Roasted Cherry and Goat Cheese Crostini

 
It seems like just yesterday that I was dusting off my popsicle molds, stocking up on tomatoes at the market, and more or less bidding my oven good-bye until September, but alas, this is the last post before summer -- aka the very best season of the year -- draws to a close. I know, I know, summer officially ends mid September -- for me, however, summer has always consisted of the months of June, July, and August, the arrival of September unofficially marking the start of Fall. And how can it not? The weather cools down; kids go back in school; the leaves begin to change color; and no summer vacation takes place after August. You see what I mean. 

So here it goes, the last post of the summer, one that I hope you'll find worthy of closing out the most anticipated season of the year. Having invested in a shiny brand new cherry-pitter I was eager to find a use for the last "summer ingredient" on my list -- cherries -- and pondered making cherry pie, cherry cobbler, or cherry clafouti before taking a detour away from Dessert Street and wandering down Savory Lane. I had already roasted peaches earlier in the summer as a dessert and figured I could do the same with cherries -- what fruit isn't made better with a little roasting?! -- replacing the butter and cinnamon with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serving them with goat cheese instead of ice cream. The result is an appetizer far more interesting and unexpected than your typical bruschetta, not to mention fantastically delicious -- the cherries are caramelized slowly in the oven with honey and balsamic vinegar, spooned atop a layer of sharp goat cheese, all of it held together by a slice of toasty, olive oil-y bread. There are a whole lot of flavors and textures going on here -- sweet, tangy, juicy, creamy, crunchy -- but all of the ingredients complement each other wonderfully, coming together in perfect appetizer harmony. Warning: you will never be able to go back to your usual chips-and-dip appetizer after this one.

A couple of notes: Any variety of cherries should work fine here. I used a ciabatta loaf for the bread, but you can also use a baguette or any other kind of bread you want. This would also be great with some chopped basil stirred in to the cherries after roasting, or a bit of very finely chopped rosemary stirred in as well. If you can get your hands on different colored cherries -- orange, or yellow, in addition to the red -- feel free to mix them to make this dish super pretty.

ROASTED CHERRY AND GOAT CHEESE CROSTINI

Ingredients:
4 cups cherries (about 550 grams) pitted and halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound (224 grams, or 8 ounces) soft goat cheese
Olive oil
20 slices of bread from a loaf of ciabatta bread

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until lightly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Let cool. 

In a baking dish, toss the cherries with the olive oil, honey, and balsamic vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the cherries, stirring occasionally, until juices have mostly evaporated and the cherries are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Let the cherries cool.

Spread each toast generously with goat cheese. Top each toast with some of the cherry mixture and their juices, transfer to a platter, and serve.

Recipe barely adapted from www.seriouseats.com.




Vanilla Salted Caramel Ice Cream

As you may have recalled from this post for a pistachio semifreddo I made, my very, very favorite kitchen gadget -- beating out my creme brulee torch and even my fancy mini food processor -- is my trusty ice cream maker. My ice cream maker, heavy and difficult to transport as it is, lives in Rhode Island. I live in Rome. You see the problem. 

Since I don't get to churn out vast quantities of ice cream in all different flavors like I used to, the ice cream that I do make when I'm home every summer has to be really good. I have no patience for ice cream that is flavorless, ice-y, or just so-so, no time for anything that is less than smooth, rich, frozen perfection. And how does one ensure such excellence, when cooking and baking always leaves room for error, you might ask?! The answer: for consistently impeccable ice cream (plus gelato, sorbet, sherbet, and granita) I look no further than "The Perfect Scoop," by David Lebovitz, which contains 73 foolproof, superb ice cream recipes, from milk chocolate to green tea, peach to basil, raspberry to white chocolate, plus everything you would ever need to know about ice cream making. A David Lebovitz ice cream recipe is like Simone Biles floor routine, or Michael Phelps's butterfly stroke; it's a sure thing, a guaranteed win, consistently great (can you tell I miss the Olympics?!) 

Given the awesome, extensive selection of recipes in the book I was torn as to what to make -- tiramisu ice cream? cheesecake ice cream? stracciatella ice cream? -- but after much contemplation decided to make the Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream, combining it with a batch of David's salted caramel sauce. And thus this Vanilla Salted Caramel Ice Cream was born, which is not just good, but crazy good, careful-or-you-might-eat-the-whole-batch good, addictive-ly good as only desserts that combine salty and sweet can be (has anyone ever been able to eat only one chocolate covered pretzel, one peanut butter cup?! I rest my case). The ice cream base is thick and creamy and intensely vanilla-y, offset splendidly by generous swirls of salty buttery melt-in-your-mouth caramel, pure frozen summer dessert nirvana that puts any store-bought ice cream to shame (sorry, Ben & Jerry). And okay, wait, I know what you're thinking -- this sure looks great, but homemade ice cream is too difficult/time consuming -- hear me out! Making ice cream yourself is generally super simple, but this vanilla ice cream is even easier than average, as it is made without eggs and only requires a few ingredients that need to be whisked together and refrigerated until cold, then processed in the ice cream maker. The caramel also comes together quickly and is made in just one pot over the stove. Bottom line: this might be one of the best things that has ever come out of my kitchen, and a bowl of this for dessert is exactly how you will want to close out your summer. 

A couple of notes: David uses a vanilla bean in his original recipe (he scrapes the seeds into the cream and sugar in the first step). I didn't have one on hand and they tend to be on the expensive side anyways, so I just upped the quantity of vanilla extract from 3/4 of a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon. If you are using the vanilla bean, keep it at 3/4 of a teaspoon. I used 1 cup milk and 2 cups cream here, but feel free to use 3 cups of cream and leave the milk out all together; the ice cream is great both ways. Think of the vanilla ice cream as a kind of blank canvas; feel free to replace the caramel with different add-ins to create other flavors of ice cream; chocolate chips, chopped up brownies, chocolate sauce, or M&Ms would work here (or whatever else you can think up). The caramel sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Want to take things really over the top? Sandwich this ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies for the best ice cream sandwich you've ever had, or serve it over a warm brownie to create the most phenomenal ice cream Sundae you'll ever meet. 

Looking for other frozen treats to close your summer out with? How about these Butterscotch Pudding Pops, these Nutella Fudge Pops, this Watermelon Granita, these Raspberry Yogurt Popsicles, or this Chocolate Gelato?

VANILLA SALTED CARAMEL ICE CREAM

Ingredients for the ice cream:
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream 
1 cup (250ml) milk
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Ingredients for the caramel:
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Directions:
To make the ice cream: In a medium saucepan, heat 1 cup of the cream with the sugar and salt over medium heat and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, the remaining cup of cream (or 2 cups of cream if you've decided to do all cream, no milk) and the vanilla. Whisk the cream and sugar mixture into the milk mixture. Let the ice cream base cool completely and then chill until very cold in the refrigerator.
To make the salted caramel: In a tall saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and let cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar-butter mixture is deep brown. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately and whisk in half of the cream (the mixture will bubble up furiously, so it's important to use a pan with high sides here -- it's a good idea to wear and oven-met during this process). Whisk everything together until smooth and then whisk in the remaining cream, vanilla, and salt. If there are any lumps of caramel, whisk the sauce over low heat until they're dissolved. Let cool completely and then refrigerate in a small container.
Once the ice cream base is completely cold, process it in you ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Put a layer of the ice cream (which will be very soft, like soft-serve) in a container (I usually use a tupperware container). Layer it with a good layer of salted caramel and swirl with a knife to combine with the ice cream. Cover the salted caramel with another layer of ice cream, and drizzle with more salted caramel. You will not use all of the salted caramel -- keep some to serve over the ice cream or for another use. Freeze the ice cream until solid (at least four hours) and then serve. Makes 1 quart, serving 8-10. 

Very slightly adapted from "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz.

Blackberry Cheesecake Galette

If there's one thing I've learned in my many years of blog reading, recipe hunting, and cookbook browsing, it's that there's no one way to make a cheesecake. The most classic version may be with a graham cracker crust and a simple cream cheese filling, but I've also seen cheesecakes made as bars, as tarts, and as cupcakes; cheesecakes made with ricottamascarpone, or even robiola cheese; no-bake cheesecakes and cheesecakes baked in water baths, not to mention cheesecakes in all sorts of flavors (peanut butter, chocolate, Oreo, strawberry, raspberry, coconut...the list goes on). I had never however seen or thought to make a cheesecake galette (free-form pie) like this one, strange given my penchant for anything wrapped up in a circle of flaky pastry dough and baked (this Cherry Tomato Crostata, this Butternut Squash Galette, these Berry Crostatas, this Zucchini Tart...) Thankfully, however, we have the genius Deb Perelman of the blog Smitten Kitchen to think up these sorts of things.

If this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce reminds me of the naturally pretty girl we all went to high school with, Deb reminds me of the straight A student who nailed every exam (or in this case, recipe). Every dish she comes up with is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser, not to mention original, creative, and incredibly delicious (can you tell this is my favorite food blog?!) So, what exactly are we dealing with here? This blackberry cheesecake galette has a perfectly smooth, just-sweet-enough cream cheese filling, brightened with a hint of lemon and vanilla and dotted with tart juicy blackberries, all of which is tucked into a swoon-worthy buttery, flaky, pastry crust (the dough is a dream to work with, too). One of my colleagues remarked that he "wasn't quite sure what I'm eating, in a good way" which is the beauty of this dessert. It is certainly a cheesecake, yes, but also a pie, a galette, and, as Deb points out, similar to a very large danish, meaning this dessert is actually a perfectly acceptable addition to your next brunch (there is fruit in there, after all!) It is sturdy enough to be cut into slices and eaten with your hands -- the same can't be said for graham cracker crust cheesecakes -- and though there are separate components here, the dessert comes together unbelievably quickly. 

A couple of notes: I made a few slight changes to the original recipe. Deb used lime in her cheesecake galette, while I used lemon because that's what I had on hand. I increased the sugar in the crust a little, and sliced the blackberries in half to release some more of the juice (if you don't want the filling to be as pink as it is above, keep the berries whole). You can use any berry here you want -- strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries would also be good. Finally, I photographed the galette on a cloudy day at 7:30am before I left for work so the light wasn't so awesome. This didn't of course last more than an hour in the office to be photographed later on (I should've known!) so let that be more of a testament to the goodness of the cheesecakes than the slightly dark photos themselves.

You'll notice that I've put the quantities in grams as well as the usual cups and tablespoons. I have purchased a kitchen scale so going forward I am going to try and put quantities in both cups and grams, to make the recipes on the blog more approachable for the non-Americans. 

Want more easy cheesecake-y recipes? Check out these Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake Bars and these Cheesecake Brownies. Want more berry recipes? Check out these Berry Tartlets, this Summer Berry Cake, this Blueberry Pie, this Mascarpone with Raspberries, and these Strawberry Chocolate Shortcakes.

BLACKBERRY CHEESECAKE GALETTE

Ingredients for the crust:
1 1/4 cups (160 grams) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces or 113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt or sour cream (about 63 grams or 4 tablespoons)
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

Ingredients for the filling:
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces, 118 grams) blackberries, halved
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 (8-ounce, 224 grams) package cream cheese, softened
1 egg + 1 egg white (you can use the yolk for the egg wash below)
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest (a scrape or two of lemon zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg yolk (egg wash)

Directions:
Make the dough for the crust by hand: Stir the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Sprinkle butter over dough and using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work it into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest pieces of butter the size of tiny peas. Whisk together the water and yogurt and add it to the dough. Stir to combine until a dough forms. Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine, until the dough comes together (start with 3 tablespoons water and add the fourth if the dough looks dry). Transfer the dough onto a piece of plastic or waxed paper (since I had neither, I used a bit of floured aluminum foil) and pat into a ball. Wrap into a packet and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling: In a small bowl, combine the blackberries, 1 tablespoon of the sugar (I added a bit more as my berries are on the sour side) a squeeze of lemon juice and the cornstarch. Stir and set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and the egg and egg white until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining 7 tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla. Stir in the blackberry mixture.
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, springform pan, pie dish, or 9-inch tart pan, and place on a baking sheet.

On a floured counter, roll chilled dough into a large (12- to 14-inch) circle. Carefully drape the dough in the prepared pan, letting the edges hang down the sides. Pour in the cream cheese batter. Gently lift the dough’s overhang and fold it gently over the filling. This doesn't have to be at all perfect (as you can see from the photos below) -- even if it's a little messy, it will still look pretty.
Beat the egg in a small dish and brush over the crust of the galette. Bake the galette for 35-45 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the cheesecake comes out with no batter attached. Let cool in pan on a rack. Refrigerate once cooled. Serve the cheesecake when fully cold and set. Serves 8-10. 
Very slightly adapted from www.smittenkitchen.com



Spaghetti with Super Quick Cherry Tomato Sauce

Summer is in its home stretch (sob!) which means that sooner rather than later, the days will be shorter, the weather cooler, and our extensive sundress collections (just me?) will be packed away. I've heard that in the U.S, Dunkin' Donuts is already advertising pumpkin flavored coffee drinks and muffins, and that supermarkets have already started to sell Halloween candy and (gulp) decorations. In the meantime, though, I prefer to focus on the fact that there are still a few weeks of the season to enjoy, not to mention this super summer-y Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce, a fast and delicious dish that will leave you more time to lay on the beach before September hits.

This dish is kind of like that girl we all knew in high school, the one who wore no make up at all but was a stunner nonetheless. This a no frills recipe -- there is no cream, no guanciale or pancetta, no bechamel, no ravioli or stuffed pasta in sight. Instead, we have just the basics: olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil, and spaghetti, perhaps the simplest cut of pasta. The star of the dish, not surprisingly, are the peak-of-the-season cherry tomatoes, cooked in lots of silky olive oil until they burst and cook down to become their own quick sauce. The rest of the dish is composed of a few touches to complement the tomatoes: a clove or two of sharp spicy garlic, a pinch of sugar to heighten the sweetness of the tomatoes, a generous dose of fresh sunny basil (the flavor soulmate of tomatoes) and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan to add a little punch. Bottom line: this is exactly what you want to dig into for dinner on one of these remaining summer nights, and wait, there's more -- this is so easy that even those "I don't like to cook!" people could make it. Promise!

A couple of notes: If you can get your hands on them, yellow and orange cherry tomatoes would be really pretty here mixed with the red. I am not a big fan of garlic, so I kept the cloves whole and then removed them at the end of the cooking process, but feel free to chop it fine and leave it in the sauce for more garlic flavor. I used12 ounces the second time I made this dish as I liked having more sauce on the pasta, but feel free to up the pasta quantity to 1 lb -- the amount in the original recipe -- if you want. Finally, you can use any cut of pasta you like, but I think a longer cut -- like spaghetti, fettuccine, or perciatelli -- is particularly nice with the sauce.

Still have cherry tomatoes to use up after this pasta? Check out this Cherry Tomato Crostata. Want to expand your Summer pasta repertoire? You might like this Fettuccine with Brie, Tomato, and Basil; this Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Pasta; or this Rigatoni with Eggplant.

SPAGHETTI WITH SUPER QUICK CHERRY TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients:
12 ounces spaghetti
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 pinch sugar
Salt and pepper
3 pints (6 cups) cherry tomatoes, larger ones cut in half
1 cup basil, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente (follow package instructions). Drain and place in a large bowl. While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves, tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes begin to burst and release their juices to form a sauce (feel free to squash the cherry tomatoes a bit to help the process, it's a good stress reliever) about 12-15 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves from the sauce and discard. Toss the spaghetti with the tomato sauce and basil. Serve topped with lots of Parmesan. Serves 4-6.
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, September 2015.