Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).
As I write this, the world is in the thick fog of the pandemic COVID-19, or coronavirus. With so many of you in quarantine (or more diplomatically referred to as shelter in place), you’re trying out all those recipes you’ve been wanting to try. Well, now’s a great time to journey with me through Italy.
Today, we’re in Lombardia and I’m offering one of that region’s specialties, squash cake. Although it’s called cake, it’s actually more like a savory loaf with a sweet edge, kind of like corn bread.
What makes this recipe unusual is that it calls for mostarda di Cremona. Also known as mostarda di frutta, it’s candied fruit packed in mustard syrup. (Mostarda di Cremona, from the town of Cremona, is a particular blend of whole or large pieces of various fruit, and is the most well-known variety of mostarda.) If you taste it right out of the jar, you get hit with an unmistakable mustard flavor, reminiscent of yellow mustard, with only an undertone of sweetness. Once incorporated into a dish, the flavor blends in seamlessly and you end up with a complex recipe with an interesting flavor that you can’t quite pinpoint (but it’s the mostarda!).
Anyway, try it out. I hope you like it.
By the way, the note in the original recipe says it’s best to make the mixture a day ahead, but I missed my opportunity to do that. I made it the same day and it was fine.
There are many different variation of cornbread, and you will often find all sorts of ingredients being called for that aren’t typical or traditional for this very old recipe.
Cornbread goes back to pre-Colonial America. Native Americans made cornbread, along with many other corn-based products, since corn was a staple ingredient of their diet. Settlers, who were introduced to corn in its various forms, began making cornbread as well, sometimes calling it hoe cake (because they could be made on garden hoes against a fire).
The basic recipe was cornmeal, water, salt, and some form of fat. Over the years since, the recipe evolved to include leaveners, milk or buttermilk, and flavoring ingredients. Cornbread became particularly popular in the American South because corn was a staple crop.
Truly, almost anything can be added to cornbread to turn it into a complementary addition to any meal. It can even be savory or sweet.
For this recipe, I replaced the typical dairy liquid with coconut milk (just cuz). And to boost the coconut flavor, I mixed in some shredded coconut. The flavor is a lot more subtle than you would think, but it’s really good. It makes the perfect snack, breakfast, or accompaniment for chili, soup, or beans.
Makes 1 cake.
1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup cornmeal 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon kosher salt 2 large eggs 1 cup coconut milk ¼ cup mild oil (such as sunflower or safflower) 1 cup shredded coconut 1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
Grease an 8×8-inch loaf pan (or something of similar size), and line it with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together.In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, and oil.Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, as well as the shredded coconut and corn.
Mix gently just until the ingredients are combined.Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top.Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Still looking at the bowl of leftover cranberry sauce in the fridge? The nice thing about cranberry sauce is that it has a pretty long shelf life (the sugar acts as a preservative). But the question is always, what do I do with it all?
Well, I’m here to help. Once again, here is my list of 12 things to do with leftover cranberry sauce.
Mix a tablespoon of it into chicken or tuna salad.
Make a salad dressing. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons to a homemade vinaigrette.
Use it as a sauce for meats, vegetables, fish, and (my favorite) vegetarian “chicken” patties.
Mix about ½ cup to 1 cup of it into cheesecake before placing it in the oven. (Just swirl it in; don’t overmix.)
Dollop some on top of slices of pound or angel cake.
Stir about 1 cup of it into a big pot of chili.
Make ketchup out of it—add it to a traditional homemade ketchup recipe.
Turn it into salsa by adding some minced jalapeno or some chili powder and cumin to it, or a chutney by adding other dried or fresh fruits, such as raisins, chopped dates, or chopped apple.
Use it as jam for toast, muffins, or bagels.
Mix about ¼ cup into muffin batter (these will be the best cranberry muffins ever!).
Use it as an ingredient in homemade ice cream.
Add it to a breakfast bread.
This recipe is a healthy loaf (which many people appreciate after Thanksgiving), using whole wheat flour and flax seeds. You can have a healthy post-Thanksgiving breakfast or snack while still enjoying holiday flavors. You don’t need a lot of sugar, either, because there are sweeteners already in the sauce. As for the flax seeds, use a clean coffee grinder to grind it until you get a coarse powder. Enjoy!
Cranberry Sauce-Walnut Bread
1 cup whole wheat flour 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoons flax seeds, ground 2 tablespoons sugar or maple crystals 1 teaspoon baking soda ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon allspice ¼ teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 large eggs 3/4 cup buttermilk ½ cup cranberry sauce ½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with parchment paper so that parchment sticks out of the sides (or grease it very well).
In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, flax seeds, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.In a small bowl, mix together eggs and buttermilk.Mix this into the flour mixture just until all dry ingredients are moistened.Stir in the walnuts. Swirl in the cranberry sauce, but don’t mix it in completely—you just want it to run through the batter.Spoon batter into loaf pan. Bake until lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Some moist cranberry on the toothpick is okay.
Set pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn loaf out onto the rack. Serve warm or cool completely.
If you have any cranberry sauce left, dollop a spoonful on each slice.
What do you do when you have a birthday lunch or dinner to go to, and one of the people going has Celiac Disease and can’t have regular cake, but it’s 100 degrees F out and the thought of turning on the oven to bake a gluten-free cake makes you want to cry?
You make an ice cream cake.
Make an ice cream cake? Why not just buy an ice cream cake, you ask.
Well, let me explain it to you this way. I come from an Italian family. My father loves telling stories about how when he was a boy, he would go up into the mountains in his hometown in Italy and pick fresh chestnuts and eat them until he got sick, and how he remembers the cheeses and curing meats hanging in the kitchen of his family home. I have a mother whose idea of a simple meal consists of a minimum of six different dishes—for the second course, mind you—and for whom a “quick” sauce means opening up a jar of home-canned tomatoes. So, you see, buying a Shop Rite ice cream cake won’t do. Even Cookie Puss wouldn’t be able to charm his way onto my parents’ table.
Anyway, back to the cake. I drew the line at making the ice cream from scratch, so I went out and bought three different flavors: white chocolate raspberry truffle, coffee caramel, and pineapple coconut.
I also bought gluten-free cookies, which I crushed to put in between the layers. Each flavor of ice cream was different layer, with the cookies in between.
The end result was a very attractive and definitely delicious dessert that was simple to make and let the house stay unbaked in the middle of summer. Huge plus.Continue reading →
Do you still have cranberry sauce leftover from Thanksgiving? I’ll bet many of you do. Maybe it’s a stray can hanging out in the pantry, or it’s a cup or so in the fridge that you haven’t been able to bring yourself to throw out. That’s okay—cranberry sauce lasts a long time in the refrigerator, but at this point, use it or lose it.
There are many things you can do with leftover cranberry sauce, but making a loaf is one of my favorites. (This is a wheat-free version, but it has spelt flour, so if you have—or are making it for someone with—Celiac disease, this isn’t the right recipe for you. It also contains soy flour, so if you’re avoiding soy, again, this isn’t right for you.)
This is not overly sweet, so it makes a nice breakfast loaf, toasted with some butter or jam. But it’s got enough sweetness and crunch from the walnuts (if you want to use them) that it makes a great snack with an extra dollop of cranberry sauce.
I’m happy to say that another version of this loaf (not gluten free) appears in the holiday issue of the literary magazine Pilcrow & Dagger, along with my recipe for homemade cranberry sauce. Check out a sneak preview HERE. And if you’re interested in purchasing a copy, you can do so HERE.
So, rescue that leftover cranberry sauce and make this tasty loaf and enjoy.
I hope you all had a wonderful, joyful holiday season, and may 2016 bring happiness and success, whatever that means for you.
Makes 1 (8 x 4) loaf.
1 cup spelt flour 1 cup soy flour ¾ cup chickpea flour ¼ cup rice flour ½ cup sugar or maple crystals 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon allspice ¼ teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon kosher salt 3 medium eggs 1 cup buttermilk 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional) 1 cup cranberry sauce
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 8 x 4-inch loaf pan (or line is with parchment paper).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.In a small bowl, mix together eggs, buttermilk, coconut oil, and ¼ cup water.Mix this into the flour mixture just until all dry ingredients are moistened. If it seems dry, add a bit more water.
Stir in the walnuts, if you’re using them, then stir in the cranberry sauce, but don’t mix it in completely—just run it through.Spoon the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out fairly clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Some moist cranberry on the knife is okay.
If the loaf starts getting very dark or starts burn around the edges but the loaf isn’t done, cover it with a piece of foil and continue baking.Set pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn loaf out onto the rack. Serve warm or cool completely.
This is one of those recipes that I made spur of the moment but, luckily, turned out well. So, I needed a quick dessert to make for a lunch at my parents’ house. We were having a guest who is gluten-free and I wanted to make sure there would be dessert for her.
There’s nothing easier than carrot cake. I love carrot cake. It’s not only flavorful and delicious, but it’s also very difficult to do badly. I mean, I’ve had great carrot cake, good carrot cake, and so-so carrot cake, but I don’t recall ever having terrible carrot cake.
That’s probably because it would take a deliberate effort to make a terrible carrot cake. There’s no creaming of butter, no whipping of egg whites, no adding of things in additions, or layering of ingredients. Aside from whisking together the dry ingredients first, everything gets mixed together. (And, quite honestly, you probably don’t even really need to mix the dry ingredients. I just recommend it to ensure that you get no lumps.)
I call this cake “wheat free” and not “gluten free” because it calls for spelt flour. I didn’t want to use all chickpea flour because I didn’t want it to be too heavy or dense or taste to “beany.” Spelt is related to wheat, so it’s the non-wheat flour that is closest to it in chemistry, flavor, and behavior. However, because it’s related to wheat, people who have Celiac disease can’t digest it. People who have a gluten/wheat intolerance, on the other hand, can usually consume it without negative consequences.
I (and everyone else) was pleasantly surprised at how light and moist this cake came out. It has a somewhat unusual flavor because of the chickpea flour but not a bad one. Just different. I hope you like it.
Wheat-Free Carrot Cake
1 cup chickpea flour ¼ cup spelt flour ½ cup coconut (palm) or date sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg ½ teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 2 cups shredded carrots 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten ½ teaspoon vanilla extract ½ cup applesauce ¼ cup water
Frosting: 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature ½ cup confectioner’s sugar 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan or line it with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.
Stir in the carrots, eggs, vanilla, applesauce, and water with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool completely.
Make the frosting: With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, and zest until smooth.
Remove the cake from the pan. Invert the cake, then invert it again on a serving plate. If you used parchment, peel it off gently. Spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides. Serve.
(For the cake in the photo, I chose to use a simpler confectioners’ sugar icing and coconut flakes. Mix 1 cup confectioners’ sugar with a tablespoon of water. Mix until smooth, adding a tiny bit more water at a time, as needed. Spread over the cake, then sprinkle on 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes.)
You might be wondering why I’ve given this cake the alternate name of Space Cake. Or maybe you’re not, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
I went into my local kosher market to pick up a few specific things (it’s the only place I know of that carries my favorite hummus). As I do in any market, I started looking around to see if there was anything new and/or unusual, anything I haven’t tried before. And I was rewarded for my efforts.
I found a bottle of peanut butter powder. Yes, that’s correct. Peanut butter that has been dehydrated and turned into powder. Curiosity overcame me and, of course, I had to buy it. To use it, you mix the powder with water until it’s a paste. When I did that, I have to say that it looked, smelled, and tasted like peanut butter.
In the world of gluten-free baking, things can get complicated. Without wheat flour, you need the right combination of ingredients to create a a cake that is light and flavorful, that has good texture and pleasant mouthfeel. A gluten-free cake can very easily be heavy, dense, bland, gritty, flat, and, at its worst, taste like sawdust.
But when the ingredients come together well, you have something that rivals traditional wheat-flour cake. It won’t taste exactly the same, but it’s just as good.
For some reason, I got it into my head that I wanted to make blue corn muffins, and what follows is my recipe.
But first, let’s talk about corn. Corn is, unfortunately, one of the most genetically modified crops in the United States. Unless you buy corn that is specifically labeled organic, you can be absolutely certain that the corn you just purchased has been genetically modified. And it isn’t just the corn that you eat, it is also the corn that is fed to the animals that you eat, and that means animal products as well—i.e., eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc.
Organic products aren’t cheap, though. Some people who are health conscious but can’t afford to go totally organic have a list of products that, if nothing else, they always buy organic. If you are one of those people, keep corn on that list.
Organic blue cornmeal is available (Arrowhead Mills has it and can be found in Whole Foods, other natural food markets, and sometimes well-stocked supermarkets). However, I wasn’t able to get my hands on organic blue corn meal in time to make the muffins when I wanted to make them. So, I made the conscious decision to use blue corn meal that I picked up at a Latin supermarket near where I work. Having said that, I urge you to use organic corn—in all its forms—whenever possible.
Now, onto the recipe. Blue corn meal makes for a beautiful purple batter, but the final product isn’t as vibrant. It’s usually a light lavender color. I’m not quite sure why mine came out so much darker than the average blue corn muffin—I suspect that my ratio of cornmeal to all-purpose flour was too high. Nevertheless, I decided that I like them and am keeping the recipe as is—at least for now. I like to add corn to the batter for an extra bit of texture, but you can omit it if you like.
Next time, I’m going to do a gluten-free version. Enjoy!
Blue Corn Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
1½ cups blue cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grapeseed (or other) oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 medium eggs
1 cup corn
Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease the cups of a medium 12-cup muffin tin, or line them with paper cupcake wrappers.
In large bowl, mix all the ingredients, except the corn, with spoon or rubber spatula just until mixed.Fold in the corn, if you’re using it.Fill the muffin cups equally. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the tin on a rack and let cool. If you try to remove them immediately, they’ll crumble. If you have to, run the tip of a knife around the edges to loosen them.Turn them out onto the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.Enjoy with butter and jam.
If you haven’t heard of lucuma, it’s because it’s a fruit indigenous to Peru, Chile, and Ecuador that hasn’t really had much play outside of its native region, especially since it only thrives in subtropical climates. It has a dark green skin, and a pit (sometimes two) that look like avocado pits. Its yellow flesh is dry and often compared to hard-boiled egg yolk, and its mild flavor has been likened to maple syrup, caramel, and sweet potatoes.
Indigenous Andean peoples used lucuma not just as food but medicinally as well. The Incas believed it to be a symbol of fertility and creation and it was dubbed “Gold of the Incas.” Modern studies of lucuma show that the fruit contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. It aids in warding off heart disease and hypertension, maintaining skin health and blood sugar levels (and it is hoped that it will help people with diabetes), and supporting healthy digestion. Continue reading →