Orange Semolina Cake

All over the Middle East you will find recipes for semolina cakes. This Orange Semolina Cake is exceptionally moist and the perfect end to a well-spiced meal. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s visit to Nicosia,Cyprus on his show City Bakes. As with most semolina cakes, this one is soaked with a delicious sugar syrup. But unlike other semolina cakes that I have eaten, the ingredients call for mastic.

My only familiarity with mastic is as chewing gum, so I was skeptical at first. But I have come to trust Paul Hollywood. He has the joie de vivre and puckishness of Julia Child and is fastidious in his baking. So if he said to use mastic…. Apparently, it is not uncommon in Greek and Cypriot cooking. Also known as the “Tears of Chios,” which sounds much more poetic than “gum,” it is a tree resin with a unique, refreshing flavor. While I am willing to adapt recipes to my own tastes and preferences, when I can, I try respecting the traditions and cultures that I am mimicking as long as they don’t conflict with mine. This Cypriot Shamali cake (known as Basbousa in other parts of the Middle East) is an example.

If you don’t wish to purchase mastic (mine came from Amazon) the cake should still be delicious without it, although you might want to increase the amount of orange zest. The flavor of the mastic was quite subtle and not like anything I could easily identify. It was definitely there, however, and quite nice. And since travel seems unlikely anytime in the near future, I was willing to spring for this (for me) unusual ingredient. As an armchair traveler, it seemed a relatively cheap investment.

Because semolina cakes are soaked in syrup, they hold up well and are even better the next day when everything has melded. You need to pour the syrup over the cake while the cake is hot from the oven. This will help the cake absorb all of the delicious orange-scented syrup. And you don’t want to miss a drop. It will seem like an enormous amount of syrup, but don’t get scared off. The cake will absorb all of it. And surprisingly, for all of the sugar, the cake is not extremely sweet.

The measurements are as I found them. I own a small, relatively inexpensive kitchen scale and have learned that conversions from weight to measures is not always accurate. No matter how you pack your measuring cup, however, 200 grams will always be 200 grams.

This cake is lovely and easy to make. Try it soon. You won’t be disappointed.

For other delicious semolina cake recipes:

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Recipe

Yield: 8 very generous servings

Ingredients

For the cake

190g caster (granulated) sugar

400g semolina flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mastic, crushed to a powder

Zest of a large orange (I used a navel)

170g natural yoghurt

2 medium eggs (I used large eggs and it was fine)

120ml sunflower or Canola oil

For the syrup

250g caster (granulated) sugar

300ml water

Juice of an orange

Garnish

25g chopped raw pistachio nuts

Directions

1. Line the base of a 20 cm. spring form cake tin (I used an 8-inch spring form tin which is just slightly larger) with baking parchment. There is no need to grease the tin.

2. Heat your oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. (375 degrees F.) Place all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth thick mixture. You could use a mixer if you like. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top to level. Bake for about 40 minutes until the cake is risen and when a skewer is inserted it comes out clean.

3. To make the syrup heat the sugar, water and orange juice. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

4. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack on top of a pan with sides (to catch the drips.) Score the cake into 8 serving pieces. Pour over the hot syrup. It will look as if the cake is drowning but almost all of the syrup will be absorbed within 10 minutes. Once most of the syrup has been absorbed, scatter the chopped pistachio nuts over the top. Leave to cool completely before serving.

Lemoniscious Ricotta Cookies

Lemoniscious Ricotta Cookies are rich, moist and citrusy bright. These perfect cookies are easy to make and even better to eat. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I LOVE lemons. And for me, there is no better finale to a delicious (or even not so wonderful) meal than a good dessert. Of course, these cookies would also be a wonderful accompaniment to afternoon tea. These lovely morsels are really mini-cakes and oh, so satisfying.

One bite and you get the sweet, moistness of the cake with a burst of fresh lemon. If you look back on recent posts of mine, you might detect a trend. That’s right – ricotta! It’s a lovely, creamy cheese along the lines of a farmer’s cheese. While it comes in low-fat versions, I only like to use whole milk ricotta in desserts. If you are lucky enough to live where hand-packed ricotta is available, that only needs a little vanilla extract, honey and cinnamon to make a delicious and quick dessert. Add some fresh berries and/or drizzle with some melted chocolate to make it a bit more decadent and a perfect no-bake dessert.

This cookie comes together quickly and there is no chilling of dough. You simply make the batter and bake it up. The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis. I am not generally a fan of hers but after a couple of tweaks, I have made a few things that have turned out well. And this is one recipe that you definitely should give a try.

For more delicious lemony desserts, try these:

Tarte Citron Mama

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Perfect Lemon Chess Pie

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the Cookies

2.5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

15 oz. whole milk ricotta

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Glaze

1.5 cups of powdered or icing (Confectioner’s) sugar

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon

Directions

For the Cookie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Using a large bowl, combine the butter and granulated sugar. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand as well.) Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Now add the ricotta, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and beat well to combine.

Stir in the dry ingredients. Do not over beat. Mix until everything is incorporated.

Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of batter for each cookie. The cookies will spread some so leave about 2 inches of space between. Bake until the cookies are just becoming golden at the edges. The original recipe said 15 minutes, but mine were a bit bigger than Giada’s and all ovens are different. My cookies ultimately took about 23 minutes. So keep an eye on them after about 18 minutes. They are so moist that it is difficult to over bake them. You do want the bottom to be golden and just barely dry.

Allow the cookies to cool on wire racks. After they are cool, you can glaze the cookies.

For the Glaze

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon or spatula to gently spread.

While the cookies can be eaten almost immediately after glazing, I would not pack them away until the glaze is truly dry which takes about 2 hours. It’s best to pack them with waxed or parchment paper between layers. The cookie cakes will continue to get moister and you don’t want them to stick to one another.

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

There are many foods that I can live without, but bread isn’t one of them. I enjoy it in all of the many forms and flavors that it takes. I love flat breads and fry bread. Herbed breads and sweet breads. And breads with crusts that make me thankful I have great teeth. Olive Rosemary Foccacia raises the volume on soups, salads and pastas. The pillowy chewiness of the center with the slightly salty crust and zing of fresh herbs makes this bread almost a meal in itself.

This easy-to-make recipe comes via Valerie Bertinelli and like just about every recipe of hers that I have tried, the directions are simple and it works out on the first try. As much as I like bread, even I can’t eat a whole pan of this delectable Olive Rosemary Focaccia in one sitting. Although it’s perfect for a family. So I ended up freezing half and saving some for another dinner. I definitely encourage you to eat this bread warm from the oven. Since mine was made a few hours earlier than we ended up eating dinner, I simply warmed it for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven when I was ready to serve. The same goes for bread that you froze and defrosted.

So the next time you want to turn turn up the volume on a bowl of soup, salad or pasta, try this Olive and Rosemary Foccacia.

For another take on focaccia try this recipe.

Recipe

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon sugar 

2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast 

3 1/2 cups bread flour 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for sprinkling (I have made this with just rosemary and with a mix of fresh herbs – rosemary, oregano and thyme. Works well either way.)

1 small yellow onion, quartered and sliced (Red onion works too)

One 5.3-ounce jar pitted green olives, drained (A mix of black and green or one or the other works. Use what you have. I used Kalamatos and Cerignola this time.)

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (Optional but really nice)

Directions

  1. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and grease with a thin layer of olive oil. (You can also make this directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment.)
  2. Place sugar and 1 1/2 cups slightly warm tap water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, salt and one tablespoon rosemary in a large bowl. Add to the mixer along with the oil. Knead the dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth, supple ball that is not sticky to the touch, about 5 minutes. Turn the dough out on the prepared sheet tray, drizzle with more olive oil and cover with a bowl or clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Using well-oiled fingertips, gently press the dough out onto the sheet tray, making dimpled indentations all over the dough. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for another 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Sprinkle the dough with the onions, olives and rosemary and drizzle generously with oil. Bake the focaccia until it is puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving. Don’t be stingy with the EVOO. The focaccia drinks it up and it’s just delicious!

Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

I hesitated posting this week. Somehow it seemed so frivolous. The world watched in horror while an unarmed Black man, begging for his life, was murdered by a white police officer – on camera – with others standing by. The aftermath of anger and despair provided an excuse for looting and destruction as well as a catalyst for worldwide peaceful protests demanding change. And I watched with continuing shame our country’s president as he made matters worse, instead of helping a nation already battered by the pandemic.

But summer has started here and much of the country is beginning to open up after three months of a punishing lockdown. And we still have to eat. This Summer Ricotta Cheesecake won’t cure Covid 19 or any of the other societal problems. It will give, however, an opportunity to smile and remember that there are still small pleasures out there – even if they are transitory.

I read a LOT of recipes and many get filed away to try “some day.” This particular recipe was on hold until eggs were no longer being rationed at the grocery store. We appear to be past that stage now so I wasn’t afraid to make a dessert that called for 6 eggs. And let’s face it, dessert makes everything just a bit better.

Nothing could be simpler than this Summer Ricotta Cheesecake. There are very few ingredients, the flavorings are adaptable and there is no pastry or crust to deal with. The filling cooks in such a way that it forms a very thin crust. If you can whip eggs whites and fold them into a batter then you can make this dessert.

The result will be a light, flavorful cheesecake that is the perfect end for a summer dinner. But because there are so few ingredients, make sure that you only use a good quality whole milk ricotta and fresh eggs. If you don’t have these ingredients, then wait until you do. You can play with the flavorings but not the basics of this recipe.

This can be made ahead and refrigerated which is perfect when your time in the kitchen is limited and is best parceled out. A homey recipe that isn’t at all fussy and an end product that is a summer delight. It’s speckled with zest and needs nothing more than a few fresh berries to smarten it up. Don’t worry about cracks. Just say that it’s rustic!

For a ricotta cheesecake to make when you have more time and want to fuss a bit (but oh, so worth it!) try the Crostata di Ricotta that I recently posted.

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings (One 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar (150g) plus about 2 Tablespoons for the pan

1.5 pounds (750g) whole milk ricotta at room temperature

6 large eggs at room temperature

1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

Zest of two large oranges and one lemon (See below for other flavoring suggestions)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 Tablespoon Rum (dark or light) or Marsala

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

Generously butter (or spray) a 9-inch springform pan and dust with the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, shaking off any excess.

Mix the ricotta and zest in a large bowl. You can beat it for a minute for a smoother texture, but frankly I didn’t bother to do that.

Add the flour and about 1/2 of the sugar to the ricotta. Mix it well (That means half of the 3/4 cup. Eyeballing is fine.)

Separate your eggs. Put the yolks in with the ricotta mixture and put the whites and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a clean, dry bowl. Either use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to whip the whites and salt until soft peaks form. Then gradually add the remaining half of sugar (a Tablespoon at a time) to the whipped whites and beat until you just have stiff peaks. Do not over beat or the whites will collapse.

Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with the ricotta mixture.

Use a spatula and mix about 1/4 of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture to make sure that it is nice and loose. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites in about 3 additions. Do not over mix. You want the lift that the egg whites give.

Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan using the spatula to help. (Don’t pour from a great height or it will deflate. I learned this from Mary Berry!) Gently smooth out the top. Place the springform pan on top of foil or a baking pan to catch any oozing from the butter.

Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes or until it is golden on top but the center of the cheesecake still wiggles. It will continue baking after it is removed from the oven and the center will set. (I promise.) The cake will sink some and crack as it cools. This is fine.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack and then carefully run a knife or off-set spatula around the edges to make sure that it does not stick anywhere. Do NOT open the springform, tempting though it may be! Allow the cake to cool completely. Then wrap it in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Remove the ring of the springform and voila!

Now my husband and I have been watching a LOT of British Baking Master Class with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Next time I make this, I may try to turn off the oven at 45 minutes and allow the cake to cool down in the oven as I have seen Mary do with other cheesecake. Supposedly it prevents cracking. We’ll see. Honestly, though, I don’t think the cracks really detracted from the final product. So just a thought.

Baking Note

For other possible flavorings, you could try a mix of citrus zests. Or ground spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. Instead of rum or Marsala, you could use extracts: pure vanilla, coffee, almond or aniseed.

Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.

But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!

But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.

Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.

There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.

Recipes

Yield: One 9.5-inch cheesecake; 8 to 10 servings

For the Pasta Frolla

Ingredients

1.5 cups (200 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt

1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)

Directions

Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.

Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.

For the Crostata di Ricotta

You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins

4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)

1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)

1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 navel orange

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.

Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.

Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.

Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!

Italian Polenta Cookies

Everyone is looking for comfort right now, as well as ways to fill unaccustomed time at home. Baking makes your house smell absolutely safe, warm and inviting. But even after the aromas have dissipated, the delight of eating something delicious that you made lingers on. These Italian Polenta Cookies fit that description perfectly.

Grocery shopping has become challenging in the Time of Coronavirus. Many items are out of stock and getting deliveries scheduled can now take days (if at all) instead of hours. And who knows what will actually arrive when the delivery comes? I admit it. My pantry could probably survive the Zombie Apocalypse, but even I need to buy certain fresh staples like eggs, milk and produce.

In looking for some treat to make for my husband and me (because don’t we all need a little sweetness in our lives?) I came back to this recipe from David Lebovitz that I had seen about 18 months ago. I really love the not-overly-sweet variety of Italian cookies and I especially like cookies made from cornmeal or polenta. They just have this extra somethin’ somethin’. There is the zing of lemon with that slight crunch and flavor of the polenta. These Italian Polenta Cookies are perfect for afternoon tea, with a glass of Vin Santo or a cup of coffee.

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

3 tablespoons water

3/4 cup (90g) dried currant or another dried fruit, such as chopped cranberries or cherries

3 tablespoons eau-de-vie or grappa (I used Amaretto since I had neither grappa nor eau-de-vie)

1 3/4 cups (250g) flour

1 cup (160g) fine (or instant) polenta

3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

8 tablespoons (4oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

Heat the water in a small saucepan until it starts to boil. Turn off the heat and add the currants, or other dried fruit, and liqueur. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour. (They can be plumped a day or two in advance.)


In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, polenta, sugar, salt and baking powder. (You can also make this dough in a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the egg and the egg yolks, then stir in the melted butter and lemon zest.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir together for about a minute, until they’re well-combined. Add the currants and any liquid, and beat them in at medium speed for about 30 seconds.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap it in plastic wrap, flatten it into a disk, and chill until firm, about an hour. (The dough can be made 2-3 days in advance, and baked later.)

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

On a lightly floured counter top, pinch off tablespoon-sized pieces of dough, roll them into little logs (you may need to flour your hands as the dough can be slightly sticky), then press the logs gently to flatten them a bit, and pinch the ends to taper them. Place them on the baking sheet about an inch (3cm) apart, to allow for some spreading. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.

Bake the cookies until golden brown across the top, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during baking. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Storage: The cookies can be kept up to one week in an airtight container at room temperature.

For other wonderful cookie options:

Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies

Vegan Italian Chocolate Cookies

Tahini Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies

Chewy Molasses Cookies

Tehina Shortbread Cookies

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Soup is the ultimate comfort food

Soup is comfort food. And Ribollita Soup may just be the ultimate winter comfort soup. This savory Tuscan bean porridge checks all of the right boxes. And it is easy to tailor it to your own tastes. In deciding which recipe to follow, I looked at no fewer than 8 versions before settling on this one that appeared in Food and Wine. I made a couple of tweaks. But this humble and cost-saving soup that makes use of simple ingredients and stale bread is one of the most satisfying wintery soups I have made. And I make a LOT of soup.

This version of Ribollita Soup does take some time to cook properly, but there is nothing difficult or fussy about it. And on these cold wintery days when you are snuggled up at home with a good book and some music in the background, put up a pot of Ribollita for ultimate comfort. You won’t be disappointed. Add a glass of wine, and you raise this peasant soup to fine dining.

I used canned beans here but if you like to cook your own (as I often do) the best can be found at Rancho Gordo. I was first introduced to Rancho Gordo beans at the Culinary Institute several years ago on a trip with our son and daughter-in-law. Their heirloom beans are well-worth exploring.

My ribollita was made using chicken stock and Parmesan rinds, but you can easily veganize the soup using a vegetable stock and leaving out the cheese. Do use a simple rustic bread for this soup. It doesn’t actually have to be stale. The origins of Ribollita were to make use of everything and to waste nothing.

Recipe

Yield: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely chopped

1 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

28 ounce can OR 24 ounce box crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

1 1/2 cups unoaked white wine

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock (You could also use a mixture of water and the liquid from your cooked beans if you cooked your own)

3 stale Tuscan-style bread (rustic country loaf or boule) slices, crusts removed and bread torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 ounces)

2 large bunches of kale (preferable lacinato kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (This may seem like a lot of kale but it cooks down)

Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

About 4 cups of peeled, diced Yukon Gold potatoes

4 cups cooked cannellini beans (or other thin-skinned white beans from 2 15-ounce cans or homemade).

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-low. When oil shimmers, add onion, carrot, and celery; stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt to help draw out liquid from onions and season the foundation of the soup. Cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pot with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle sizzle, until mixture is very soft and translucent, about 30 minutes. Increase heat to medium; cook, stirring often, until sofrito is caramelized, about 10 minutes.

Sofrito

Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper, if using; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Stir in crushed tomatoes and wine, and stir, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pot, until mixture is well combined. Increase heat to maintain a vigorous simmer (be careful of splattering tomato). Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes.

Add 8 cups water or stock, bread, kale, and Parmesan rind, if using; stir, scraping bottom of pan to fully incorporate sofrito into liquid. Simmer until kale is tender and bread is dissolved, about 20 minutes. Stir in potatoes, and simmer until partially tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup beans with 1 cup tap water or bean cooking liquid (if not using canned). Add bean puree and remaining 3 cups beans, and simmer until beans and potatoes are completely tender but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Season with about 1 teaspoon more salt, or to taste, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Let soup cool to room temperature if not eating immediately; cover and refrigerate. Reheat soup gently before serving, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Divide among bowls, and top each with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve hot. (I found the soup did not need any additional olive oil)

Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Tonight we’re having Greek Red Lentil Soup for dinner and I wanted some kind of bread to go with it. Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is the perfect accompaniment. Between the lentils and the chickpeas I certainly don’t need to worry about protein or flavor. This would be the perfect “meatless Monday” meal! And while I have no issues with gluten and happen to love almost all breads and pastas, this recipe is not only vegan, but it is gluten-free. The Socca was especially delicious drizzled with EVOO and with either tapenade or roasted smushed garlic spread on top. I’m just sayin’.

I will never be able to eat Socca without thinking of Julia Child. She did one of her TV episodes on the South of France and highlighted Socca. At the end of the show, in that inimitable Julia Child voice and with her joie de vivre, she looked at the audience and said “Socca to me!” [For those too young to recall the TV show Laugh-In, “Sock it to me” was a recurring phrase.]

What is Socca, really?

Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is a traditional Southern French treat. There are a dozen different ways you can make it. You’ll most often find socca cooked street-side on fiery grills, where the resulting flatbread is coarsely chopped and served in a cone with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. While every home cook in the South of France may have their own technique for preparing the batter, the ingredients are almost always the same: chickpea flour water, and olive oil. The Socca sold on the street are more crepe-like than this recipe but it still is delicious and worth making.

What is chickpea flour and is it the same as besan?

Chickpea flour is made from dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and is also commonly known as garbanzo flourgram flour, and besan. However, besan or gram flour is a flour of chana dal or split brown chickpeas. Chickpea flour or garbanzo flour is ground up white chickpeas. I happened to have besan on hand the first time I made this so that is what I used. I then bought chickpea/garbanzo flour and made it again. I also used 4.5 ounces of flour the second time instead of going with 1 cup. It turned out that one cup actually weighed out to 5.33 ounces. So which was better?

Both were good, but if I had to choose, I preferred the one made with actual chickpea flour and when I measured by weight rather than cups. The resulting socca had more flavor and was more reminiscent of what you would buy from a street vendor in Nice. I also drizzled olive oil on the top after 5 minutes in the oven and then returned it to the oven for another 3 minutes. When it came out of the broiler, I then drizzled more EVOO and sprinkled on my za’atar. The edges and bottom were brown and crispy and the middle was just barely flexible. I could get addicted to this especially since it is sooooooooooo easy to make. The second time I ate it with my delicious split pea soup. So, so satisfying.

Recipe for Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chickpea flour (4 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan and drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1+ teaspoon za’atar (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the chickpea batter. Whisk the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, rosemary and salt together in a medium bowl until smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water.
  2. Preheat the oven with the pan. Arrange an oven rack 6 inches below the broiler element and heat to 450°F with a 10-inch cast iron skillet inside. About 5 minutes before the batter is done resting, turn the oven to broil. (Don’t try this with any other kind of pan. And if you don’t have a cast iron skillet – get one. They are the best for so many things but especially when you want to really sear or brown food.)
  3. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add about 1+ teaspoon of oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan when the pan is swirled. Pour the batter into the center of the pan. Tilt the pan so the batter coats the entire surface of the pan.
  4. Broil the socca for 5 to 8 minutes. Broil the socca for 5 minutes. The top will begin to look a bit cracked. Drizzle generously with EVOO and return the pan to the oven for about 3 more minutes. The socca should be fairly flexible in the middle but crispy on the edges.
  5. Slice and serve. Use a flat spatula to work your way under the socca and ease it from the pan onto a cutting board. It should come right out leaving your pan practically clean. Drizzle with more EVOO and sprinkle with za’atar. Slice it into wedges or squares.

RECIPE NOTES

Storage: Socca is best if eaten immediately after baking while still warm, but can be refrigerated and re-toasted for up to 1 week.

Chickpea flour: You can find chickpea flour in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and other natural foods-type stores. Bob’s Red Mill also sells it in packages. Look for it under the name “garbanzo bean flour” if you’re having trouble finding it.

Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas

So who needs one more chicken dinner recipe? Well, I do. And this Sheet-Pan Chicken with Chickpeas dinner by Alison Roman checks all of my boxes. It is easy to make, inexpensive and loaded with umami.

I came across this recipe and knew immediately that it was something I had to make – and it didn’t disappoint. With a few tweaks and served up with Mediterranean salads, I had a dinner that my husband loved and which I would gladly serve to guests.

Now as much as I hate cleaning and use foil-lined pans whenever possible, placing the ingredients on an unlined pan really gave me the crispy, roasted finish to the sheet-pan chicken and chickpeas that this dish cries out for. And with a good pan soak overnight, clean-up was easier than I had expected – especially since my husband supplied the elbow grease! If you really don’t want to do that, you may have to turn the broiler on towards the end of cooking to approximate the right effect.

My chicken marinated overnight, but you could do it all in the same day. However, the longer marinating left the chicken incredibly moist and flavorful. Give your family something special with this sheet-pan chicken and chickpeas or try it the next time you have friends over for dinner. Once everything is in the oven, you get to relax and enjoy the company.

One thing I have learned in over 35 years of cooking daily and entertaining is that you don’t have to make everything yourself. Find some good brands that you like and trust and augment your meals when you want to serve multiple courses. If you have access to good salads or dips, use them. I found a really excellent boxed soup brand (Pacific Foods) and I use their Butternut Squash, Spicy Red Lentil or “Creamy” Tomato Basil soup as a first course. I might tart them up a bit by adding some pumpkin seeds that I dry-roasted quickly in a pan and tossed with a wonderful spice blend that I bought or I add some fresh basil when serving. Nobody knows that I didn’t make these from scratch, but if asked, I’m happy to confess.

For some accompanying salad ideas, try any of the following:

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Greek Eggplant Dip

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Easy Feta and Roasted Tomato Salad

Orange and Radish Salad

And, of course, don’t forget the hummus!

Recipe for Sheet-Pan Chicken and Chickpeas

Yield: 4 to 6 Servings, depending on sides and appetites

Ingredients

6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (About 3.25 pounds)

Kosher salt and Aleppo Pepper (Freshly cracked black pepper is fine too)

1.5 cups full-fat Greek yogurt, divided

Juice from 2 to 3 lemons

2 rounded teaspoons ground turmeric, divided

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry

1 Tablespoon fennel seed

1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1 large red onion, peeled, thinly sliced and divided in half

EVOO for drizzling

Torn fresh mint or cilantro for garnish

2 Tablespoons tahini

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)

Directions

  1. Place the chicken thighs in a heavy-duty (freezer) resealable plastic bag. Combine 3/4 cup of the yogurt with the juice of 1.5 lemons, 1 teaspoon of turmeric and 2 Tablespoons of water. Season well with salt and whichever pepper you are using. (I used 1.5 teaspoons of salt here.) If you are using Kosher chicken, you will use less salt. Mix well to combine and pour it over the chicken. Seal the bag and using your hands, “massage” the yogurt mixture over all of the chicken. Refrigerate at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
  2. When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the oven rack in the top third of the oven.
  3. Mix half of the sliced onions with the juice of 1 lemon and season with about 1/4 teaspoon salt and whatever pepper you are using. Set this quick onion pickle aside until you are ready to serve.
  4. Combine the chickpeas, fennel seed, cumin, remaining turmeric and half of the red onion slices on an unlined, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with EVOO and season with salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and whichever pepper you are using. Using tongs or your clean hands, toss everything together.
  5. Move the chickpea/onion mixture to the outer edges of the baking pan. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, scraping off any excess and place the thighs in the center of the baking pan, skin-side facing up.
  6. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake, moving the chickpeas around about every 15 minutes so they don’t stick. Bake until the skin on the chicken and chickpeas are well-browned and begin to crisp. This took about 45 minutes in my oven. I then turned the chicken pieces over and roasted for another 10 minutes to crisp up the skin on the underside of the chicken. Because you are using thighs, and because of the marinade, the chicken will not dry out.
  7. Combine the remaining yogurt with the juice of one lemon and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, 2 Tablespoons of tahini and 1/4 teaspoon of ground sumac. This can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. And if you like garlic, you could crush in 1 small clove as well, although it’s really not necessary.
  8. When you are ready to serve, scatter the pickled onions over the chicken and garnish with mint and/or cilantro. Serve the seasoned yogurt alongside.

Yemenite Beef and Bean Soup

Nothing is better on a cold wet day than this Yemenite Beef and Bean Soup. The days now are shorter, the winds are sharper and the damp is already beginning to seep into my bones. This may not cure all that ails you, but it sure comes close.

We eat a LOT of soup in our house – especially as a main meal with some homemade bread and maybe a salad. In the summer, the soups are usually served cold. However, as soon as the weather starts to turn, I am looking to hearty, warming soups that satisfy my soul. This Yemenite Beef and Bean soup is easy to make. I put it up in the morning and allowed it to cook over a low flame all day. When I left my apartment, the lovely, rich aroma greeted me before I even opened the door. I’m actually surprised that my neighbors didn’t come knocking to ask for a bowl.

The original recipe by Einat Admony and Janna Gur was truly a poor man’s soup. Mine is a slightly more middle class version, with a richer stock, more meat and the addition of carrots. Either way, it’s still a bargain. My instructions are also simplified because who wants to make more work? And when I make soup, it usually just sits on my stove, getting reheated each day until it’s gone. The depth of flavors are only enriched and I’m always ready when we need to drive away the blues or that chill.

The primary spice mixture is Hawaij – one of my absolute favorites. Hawaij means “mixture” in Arabic. I also use it in my Yemenite Chicken Soup and in my Cauliflower Tabbouleh. While you likely can purchase it in a Middle Eastern grocery or online, I make my own. It only takes minutes to grind your own spices and the difference in flavor is huge. Once you try making your own freshly ground spices, you will never go back. The recipe for Hawaij that I use can be found with my Yemenite Chicken Soup, but I will repeat it below.

Recipe

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

1 pound dried navy beans (Other white beans can be used such as cannellini or Great Northern)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 pounds of beef short ribs or beef shank

8 cups beef broth plus 4 cups of water (Use only 8 to 10 cups liquid total if you want a thicker soup. Depending on the bean you used, you may need then to add more liquid when reheating since generally beans expand and thicken the broth as it sits.)

6 ounces tomato paste

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, cleaned and tied in a bundle with kitchen twine

1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 to 3 carrots, sliced in thick rounds

1 whole head of garlic, with just the papery outer skin removed

2 to 3 teaspoons of Hawaij (See recipe below)

2.5 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Directions

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with 3 to 4 inches of cold water. Soak for at least 8 hours or over night. Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place your short ribs, meat side up on a foil covered pan and sprinkle with salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. If you are using kosher meat, you do not need to add salt. Roast for 15 minutes. Then turn the ribs over and roast for 12 minutes. Turn them on their side and roast for about 8 to 10 more minutes or until well-browned. Set aside.

You can brown the meat in the pot instead of in the oven. I find this a tedious process and one that invariably spatters grease all over my stove. I also find that when I brown the meat in the oven, I really don’t have to skim the soup liquid – another tedious process. And almost all of the excess fat remains on the foil which I simply discard, instead of either having to clean the pot in between or later skim off.

In a large, heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the carrots and onions. Sprinkle with a little salt. Cook the vegetables until the carrots just begin to soften and the onion to brown – about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the meat to the pot, allowing the fat to remain on the foil, which you will discard. Add the beans, garlic head and parsley or cilantro bundle.

Mix the tomato paste with about 1/2 cup of the broth or water to thin out the paste. Add all of your liquid to the pot, including the tomato paste mixture. Add the Hawaij (Start with 2 teaspoons and add more later if you wish.) and mix through.

Bring the soup to a boil and then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to very low so the soup is just barely simmering. Allow it to cook for 4 to 5 hours. Remove the bundle of parsley/cilantro. Don’t worry if some pieces fall back into the soup or get loose. It’s fine. Remove the head of garlic and allow it to cool enough to handle. Then squeeze the softened, unctuous garlic cloves out of their skin, mash them slightly and add back to the pot. Taste and adjust your seasonings.

Hawaij

Yield: About 5 Tablespoons

2 Tablespoons black peppercorn

1 Tablespoon black caraway seed (Kalonji or Nigella)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon of the seeds from green cardamom

2 teaspoons turmeric

pinch of saffron (optional)

Either pound the spices with a mortar and pestle or use a coffee/spice grinder. This can also be purchased online. I made mine.