Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


April 11, 2015


Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake


Having a dinner party and looking for ideas? Get a copy of Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques and you’ll find a book full of menus that will wow your guests. From main courses to vegetables to desserts, I’ve yet to be disappointed. As you may have sensed I have a thing for hazelnuts and after a year or two of trying to replicate a cake I ate in Piemonte, I finally stopped searching after I found this cake.

When I first read the recipe I was a little concerned about using “two” sticks of butter for one small cake, but thankfully I didn’t let that get in the way. After taking one bite I was smitten and didn’t care one bit about the butter! The cake is moist and bursting with hazelnut flavor. Top with whipped cream, serve your guests and hope that there’s some leftover for breakfast in the morning.

P.S. Chef Goin served this as her wedding cake using 25 pounds of brown butter,25 pounds of hazelnuts and 150 eggs!

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

5 ounces (about one heaping cup) hazelnuts
1/2 pound unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon melted extra for greasing the pan)
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 extra-large egg whites
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast the nuts for about 10 minutes, until they smell nutty. Wrap the nuts in a dishtowel, let sit for about 10 minutes, then rub the nuts in the towel to remove the skins. Cool.

Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of a 10-inch round cake pan. Brush the pan with a little melted butter and line the bottom with the paper.

Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. To make sure not to lose any of the seeds, run your vanilla-coated knife through the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.

Grind the hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground. Add the flour and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Transfer the whites to a large mixing bowl.

Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third of a time. Remember to scrap the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all the little brown bits.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 45 minutes to 50 minutes. Cool on a rack 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a plate. Peel off the paper, and turn the cake back over onto a serving platter. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves: 6-8

April 7, 2015


Sunday Morning In Piazza Popolo


It was early one Sunday morning and we were wandering aimlessly around Rome’s empty streets when we came up this scene in Piazza Popolo.


Slowly but surely these band members assembled into formation with their brass instruments and began to play.


We wondered “who are these musicians?”. Turns out they were members of Rome’s police force!

March 21, 2015


Custardy Apple Squares-Baking Chez Moi


I don’t think of myself as a baker. I would call myself a cook who likes to bake. I suppose what is hard for me to accept is that when baking I have to follow a recipe, unless I’ve made it countless times. I realize that over the past few years I’ve been baking more and more and feel the need to have some sort of home baked good on hand all the time. Usually it’s cookies (and I do have my favorites) but when it’s not going to be a cookie, I find myself drawn to new recipes.

I kept hearing about Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi featuring dessert recipes of French home cooks and when my friend L. (a wonderful baker and former owner of a famous San Diego bakery) sent me an article about the book, I knew it was time to get a copy and start baking.

I love the book and can’t wait to try countless recipes. For my first attempt I tried this wonderfully simple recipe for Custardy Apple Squares that L. and her husband B.(the other half of this famous baking team) recommended. Following my quest for quick and easy dishes for entertaining, this dessert fit the bill. In addition to its simplicity I would call it foolproof and wouldn’t hesitate to tell you to try it.

I made it earlier in the afternoon, reheated and topped it with vanilla ice cream. Whipped cream would be a delicious topping as well.

Custardy Apple Squares

3 medium juicy, sweet apples, such as Gala or Fuji, peeled
1/2 cup (68 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup (67 grams) sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Slice the apples using a mandoline, Benriner or a sharp knife, turning the fruit as you reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16 th inch thick– elegantly thin, but not so thin that they’re transparent and fragile. Discard the cores.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl.

Working in a large bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs, sugar and salt together for about 2 minutes, until the sugar just about dissolves and, more important, the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla, followed by the milk and melted butter. Turn the flour into the bowl and stir with the whisk until the batter is smooth. Add the apples, switch to a flexible spatula and gently fold the apples into the batter, turning everything around until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top as evenly as you can–it will be bumpy; that’s its nature.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown, uniformly puffed– make sure the middle of the cake has risen–and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a long knife, cut the cake into 8 squares (or as many rectangles as you’d like) in the pan (being careful not to damage the pan), or unmold the cake onto a rack, flip it onto a plate and cut into squares. Either way, give the squares a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving, if you’d like.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat,Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

March 13, 2015


Baked Ziti With Lamb


If you are new to reading my blog perhaps you don’t know that I love the Saturday “Off Duty” section of the Wall Street journal. As most newspapers seem to have less than exciting food sections, Off Duty continues to surprise me every weekend with its recipes. I’ve written about them here, here, here, here and here. There’s always a few good food related articles, but I would have to say that my favorite column is called Slow Food Fast which includes a recipe from a restaurant chef who is featured for a few weeks. These recipes are for home cooks who don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen but want seasonal food with lots of flavor.

I decided to invite a few friends over for dinner at the last minute and this recipe is everything I love about easy entertaining-you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry, the sauce for the pasta comes together in no time at all and you can make the dish ahead of time and pop it into the oven while you are having hors d’oeuvres. This is exactly what I did and rather than broiling the dish, I baked it at 375 for about a half hour. Serve with a salad, crusty bread and red wine. Serves 6-8

Baked Ziti With Lamb

1 pound dried ziti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
½ pound ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small bulb fennel, diced
1 (14-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes with juice and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
¾ cup French feta, crumbled
¾ cup coarsely grated mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for topping
15 basil leaves, thinly sliced
15 mint leaves, thinly sliced
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add ziti and cook until just al dente. Strain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, stir in lamb, beef, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and fennel, and sauté until meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Pour off all accumulated fat and set pot back over medium heat.


3. Stir in tomatoes, chili flakes, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Season with salt to taste. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 20 minutes, adding splashes of hot water if dry. Stir in vinegar and simmer 5 minutes more.

4. Preheat broiler. Add cooked pasta and reserved cooking water to pot with ragù, stirring until evenly distributed. Turn off heat. In a small bowl, toss together feta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Stir ¾ mixed cheeses and ½ mint and basil into pasta.

5. Transfer everything to a large casserole dish. Top with remaining mixed cheeses and grate extra Parmesan over top to lightly cover. Slide casserole under broiler and cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil and mint.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

February 24, 2015


Watch Tower


I recently came upon this photo from a stay in the countryside outside of Lucca. Driving from Sant’Andrea di Compito to Lucca we came upon this tower in the middle of the road. Obviously the tower was there long before the paved road and when the road was built, it went right around the tower. At first we thought it was some type of storage facility for grains. After questioning a local we discovered that this was indeed a lookout post used for signaling other towers with flames.

Just one more thing I love about Italy-you never know what may be around the corner or down that country road.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

February 15, 2015


Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies


It’s no secret that when it comes to sweets, hazelnut and chocolate is definitely my favorite combination. When I’m at a gelateria it’s hard for me to break away from nocciola and cioccolato and order anything else. Before leaving Italy I always stock up on chocolate bars studded with hazelnuts. Is anyone going over there soon? I’m almost out of my stash…

I apologize for posting this recipe in metric, but I found it on an Australian blog and when I made them I followed the recipe using a scale to weigh the ingredients, rather than converting the measurements to cups and ounces. I’ve gotten used to using a scale and highly recommend purchasing one for baking.

This dough is pretty easy to work with and you can roll the scraps together and use all of it. The cookies are delicate and crumble easily so be sure to let them cool thoroughly on a rack when you remove them from the oven. I dipped half the batch in chocolate and froze the rest of the cookies. I had planned on dipping these too but I’ve been sneaking them from the freezer and eating them as is and they are just as delicious without the chocolate.

Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies

210gr flour
80gr ground hazelnut
200gr unsalted butter, soften and diced
60gr finely ground brown sugar
200gr chocolate for dipping (optional)

In a bowl mix with your hand all the ingredients to form a smooth paste. Let it rest covered in a cool place (not the fridge) for 30 minutes to one hour. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll down the dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut out cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove carefully from oven (they will be still soft) on to a cooling rack. Melt chocolate in a water bath and dip half cookie in it or alternatively just coat with a spatula half of each cookie with chocolate.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat,Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 521 other followers