Archive of ‘Desserts’ category
This weekend I am giving you three great Italian recipes in three days.
This recipe comes with a particularly good story.
The first year I knew my husband, before he was my husband, I already knew I was in love. I actually thought so as soon as I met him, but there was a moment soon after that confirmed it.
One hot summer evening, John (whom his family calls Giance, for Gancarlo, and most of his friends call JC) had to pick up something he’d been storing in his mom’s garage (I can’t remember what it was now, but maybe after he reads this post it will refresh his memory), and he invited me to come along. This was a very big deal.
I’d only met his mother once before. Also, I’d never been to her house. So that evening, as the sun was setting, we drove out of Manhattan and into Queens.
When we got there, John got busy doing whatever man thing he needed to do in the garage, and his mother took me on a tour of the house. I was most excited to see his old bedroom, the place where my future husband (yes, I thought of him that way even then), had slept and dreamed, and possibly, even dreamed of me.
At that time, Lil and I were still on formal ground. I remember looking around the room, and from the corner of my eye, I could see her gauging my reaction as I studied the framed family pictures she put on his old desk, and John’s old belongings. At last my eyes rested on the wall, where there hung a framed letter from the astronaut Alan Shepard. As I read the letter, Lil told me that it was a response to a letter John had sent him, complete with illustrations. My husband is an artist, and even back then, Lil said, his talent was apparent.
I cannot begin to explain how touching I found it that John wrote to his hero, and I could imagine the hopeful excitement he felt when a letter arrived for him in the mail several weeks later, with Alan Shepard’s name on the top left side of the envelope. I imagined my husband as a little boy ripping it open and pulling out the note to read it.
I just wanted to break down right there and confess to Lil, “I love your son so much. I promise I will take good care of him. Really, you don’t have to worry.”
But, I couldn’t say any of that. It was too soon. What I could do though, was show her.
Soon enough I was invited to her house again, this time for dinner. Determined to impress, I researched Italian cookie recipes and found this one for Florentines. I spent an afternoon baking, and then arranged the cookies on a pretty plate to take for dessert.
Lil is a smart woman. I knew when she saw me bringing homemade cookies, homemade Italian cookies, she’d be on to me. And really, that was just fine. She could infer what she wanted. She would probably be right.
Almost ten years later, I am still fond of these Florentines. The thin, delicate cookies pack a surprisingly big crunch, and the zest of orange and chocolate do the tango in such a way as to compliment, but not overpower, each other. Sort of like me and John. The cookies look fancy, but are not all that hard to make. Some good parchment paper or a Silpat mat are the only extravagant tools you need.
Now that John and I are married, and we have a family of our own, these Florentines still come in handy. If I find myself exhausted, and irrational at times, as is easy to feel when you are tired, stressed, and have small children, I think of that night at his house when I first saw his old bedroom. Imagining the little boy he was then, the excitement that prompted him to send an illustrated letter to his hero, somehow calms me, and keeps me from flying too far off the handle. Not always, but usually.
As for the Florentines, they can also be quite romantic. After all, they’re made of lace.
I’ve been part of my husband’s Italian family for many years, but this is the first year I’ve heard of Pastiera del Grano. Do you know about this? It’s a Neopolitan Easter pie, made from grain and ricotta. Scented with hints of citrus, it’s delicious, and like most Italian desserts, not too sweet.
I’m searching for a good recipe to try out. I will post it when I find one.
In the meantime, here’s the pie we enjoyed. It’s from Agata and Valentina, one of my favorite supermarkets in the city. They have all sorts of specialties, and their meatballs are worthy of my Italian mother in law’s approval.
America’s test kitchen recently conducted a survey to determine the best tasting supermarket cocoa powder. It’s no surprise Hershey’s Cocoa won. I love Hershey’s Cocoa powder. (They also make a mean chocolate fudge sauce.)
Every year at Passover Aunt Cousin Ceil makes a Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake, that’s beyond amazing. It’s from the cookbook Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich. This cake is so good, it’s the kind of thing I could eat year-round, but because Ceil only makes it during Passover, it’s that much more special. This year she made it with Hershey’s Cocoa, and I thought it was a notch better, but maybe that’s because I haven’t had it in a while.
Now I am going to tell you something about this dessert that might change your opinion before you even attempt to make it. As you might have suspected, it’s low fat. Before you move on to the next post, let me explain that this is the kind of low fat that you eat, and then smirk to yourself that your hostess is not as clever as she thinks, and there’s no way she’s pulling one over on you, because this dessert is full on high fat chocolate lipid love. But really, it’s low fat, and when you tell people, they won’t believe you either.
Today I emailed Aunt Cousin Ceil to tell her I’m posting the recipe.
This is what she wrote back:
That cake from Passover never ceases to amaze me. I know what I put in it and can never believe that it is low fat. I meant to tell you that I get almond meal from Trader Joe’s and use it instead of grinding the almonds in that torte. It saves so much time and trouble and works fine. I am always one for shortcuts.
By the time I remembered to take a picture of the cake at our seder, it was gone.