S'more Bars


 
When I was younger, there was nothing I looked forward to more than the Summer. Besides the fact that it meant three months without school, Summer also meant warm weather, lazy days at the beach in Narragansett, RI, and occasionally, if I were lucky enough, the release of a new Harry Potter book to devour while at aforementioned beach (pure bliss!) Me being me of course, the season was/is also linked to certain foods -- grilled corn on the cob, pasta with basil pesto, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and last but definitely not least, s'mores

Ahh, s'mores. For those of you who don't know what a s'more is, I am first of all very sorry that you have been deprived this treat, because there are few other things as delicious, easy to make, and genius as the s'more. Essentially you need only sandwich a piece of milk chocolate and a toasted marshmallow in between two graham crackers, wait for the chocolate to melt a little, and ta da -- you have a s'more. (This is usually where the Italian/non American I'm describing these to says something like "That sounds too sweet!" or "Isn't that heavy?!" and the answer to both of those questions is yes, in the best of ways).

S'mores are traditionally eaten around a campfire where the marshmallow is toasted over the fire, but when I was little I always made these by heating the marshmallow and chocolate in the microwave. It was probably one of the first "recipes" I ever made, and I remember there was nothing better than making s'mores with my friends after a long day at the beach, preferably consumed in front of an episode of Gilmore Girls. 

If you ever wanted to make s'mores for a crowd, this dessert is essentially one big s'more baked in a pan, but made even a little more delicious because of the buttery, brown sugary crust. I was expecting these to be good but can confirm that they were over the top good (just ask my colleagues who enjoyed these in the office today,) and would be perfect for a 4th of July party or any summer get together. Enjoy!

S'MORE BARS

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large (around 4 oz. each) milk chocolate bars
1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow creme (otherwise known as Fluff)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 8 by 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

In a mixing bowl whisk together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and salt until graham cracker crumbs are evenly distributed, set aside. If you can't find graham crackers where you are (like I couldn't) you can also substitute digestive biscuits which work fine.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using electric beaters, blend together the butter, and two sugars together until creamy. Mix in the egg and vanilla extract. With the mixer set on low speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Divide the dough in half and press one half of the dough into an even layer in the bottom of prepared baking dish. Place the chocolate side by side over dough layer (you might not used all of the chocolate -- feel free to eat the squares that don't fit). Top the chocolate with a generous layer of marshmallow creme, spreading evenly. Note that the recipe says a 7 oz jar but I didn't end up using that much.

Take about tablespoons of the remaining dough and flatten it into small rectangles, layering them side by side over the marshmallow creme so that all of the creme is covered.

Bake the S'more Bars for 27-30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown. Cool the bars completely before cutting into squares -- as hard as it is to wait to cut these, they'll be too messy to cut and eat if you cut them while still hot. Makes 10-12 squares.

Slightly Adapted from Cooking Classy








Tomato, Basil, and Goat Cheese Shortcakes


If you’re a bit confused by this recipe title, no worries: shortcake is indeed a dessert and you’re right in thinking that it seems odd to make it with tomatoes, cheese, and herbs. If you're not American and have no idea what this dish is anyways: a shortcake is typically a dessert composed of whipped cream, and fruit, traditionally strawberries, sandwiched between two biscuits (if this description seems vaguely familiar, you might be thinking of the Raspberry and Blueberry Shortcakes I posted here previously). It is one of my favorite summer desserts, but I had never thought of it as a potentially savory dish until I saw a recipe written by Deb Perelman, blogger and author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and overall genius home cook. 

Apart from being foolproof, Deb’s recipes can best be described as just the sort of food you want to make and eat – in other words, the kind of recipes that you could just as easily serve for dinner as you could for a dinner party, and that are just plain good, whether they be twists on traditional dishes or old classics. Roasted chicken with grapes and olives, orecchiette with cherry tomatoes and arugula, and bittersweet chocolate pear cake are just a few of my favorites. It goes without saying then that these shortcakes were no exception. The three components of the dish were perfect on their own – buttery, dreamy biscuits, tangy goat cheese filling, sweet balsamic tomatoes with basil – but once put together created the kind of masterpiece I’ve come to expect from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, each ingredient complementing the other. Bonus: as Deb points out, the biscuits make a perfect vehicle to catch the tomato juice and balsamic that often is left (sadly) on your plate. 

I ate this for lunch after I was done photographing it, and it made a perfect summer meal, light but still filling (also it has tomatoes so I assume it counts as a salad, right?) I bet this would also be great at a 4th of July dinner too. I really do like the idea of transforming what is usually dessert in to a savory dish -- tomato basil cobbler, and veggie upside down cakes and galettes might be interesting to play around with too. Stay tuned!

TOMATO, BASIL, AND GOAT CHEESE SHORTCAKES

Ingredients:

Biscuits
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup whole milk

Tomato Salad
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound cherry or grape tomatoes (mixed colors, if you can find them)

Goat cheese cream
3 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
4 ounces goat cheese, softened
Basil, sliced for garnish


Directions
To make the biscuits, preheat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large, wide bowl. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the whole milk and stir everything together until a dough begins to form. Knead the dough gently on a clean work surface and pat the dough out to 3/4- to 1-inch thickness and cut into six to eight 3-inch rounds, re-forming the scraps as needed until all of the dough is used up. Arrange the biscuits on the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until they are golden brown on top, for about 15 minutes. Rotate the pan to ensure even baking.
For the tomato salad, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper in the bottom of a bowl. Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise and add them to the bowl with the dressing and toss them together.
 
To make the whipped goat cheese, in a separate bowl use an electric mixer to whip the cream until peaks form. Add the goat cheese and beat until the cheese topping is light and fluffy.

To assemble the shortcakes, split each warm biscuit in half. Generously spoon each half with the tomato salad and its dressing. Dollop with whipped goat cheese and sprinkle with basil. Eat at once. Serves 6-8.

Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.





Tiramisù



Alright – I have something to confess. You might want to sit down for this. Are you sitting down? Okay. Here it goes: despite priding myself on being a good cook and being very skilled in Italian cuisine, I had never, ever – up until this post – made tiramisù, the most well-known Italian dessert and arguably one of the most popular Italian recipes. How did that happen, you ask? Perhaps it’s because I knew that I could always get a good tiramisù in any restaurant here in Rome; perhaps it can be chalked up to all the different components needed to assemble and make tiramisù; perhaps it is because I am not a coffee drinker (except for my morning cappuccino) and thus do not have a Moka machine at home to make the coffee the recipe calls for. Perhaps it is a combination of all of these things. In any event, it seemed wrong to have now posted over 100 recipes to this blog without including one for such a classic and beloved dish. So, I made tiramisù for the first time in my 12 years of cooking.

Let me just say that I regret waiting so long to make my own tiramisù, because this was absolutely delicious – while tiramisù is always delicious, this recipe is a particularly good one that takes this dessert over the top. The cream to cake ratio is just perfect, the coffee flavor is present (not always a given in some tiramisus I’ve tried) and perfectly balances out the sweetness of the mascarpone. These are great for a dinner party as they can be made in advance, and would even be perfect for a summer dinner as they are no bake and should be served cold.

Note that while I made individual tiramisùs using ramekins, you can also prepare this dessert in a big serving dish. I garnished some of the tiramisùs with the traditional cocoa powder and others with mini chocolate chips – both were fantastic. Enjoy everyone!

TIRAMISÙ

Ingredients: 
¼ + 1 tablespoon cup sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
7 ounces lady finger or Savoyard biscuits
1-2 cups espresso  (enough to soak the biscuits)
3 medium eggs
Cocoa powder, chocolate shavings, or mini chocolate chips to garnish

Directions: 
Prepare the espresso (this varies according to your coffee maker), pour it into a bowl and whisk in one tablespoon of sugar. Set the coffee aside and allow it to cool. Next, separate the egg whites and egg yolks, putting the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Using electric beaters, beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar until pale and foamy. Add the mascarpone cheese to the yolks, and fold in until smooth.

Wash the beaters well, and beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until peaks begin to form. Add the rest of the sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture with a spatula, being careful not to deflate them. The mixture should be pale and creamy.

Dip the lady fingers or Savoyard biscuits into the coffee for a second or two on each side, being quick enough to avoid the biscuits falling apart. Lay as many biscuits as you can (one next to the other) to fit on the bottom of your desired serving dish. Add spoonfuls of the mascarpone cream on top of the biscuits, and layer with more biscuits dipped in coffee. Repeat until you have used up all of your biscuits and all of your cream, ending with a layer of cream. Dust each tiramisù with sifted cocoa powder or chocolate. Refrigerate the tiramisù for at least two hours, covered, before eating. Serves 8-10.











Bruschetta




When the weather is hot and the days are long, there’s no better way to enjoy dinner in the summer than grilling. Americans love a good summer barbecue (their actually quite known of it over here in Italy, where this tradition hasn’t really taken root). Americans are game to throw most anything on the grill– steak, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, vegetables, even fruit (grilled pineapple and peaches are to die for). With this post I’d like to introduce you to another potential addition to this summer’s grilling menu that is sure to become your new favorite: bruschetta. Let’s start with some background: The word “bruschetta” comes from the Italian verb “bruscare,” which means to “to roast over coals,” i.e grill (or toast, if that’s easier) your bread. 


The classic and perhaps most familiar bruschetta is garlic rubbed bread topped with a mixture of chopped tomatoes, olive oil, and salt with a little basil to garnish. While this traditional version is light, easy, and tasty – ideal for the summer – bruschetta is extremely versatile, the bread acting as a blank canvas for all sorts of creations (not so different from pasta, really). Bruschetta can be eaten as an appetizer, as a light lunch or dinner, or, believe it or not, as a dessert (because of course bread should be part of dessert, too!) You could even do a little bruschetta festa for dinner --  prepare toppings for four (or more if you’re feeling ambitious) bruschetta in advance, grill up some bread, and you have the perfect, unexpected summer meal, ideal for entertaining.

The bruschette I chose to share with you are: 

Bruschetta with goat cheese and bell peppers and pine nuts
Bruschetta with slow roasted balsamic tomatoes and ricotta
Bruschetta with prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula 

These are three of my very favorite bruschette; the slow roasting and balsamic vinegar turns your average cherry tomato into something really special, tangy goat cheese is the perfect complement to sweet and smoky bell peppers, and prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula are a flavor match made in heaven. And you can’t of course go wrong when you put Nutella on bread and top it with bananas. Note that I have provided quantities and recipes below, but you can probably just eye ball the ingredients for the toppings – bruschetta is easy like that.

Use your imagination and be as creative with your toppings as you like. I’ve also included ideas for other combinations at the end of this post, but the possibilities are endless. Enjoy! 

Ingredients for Slow roasted balsamic tomato and ricotta bruschetta: 
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved (you can use a mix of yellow,
orange, and red tomatoes to make this extra pretty if you want)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil
1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
6-8 slices of good quality Italian bread  

Directions: 
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Place halved cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and toss with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven for an hour and a half, until they are brown and caramelized.

While the tomatoes are roasting, slice up the loaf of bread. Toast the bread in the oven (after the tomatoes have roasted, if you don’t have a double oven) or grill it.

When the tomatoes are done, put them in a medium bowl and allow them to cool. Slice the basil into thin strips and toss 1/2 of the basil into the cherry tomato mixture. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Spread some ricotta on each piece of toasted bread. Top with the roasted cherry tomatoes, and garnish with a bit more sliced fresh basil. Makes 2 cups of topping, enough for 6-8 bruschette (depending on the size of your bread slices). Enjoy! 

Ingredients for prosciutto, mozzarella, and arugula bruschetta: 
8 slices of good quality prosciutto
1 (4 oz) ball of buffalo mozzarella, torn into pieces
A handful of arugula
Olive oil
8 slices of good quality Italian bread, toasted/grilled

Directions: 
Toast or grill your bread and drizzle with olive oil. Arrange the prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula on the bread and that’s it. Feel free to up the quantity of ingredients depending on how many bruschette you want to make. 

Ingredients for red pepper and goat cheese bruschetta: 
1 large red bell pepper and 1 large orange or yellow bell pepper (or
a mixture of the 3)
6 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), room temperature (about 1 ½ cups)
6-8 slices of good quality Italian bread
Pine nuts, toasted (optional) 

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Char the bell peppers over gas flame or under a broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in a paper bag 10 minutes. Peel and seed the pepper; cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Alternatively, you can slice the peppers in to thin strips and sauté them in olive oil until softened. The flavor will be sweet rather than smoky but still delicious. Make sure you season them with salt and pepper. Toast or grill your bread. Spread the goat cheese on the toasted bread and top with the peppers. Sprinkle with pine nuts if using, and serve. Makes 8 bruschette. 

Other ingredient combinations:

Garlic rubbed bread, olive oil, salt
Sautéed zucchine with pancetta 
Sautéed portabella mushrooms and goat cheese
Sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, basil
Slow roasted tomatoes, burrata cheese, basil
White beans, olive oil, lemon juice, and basil
Eggplant, cherry tomatoes, basil, pine nuts
Pesto (purchased is fine or use my recipe here)
Olive tapenade (purchased, if you want to make it easier) 

Nutella with banana (see photo below) 
Ricotta drizzled with honey (dessert)
Ricotta and strawberries tossed with sugar (dessert)
Nutella sprinkled with sea salt (dessert)
Nutella and strawberries (dessert)