Archive for May, 2012

BLT Integrale Risotto

Monday, May 28th, 2012



Vote for me!

There.  That’s my shameless request.

This is a post for a risotto contest sponsored by MarxFoods, fine food importers and importers of Integrale rice, a whole wheat version of arborio.


Here’s the website if you want to vote right away and skip reading anything more!

Or read on to be an educated voter:

I learned to make risotto in my friend’s four hundred-year-old home, the Lake Como breezes from an open window mixing with the steam from the simmering pan of arborio.


My friends measure risotto by the handful:  two handfuls of rice per person, which translates roughly to a half cup per person.  Sometimes my Lake Como friends made sausage and Borlotti bean risotto; sometimes they made straight risotto Milanese shimmering with golden saffron; sometimes they made a very simple risotto, begun with just butter, a half an onion, a half-cup of white wine, and finished with a pile of shaved truffle, dug on the mountain above their home that morning.  There was never a recipe.  My friends know how to make risotto the way they know how to brush their teeth.

So to leave risotto tradition is hard for me.  When I was invited to participate in the Integrale Challenge, coming up with a “novel” version of risotto felt wrong.  Who was I to buck hundreds of years of Nonna-stirring arborio tastes?  If Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian knives, hasn’t approved a risotto idea, it must be profane, and probably doesn’t taste very good.

This thinking made me feel stodgy and unimaginative.  There must be something Italians haven’t tried that would complement the starch-seduction of risotto making?

I decided to think like an American, not an Italian.  The fact that Integrale rice is a bit heftier than risotto (think a “brown rice” version of risotto, but not quite so “health-food-store”) also made me think it could take on more “stuff” – more textures and stronger flavors.

Inspiration arrived in a BLT Sandwich, an idea to be honest suggested by my daughter after many failed risotto dinners.  There is no true European parallel for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a little mayo and – ok, avocado, just because it’s great with bacon.  This became my American Integrale risotto inspiration.

I bested each sandwich element excepting the bread.

I candied house-cured bacon from a heritage pig, making one of the more delicious things a carnivore could put to their lips, a recipe from Cathy Barrow of the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen.

For the “L” in BLT, I stirred in great handfuls of fresh basil and arugula.

I caramelized the tomatoes, roasting them with garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and added them to the risotto as a sort of faux mantecatura, when traditionally butter and cheese are added at the end to make the dish creamy.


I made a fresh aioli with a whiff of chili powder, because no BLT is complete without mayo, and the aioli provides the creaminess a cheese might, but there is no parmigiana or even pecorino in a BLT.

Lastly, I tumbled some avocado chunks on top, because BLT’s are really good with avocado;  I suppose that makes it technically a BALT.

All of these flavors – the sweet and salty bacon, the rich aioli and avocado, the acid from the tomatoes and the summery taste of basil made this one of the darnedest risotto’s I’ve tasted, keeping with the American vernacular.  The Integrale toothsomeness was perfect for the “rough” slant on this risotto.  Afterall, BLT’s are best on a hearty sourdough bread, not brioche.

So now, don’t forget to vote!




BLT Integrale Risotto 

serves 4



for the risotto:

2 cups Integrale risotto

5 cups or more homemade chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 medium onion

1 cup white white

salt and pepper

for the caramelized tomatoes:

1 can plum tomatoes, drained

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

salt and pepper

for the candied bacon

4 slabs high quality bacon

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon chili powder

for the aioli:

2 egg yolks

1 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

a pinch of chili powder

additional ingredients:

1 cup fresh basil chiffonade and a bit for the garnish

1 cup small-leaf arugula

1 avocado

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt and pepper

chili powder (optional)




For the caramelized tomatoes:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters.  Arrange them on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Sprinkle the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize.  Set aside.

For the candied bacon:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Stir together the chili powder with the brown sugar. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Cut the bacon strips into four pieces. Dredge each piece well in the brown sugar mixture, pressing it in. Place the bacon on the parchment lined sheet pan, leaving space between each piece. Place another piece of parchment on top of the bacon, then another sheet pan for weight. This will keep the bacon from curling.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or as much as 20 minutes, checking frequently as the bacon will quickly burn.  Cool. The bacon will crisp as it sits.

For the aioli:

Separate the eggs, saving the whites for another use, and put yolks into a medium-size bowl.  With a large wire whisk, begin to stir the yolks, pouring oil drop by drop slowly into the moving whisk.  Keep adding oil, increasing it to a steady stream, but never too fast.  As the aioli thickens, keep whisking and adding oil until finished.  Stir in salt, pepper, and chili powder.

For the rice:

Peel and finely chop the onion.

Melt the butter and oil in a 4-to-5-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly.

Add the onion and cook, continuing to stir, until it turns soft and translucent.

Meanwhile, pour the chicken broth into a separate saucepan, set over medium heat, and bring to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain this simmer the whole time you are preparing the risotto.

Once the onion is soft, add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, until it begins to crackle.

Add the wine, and stir until it is evaporated.

Using a ladle, scoop up about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of broth. Pour it in the pan with the rice, stirring constantly with a spoon. After the first addition of broth, the rice mixture will look a bit soupy.

As the rice begins to cook, stir it constantly, making sure that you scrape along the bottom of the pan so that it does not stick.

When most of the liquid is absorbed into the rice and the rice begins to look a bit dry, add another ladle of broth to the pan and stir constantly, as before.

Continue to add the broth in 1/2-to-3/4-cup batches and stir the rice until you have used most of the broth.  Traditional risotto usually takes 25 minutes for me.  The Integrale definitely took 30 minutes to become al dente.

(If it looks as if you will run out of chicken broth and your rice is still not cooked, don’t be alarmed. Because of variations in individual stoves and cooking temperatures, you may need more liquid than called for in the recipe. Simply heat up another cup or 2 of chicken broth. If you run out of broth, use hot water.)

To Finish:


 When the Integrale has just a tiny bit of  resistance or tooth to it, stir in the roasted tomatoes.  Allow them to mix in, maybe adding one more ladle-full of broth if you think the rice still has too much bite.


 When it is still individual grains and soft enough (I find the Integrale never became unified in one pour-able liquid, the way risotto does), turn off the heat, and mix in the basil and arugula.

Ladle into shallow bowls.  Top first with chunks of avocado that have been rubbed with lemon to prevent browning.  Put a healthy teaspoon or more of aioli on each serving, and then top with pieces of candied bacon.  Dust all with a sprinkle of salt, black pepper and chili powder (optional) and a few leaves of fresh basil.






Lograsso’s, a Tom Silva – from This Old House – favorite Cape Ann restaurant

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012


Contractor Tom Silva has been bringing new life to old houses with his carpenter genius (and infinite supply of obscure tools and technology) on the PBS program This Old House for twenty-two years.  Right now, This Old House is filming an eight month renovation of a 1935 artist’s cottage in Essex.  To see Silva on the program is to learn there is a screw for every job, and he knows which one to use.  With a sturdy build and generous mustache, the contractor walks up to a problem with quiet but iron command:  here’s the problem; here’s what we’re going to do to fix it; here are the materials we need; watch me.

Of the Essex project, Silva says he loves the look, the transformation, and the fact that the homeowner is not tearing it down “and building a monstrosity.”

“We are caretakers of these old houses, and we should give them new life and take care of them.  The details make the difference in these old places; we should renovate them right.  If you can’t save the details, recreate them.

Tom Silva is no occasional visitor to Cape Ann:  “My great-grandfather owned three schooners in Gloucester.  I’m up there on a weekly basis.. My wife loves Lanesville.. eventually the North Shore will be my permanent home.”

Ask him what his favorite North Shore restaurant is, and he answers with the same authority with which he firms a shaky newel post, “Lograsso’s in Rockport.”

He’s quick to add The Gloucester House, Alchemy, Stones, The Rudder, and The Causeway, but clearly, when I asked, his heart spoke first.

“I love everything there,” Silva said about the Rockport restaurant serving traditional Sicilian cooking.  “Last time I had the Seafood Mediterranean, with spicy clams, fish, lobster, and shrimp.  I love spicy seafood; I can never choose one thing on a menu, so I like it when they put it all together.”

Indeed, Lograsso’s is many diners’ secret darling.  For eighteen years in Rockport Sal Lograsso has been making puttanesca while his wife Donna has been smiling and doing everything else.

“She keeps us sharp,” Sal says.  Donna’s smile is the face most people associate with Lograsso’s; Sal admits he’s the only one in the kitchen, and he rarely comes out.

His dishes are prepared with pride, Sicilian zest and a fundamental belief in food with character and taste.

“Traditional Sicilian cooking is very rustic and simple, not as refined as Italian cooking, but every bit as good.”

The corner post of the Isinglass mall, a tidy strip of businesses near Rockport’s train station, LoGrasso’s can’t flaunt a view, but no other North Shore restaurant welcomes you with cold San Pellegrino water and warm Alexandra’s Bread.

Many locals are still hungry for the great wax-paper wrapped Lograssos deli sandwiches dripping with Russian dressing and creativity, when Sal and Donna ran a deli by day and transformed the place into an Italian trattoria at night.  The deli bowed to dinner, and the Lograsso’s decided to focus solely on Sal’s flavorful Sicilian home cooking.  When Rockport allowed liquor to be served in its restaurants, Donna insisted that Sal NOT get a liquor license, knowing their customers loved the freedom and camaraderie, if not the reduced cost of a night out, born of a BYOB policy.

“We go where the people take us,” Sal says of his restaurant’s evolution.

People from Melrose to Rockport loyally make weekend reservations at Lograsso’s;  Silva is just one of many enthusiastic fans.

Indeed, I dined at Lograsso’s this past Saturday; Tom Silva had been in the night before.

Sal Lograsso has generously shared Tom Silva’s current favorite dish, but Donna’s smile and the restaurant’s intimate, congenial atmosphere are worth racing with the contractor for a reservation.

Lograsso’s is open Wednesday through Saturday nights for dinner.  Located at 13 Railroad Ave., Rockport, Lograsso’s is open 5 to closing, Wednesday through Saturday, year ‘round.  978-546-7977



Seafood Mediterranean  (Grotta di Mare)


1 lb. linguini or any of your favorite pasta

32 oz. spaghetti sauce or prepared sauce

1 teaspoon fennel seed, whole or crushed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

pinch salt

pinch pepper

pinch dried oregano (if fresh a little more)

1 cup white whine

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


Seafood:  any kind of seafood that you like works well with this, but Lograsso lists:

1 pound of monkfish, cut into small cubes

1 cup minced clams with juice, fresh or canned works (save some juice for later)

2 lobster tails, cut lengthwise with shell on

8 ounces scallops

12 large shrimp

1 pound mussels

1/2 pound calamari, cut into strips or rings

In a large 4 quart pan, slowly heat oil.  Add garlic and onions.  Cook until garlic begins to brown, but doesn’t actually brown.  Remove from heat.  Add your favorite spaghetti sauce, wine and all the seasonings.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.  Again, remove from heat.  Slowly add seafood.  Stir.  Bring to simmer and cook five minutes or until mussels are fully opened.  If sauce is too thick, add some clam juice, pasta water or a little wine.

Cook pasta according to directions.  Drain and place in a large bowl and pour the seafood over it.  Or you can serve it as a soup or stew with your favorite crusty bread.

serves 4 (or 2 hungry people)

Crudites in Jars

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012


Continuing down the trail of my jar preoccupation, I offer another interesting (easy!  attractive!  portable!) way to use them.  Collect various size jars, fill them with favorite crudités, spreadable cheeses, dips, and cracker-like things, set all on a tray, and call it appetizers if not light dinner.

Pictured in my photo are tiny boiled potatoes, roasted asparagus spears, steamed broccoli rabe, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, taramasalata, homemade aioli, and two kinds of crackers.


I threw this together quickly, but next time I will assemble with more artful consideration.  Still, add a beautiful sunset to a tray of vegetables, and it looks like a masterpiece.



The Winner.

Thursday, May 17th, 2012


We had fifty-one beautiful submissions to our Mother’s Day Contest, many of which, with the author’s permission, I hope to reprint here in the following weeks.

Our criteria for the winner was simply, “the contribution that zings us with all that motherhood is:  a woman struggling to love and raise children when loving herself wasn’t always a finished project.”

Here’s the zinger.  Read it.  You’ll agree.


Recipe for Life:  What to Teach Your Children 

by Sandy Farrell

The gifts from my mother remain as intangibles- no recipe box, no heirloom dish set for the holidays, no special linens rich with memory and smell- but a different treasury that is very special to me. My mother died when I was 10, she was smiling at lunchtime and gone by the time I returned home from grammar school at 3pm. Met by my father, silent and in shock, sitting on the stairs bracing himself for the task of telling his three young daughters that their mother was gone forever.

We didn’t live with dad, my parents were separated and lived as polar opposites in their own Cold War of the 1950s. Belonging to that 25% of New England, the Anglo- Irish mix had torn apart their marriage from the start. We lived with an aunt and cooked out of her borrowed kitchen. It was the Mamie Eisenhower era, years before Jackie Kennedy and Julia Child would give us a different view on the world. This may sound bleak, but what I inherited was an appreciation that came only much later in life: the innovative spirit my mother possessed.

And in order to feel that appreciation I had to first distance myself with all of the hurt and anger that a ten year old girl could muster up to protect herself from such a loss. My mother had wanted to be an artist- and indeed was an artist. I have a beautiful charcoal she did at 14, and pastels done on the back of leftover wallpaper, weekly trips to the art museum on free Saturday mornings, and walks to the park for concerts. The local librarian told me they gave her an adult library card because she had read so much of the children’s library. She had trained as a nurse but the hours were too long for a mom with three little girls so she took a job as a waitress at a small neighborhood restaurant.

Never one to get caught up in recipes, or own many cookbooks, she would scan the fridge for content and swiftly make a decisive move, gather up an armful of ingredients and proceed to the counter. Tasks that took longer got started earlier, missing ingredients were replaced by substitutes, efficient peeling and chopping began, each of us assigned a specific job, taught the basic skills, not a moment or veg wasted, no tears, perseveration, hesitation, or remorse. Supper, plain and simple, quickly executed like a Zen master. First thought, best thought. Never the same river nor stew twice.

Recipe for Life.

Use what is on hand.  Don’t let it be a chore.  Keep it simple.  Use basic kitchen utensils.   Plan ahead.  Substitute freely and often don’t waste a thing.  Serve it up hot and fresh.

Even today, some fifty-plus years later these basic ingredients and recipe for life bless our kitchen. Cooking is fun, it’s relaxing and creative.

I still come home from work and have supper on the table in less than thirty minutes. Repeat last weeks dish?  Never.  No need, mom taught me more than how to cook up supper.


Farrell is a licensed acupuncturist working for Harbor Health Group in Gloucester, MA.  She first started coming to Cape Ann when she was a child; her mother would take one day a year and drive to Gloucester from Worcester with her daughters to tour the Art Galleries.  That’s when Farrell first loved “the smell of creosote and dead fish.”

Farrell volunteers at the Gloucester Farmers Market, organizing and setting up the Seafood Throwdowns, and at the Cape Ann Open Door.  Quietly, she’s using her mother’s lessons to support a healthy food community for all of Cape Ann.

Moqueca Baiana, very “Paleo” Brazilian Fish Stew

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012


Diana Rodgers, a certified nutritional therapist and passionate advocate of the Paleo diet, hails this African-shaded Moqueca – Brazilian Fish Stew – as a wonderful example of the nutrient-dense recipes in her Paleo recipe box.

(To watch Rodgers make Moqueca in a video click on:

Formerly the “farm family” at Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, MA, Rodgers and her husband have transplanted their two children to The Clark Farm in Carlisle, MA where on twenty-two acres they raise organic chickens, pigs, sheep and ducks, and will begin a CSA next year.   Rodgers also runs a private nutrition practice called Radiance Nutrition.  The Paleo Diet is the template by which she practices.

Theoretically based on the protein and vegetable-packed dinners from which homo sapiens evolved, the Paleo Diet is rich with grass-fed meats, eggs, avocados, coconut milk, even bacon and lard from pasture-raised animals, sweet potatoes and carrots.

Yes, the diet is loosely based on early man, the coconuts representing the kind of omega 3 fatty acids scrounged 20,000 years ago.  The Paleo approach excludes the more recent additions to our evolutionary timeline (Wheat was first domesticated in Turkey circa 9,000 BC, considered recent for Paleo advocates.) –  grains, beans, and sugar, all of which spike blood sugar levels and cause inflammation, processes linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

Rodgers claims the Paleo diet provides a big bang of vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fatty acids in each Paleo portion.  The diet is also low in omega 6 fatty acids, the bad guys associated with pro-thrombotic, pro-inflammatory and pro-constrictive processes which cause stroke, cancer and heart disease.  Consuming high levels of omega 6 fatty acids has been associated with breast cancer in post-menopausal women and prostate cancer in men.  Vegetable oils – canola, corn, soy and safflower – are significant sources.

The Paleo diet, she says, largely reflects foods we evolved to digest without stressing our bodies.  Easily digestible nutrients are easy to access.  The science gets dense here, but much of the Paleo thinking is based on avoiding something advocates call “anti-nutrients,” colloquially known as toxins.  Apparently seeds – and wheat grains are seeds, as are rice, barley and rye – have an outer coating intended by nature to guarantee the seed makes it through our digestive tract intact, thus able to relocate back in the soil and propagate.  Coated with “anti-nutrients,” or toxins, the seed protects itself from our hungry digestive enzymes.  The lucky host gets a good dose of toxins from that portion of seeds, and thus feels fairly crummy for a while – bloated, cramping, yucky.  Hello, gluten-free muffins! – or so one would think.

Years ago Rodgers discovered she had Celiac disease, and went on a gluten-free diet, consuming all the gluten-free breads and pasta she could find in the specialty stores.  But, she says, she was hungry all the time, and still felt “digestive distress.”  Reading Rob Wolff’s The Paleo Solution sent her full-time to a diet rich on pasture raised meats.

About the pasture-raised thing:  A grain-fed animal, Rodgers says, is a receptacle for all those omega 6 fatty acids we should be avoiding.  To dine on a grass-fed steer or acorn-fed pig is to benefit from the omega 3 fatty acids the animal enjoyed in their lifetime.  I asked Rogers what to do if pasture-raised meats simply weren’t available or in the budget; eat pasta?  She recommended choosing industrially produced chicken, but avoiding the skin; omega 6 fatty acids tend to pool in the fat.

At the simplest level compare the Paleo diet with a Standard American Diet: a very loose 2,000 calorie day of  a bagel and cream cheese breakfast, a Caesar salad and low-fat brownie for lunch, and spaghetti primavera for dinner compared to a loose 2,000 calorie Paleo day:  spinach omelet breakfast, a wild salmon and greens salad for lunch, and beef stew with carrots sweet potatoes and a side of sauerkraut (a little probiotic) for dinner.  The Paleo nutrients stack up pretty high.  Very basically, just by substituting tummy-irritating wheat with sweet potatoes can up the weekly vitamin A and C intake significantly.

While everyone need not burn their bread and grill hamburgers for breakfast, there are some compelling ideas to consider in the Paleo approach.


Back to Moqueca:  the fish is briefly marinated in garlic and lime, added to a great pile of softened peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, and finished like a Thai soup with coconut milk.  At the very least, think of this wildly flavorful stew as a great favor to take home from a visit to the Paleo party.

(Brazilians know Moqueca in two forms:   the very native Moqueca capixaba from the southern state of Espirito Santo and Moqueca baiana from Bahia, part of the knob of Brazil that juts farthest into the Atlantic.  Reflecting the African shores across the ocean,  Moqueca baiana includes shrimp and sometimes crab, and is finished with coconut milk.)



Moqueca Baiana



1/3 cup lime juice (the juice of approx. 3 limes)

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ pound sea bass, cod, or other firm white fish cut into 1
inch pieces

1 ½ pound shrimp

2 tablespoons coconut or palm oil

2 cups chopped yellow onion

2 cups chopped red pepper

1 cup minced green onions

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

2 cups diced tomato (about 2 large tomatoes)

3 tsp tomato paste

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 can (14oz) fish or seafood stock

1 cup chicken stock

1 can coconut milk (full fat)

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like it hot)


Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. Add the coconut oil or palm oil to a dutch oven and add the onion. Cook until soft. Add the pepper, green onions, garlic and bay leaf. Saute for approximately ten minutes or until vegetables are softened. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for another five minutes. Add the chicken and fish stock along with the cilantro and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Finally, add the coconut milk and red pepper and fish. Cook for about three minutes. Adjust for salt and pepper and serve.



photographs here courtesy of Taste of the Times

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Sunday, May 13th, 2012


Thanks to the many, many people who sent in stories and recipes celebrating the refinement, practicality, humor and quirks of the women who were/are their mothers.   Thanks for showing how their love for family and friends so often arrived via a birthday cake or a pile of fresh currants.

One daughter rediscovered a treasured stash of family recipes – long considered lost – one of which had been scrawled down on the reverse side of an ad for Kotex.  Another daughter, writing a portrait of her mother, needed only to print one of the woman’s favorite recipes – a turkey stuffed with a cup of popcorn; it’s done “when it blows it’s ass off!”

Of course, now Tom Stockton (of the Landmark Files, creator of The Prize) and I will have to choose one winner, which may be a trial on our friendship.  (You can read about Tom’s mother, Wootsie, and her  fabulous house in Del Mar, California on The Landmark Files.)

Tom and I have renovated an entire house together without a harsh word between us; choosing the “zinger” from your submissions might be a challenge.  We’ll spend the next couple of days reading, and hopefully still be friends by Thursday, when we announce to whom will be sent the Grand Dessert-for-Four-Table Setting.

I spent this mother’s day hunting down garden rhubarb to make my mother’s Rhubarb Upside Down Cake.  My friend Mary Lou knew where there was a weekend retreat, no one in residence, and rhubarb plants with leaves the sizes of volkswagons.  Thanks to her for abetting my cake.



Rhubarb Upside Down Cake



4 cups fresh rhubarb

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, separated

1/2 cup hot water

1/2 cup bran cereal

1 teaspoon vanilla


Spread fruit in bottom of well greased 9 x 9 inch pan.  Sprinkle with 1 cup of the sugar.  Dot with butter.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt.  Beat egg yolks.  Blend in second cup of sugar.  Add water slowly, beating well.  Stir in bran and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Beat egg whites.  Fold into batter.  Spread over rhubarb.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.


Here’s a portrait I did of my mother years ago:


– and here’s a homemade card my aunt sent my mother declaring her “The Duchess of Boxford;” She was shy, but my mother had style.)


Ricotta Fritters with Jane Ward

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012


The genesis of this ricotta fritter recipe is a perfect example of the way food ideas- and recipes – evolve.

(To see Jane teach me how to make these delicious dessert fritters you can watch the video at  To see more videos click on “Watch Heather’s Cooking Videos” on the home page of the blog.)

Small globes of tender ricotta cheese, fragrant with lemon and orange zest, deep fried for a hot, crisp veneer, this dessert began as Jane Ward’s longing for Sicilian ricotta cheese pie, the stuff stacked in pale brown rounds in bakery windows in Boston’s North End at Easter, each weighing a good two and a half to three pounds.

“Start here,” Ward’s idea said.

An accomplished home cook, food blogger, and author, Ward turned away from pies heavy in both tradition and style, to a trail marked “this way for something lighter.”

She stopped next at Nigella Lawson’s recipe for lemony ricotta hotcakes from the cookbook Forever Summer.  Lawson’s recipe is a slap-dash assembly of ricotta, skim milk, flour, separated eggs, and baking soda.  Certainly lighter than the Sicilian grandmothers’ ricotta pies, these small pancakes are fresh and cheesy, and an excellent vehicle for fresh strawberries.  Lawson recommends eating them outside on a summer morning; that’s the “oh, I’m bad!” part of the recipe.

Taking notes, Ward headed down yet another trail, this one leading straight to her own kitchen and marked, “this way for something sexier.”


There’s nothing like dropping batter into hot oil to turn heads, which is what Ward did with Nigella’s, not just gilding the lilly, but frying it, sprinkling it with confectioner’s sugar, and dipping it into one of three sauces: chocolate, lemon and raspberry.  Oh, Nigella, you haven’t met Jane.  As for the Italian grandmothers?  – they’re winking at her.


Ricotta Fritters 

(adapted from a recipe for Ricotta Pancakes from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer)

Makes 16-24 fritters


1 quart vegetable or canola oil for frying

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

zest of 1 lemon, or zest of ½ orange

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Optional: ½ cup diced apple, pear, or dried apricots

Powdered sugar



Prepare a good thickness of paper towels and/or brown paper for draining your hot fritters and set aside

Start preheating vegetable or canola oil in a large (14”) skillet.  Test temperature with a candy/deep fry thermometer.  Oil is ready for frying at 360-370 degrees.

As oil preheats, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon or orange zest in a medium size mixing bowl and set dry ingredients aside.

Break two eggs into another medium size mixing bowl.  Beat eggs lightly and add to them the ricotta cheese, sugar, and vanilla.  Combine with a whisk until mixture is smooth.  Add dry ingredients to the egg and cheese mixture.  Using a rubber scraper, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet.  Blend only until the flour has been incorporated, and do not overmix.

(Note: if you choose to add in any optional fruit, fold it into the batter during the last few seconds of mixing and mix only until evenly distributed.)

Check oil temperature with the thermometer.  For frying, the oil should reach between 360 and 370 degrees.  When oil is ready, drop batter by tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop (about 1½ Tbsp.) into the skillet.  Make up to 6 fritters at a time, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet, thus lowering the oil’s temperature.

Cook one side until golden, then turn the fritter using a slotted spoon to brown the other side.  Continue to turn during cooking to fry evenly.  Fritters take about 3-4 minutes to cook.

Remove finished fritters from oil using the slotted spoon and transfer them to the paper to drain.  Repeat the frying/draining process with the next 6 fritters at a time until batter is gone.

When fritters are done and draining on the paper, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar through a sieve or sifter.  Serve immediately on dessert plates, either plain or with lemon, raspberry, or chocolate sauces for dipping.  Fresh berries make a nice accompaniment.


Lemon Curd

½ cup sugar

2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained of pulp and seeds

2 Tbsp. heavy cream

3 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

Whisk sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the cream.  Then whisk in the eggs and yolks.  Whisk well.  Pour this mixture into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, continuing to whisk constantly.  The curd will begin to thicken after a few minutes (3-5 minutes).  Remove from heat immediately before overcooking and push through a strainer with a rubber scraper into a small bowl.

Cover the surface of the curd with a sheet of plastic wrap and set to cool slightly.  Serve lukewarm.

Chocolate Sauce

4 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate chips (such as Callebaut or Ghirardelli)

½ cup heavy cream

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Scald cream in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add sugar.  Before cream boils, remove it from the heat and stir in the chocolate, butter, and vanilla.  Stir until smooth.  Let cool slightly then give one more vigorous stir.  Transfer to a small bowl.  Serve warm.  (May be cooled and reheated in a double boiler before serving.)

Raspberry Sauce

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. water

2 pints fresh raspberries (or 1 bag frozen)

Heat sugar and water together in a small saucean until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add to this simple syrup the raspberries.  Bring to a simmer and simmer steadily under liquid is slightly reduced and fruit and syrup look slightly thickened.  (Frozen berries will take longer.)

When thickened slightly, remove from heat.  Using a fork to mash or a stick blender, puree the berries in the saucepan.  When pureed, pour berry sauce through a sieve and push it through the mesh with the back of a spoon into a small bowl, removing all the seeds and leaving a smooth sauce.


All photos here courtesy of Taste of the Times.


The Concorde, a birthday cake by White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses

Monday, May 7th, 2012



When I was a girl I always wanted my birthday cake floated to me down a river, because in Tasha Tudor’s book “Becky’s Birthday” ten-year-old Becky’s cake arrives to her downstream, where she waits in the middle of a dark forest with her happy family gathered, their smiling faces illuminated by birthday candles.  Nothing spills.  Nothing gets wet.  No sibling sulks that it’s not their birthday.

Long on fantasy, my mother tried; she floated my birthday cakes in bathtubs and in buckets, which was just funny, not dreamy.

One day this past winter, I looked at the frozen quarry outside the kitchen of my new house, and realized the floating birthday cake moment had finally arrived.  My daughter would be turning fourteen in May –

With a small boogie board and a length of string to pull the cake across, I finally created the ultimate birthday moment, and it was prettier than the page in the book.  Lighting candles in the dark outside is always primal; candles on water is haunting, reminiscent of a trip across the River Styx.  The candles on water made everyone hush, watching in silence as the little grocery store cake make its journey, leaving a tiny wake of reflected sparklers in the black water.



It was more enchanting than I even imagined; we decided, no matter what the number, every birthday at Howlets should be celebrated with a floating birthday cake.  No one is ever too old to have the quiet and darkness illuminated by candles reflected in the rippling wake of a gently moving dessert.

Now I’m thinking about what other illuminated dishes I can send across the quarry.

Also, I was no dummy; there was no way I was going to risk sinking the real cake I made for my daughter, The Concorde, an amazingly scrumptious assemblage of cocoa meringue and chocolate mousse from the cookbook The Perfect Finish by White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses.  As if that weren’t enough, this cake is also gluten-free.



Float the white icing and blue roses, but MAKE The Concorde.  As Yosses describes it, “the second you cut into the gorgeous whole, the meringue shatters into an asymmetric pile of delicious crisp chips suspended in the dark chocolate mousse.”

For those who have come to dread the cake part of birthdays, this is the anti-cake cake, because there’s no cake at all, just airy mousse and crumbling meringue.  Poor Becky didn’t get a slice of this.




The Concorde



Chocolate Mousse:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

9 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large eggs at room temperature

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

5 tablespoons granulated sugar


Crisp Cocoa Meringue:

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder

6 large egg whites at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar


For the Mousse:

In a saucepan over low heat (or in the microwave), melt the chocolate and butter, whisking until smooth.  Let cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the 6 egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy.  Continuing to beat at medium speed, gradually add the granulated sugar, then raise the speed to high and beat until the meringue forms stiff, glossy peaks, 5 minutes more.

Whisk the 4 egg yolks into the chocolate-butter mixture, then gently fold some meringue into the chocolate mixture.  Add the rest of the meringue and fold until thoroughly combined.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to set the mousse.  You can leave it in the refrigerator for 4 days if you want to work ahead.


For the Baked Meringue

Postition the racks in the top an dbottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 250 degrees F.

Sift the confectioners sugar and cocoa powder onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper and set aside.

In a clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy.  Beating at medium speed, gradually add the granulated sugar a tablespoon at a time, then raise the speed and beat until the meringue forns stiff, glossy peaks, 5 minutes more.

Sprinkle the sugar-cocoa mixture over the meringue and fold it int using a rubber spatula.  Spread some of the meringue with a spoon or spatula onto one of the prepared baking sheets into two 8 inch circles.

Here, Yosses recommends piping strips of meringue with a pastry tube or by squeezing a plastic bag, snipped at the end, onto the second baking sheet.  As usual, I was in a bit of a hurry, and simply spooned two to three inch lengths of meringue onto the parchment.  These are stuck decoratively on the sides of the cake at the end.  It’s worth doing for the “nested” effect.  Yosses trimmer pieces are more architectural.

Bake both sheets until the circles and strips of the meringues are thoroughly dried, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  They will be crisp, but will not change color.  Let cook, then peel the parchment off the circles and strips.

To assemble and serve:

Spread a little mousse in the center of a serving plate, then pace one meringue circle over it.  Spread about half of the mousse over the meringue, dolloping it evenly so that you can spread it without working it more than necessary.  Top with the second meringue circle, then spread the rest of the mousse all over the outside of the cake.  Stick the random sticks onto the sides.  Yosses breaks his up and sticks them on at zigzag angles, very Post Modern sounding, but there was no photo of his.  Refrigerate the cake until chilled, at least 3 hours, and up to 12.  Sift confectioners sugar or cocoa powder over the cake before serving.



Rosemary Chicken Salad in a Jar

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

My children’s school recently asked that I create a picnic dinner for 200 plus people for the annual auction meal.  The mechanics of packing food in a basket just isn’t that easy.  Things roll, tip, and spill.  (This was dinner; sandwiches were never an option.)

I was seriously struggling to figure out simply how to pack the basket, when I re-discovered a recipe of my mother’s I had always loved:  an herb-layered chicken salad simply marinated in lots of olive oil, salt and pepper, and packed into a jar.

“Packed in a jar,” the words that saved me.  A jar is the most transportable vessel there is.  Civilizations have successfully packed foods in jars – clay and otherwise – and gone on picnics or voyages for centuries.

This chicken salad’s list of virtues is long:  It can – and must – be made ahead so that the flavors infuse.  Can you imagine my relief when I realized I could prepare this dinner for 200 three days in advance?

It is flavorful, not something easily achieved in room temperature picnic food.

Not only that, iconic rosemary, garlic and olive oil are friendly with so many tastes.  From this jarred dish I went on to two others I knew would just get better made in advance:  David Lebovitz’ lentil salad with shallots and mustard and Do Chua, the vietnamese vegetable salad with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger and cilantro.   The chicken was happy on the plate with all these flavors.  Just spread on a crusty bread it was glorious.

While we were preparing the salad, pulling apart the chicken meat, we tossed the bones back into the broth in which it had cooked.   As we plucked the rosemary sprigs, we tossed the stems into there, too.  Another hour on the stove simmering bones and herbs resulted in one of the most delicious broths imaginable, just one more gift this recipe provides.

Lastly, the chicken is beautiful: layers of white breast meat, verdant rosemary and golden olive oil look like Food Art through the glass of the jar.




Rosemary Chicken Salad in a Jar



5 organic chicken breasts halves, bone-in

1 carrot, chopped coarse

1 onion, quartered

2 garlic cloves (for the broth)

fine sea salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 to 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves, chopped, reserving 2-3 sprigs for decoration

10 garlic cloves chopped loosely in a food processor

fine sea salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 cup Ball Jar, or similar glass jar with a lid.



In an 8-to-9 quart kettle combine chicken, carrot, onion, 2 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and enough water to cover chicken completely. Bring mixture to a boil, skimming any foam that rises to surface, and simmer, covered, just until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.

Remove kettle from heat and let chicken cool completely, uncovered, in poaching liquid. Remove chicken from liquid and shred, discarding bones.  Put meat into a large bowl.

Toss chopped rosemary, chopped garlic, salt and pepper all over the chicken.  Drizzle some good glugs of the oil over all, and toss to distribute the ingredients equally.  Taste the salad.  It will definitely need more salt and oil, so keep drizzling and tasting.  It needs much more oil and salt than you realize, so keep adding, tossing gently, and tasting until it’s delicious.

When you are ready to spoon the salad into the jar, put about a half a cup of chicken into the bottom.  Stand the reserved sprigs of rosemary up so they press against the jar sides, pressing the stems into the first layer of chicken to hold them in place.  Spoon in the remaining chicken to fill the jar, making sure the rosemary stays attractively against the sides.  Drizzle a last tablespoon of olive oil over all, and close it up.

Chill for at least 1 day and up to 3 days, turning the jar occasionally to distribute the oil. Let jar stand at room temperature at least 1 hour before serving.

serves 8