Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies


As the name of this blog implies, I'm a big fan of the biscotti (cookies) that I find here in Italy  -- brutti ma buoni, cantucci, occhi di bue, ciambelline, I love them all. That being said, there are times when I crave a good old American style cookie, which, aside from also being baked in an oven, has nothing in common with the typical Italian biscotto. American cookies are usually much larger than your average Italian biscotto, richer and far more buttery, often heavier on the chocolate. In short, they are worlds away from Italian cookies, which tend to be smaller, dryer (making them perfect for dunking in your post dinner caffe') and overall lighter. So -- when I'm craving such a cookie, I need not look any further than these Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies, which are pure cookie nirvana. 

These cookies can best be described as a cross between a brownie and chocolate chip cookie -- they are soft almost fudgy thanks to a short bake time, not to mention insanely chocolate-y, thanks to the cocoa powder, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. The cocoa powder and dark chocolate keep the cookie bittersweet and intense, balancing out the sweetness of the white chocolate. Like most cookies, these are amazing when served right out of the oven when the chocolate is still melt-y and delicious, but I've also used them to make ice cream cookie sandwiches and served them as is to conclude a dinner party or two. If you have kids these would be a welcome addition to any lunchbox, and if you're going for the complete American cookie experience, these are also great served with a tall glass of milk
 
If you're not a fan of white chocolate -- I know some people who find it too sweet -- feel free to use all dark chocolate, all milk chocolate, or a combination of the two, though I really don't find it overpoweringly sweet here. Also, while using chocolate chips here is tempting, if possible try and buy bars of chocolate to chop up. It does take a bit of extra effort, but it makes these cookies far more chocolate-y (these are after all chocolate chunk cookies, not chocolate chip cookies)! Enjoy everyone!



DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

Ingredients:
1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
12 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
 
Directions:  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl (using electric beaters or a standing mixer) beat together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix well. Add the cocoa powder and mix again. Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the chocolate mixture, mixing everything together until just combined. Fold in the chopped white chocolate and dark chocolate.

Drop the dough on a greased baking sheet using a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your hands and flatten the dough slightly. Bake for exactly 15 minutes (the cookies will seem underdone). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 35-40 cookies.



Recipe slightly adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties (2001).




Risotto with Pancetta and Peas

I've pretended as long as I can that Summer isn't actually ending -- making tomato cobbler and watermelon salad enjoying my gelato as if nothing were amiss -- but the truth my friends is that Fall has officially arrived. It is time to tuck away the grill, say bye to the basil and tomatoes, and start reevaluating your recipe rotation in preparation for the new season. Since you probably don't want to think about this just yet -- indeed, Summer has only just ended! -- I've decided to start thinking about it for you (you're welcome) which brings us to today's recipe. 

Risotto for me is synonymous with coziness, pure comfort food that is exactly what I want to have for dinner once the temperatures drop. Before I continue however -- if you're like most people I know, you're probably not quite convinced you should make this, perfect Fall dish or not. I've found that risotto has a bad reputation, labeled "difficult" and "time consuming." While it does require a bit of stirring and a patience, everything is cooked together in one pan, and is actually quite easy to throw together, not much more difficult than a dish of pasta. It is a great (and impressive, for your friends that still think it's tough to make) dish to have in you repertoire, whether it be for a weeknight dinner or a dinner party.

This risotto that I'm sharing today is made with pancetta and peas, a side dish that my mom often made when I was growing up. Pancetta and peas are great by themselves (nothing like a little pork to make a green vegetable better) but I figured they would be even more delicious when stirred into creamy cheesy rice, and I was right. This is probably the risotto I make most often -- the peas here add freshness and color, and is complimented nicely by the salty rich pancetta. If however pancetta and peas is not your thing, not to fear -- risotto is extremely versatile. The rice acts as a blank canvas for all different ingredients and flavor combinations, just as pasta does. Feel free to use this risotto as your base recipe, and substitute any ingredients you would like. I've also made butternut squash risotto, risotto with sausage and spinach, risotto with saffron, and risotto with mushrooms...the options are endless. Enjoy everyone!


RISOTTO WITH PANCETTA AND PEAS 

Ingredients: 
6–8 cups chicken broth
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 ounces pancetta, finally chopped
1 1/2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup peas (frozen is fine)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving 

Directions: 

Put the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat.

Next, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook until they are softened and translucent. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes in the pan. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often (this will only take 2–3 minutes).

Begin to add the broth to the rice: add 1 cup of hot broth and simmer over medium-low heat until it is absorbed (about 5 minutes) stirring often. Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by the cup and stirring often. This will take about 30–40 minutes. Mix in the peas and stir until they are heated throughout. Then add the parmesan, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately* with extra parmesan cheese on the side. This recipe makes enough for 4-6 people. Enjoy!


*Note that risotto is a dish best eaten right away. It does not take well to reheating and isn’t nearly as good cold. Leftover risotto, if there is any, is great for making suppli’ though!







Taste of Roma

This weekend I took a break from baking and cooking for the blog and decided instead to hop over to Rome’s Taste of Roma food festival at Parco della Musica, an outdoor, 4 day event highlighting the best of the Eternal City’s gourmet cuisine. Chefs from 12 of Rome’s best restaurants prepared small tastings of their dishes, which allowed the diner to sample as much as possible (and sample we did). Tastings aside, there were also various cooking demonstrations, wine-tastings run by sommeliers, and stands selling cheese, prosciutto, cannoli, and gelato, among other things. In short – for a foodie like myself, pure heaven.
Ready to eat!!! 
Joining me was my sister Alexandra and our friend Yasmine. We arrived at the Festival for the afternoon session (from 12:00-17:00) paid for our tickets (16 euros each) and received a card that needed to be topped up in order to pay for the dishes -- not the cheapest way to spend an afternoon, as each tasting cost around 6 euros, but given the high quality of the food it wasn't a bad deal.

I must say that nothing we tried fell short or disappointed us (and we tried a lot of dishes!) My favorites in particular were the cacio e pepe "meatballs" from All Bi One, as well as the corn fettuccine dish from Marzapane (photos of both dishes below). It was fun to be able to sample dishes from restaurants that normally are far too expensive to even be considered as an option for dinner. I could write more here, but I think that I will let the photos speak for themselves – if you want to see all of the menus of the restaurants featured at the festival, or learn more about Taste of Roma, click here.

 METAMORFOSI

Taglioni with carrot, black truffle
Caramelized fig with lemon, almonds, and vanilla ice cream


ALL BI ONE


Decisions, decisions...
Cacio e pepe "meatballs"
Cacio e pepe "meatballs"
Dessert "meatball" menu

Chocolate ganache "meatballs" with raspberries and fig cream


LA PERGOLA

Poached egg, black truffles, amaranth 
Sedanini with breadcrumbs, smoked eggplant puree, and shrimp


MIRABELLE

Seared tuna with Bloody Mary sorbet, citrus, black bread
Tortelli with cacio cheese, pear, and almonds


MARZAPANE

Corn fettuccine with beef broth, onion, and pork "popcorn"

GELATERIA PUNTO GELATO

Caramel and pink salt gelato, buffalo milk and cherry gelato



A few more photos of the stands at Taste of Roma...

Note the "Inverno 2015" advertisement to the left for "Taste of Christmas" -- glad I don't have to wait a whole other year for the next Taste of Roma festival...!!! Have a nice week everyone!!!








Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Even though I my elementary school days ended a long time ago, I still remember the distinct sort of melancholy that accompanied the end of Summer and the start of a new school year. September was hands down my least favorite month of the year, a time when days at the beach, barbecues, and sunshine, were replaced early mornings on the school bus, cool weather, and – worst of all – Math homework. Indeed, September for a ten year old kid is far from fun, but there were always a few bright spots, like seeing my friends again, Spanish class (my favorite subject!) and lunchtime, which made the beginning of the academic year a bit easier. My lunches were never completely ordinary, you see – though my mom packed me the standard items, like peanut butter and jelly or turkey sandwiches, and carrot sticks or apples, there was almost always a home-baked brownie, blondie, or cookie for dessert. My lunchbox desserts were famous among my classmates, who would try (in vain) to swap their Goldfish/Rice Krispy Treats/Oreos for whatever I had brought that day. If I was feeling generous, I would at most split my dessert with my best friend, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times that happened. My mom’s baking made the whole day better, and after all, the end of Summer is not quite so bad when you have home baked cookies in your lunchbox -- especially if they are these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

For me, these cookies are synonymous with Fall. If I didn’t find them tucked in to my lunchbox at school, they could be found cooling on the kitchen counter when I got home from school, a welcome treat to ease us in to starting homework. To this day, this recipe is among my very favorites, one that I continue to make now well in to my twenties in my apartment here in Rome, that makes me feel a little closer to home  -- the smell of them baking in the oven without fail transports me right back to my elementary school days in Rhode Island (scent and memory are a very funny and powerful thing). These cookies are soft and spicy (the cinnamon makes them especially perfect for Fall,) substantial and chewy thanks to the oatmeal, dotted generously with chunks of chocolate (always a good thing). They are versatile, as at home with a cup of tea as they are in a lunchbox or on a dessert plate. I might argue as well that like these Raspberry Yogurt Popsicles, these cookies contain a breakfast ingredient -- oatmeal!! -- which makes them a completely acceptable option for the first meal of the day, at least in my book.

I happen to like milk chocolate here, but if you want a less sweet cookie, semi-sweet chocolate would also be good. If you’re not a fan of chocolate you can easily substitute raisins or dried cranberries. I have also made these with white chocolate chunks and cranberries, and they were fantastic. Enjoy everyone!


OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 Eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats
1 ½ cups chocolate chips* (milk chocolate or semi sweet)

Directions:
In large bowl, using electric beaters, beat the butter and sugars together until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla; beat well. In a separate bowl. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt (feel free to add a little more cinnamon if you'd like). Stir in to the butter and sugar mixture, and then use the beaters to combine the ingredients fully. Stir in the oats and chocolate, mixing well. Refrigerate the cookie dough until cold (this helps the cookies hold their shape and not spread too much while baking).

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoon-fuls (or a bit larger, if you want to make bigger cookies) onto greased cookie sheets, making sure to leave some space between each cookie. Bake each batch of cookies 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Makes about 25-30 cookies, depending on how large you make them. 

*If you like me are in Italy where milk chocolate chips are hard to come by, just buy a few bars of milk chocolate (I usually use 3 bars that weight 100 grams each) and chop them in to pieces.









Nutella Swirl Cake

In my repertoire of recipes, there are certain dishes that fit in to the "Go to" category, which means that they:

1. Are always a hit with everyone who tries them.
2. Are reliable and consistently good.
3. Can be prepared quickly and easily while still managing to be impressive.

This Brownie Pie, this Strawberry Cake, and this Rigatoni with Tomatoes and Eggplant are part of this list, as is this trusty Nutella Swirl Cake, first made for a dinner party when I was living in Bologna back in 2009. My Italian classmates were at the dinner, and so I thought it was a good cross between America and Italy – the cake recipe is decidedly American, while the Nutella made it appealing to the Italians at the dinner. Since then I have made it countless times over the years, and it has become a staple recipe, reliably delicious every time. 

Though I usually put some thought into describing the results of the recipes on this blog, that's probably not necessary here -- all you need to know is that this is a fluffy, yellow butter cake topped with swirls of Nutella, and that is never, ever, a bad thing. If that's not convincing enough -- this cake is simple to prepare (a good starter cake if you’re a new baker) and requires no frosting or glaze, thanks to the Nutella which self-frosts the whole thing. This cake is quite versatile as well, a great dessert to whip up if you have people coming over, but also perfect for breakfast, snack, dessert, or tea. I must add as well that it was super popular with my colleagues on a Friday morning (there's nothing like a piece of Nutella cake to get through the final push until 5pm!) Enjoy everyone! 


NUTELLA SWIRL CAKE

Ingredients: 
 
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons, or 6 ounces) butter, softened 
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup Nutella (approximately)


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit. 

If making cupcakes, line 12 muffin tins with paper liners or grease the cups with some butter. If making a cake, butter an 9-inch round cake pan. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated fully before adding another one. Beat in the vanilla. Next, in a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Stir it into the butter, sugar, and egg mixture until the batter is smooth. The batter will be thick.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full, or pour all the batter into the cake pan. Top each cake with a dollop (about two teaspoons Nutella per cupcake and about 1/2 cup dolloped on the cake batter) of Nutella. Swirl the Nutella in with a knife, making sure that it is well incorporated throughout the cake.

Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes and the round cake for 25-30 minutes. Test the cupcakes or cake with a toothpick -- if the toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached to it and no batter, the cake is ready. This cake can dry out easily if over baked, so pay close attention to the cooking time. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 12 cupcakes or 1 8-inch round cake.

For more recipes using Nutella (because one could never be enough!) click here.







Cherry Tomato Cobbler with Gruyere Biscuits


This summer (because summer isn't over until Sept. 23) I seem to be in a bit of a culinary phase where I blur the lines between what is traditionally sweet and what is traditionally savory. I’ve added sweet elements like nectarines and watermelon to usually savory salads, and the traditionally sweet berry shortcake took a savory twist with this tomato goat cheese version. I made a fruit crostata, and then later one with zucchini and ricotta; and now there is this tomato cobbler, a savory spin on what is usually a dessert.

For those of you are unfamiliar with cobbler (this is quite likely if you’re not from the U.S): cobbler is a dessert made with fruit (most usually stone fruit like peaches or plums) that is baked until juicy and bubbling, all topped off with a sweet biscuit topping. Tomatoes are technically a fruit, and biscuits can be both savory as well as sweet, so why not try and make a savory version of cobbler?

The verdict on this: the tomatoes, which are already at their best in the summer, become even sweeter when baked, and even better when paired with their trusty flavor soulmate, basil. That being said, the onions here were just as much of a standout as the tomatoes. I find that onions – despite being key to the base for sauces or soups -- are often an afterthought in a dish, unnoticed and under-appreciated. Here however they are slowly caramelized with garlic until perfectly sweet and balanced out with a bit of balsamic vinegar, making them standout and shine just as much as the tomatoes. It is super important that you do not skimp on cooking the onions here – you want them to be caramelized, not sauteed, to get the full effect of the dish. And ahhh, the biscuits – can you really go wrong when butter, cream, and cheese are your main ingredients? The topping was crunchy on the outside and flaky and soft on the inside, slightly sharp and salty thanks to the cheese, which contrasted nicely with the filling. I used Gruyere here but you could probably use another kind of cheese if you wanted – a good quality cheddar might be good, or even provolone. If that description wasn’t enough to convince you, this dish is also a great way to enjoy the last of the summer tomatoes, and can be served as a substantial side dish or even a main course (especially good for vegetarians). Enjoy everyone! 


CHERRY TOMATO AND GRUYERE COBBLER

Ingredients:

For the filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved*
1/3 cup coarsely chopped basil, plus extra for garnishing
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper

For the biscuits
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in to small pieces
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 egg, beaten (for the egg wash)

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in the cheese, then add the cream, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine until dough forms. Add a little more flour if dough seems overly sticky. Cover the biscuit dough and set aside.
Next, make the cobbler filling. Add the olive oil and butter to a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic cloves (I keep them whole to easily remove them later, as I'm not a huge fan of garlic) and season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly. Stir the balsamic vinegar into the onion mixture and set aside. Remove the cloves of garlic and discard.

Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss together the cherry tomatoes, chopped basil, and flour. *Note that when I made these I left the cherry tomatoes whole and afterwards thought that maybe they would've been better off halved to release even more of the tomato juice, but this is up to you. Add the caramelized onions and toss together until everything is lightly and evenly coated in flour. Season the filling with salt and pepper. 
Pour the tomato and onion filling into a square 9×9-inch baking dish. Spoon golf ball sized pieces of biscuit dough over the tomatoes, covering them as much as possible with the dough. Brush the dough with the beaten egg. 
Bake the cobbler until the tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. If the biscuits begin to brown too quickly, cover the pan with aluminum foil and continue baking. Let the cobbler cool for at least 20 minutes before eating. Garnish with a little extra basil when serving. Enjoy!


Adapted from recipes by Martha Stewart and Joy the Baker (www.joythebaker.com).