incredibly moist center. As the cake cools, it collapses just a little, creating a pretty webbing on the delicious crust. It’s made with only five ingredients, so be sure to use only quality chocolate like Amedei. A must-try classic! Recipe is in "DOLCI: Italy’s Sweets" by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011)

Note: The cake's total time includes 20 to 30 minutes of rest time.

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons, 3 ½ ounces, unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 7 ounces dark chocolate, 70% cacao or higher, preferrably Amedei
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons potato or cornstarch

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form cake pan .
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a saucepan of gently boiling water.
  3. In a large bowl beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric hand held mixer until creamy and pale yellow. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and beat until creamy. Add the potato starch and mix until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Slowly, using a spatula, fold the egg whites, a little at a time, into the chocolate mixture until combined.
  5. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just set in the center. Don’t over-bake.
  6. The cake will continue to set as it cools. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before cutting it until it collapses and the top crust cracks a bit.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Fennel in the field. Credit: Terra Brockman

I am not a licorice-lover — far from it — but I have become fanatic about the anise-scented fennel.

The first hint came when I had it slow-braised with a roast and reduced to a mild, sweet, and meltingly delicious vegetable with just the barest hint of anise. The next step was roasting it with Parmesan cheese, which only a fool would turn down. My conversion experience came when I was presented with thinly sliced raw fennel, served in a bowl of lemony ice water, after a meal in Sorrento, Italy.

As a confirmed fennel fanatic and evangelist, my tip for first-timers or skeptics is to try fennel that has been mellowed out through cooking. Chances are you will soon find the sweet, delicately nuanced aroma and flavor of raw fennel also enticing.

Five reasons to love fennel

  1. It’s versatile. You can’t really go wrong with fennel, whether you cook it or eat it raw. And all three parts — the base, stalks and feathery leaves  — are edible. The bulb is the part most commonly used, cooked with meat, braised on its own, or used in salads or on sandwiches. The stalks can be used for soups, stocks and stews, while the leaves can be used as you would herbs such as parsley, dill, or tarragon.
  2. Easy to prepare and enjoy raw. You can slice fennel thinly, and mix with a vinaigrette on its own, or toss with a green salad or potato salad. It’s fast, simple, and delicious.
  3. Easy to cook. For those who don’t like the anise scent and flavor of fennel, try cutting the bulbs into large chunks, and roast them under a chicken or other meat or fish. And no one I know can resist fennel lightly sautéed in wine, cooked in cream, or roasted in the oven with Parmesan.
  4. Low calories and high nutrition. One cup of sliced fennel has only 27 calories, but large amounts of vitamin C, folate and potassium.
  5. Its phytochemicals promote health and may fight cancer.  Fennel contains many health-promoting phytochemicals, naturally occurring chemical compounds such as the antioxidants rutin and quercitin, and other kaempferol glycosides that also give fennel strong antioxidant activity. But perhaps the most interesting phytonutrient in fennel is anethole — the primary component of its volatile oil, which has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has reduced inflammation and helped prevent cancer. One study showed that anethole stopped breast cancer cells from growing. Researchers have also proposed a biological mechanism that may explain these anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects by showing how anethole is involved in the shutting down of an intercellular signaling system, thus stopping tumor growth.

Of course, the main reason to love fennel is that it is delicious. One of the simplest ways to cook it is this recipe from Jane Grigson’s “Vegetable Book.” Grigson also turns out to be a fennel fanatic, and notes: “My favorite fennel dish, the best one of all by far. The simple additions of butter and Parmesan — no other cheese will do — show off  the fennel flavor perfectly. The point to watch, when the dish is in the oven, is the browning of the cheese. Do not let it go beyond a rich golden-brown.”

Fennel Baked With Parmesan Cheese

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings as a side dish

Ingredients

6 heads fennel, trimmed, quartered

2 tablespoons butter

freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons (or more) grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

1. Cook the fennel in salted water until it is just barely tender.

2. Drain it well and arrange in a generously buttered gratin dish.

3. Be generous, too, with the pepper mill.

4. Sprinkle on the cheese.

5. Put into the oven at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the fennel is bubbling vigorously in buttery juices.

Fennel Salad

You can make this salad as simple or as fancy as you like. Adding sweet dates and salty capers or olives make it exotic, but when you have fresh fennel all you really need is a light vinaigrette.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 0 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, by hand or with a mandoline

Black olives, capers, dates (about 2 tablespoons each, or to taste), optional

Juice of one lemon

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Rinse the fennel and slice very thinly. Also slice the dates and olives, if you’re adding them.

2. Toss the fennel with the dates, olives and capers.

3. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together with a pinch of salt and pepper.

4. Dress the salad and toss to coat well.

Main photo:  Fennel in the field. Credit: Terra Brockman

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Peaches for the Fourth of July

Our forefathers weren’t thinking of holiday fare or locavores when they signed the Declaration of Independence, but the Fourth of July fortuitously falls at a time of fabulous local food abundance. And seeking out local food is the patriotic thing to do. Fresh fruits and vegetables connect us in a literal and visceral way to our land, and buying them is good for our local environment, farmers and economies. Your purchase will support your community, give you an opportunity to interact with your local growers and food artisans, and provide you with the best-tasting food around.

While the Fourth doesn’t have the same gastronomic weight as the winter holidays, the possibilities are endless, but should start with whatever looks good at your local farmers market. If you don’t want to commit to a wholly local Fourth, just feature one local food — maybe the mint in your julep, the cabbage in your slaw, or the chicken on your grill. Or buy some local tomatoes, herbs, and cheeses and have a localicious pizza party.

Make this the year you declare your independence from high-fat, high-sugar crackers, chips, dips, cookies, and other processed holiday foods. Swap them out for low-calorie, high-nutrition fruits and vegetables from local farms, and this will be your best Fourth ever!

If you need help finding local foods, enter your ZIP code into Local Harvest. In just a few clicks, you’ll find many ways to connect with local producers and celebrate food sovereignty by eating fresh, delicious foods from your local farms and gardens.

mint soda

Make a cool mint soda for hot summer days. Credit: Cara Cummings

Cool Mint Soda

Mint is an all-time favorite for keeping cool in the summer, but chamomile, or lemon verbena, or any herb that strikes your fancy will also work in this recipe. Double it if you’re expecting a crowd.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped

Mint sprigs for garnishing

Sparkling water

Directions

1. Make simple syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water in a saucepan over medium heat.

2. Turn the heat off and stir in the chopped mint leaves. Let sit for a couple of minutes. When the mixture is cool, strain the mint leaves out.

3. Add two to four tablespoons (to taste) of the mint syrup to a glass of sparkling water. Add a mint sprig as a garnish.

Grilled stuffed peppers

Grilled stuffed peppers are a quick Fourth of July favorite. Credit: Cara Cummings

Grilled Stuffed Peppers

Use red, yellow or green bell peppers, or Italian or Hungarian sweet peppers.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 sweet peppers, halved

8 ounces mozzarella cheese (sliced)

1 large tomato, chopped

6 sprigs basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive Oil

Directions

1. Cut each pepper in half and remove seeds. Fill each pepper with the chopped tomato, and drizzle olive oil over the top of the tomatoes.

2. Add a slice of mozzarella on top of the tomatoes, and then add a dash of salt and pepper and a sprig of basil.

3. Place the filled pepper halves on a hot grill, but not directly over the flame. Cover and grill for about 30 minutes, or until the pepper is soft.

Pesto-flavored potatoes

Use pesto to add a light, summer flavor to potatoes. Credit: Cara Cummings

Parsley Pesto Potatoes, Grilled

Herb pesto is quick and easy to make in a food processor. Make a double batch, and use the extra on crackers or sandwiches.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

 Ingredients

1 cup fresh parsley, stems and leaves

1 cup pecans (you can substitute walnuts or pine nuts)

¼ cup hard cheese such as romano, grated

¼ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt, to taste

1 to 2 pounds small new potatoes (or large potatoes cut into chunks)

Directions

1. To make the parsley pesto, put all the ingredients, except the potatoes, into a food processor and blend until well mixed.

2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with the pesto.

3. Place the potatoes on a piece of foil on a hot grill, away from the direct flame. Cover the grill and cook until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. When you can easily pierce them with a fork, they’re done. Top with extra pesto if you like.

Peaches for the Fourth of July

Make a quick, easy, and delicious dessert using fresh peaches. Credit: Cara Cummings

Grilled Peaches with Tart Cherries

While the grill is still hot, make this quick, easy, and delicious dessert. If you have a big group, slice up some local watermelons, muskmelons, and honeydew melons on the dessert table alongside the grilled peaches.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 peaches

1 cup tart cherries, pitted

½ cup honey

Olive oil

Directions

1. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Coat the peaches in olive oil. If you have a citrus-infused olive oil, that is particularly nice!

2. Fill each peach half with some cherries, and drizzle with honey.

3. Place the peaches on the medium-hot grill for 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft.

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Peruvian chef Emilio Macìas in the cloister in Faenza. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Chef’s Table: As the Latin-American food movement continues to gather pace, and cities such as Lima, Peru, and Sao Paolo, Brazil, are joining the world’s hottest foodie destinations, it’s time to ask what contributions Latin America is making to modern cuisine.

“I would say unique ingredients and flavors,” says Emilio Macías, one of Peru’s rising stars. “Many young chefs from South America have traveled and worked in kitchens the world over learning about techniques and modern trends, and now they’re back cooking in their native countries. We’re cooking to raise awareness about the value of our native products and setting up direct links with their producers.”

Chef's Table

The first in an occasional series about the food and ideas of today's most influential chefs.


More from Zester Daily:

» Chef champions Peruvian food

» Gastón Acurio's food fair extravaganza

» CIA nurtures Latin chefs

» E-mag explores cultural, culinary boundaries

Macías was born in Mexico but trained in Japan and Europe (including at Mugaritz and Santi Santamaria in Spain). He was drawn back to Latin America by the successes of the Peruvian leaders of the movement, Gastòn Acurio and Virgilio Martínez Véliz — both ranked in the top 20 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Macías opened his own restaurant before taking a leading position in 2012 at Acurio’s award-winning Lima restaurant, Astrid & Gastòn, in the gastronomic and development kitchens. He recently flew to Faenza, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, to cook two meals at Postrivoro.

“Postrivoro is not a pop-up restaurant but a nonprofit association that creates occasional ‘itineraries for gastro-pilgrims’ by inviting talented young international chefs to cook for just 20 paying guests seated at a communal table,” says Enrico Vignoli, its co-founder, who works in Modena with 3-star Michelin chef Massimo Bottura. “The chefs are usually employed in the kitchens of trend-setting restaurants or are in the process of starting their own. We want to tell stories through food and share gastronomic experiences.” For each of Postrivoro’s six events per year, the chef is paired with a sommelier or drinks specialist and an artist to decorate the space.

Macías’ dinner and lunch were held in the crumbling medieval cloister of Faenza’s Chiesa della Commenda. Each course was matched with a drink created by bartender Oscar Quagliarini, who is famous for his imaginative cocktails. The Goth-styled “mixologist” seems more like an alchemist than a barman. He spices his drinks with exotic but home-made ingredients such as yellow sandalwood syrup, or seaweed, eucalyptus and ylang ylang tinctures. The décor was by Fototeca Manfrediana, a cooperative of young photographers shooting on film.

 

The crispbreads with purslane (green), cuy (orange) and mole (beige). Credit: Carla Capalbo

The crispbreads with purslane (green), cuy (orange) and mole (beige). Credit: Carla Capalbo

An inspiring lunch with Emilio Macías begins

Macías brought many of his principal ingredients and seasonings from Peru in his luggage. He complemented them with seasonal foods from Emilia-Romagna. Sunday’s inspiring lunch began with three irregular crispbreads arranged like natural elements on a plate of branches and leaves. Each was topped with the chef’s interpretation of a Latin American speciality, from a fiery mole con pollo (Mexican chicken with a sauce of 100 ingredients, including chocolate), to verdolagas y tuetano (purslane and bone marrow with Mexican salsa verde), to shredded cuy pibil (slow-roasted Peruvian guinea pig) accented with pink pickled onions. Cuy is popular in Peru for its tender, nutritious meat. “I wanted to bring one very special ingredient from Peru, as well as a little transgression,” says Macías.

Macías’ elegant Peruvian ceviche of tiny raw oysters, Adriatic scallops and cactus followed, in a refreshingly sour leche de tigre: a cool fish broth lifted by lime, ginger and chilies, topped with fresh acacia blossoms and cinquefoil (or potentilla) leaves. In esparrago y hoyas de mais, crisp local asparagus, grilled on one side only, gave focus to herbaceous poblano pepper couscous sprinkled with dark Peruvian Sacha Inchi nuts and spooned into a charred corn husk, its smokiness reminiscent of fire-roasted corn.

Memory featured in the dish called Papa Genovese too. This came from Astrid & Gaston’s recent tasting menu, “The voyage from Liguria to El Callao, 100 years of flavor,” which focused on the gastronomic influences brought by the thousands of Italian immigrants to Peru in the early 20th century. The dish was a visual and cultural play on pasta al pesto. In the original Ligurian version, diced potato often accompanies the pasta in the green basil sauce. Here, spaghetti-like strands of potato starred with toasted pine nuts in a pure-flavored extract of basil and spinach chlorophyll. They produced a new, but equally soulful, version of the classic dish.

“We tried to imagine how Italian immigrants felt about Peruvian food before they made their long journeys in the 1900s,” Macìas says. “Were they afraid of what they might have to eat there? Our dishes stir emotions as well as appetites.”

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Asparagus with couscous and corn husk. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Other courses featured langoustine smoked a la Veracruzana and slow-roasted Mexican pork neck in salsa roja. The meal ended with a delicate, chilled peach stew strewn with elderflowers, raw bitter almonds and rose petals, and a crisp chocolate ball stuffed with the makings of a tiramisù scented with charred guajillo chilies, mescal and sal de gusano de maguey: ground agave worms spiced with salt and chilies.

“Gastòn Acurio has been inspirational in the Latin American movement, moving private and government people to raise awareness about the value of our native products and setting up direct links with their producers,” says Macìas.

Macías' oyster and scallop ceviche. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Macías’ oyster and scallop ceviche. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Concentrating on local products

“The result is that we now can go straight to the fishermen, requesting, for example, only large-size fish. They release anything smaller back into the ocean. They’re paid well for the adult fish and simultaneously safeguard fish stocks.”

How does this apply to farmers? “Potatoes are a big staple in Peru: There are 3,000 known species with more being found all the time. Some only grow above 3,000 meters of altitude, far from the cities, with short seasons and limited yields. Demand from restaurants and enthusiasts can create fair distribution and markets while teaching people in the cities about the value of these ingredients.” Other foods being developed this way are quinoa, amaranth and some corn varieties.

“Peruvian food events such as Mistura, now in its seventh year, where farmers and chefs meet and exchange ingredients and information are helping spread the word about our continent’s gastronomic riches.”

So are memorable meals such as this.

Main photo: Chef Emilio Macías in the cloister in Faenza. Credit: Carla Capalbo 

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Moon cakes

The harvest moon is a time of great celebration in China. Referred to in English as both the Moon Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival, this holiday is held during the eighth full moon of the lunar year (Sept. 30 in 2012). And, as with summer’s Dragon Boat Festival and spring’s Chinese New Year, traditional foods are an important part of this major Chinese celebration.

When that huge white orb rises in the east at the end of this month, Chinese will do as they have done for millennia: gaze at the moon, nibble on the filled pastries known as moon cakes, and tell their children stories about the lady Chang’e and the jade rabbit who live up there.

Both of these tales have to do with the search for immortality. The husband of Chang’e obtained an elixir of immortality from the Queen of the Western Heavens. Before he could take it, though, Chang’e discovered the concoction, quickly swallowed when she heard her ill-tempered husband returning home, and floated up to the moon, where her face can still be seen — what we in the West call the Man in the Moon. If you rotate that image 90 degrees to the left (counterclockwise), you should also be able to make out the Jade Rabbit pounding up more elixir in a mortar.

Apollo 11’s Man on the Moon and a ‘Bunny Girl’

These two legends eventually crossed the Pacific to become part of American history: According to the Apollo 11 moon landing transcript in July 1969, Houston told astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin that “among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch out for a lovely girl with a big rabbit,” and the myth was then described to him. Aldrin replied, “OK. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”

After she fled to the moon, Chang’e came to be worshiped in China as Taiyin niangniang, or the Moon Goddess. Traditional households used to offer moon cakes to her on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, as well as such seasonal presents as sprays of cockscomb flowers, soybean pods with their tendrils attached and muskmelons. This was a completely female ceremony, but as the sun went down, everyone in the village would walk outside with round paper lamps as reflections of the moon’s benevolent light, sharing the round cakes that mirror the shape of the moon, and celebrating the harvest season with a sweet treat.

Moon cakes: Recipes vary with region

Every region of China has its own version of moon cakes. In Beijing and the rest of the north, the pastry tends to be white, with a feathery exterior so flaky that this version is known as fanmao, or ruffled fur. In the areas around the Yangtze River near Shanghai, people make moon cakes of puff pastry, while in southern areas around Guangdong and even farther west, bakers prefer to use a cookie dough scented with caramel. This last version is the one we generally see in Chinese grocery stores.

The fillings, too, reflect the culinary styles of the region. Some are made with bean paste, others with Chinese dates or coconut, and still others with a crunchy mixture of nuts and dried fruits, as in the recipe in Part 2 of this series. Some even have a whole salted egg yolk wrapped up in sweet bean paste, which provides a lovely savory and buttery texture to each bite.

Top photo: Fruit- and nut-filled moon cakes. Credit: Carolyn Phillips

Coming on Sept. 26, Part 2: An updated recipe for fresh and delicious homemade moon cakes. For a sneak preview, see slide show below.

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Chinese pastry molds. Credit: Carolyn Phillips


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