Almond, Ricotta & Fig Cake

Fig, Almond & Ricotta CakeMy third year of college, I spent fall semester in Florence, Italy.  Immediately, I fell in love with the place–the different-from-home hum of the streets, trips to the market, gelato strolls, counter side cappuccinos, and, of course, the figs.

Hang on, I think “fell in love with figs” might be the understatement of the decade.  This was no fleeting love, this was deep, down, stupid, do-anything love.  Fig season was in full swing when I arrived and if I hadn’t been similarly mesmerized by all the other foodstuffs that I was surrounded by, I could have lived off them.  I took long walks, casing neighborhoods and hillsides that had fig branches hanging over gates and fences.  I was not afraid to scale walls, I…should probably stop there.  

If I managed to get any of the figs back to my apartment, I mostly I just quartered them and ate them in their natural state or with a bit of honey and a wedge of cheese.  If I had slowed down long enough, I like to imagine I would have baked something like this cake.  This is another distinctly Italian tasting cake–not too sweet, not too heavy, moist with ricotta cheese and loaded with almond flavor–topped with thick slices of juicy, ripe figs.  It’s delicious as dessert with a spoonful of whipped cream and heavenly next to a cappuccino in the morning.

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Zucchini & Caramelized Onion Gratin

Zucchini & Caramelized Onion GratinI’m not entirely sure which is more abundant this time of year, zucchini or zucchini recipes.  And with that said, this is my contribution to the year’s zucchini files.

I’m standing tall and proud next to my contribution–this gratin is so delicious I’ll be tempted to devote next year’s garden entirely to zucchini!  Thin rounds of zucchini are layered and baked with caramelized onions and creamy Fontina cheese.  Breadcrumbs and Parmesan add a crispy, nutty layer of flavor to the top and bottom and a smattering of olives and/or anchovies adds a salty briny-ness that counters the sweet onions.

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Tomato & Sharp Cheddar Focaccia

Tomato & Sharp Cheddar FocacciaSince good, ripe tomatoes have become available in these parts, I’ve more or less been living on various combinations of tomatoes and bread.   There have been a lot of panzanella salads in my life recently, not to mention fattoush, BLTs, tomato and cheddar sandwiches, toasted bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes, tomato bruschetta…

…so couple of days ago, I decided to cut to the chase and just bake my tomatoes right into the bread.  

This bread is focaccia that’s really bordering on pizza.  It’s soft and light in the middle, a little crispy around the edges.  Sweet, sun-ripened tomatoes are countered by slices of sharp red onion and cheddar cheese.  Warm from the oven, a hunk makes a perfect afternoon snack or you can pair it with a green salad and a glass of wine for a satisfying lunch or dinner.   That’s what I did and it’s likely what I’ll continue to do until I reach the other side of the loaf/the other side of tomato season.

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Swiss Chard Torta with Pine Nuts & Raisins

Swiss Chard Torta with Pine Nuts & RaisinsEvery time I step into my backyard, I am amazed by how much Swiss chard my little garden is capable of producing.  For going on 2 months, I’ve been eating chard a few times a week either with pasta or in garlicky sautés with potatoes or beans.  And while I’m still not sick of it, I have started looking for a few new ways to prepare it.

This past weekend, I looked to one of my forever-favorite cookbooks for inspiration, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking and found a recipe for tegliata di biete, a Swiss chard torta with pine nuts and raisins.  Now this is the kind of recipe you might skip over if you were simply flipping through the book and didn’t happen to be sitting on a mountain of chard, but it’s exactly the sort of recipe I love to stumble upon.  There’s nothing especially flashy about, but it’s a perfect example of how with effort and care, a few simple ingredients can be transformed into something entirely new, nuanced and intriguing.

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Sour Cherry Cornmeal Clafoutis

Cherry ClafoutisSometimes being a homeowner can feel like such a drag.  The furnace fails, guess who’s on the hook.  And when the walk needs to be shoveled, the lawn needs to be mowed, or the caulking around the shower starts to brown and peel?  Yep, my problems, no one else’s.

And then there are times when I’m reminded that having a house and a yard to call my own are major blessings.  This sort of thing is usually pretty easy to recognize on a mid-summer day when I realize I’ve got a tree full ripe cherries and I’m no choice but to make an impromptu dessert on a Tuesday.  Ah, the importance of perspective.

So for my impromptu weekday dessert, I chose to make clafoutis.  Clafoutis (or clafouti…) is a dessert with a fancy French name that couldn’t be simpler to make or more delicious to eat.  It’s a custardy little cake baked in a pie pan, packed full of cherries.  I snuck a bit of cornmeal into mine and a splash of amaretto to bring out the flavor of the cherries.  

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