With Thanksgiving right around the corner I’ve been giving some thought to desserts that would compliment the holiday meal. Even though I like the flavor of pumpkin, I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin pie. I find it a little too heavy especially after such a plentiful feast.
I do love a good pumpkin cheesecake, but wanted something even lighter and decided on pumpkin panna cotta. This is the perfect recipe to make a day ahead. It comes together in no time at all, especially if you buy your caramel sauce. The panna cotta is light and creamy and the surprise layer of caramel on the bottom will thrill your guests.
Pumpkin Panna Cotta
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 packet of powdered gelatin
3 tbsp cold water
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
Whipped cream (for topping)
Caramel sauce (in an effort to save time I used store bought from Trader Joe’s-you can use this recipe if you want to make your own)
Pour about a 1/2 inch of caramel sauce into the base of each mold or ramekin that you are using. If you’re using store bought caramel, heat it on low heat until it’s pourable. Place molds in the fridge while you make the panna cotta. In a medium bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water.
Take a large pot and place the cream and sugar into it. Stir over a medium heat until warm and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the spices, vanilla and pumpkin. Whisk gently until everything is incorporated. Gradually pour the cream mixture into the gelatin/water and whisk to combine.
Take the molds from the fridge and make sure the caramel sauce has begun to set. Gently pour some of the cream mixture on top of each caramel sauce. Place the filled molds back into the fridge and let them set for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Top with a dollop of whipped cream and serve. Serves: 6
I’ve been searching for a recipe for a do-ahead dessert and when I saw that this pudding involved caramel and salt, I was in. It comes from Food 52 which is a wonderful site to search for recipes as most of its content comes from “home cooks” and I find them to be quite doable.
I must say that one spoonful in and I was convinced that this recipe was a keeper. I immediately was reminded of the butterscotch budino made famous by Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. It’s creamy and light with a hint of salt, and best of all it’s a whole lot easier to put together than the renowned budino.
As we were scraping the bottom of the cups I decided that next time I would double the recipe and fill the ramekins up to the top!
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
Fine sea salt
Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream; toss the scraped pod in there too. Turn the heat to low to gently warm the cream.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the sugar; pour remaining sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons water into heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Then crank the heat to high and let the liquid bubble away — don’t stir; just swirl the pan occasionally — until it turns dark amber. This takes about 4 minutes, but watch closely because it happens fast. Moving quickly, fish the vanilla pod out of the cream and save for another use.
Slowly stir the warm cream into the caramel over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil (it will fast), turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Whisk a little of the cream/caramel mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually add the rest, until it’s all incorporated. Strain the mixture into a pitcher or large measuring cup and pour into four ramekins.
Place the ramekins in a shallow pan half filled with cold water. If you like your caramel a bit salty like me, sprinkle a few extra grains of sea salt on top of each one. Cook at 300 degrees for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Chill for at least 3 hours, but it’s best if you can chill it overnight. Serve with whipped heavy cream.
I spied this tiny wine bar last year when I was in Lucca. On my own before my tour group got to town, I decided to stop in for a glass of red wine. I was drawn in by the charming entrance and was immediately welcomed by Walter, who is one of the owners (what is the Italian name for Walter?). I was the only patron and so after taking my order he came over to chat and while he does speak some English, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to practice my Italian.
The wines here are local and are vino sfuso (What is vino sfuso? Translated word for word: “loose wine”. More properly defined: bulk wine, wine on tap, wine from the cask.) So to clarify, you are getting wine from the tap, rather than a bottle. As in other local spots that have vino sfuso, you can bring your own empty bottle and have them fill it up.
Walter asked if I was hungry and as I’m always hungry when I’m in Italy I said “yes” and he brought me a platter of bruschette which he didn’t charge me for. I enjoyed my snack, the wine and of course the conversation and was happy to have found a nearby spot where I felt welcomed.
Via S.Andrea 14
As much as I love hanging out in Lucca, I was thrilled when Heather from Sapori e Saperi invited me to tag along with her friends on an afternoon excursion to Il Vecchio Mulino for lunch. Located in the town of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana this eatery has been on my “must visit” list for some time.
The osteria is a showcase for the food of the Garfagnana area of Tuscany. Your host, Andrea Bertucci, is passionate about introducing you to the food of the region and you will be treated to samplings of his choice. There’s no need to worry about the fact that you won’t be handed a menu-everything he sends out is delectable.
One word of advice-pace yourself. I barely made it to the end and had no room for dessert. We started with two cold dishes to share-a farro salad with mushrooms and a panzanella. There was a basket filled with bread and focaccia which I found hard to resist. Next up were slices of vegetable tarts and I think my favorite was on that was filled with potato. This was followed with a platter of sliced bread topped with smoked trout and another with “Garfagnana pesto” (a tomato and anchovy spread, I think). If you take a look a the first photo you will see a sign in the window for funghi porcini freschi (fresh porcini mushrooms) and simply roasted they were prefect.
Then came a board with an assortment of local cured meats followed by a variety of cheeses. Oh-I missed a course and I’ll have to rely on Heather to describe it for me. I believe it was a type of “farinata”-this one being a baked vegetable dish. My head was spinning trying to catch what was being said (in Italian) and it’s no secret that there was a fair amount of the conversation that escaped me!
A big thank you to Andrea for doing what you do, to Heather for including me in your day and especially to Nada and Romeo (the talented weavers) for treating me to my experience at Il Vecchio Mulino. Grazie!
By the way, that’s Andrea and Romeo next to the huge mortadella and Heather and Nada seated at the table.
As soon as I saw this recipe on Food 52 (my “go-to” website for ideas) it moved to the top of my “must cook” list. It’s the perfect dish to celebrate the fall season and the inspiration for it came from one of my favorite restaurants Al Forno-located in Providence, Rhode Island. If you ever find yourself remotely near Providence you have to make time (and a reservation) to eat there. It’s been around for years and is so good that we ate there two nights in a row.
What I love about this pasta dish is that once you toss the ingredients together it’s a mere ten minutes in the oven for the finished product. It was everything I had hoped for-creamy, crispy and with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized squash. I used butternut which I peeled, halved and roasted in slices. I also tossed in some fresh sage which added a bit of earthiness. This is the perfect do ahead dish so go ahead and whip up a batch and invite some friends for dinner.
Pasta al Forno
1/3-4 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 pound shredded fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup fontina, coarsely grated
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
2 tablespoons ricotta
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 8 equal wedges and arrange on two baking sheets lined with foil. Sprinkle the wedges with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for about an hour, until the pumpkin is caramelized and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the pumpkin without burning yourself.
In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in the colander.
Scoop enough of the cooked pumpkin from the rind to make 2 cups. Combine this with the cream in a blender and puree just until smooth (be careful not to overblend, or you’ll whip the cream). Scoop out some more of the pumpkin (you probably won’t need the whole thing) and chop roughly to make about a cup and a half. Combine the pumpkin and cream puree with the cheeses, salt, thyme and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Add the pasta and the chopped pumpkin and fold together just until combined. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is just tender.
I look forward to the change of seasons and can’t wait to go the weekend farmers’ market to stock up on fall fruits and vegetables. As much as I am a huge fan of those glorious summer tomatoes, I am more than ready to move on to soups and stews and anything with apples.
Since my return form Lucca I’ve been thinking a lot about the Italian way with baked goods. You can certainly can find a cake with frosting and creamy fillings, but for the most part their desserts tend to be more understated and less sweet. I’ve been craving a cappuccino with slice of apple cake and so I turned to Jul’s Kitchen where I knew I’d find just what I was looking for.
I’m giving you the recipe as it was on Jul’s blog. Rather than convert the measurements from metric I used a food scale which I find a lot more reliable. This cake is exactly what I had hoped-not too sweet, but moist and full of apple flavor. I particularly like the addition of chopped apples in the batter.
Italian Apple Cake
1 lemon, zested
170 g of sugar
150 g of butter (5 oz., melted)
200 g of flour
1 packet of baking powder (17 g)
Preheat oven to 180°C. (400 F)
Peel and core the apples. Dice two of them and slice the rest of the apples. Put the diced and sliced apple into two different bowls and season them with a tablespoon of sugar, the juice and the grated peel of one lemon.
Whip the egg yolks with the sugar until creamy, then stir in the melted butter and gradually mix in the flour sifted with the baking powder. Stir in the diced apples.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold them into the batter.
If the batter is too thick, you can add a dash of warm milk. (I needed to add about 2 tablesloons milk)
Pour into a 24 cm (9″) greased and floured cake tin and arrange the sliced apples on the surface, in concentric circles.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until it is golden brown on the surface. Serve: 8
There’s a restaurant directly below my apartment which has tables outside facing the piazza. On nights when I’ve been feeling tired it’s been tempting to run down there for dinner, but thanks to a review by a local I’ve avoided this spot. I’m happy that I did because my new friend I. confirmed the review (thanks Vico Girl!) and said the food was pretty mediocre and it was more of a “tourist trap”.
I have my own favorite Lucca eateries, but I also trust the recommendations from my rental agent who happens to have the best properties in town. When I saw her listing for Ammondonostro I thought it was worth giving it a try. It was an easy walk from the apartment and somewhat off the beaten path from the streets I usually traverse. We entered into a lovely dining room but the real appeal was the lovely garden out back.
The patio was charming and the woman who led us back there was delightful. I have to say right up front that I had a serious craving for roasted potatoes so I knew that I wouldn’t be ordering pasta. I was more than happy with my potatoes and roasted chicken thighs, but I really should have ordered the roast pork which I spied at a neighboring table. It looked amazing! Well, there’s always next time…
Via della Fratta 20/22
There’s something special about being up and out of the house before everyone else, especially in a town like Lucca where the mid-day streets are filled with locals and a fair amount of tourists.
The church of San Michele is an impressive sight regardless of the amount of people that are milling around. Imagine my delight when I walked into the square and found myself all alone. There were a few police standing in front of the entrance to the church, but that was it. Even the cafes surrounding the piazza were deserted. Good morning to me!