One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rosemary-Pine Nut Biscotti

The holidays are almost upon us and for those of us who are culinarily inclined, that only means one thing: Cookies. My kitchen is under a perpetual haze of flour these days. But much as I like cookies, I have to admit that all the butter and sugar can make them too heavy and cloying. While searching for a lighter, but still festive, alternative to my regular cookies, I came upon this recipe which I had clipped out of a magazine a couple of years ago. The minute I read the words rosemary and pine nut biscotti, I was sold. I love rosemary, whether it's in a marinade for grilled lamb, on a crostini with honey, walnuts and goat cheese, or infused into a simple syrup to be added to fizzy cocktails. 

Biscotti are Italian cookies with a dense, crunchy texture which comes from being baked twice. These are made with olive oil rather than butter, and are not too sweet. They are easy to make, too: Just stir everything together, bake, let cool, then slice and bake some more. The olive oil and rosemary give them a haunting, woodsy flavor. Add in crunchy cornmeal and buttery pine nuts, and I can definitely say that these biscotti are the most elegant things to ever come out of my kitchen. Dunk them in coffee, pack them in a box to gift them, or just eat them by the handful like I did.

Rosemary-Pine Nut Biscotti
Adapted from Eating Well magazine. The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Makes approximately 20 biscotti.

1.5 cups (210 g) flour
2/3 cup (80 g) fine yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup (90 g) pine nuts
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (135 g) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Lightly brush a baking sheet with olive oil.

2. Thoroughly mix the flour, cornmeal, pine nuts, rosemary and baking powder in a large bowl.

3. Whisk the eggs, sugar, oil and salt in a medium bowl just until combined and uniform (but not until the sugar dissolves).

4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients to form a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and form into a 12x2.5 inch (30x7 cm) log. Transfer to the oiled baking sheet.

5. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F (160C). With a serrated knife, gently slice the log crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices; place them cut-side down on the baking sheet. Some of the slices might break apart and that's OK, just bake them and save them for yourself.

7. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn over and continue baking for 10 minutes more. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bresaola with Fuyu Persimmons

I have a new love these days. We have been spending quite a bit of time together, and I have to say, it's going really, really well. You want to know who it is? Well, I'll tell you: It's the public library. Yes, that dusty-looking, neglected building in your city that you've been passing by all the time without a second glance. I was just like you. Once I left school, I never stepped foot inside a library again, until a few weeks ago when somebody told me that the public library stocks tons of cookbooks. Given my addiction to the latter, it shouldn't surprise you that I didn't wait too long before registering for a library card! 

There is something about libraries that always takes me back to my college days. My university had a huge library. You would enter it through a gorgeous, airy marble rotunda, then branch off into hallways and stairs that would take you to the different rooms. I used to love spending time there, studying in the quiet corners among stacks of forgotten books that hadn't been checked out in years. There were classic Hitchcock movies in the A/V department, Chopin sheet music in the music room, and books, oh, so many books. To my book-loving geeky heart, the library was like a treasure cave. I would borrow Beatles autobiographies, Neil Gaiman novels, books on everything from Greek mythology to the making of Blade Runner, and be happy as a clam. I am so glad to have found my way back to libraries, even if I am now far from the wonderful sunny library of my college days. 

The first book that I borrowed from the public library is one whose name you'll hear often if you read food blogs: the renowned The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, written by the head chef of the eponymous restaurant, Judy Rogers. Rogers takes on Italian and French foods with a California sensibility and the book is chock full of innovative combinations. Some of her recipes are too fussy for my taste, but there are simpler preparations like a risotto with grapefruits and oranges, short ribs braised in Belgian beer, and a pesto of sage and walnuts that I am looking forward to trying out. The one recipe that I've already made, presented below, was an absolute winner! 

This appetizer, which pairs Fuyu persimmons with ephemeral slices of air-dried beef, is Judy Rogers' elegant take on the Italian classic of melon with prosciutto. The Fuyu persimmon is a mild, not-too-sweet fruit with a delightful star-shaped cross section. It tastes a little bit like canteloupe melons and can also be sold under the name "sharon fruit". Don't substitute the torpedo-shaped Hachiya persimmons, which need to ripen to the texture of jelly to be edible and won't hold a sliced shape. Most shops selling Italian foods carry bresaola, which is an air-dried cured beef. Bresaola's creamy streaks of fat and its saltiness make a delicious counterpoint to the sweet persimmons in this recipe, but Rogers also has instructions for serving it in a salad with fromage blanc and lemon-infused olive oil, or with butter lettuce and a vinaigrette with cracked coriander seeds. Don't wait too long to make this after you purchase the bresaola, as it dries out and toughens in the fridge after a few days. 

Bresaola with Fuyu Persimmons
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. The original recipe can be viewed online here. Persimmon skin is edible but some have thicker skin than others. Rogers instructs you to taste two slivers of persimmon, one peeled and the other not, and to peel the fruit if you decide you don't like the skin. Serves 4 as an appetizer. 

4-5 oz (100-120 gr) thinly-sliced bresaola
2 medium Fuyu persimmons, washed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

1. Cut out the stem of the persimmons and cut the fruit horizontally into thin slices.

2. Lay the persimmon and bresaola slices haphazardly on a large platter. Drizzle on a small bit of of olive oil and an even smaller bit of balsamic vinegar. Tilt the plate in a couple of directions to distribute the oil and vinegar, lifting the fruit and meat slices if necessary so the dressing can flow under them, and serve.