Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Cake of Summer - Ricotta Berry Cake

Our family's official cake of Summer 2020 is all you might expect craving during this most tumultuous time in many of our lives - simple, comforting and, somehow, familiar. Because the pandemic has made shopping more challenging, you'll be happy to discover how customizable this fruit-driven Ricotta Cake is. No matter how I tinker with it, it comes out absolutely beautiful and delicious with whatever berries or stone fruits (such as peaches, nectarines, plums) are available and seasonal. 

Raspberry Ricotta Cake with Lemon Whipped Cream, Photo: NK

Needless to say, I have had some extra time on our hands lately, so I've been able to make this cake a few times now, tweaking the original recipe from Bon Appetit slightly and adding two different flavored Whipped Cream toppings that, at least for me, are a welcome vehicle both for complementary flavors and additional creaminess. The cake is perfectly fine on its own, but I've been known to be a little extra in the kitchen - but only in ways that don't add much labor, of course! One key ingredient sets my cake apart from the original: Vanilla Bean Paste. I use this in nearly everything I bake in place of Real Vanilla Extract (I prefer either Rodelle or Nielsen-Massey brand). The paste has actual Vanilla Bean specs in it and is really packed with flavor and just a bit of additional sweetness. It's a great investment if you bake a lot, but certainly not necessary to have. I feel the same about Vanilla Beans (which I used in one of the Whipped Cream variations below). They are a great thing to have in your pantry and take so many recipes over the top with barely any effort. 

I hope you enjoy giving this easy Ricotta Berry Cake a spin. At 10-15 minutes to prepare, you're sure to be making it all summer. Here's to less crazy times ahead, but until then, stay healthy and safe! xxxooo -Neurotic Kitchen. 

Raspberry Ricotta Cake, Photo: NK

Raspberry Ricotta Cake (+ Peach Strawberry Variation & Whipped Cream Toppings)

Parchment Paper
Round 9 inch cake pan
Nonstick Vegetable Oil Spray (I have also used Olive Oil applied with paper towel and it works just fine)
1 cup Sugar
2 teaspoons Baking Powder 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
3 large Eggs 
1 1/2 cups full fat Ricotta Cheese (I use Galbani brand most often)
1 Tablespoon Heavy Cream (optional, but will make for a moister cake- I recommend doing this if especially if you feel the Ricotta is on the drier side)1 teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste (or Real Vanilla Extract)
1/2 cup Salted Butter, melted (1 stick)
1.5  cups Fresh Raspberries  (*for Peach + Strawberry Variation add 1 3/4 -2 Cups chopped Strawberries and Peaches plus some for the topping once cake has been poured in the pan)

*See optional Whipped Cream Accompaniments below

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and take your 9 inch round cake pan and line it with Parchment Paper, leaving some overhang. Grease the Parchment with Nonstick Spray or a little oil. 

In a large bowl, whisk the Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, and Salt. 

Now, whisk the Eggs, Ricotta, Heavy Cream (if using) and Vanilla Bean Paste or extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold this mixture into dry ingredients just until blended. Now fold in melted Butter, followed by * 1 1/4 Cup Raspberries, taking care not to crush berries. Scrape the batter into prepared pan and scatter remaining 1/4 Cup Raspberries over top. (*or 1 3/4- 2 cups fruit for the Strawberry Peach Variation)

Bake cake until it is golden brown in color and and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes in most ovens. Let cool at least 20 minutes before unmolding. Serve with a dollop of the optional Whipped Cream Toppings below!! 

NOTE: The Cake itself can also be made two days ahead and stored tightly wrapped at room temperature. The Whipped Cream can also be made ahead and stored in the fridge several days. 
Strawberry Peach Variation with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream, Photo: NK

Lemon Whipped Cream (Recommended for Raspberry Cake)
(From Bon Appetit Magazine)1 cup heavy whipping cream 
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons lemon juice

*Beat all ingredients in a bowl until stiff peaks form

Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream (Recommended for Strawberry or Peach Strawberry Cake)
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Real Vanilla Extract or Vanilla Bean Paste
1 Vanilla Bean, scraped out, bean set aside for another use (optional) 

*Beat all ingredients in a bowl until stiff peaks form
Strawberry Peach Variation, Photo: NK 

Monday, January 6, 2020

How To: Classic Italian American Cheese & Salumi Platter

Want to kick off a fabulous party? There's no better way to get the conversation going than by bringing your hungry guests together around a smashing cheese (and sometimes meat) platter. As the conventional wisdom goes, such a plate need not be complicated to create and there's no need to include more than just a few high quality components for it to be successful. While these are both absolutely TRUE statements, there is still something to be said for the buzz and mouthwatering visual you can create with a decadently abundant Cheese & Salumi plate that overflows with flavors, colors, and textures.

Classic Italian American Cheese & Salumi Board

Italian Americans, having forged what I will lovingly call a new branch of their ancestral brand built around culinary extravagance ("abbondanza,"as they would say), are the force behind what many of us think of when we picture an over the top cheese and meat board. With this in mind, I glossed over years of other delightful themed cheese plates I've created (from French, to Spanish, to those inspired by the American South), and tapped into my Brooklyn Italian roots to bring you this classic Italian (American) Cheese & Salumi Platter. The how to continues below. Do check out some of our other themed platters here: French Cheese and Charcuterie Plate / Southern Cheese Plate with the works! / Thanksgiving Cheese Board.

It's never too early to get ready for the next party or holiday. 
**For more great tips on how create a winning Antipasti for a crowd, CLICK HERE. **

Classic Italian American Cheese & Salumi Platter
Serves 8 Adults

3-4 Italian Cheeses (Clockwise from top of photo: sliced Ubriaco or similar (drunken goat cheese with purple rind), cubed Provolone (bold, salty and tangy- choose Provolone Dolce for a milder flavor), Marinated Mozzarella Balls (recipe follows - you'll need 10-12 small bite sized bocconcini balls), and Piave Vecchio (mild, snackable Italian Cheeese, a kid favorite too)

1 hard Italian Salami, sliced thin (we like many varieties from Olli Salumeria brand)

3/4 Lb to 1Lb Imported Prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele (choose the best you can afford), there are also many good domestic Prosciuttos as well

Mixed Olives (suggested: Castelvetrano variety in green, Kalamata/Nicoise  or Oil Cured in black) 

Radicchio Leaves (pictured with Provolone cubes nestled in them)

Fresh Oregano Sprigs (pictured as garnish and used in Marinated Artichokes) 

Italian Parsley (pictured as garnish and used with Mozzarella balls)

Halved Breadsticks
Carr's Water Crackers
Good Italian or French Bread, sliced thinly

Orange Fig Preserve - we like Dalmatia Brand 
Satsuma Mandarin Orange (ideally with stem and leaf) 
Olive Oil About a 1/2 to 3/4 Cup
1-2 Lemons 
1/2 head Garlic 

10-12 Small Balls of Mozzarella (Bocconcini)
1 Jar Roasted Red Peppers
1 14 Ounce Can Artichoke Hearts -Marinated Artichoke recipe follows (or buy ready marinated) 

To Prepare & Serve:

Make the Marinated Artichokes (method follows) 8 hours ahead of the night before.
Use your imagination on this one but basically you add 1/3 cup of Olive Oil to a small pan. Warm over medium-low heat and add 3-4 crushed Garlic Cloves, cooking until they become slightly golden. Add about a half a lemon, sliced, then a few sprigs of herbs such as Oregano or Fresh Marjoram. Turn off the heat and squeeze the rest of the Lemon's juice into the Olive Oil. Season with Salt and Pepper (and Crushed Red Pepper if you like).  Pour oil and all its contents over artichokes in a non-reactive container (glass) and let marinate 8 hours or overnight, tossing a few times along the way. Remove the Lemons and Herb Sprigs before serving.

Slice the jarred Red Peppers into bit sized pieces. Toss them with one to two cloves of thinly sliced Garlic. 

Toss the Mozzarella balls with some Olive Oil and a few pinches finely chopped Italian Parsley. Season with a little Salt and Pepper.

Cube and slice the various Cheeses as described above. I nestled the Provolone cubes in bright red Radicchio leaves (use 1 or 2 to form a cup)

Arrange all the other components as pictured. I like to use an oval or round wood board and a series of small bowls to hold the composed items (Mozzarella, Peppers, Artichokes). Enjoy!! 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Holiday House Recipe - Our Favorite Pignoli Cookie

After many years of baking, testing, and refinement (AKA: eating them non stop each Christmas), I’m ready to share our family's favorite Pignoli Cookie recipe. These are, to my mind, the best holiday cookie of all time. They are good year round and versatile enough to serve from breakfast (they are the ultimate coffee cookie) straight through to dessert. 

As if that weren't enough,  they are naturally Gluten Free and Dairy Free. Pignoli are truly cookies for us all. With so many great things going for them, the fact that they can also be prepped in minutes have solidified their top spot in my holiday (and every day) cookie pantheon. Before we go on to reveal the house recipe, I must give my thanks to genius chef, Lidia Bastianich, for the original recipe. I've made hers many times over the years, and while it is delicious, I have found that we prefer ours much less sweet. 

We use only half the sugar of the original, but the ratio is very flexible and can adjust to your personal taste. If you want them sweeter, you can add a little more sugar, but I’d suggest stopping at 3/4 cup. Also, our cookies have evolved to include a dusting of confectioner's sugar once finished. This extra layer of sugar is the perfect counterbalance to the lightly sweet and almond-y chewiness of the cookie interior, complemented by the firmly textured, savory and toasty pine nut flavor. These cookies also make the perfect host/hostess gift. The batches you give don't have to be huge (a dozen is quite nice in fact) because they happen to be so satisfying that you really only need one or two (but don’t feel bad if you can’t stop). Pignoli Cookies also last a few weeks frozen in an airtight container.
They freeze well too! Recipe follows below.

Our Favorite Pignoli Cookies
Makes 25-30 

14 ounces of Almond Paste - I prefer to use one tube of Odense Brand plus One Box of Solo Brand (you’ll need to remove one ounce as solo comes in 8 Oz boxes). 
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 large Egg Whites 
Finely grated zest of one big Orange 
1.5 cups whole Pine Nuts
A few Tablespoons of Confectioner’s Sugar for dusting 

2 to 3 medium to large Baking Sheets lined with Parchment Paper


Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the middle. Crumble almond paste into the work bowl of your food processor fitted with a whisk and process until you get fine crumbs. Add sugar gradually as you continue to process. Once you’ve added all the sugar, add the egg whites and orange zest. Spread the pine nuts on a plate. Form the dough into 1 inch sized balls (about 2 Tablespoons) by rolling them with your palms. Having your hands just slightly damp is helpful in doing this. Then roll the balls in the pine nuts and place them on the baking sheets with a little space in between. (Photos below). 

Bake until the pine nuts become slightly golden but not burnt (I watch them very carefully at the end) about 14-15 minutes.  The cookie will appear very, very soft but will firm once you let them cool on baking sheet and then transfer to a plate or rack. Once cooled, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar!

Ready for the oven

The final dusting