La Piadina is a wonderful thing. What it is IS an Italian flatbread made of flour, lard (or olive oil), salt and water and stuffed with 2-3 ingredients- usually a meat, cheese and a veg. In Emilia Romagna, where la piadina romagnola originates, you will find piadinerie that make the flatbread fresh (even with little charred blots on) and stuff it with local cheeses, prosciutto and fancy sauces (truffle cream upon request!!!).
On a recent trip to the grocery store, I discovered a new sauce that has inspired a couple of new dinner ideas. I have been trying to cook more at home these days, and there is a cookbook on the traditional cucina fiorentina (Florentine cuisine) that is haunting me on the kitchen table with several bookmarks mocking me to venture and make traditional goodies like salsa tartufata (truffle sauce for pasta or meats), fegatino (chicken liver and heart pate) and ribollita ( 2X cooked peasant bread, tomato, veg and bean soup). But I am too intimidated. Every time I go to the butcher at my local farmer’s market to brave buying pure chicken hearts and liver, I get scatty as soon as I see the blood covered butcher howling “Prego” at me. I run away and just get my typical dainty fruit and veg and perhaps some cold cuts.
So I end up instead at the grocery store, reducing myself to the pre-made pasta sauces accepting my reluctance to make a salsa tartufata. I see a jar that looks interesting, it’s called Pesto alla Siciliana. It had a nice little picture of ricotta and tomatoes on it and I thought hmmmm this looks adventurous! Until I read the ingredients: Instead of olive oil, there is sunflower seed oil. Instead of pine nuts, there are cashews (anacardi).And to my great disappointment, there is glucose syrup AND sugar! I put my foot down (and the jar back on the shelf) and said: “this avoidance to cook is not to be tolerated any more!” I will make this myself!
So from the label, I gathered more or less what this recipe was asking for. Fresh tomatoes, tomato concentrate, garlic, ricotta, pine nuts, grated aged pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), herbs and a touch of olive oil.
I looked up a recipe for Pesto alla Siciliana just to be sure and I got chopping and grinding away. I used a hand blender to put it all together and voilà! A thick creamy umami nutty goopy pink sauce that will make any pasta more cozy.
Fry up some sausage on the side and mix in with this red pesto. Boil up some pasta (ideally penne, rigatoni or tortiglioni tubular pastas for the sauce to coat and the sausage to stick to), mix in the red pesto BY adding the pasta to the pan with pesto sauce and sausage and jump/toss the pasta to mix all together.
I top this pasta with chopped parsley that comes in with my odori (herb) bunch from my veg guy Leo, who has a strange resemblance to the comic book guy on The Simpsons.
You can also cooked in chopped sage with the sausage, again from odori bunch from Leo. It came out extremely delicious to say the least. The sauce and bits of sage coated sausage coated and filled the big chewy hollow pasta tubes.
If I were drinking this month, I would have paired it with a glass of Negroamaro from Puglia, which is basically Italian for Zinfandel. It tends to be pretty basic yet full and slightly fruity while being high in alcohol. This pasta doesn’t need some complex aged wine with tons of structure. I wonder if a layered white like a Sauvignon from La Maremma (southern Tuscany) would have fared well. We will never know…unless you try.
This sauce is very simple to make and I highly recommend you make it to add some variety to your pasta routine. I think this would make an excellent lasagna base as well. Oh want a recipe? Here ya go!
Eat your vegetables—-for dessert! Yes, for real. Carrot cake, zucchini bread, now chocolate beet cake! Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables and here in the Puget Sound we are lucky to have them almost year round. Although in the fall & winter-like months, their bulbs tend to be bulkier which makes them easier to prepare into casseroles, roasts and soups. The beet has a looooong history, some believe it’s cultivation dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C.! Nowadays they are commercially produced for table sugar and there is even a hot controversy involving the little beet and the unstoppable GMO. Since about 1/2 of all our sugar in America comes from beets, (un)naturally the powers involved with mutating American Farmland have figured out how to capitalize on this rich sugar bulb now with a Roundup Ready GE Sugar Beet. Although the USDA has approved of this uncertain science experiment, you don’t have to. You can make this delicious moist buttery nutty chocolate cake with local organic beets found at Puget Sound Farmer’s Markets (or any local natural grocer/co-op) grown with love by Rents Due Ranch or Ralph’s Greenhouse and save yourself the mystery genes. This cake can be made even more local with Stone Buhr’s Washington White Flour (locally produced and small batch milled by Shepard’s Grain), farmstead eggs and fresh butter from the farmer’s market (or local co-op or natural grocer).
The Nutella-inspired ganache is easier than cake. Not only are beets in season and local, but so are hazelnuts! I just roasted these in the oven with a little bit of sugar until the skins popped off then beet them to a pulp in a coffee grinder then added to the chocolate ganache pot. So simple yet luscious! See for yourself!
Here is what you will need:
Dry ingredients in one bowl:
1 cup of flour (I used Shepherd’s Grain WA flour, its local and affordable!)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa or cacao
5 eggs, separated
variation: 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites (or 3/4 cup liquid egg whites)
1 cup of sugar
Chocolate cake base:
1 cup of beet puree’ (made with 2 medium bulk beets or 1 large bulk beet)
8 tbsp butter, or one short stick
1/4 cup espresso, instant (for ease) or 1/4 hot water
1 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the Sunspire Fairtrade chips from PCC Natural Markets, less than $5 a bag!)
1/2 cup skinned ground hazelnuts, dry roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of sugar
1/2 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp sweet Marsala or whatever sweet wine you have around
This cake has a lot of little tasks so here is how I suggest you break it down: Beets—>Ganache—> Hazelnut roasting—-> Cake batter prep—->Oven @ 325* for 40 minutes = voila’!
Beets: scrub your beet(s) and start boiling them skin on. It will take about 1/2 hour for the beets to full boil to softness and make the skin just slip off under cool water. When beets are boiled and skinned, cut into chunks and puree them in a food processor or blender.
Roasted hazelnuts, for ganache and cake topping:
Put the hazelnuts in a thin oven-safe pan and sprinkle some sugar on. Set temperature to 350* in a toaster oven or oven making sure to give them a shake and roll around every few minutes. Roast time total should be about 15 minutes. They will be ready when you see skins starting to pop off and brown. Let these cool wrapped in the middle of a clean towel. In the towel, try to rub off all the skins. Reserve half for the actual cake topping. The other half once skinned and cooled, pulverized in a coffee grinder. Pour into ganache when ready. Turn over down to 325* for cake baking temperature.
How to make the ganache: add chocolate chips and heavy cream to a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Add in the Marsala or sweet wine. Whisk till this gets a bit thick then take off the heat and allow to cool. You may now mix in the pulverized hazelnut “meal”.
After ganache is made and beets are still boiling…
Chocolate cake base (the wet ingredients): melt 1/2 cup of chocolate in a small saucepan on very low heat and make sure to stir and scrap. Add espresso or hot water once chocolate is mostly melted. Cut butter into chunks and let it melt in careful not to stir too much. Fold in egg yolks and mix until uniform. And lastly, fold in beet puree’.
Now with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff and frothy. Add in the sugar slowly and stir in with a spatula. Now you can fold in the egg white mixture with the chocolate mixture and have your self a chocolate base.
Dry Cake mix: In a dry bowl, sift flour with baking powder and cocoa powder.
Take the dry mix and now add it to the wet chocolate beet and electric mix until a batter forms. Don’t be alarmed, this batter will seem pretty runny but it will bake very dense and moist, you’ll see…:)
Take 2 9in cake pans and butter it up or as I did, coat pans with a coconut oil spray. Fill each pan about 3/4 full or even a little more, just be careful not to fill it to the rim. Bake for 40 minutes at 325* (no peeking and no over baking!)
After 40 minutes, take out and allow to cool. Once cool, remove from cake pan and spread ganache on top. Take the reserve hazelnuts, cut them in half and top away!
This cake will be a hit for the holiday festivities this year. Its deep, its rich and best of all it utilizes what’s in season and local. The thick chocolaty flavor exploding hazelnut puts the panache in this ganache! If you really want to splurge, I recommend pairing this cake with a dessert wine like Banyuls or a Tawny Port. Cheers!
Did I just say what you think I said? Yes. It’s true.
This is my creation:
Blackberry Coconut and Almond Flour Belgian Waffles with a banana honey & yogurt “Creme Fraiche.”
And I made it for the love of healthy blood sugar. Eating out, I love me some truffle and parmigiano fries. But when I am at home, I keep it clean. But! Tasty. And this waffle is indeed!
Try it for yourself, you will thank me. So will your pancreas. November is also Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. According to http://www.pancan.org:
“Pancreatic cancer is 2 times more likely to occur in people who have diabetes than in people who do not have diabetes.”
“For people who are considered clinically obese, there may be a significantly increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.”
“Lack of physical activity or exercise has been associated with increased risk of pancreatic cancer in a large epidemiologic study”
Insulin is produced by the pancreas, eating high (simple) carb and high sugar foods stimulates a surge of insulin into the bloodstream. We know that excessive triggers for insulin (mostly caused by poor dietary habits) can lead to type II diabetes. It’s worth knowing this excess insulin in the blood signals the body to convert sugars to stored glycogen. Without high intensity exercise (aka cardio) that burns this sugary “glycogen”, it will soon be converted to fat. Which leads to obesity over time, another risk factor for pancreatic cancer. In other words, save your refined carbs for special occasions! This waffle is high in fiber, packs a good dose of protein and sorta low in sugar. The entire recipe calling for only 1/2 of a small banana, 1 tsp of honey and 1/4 cup of blackberries which are relatively low in sugar.
My little nutrition lecture aside, here’s the damn recipe!
For one person or 2, depending on how hungry you are 🙂
In one bowl mix the following dry ingredients:
3 tbsp coconut flour
1 tbsp almond flour
1/4 tsp aluminum-free baking soda
a healthy dash of ground cinnamon and cardamom <3
Then…in another bowl mix the following “wet” ingredients:
1 local humane egg
1 egg white
1 tsp of melted grass-fed butter or good olive oil
1 shy tsp bourbon or Tahitian vanilla extract
about 1/4 cup of fresh blackberries (I am still finding at Farmer’s Markets!) or thawed frozen berries of your choice
Honey Yogurt and Banana “Creme Fraiche”
1/4 cup (or your desire) plain yogurt
1 tsp local honey
1/2 diced banana
Add the dry waffle mix slowly to the wet egg mix. Whisk by hand or with electric beaters until you get all the clumps out. The coconut and almond flour should absorb a fair amount of the liquid and get a nice batter consistency. If you feel like its still a little runny even after all the beating and mashing, let it sit for a few minutes. If its STILL runny, then add 1/4 tsp of Xanthan gum, Guar gum or Arrowroot to give it a push for thicker consistency. Add a pinch more if you truly feel the need. When batter is complete, mash up the blackberries and fold in.
When this batter is all made up, pour it in a waffle maker! If you don’t have one, I highly suggest you get one! It makes making brunch that much more motivating. You can also treat this batter like pancakes. It takes just a few minutes to cook, pay attention because this flour burns easily. You should notice the waffle take on a spongy-like form when ready to slide onto plate. If you are quick at the multi-tasking kitchen draw, make the yogurt topping while waffle cooks in the pan, or while its cooling down. It only takes a minute, just mix honey into yogurt well and then add the diced bananas. Top waffle with yogurt “creme”. aaaaand eat! Enjoy the tart blackberry notes, the creamy yogurt honey banana topping smooths it out while compliments the nutty backdrop of the “cake.” So many good textures here. Banana, sponge cake, mashed berry and the cardamom sneaks out and steals your heart.
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