**Top 5 Recipes of 2019**

Another year of blogging in the books! I'm not quite sure where 2019 went, but it flew, at least for me, and here I am writing not only the very last post of the year but also of this decade (!!!) It's been a year defined by many things; grief, for one, with the loss of my beloved Nonno in February, and subsequent adjustment to his absence (namely lots of must-tell-Nonno Jim-about-this or Nonno-Jim-would-appreciate-this sort of moments, only to stop myself and remember the reality). That being said, it has also been a year full of positive change, too, something my Nonno would've been pleased and proud of; I moved into a new and improved apartment, discovered the cooking school Grano & Farina, began to work more closely with Carla Tomasi, turned 30, bought a pasta machine, dabbled in cheese-making, traveled, began to revamp the look of this blog, got a promotion at work,  and on a more personal note, made some changes that have overall made me a happier, more content person at the end of this year. Overall, 2019 has been eventful, constructive, and important, and for that I am grateful.

But I digress! Before we ring in 2020, I thought that I'd share its Top 5 recipes this year, a summary of sorts of the blog's past 365 days, and what you, my loyal Pancakes and Biscotti readers, have loved best (translation: the most viewed and read posts). I hope that they are dishes that you will also carry with you well into the next decade, too, and keep tucked into your repertoire so you can enjoy them as much as I have. Links to all recipes in their titles!

5. Gnocchetti sardi + pesto alla trapanese

Since delving into the world of pasta-making this past year (as chronicled in the blog's Pasta Series) I've arrived at the conclusion that pasta-making is bewitching, and fascinating, and I can't get enough of it. I find both the subject and process to be something I can only describe as magical, from start to finish, and discovering and beginning to learn this art was no doubt a highlight of 2019 for me. Gnocchetti sardi, or little gnocchi from Sardinia -- which also go by the name malloreddus -- are a water and semola based pasta with a seashell-like shape, formed with a roll-and-flick motion that makes one feel incredibly nonna-like. There are few things more gratifying than seeing a pile of them accumulate in to a flour-dusted heap on your pasta board as you roll, and they are hands down my favorite pasta I learned to make this year (it would seem you all felt the same way). Pasta aside, the pesto alla trapanese these are served in -- pesto from Trapani in a Sardinia-meets-Sicily combination -- is also fantastic, fragrant with basil and garlic with a little crunch from the almonds and a punch from a generous helping of Pecorino cheese. Pure pasta perfection. 

4. Semifreddo alle fragole

Think of this semifreddo -- a recipe I learned from the great Carla Tomasi -- as a sort of homemade ice cream, minus the ice cream machine that most of us don't have, and requiring less work and time (think of it as ice cream's cool, low-maintenance cousin). Ease aside, this sweet is dreamy, unabashedly lush and strawberry-centric, reminiscent of a bowl of strawberries dolloped with freshly whipped cream, refreshing and indulgent all at once, and what kept me going on Rome's all too common 98 degree days (that's 37 degrees for the rest of you). Very much looking forward to summer 2020, when this will be back in season. 

3. Polpettone alla ricotta

My Nonno -- great entrepreneur that he was -- launched a recipe contest in the 1960s to promote the mozzarella and ricotta that his business produced. He asked all of New England to send in there best recipes made with Supreme Dairy products, and he, the company founder, would not only choose a winning recipe, he would also compile the best recipes and put them in to a Supreme Dairy cookbook. The resulting book was given to me by my nonno five or six years ago, and now resides here with me in Rome (you may remember it from this post here, actually). It is a compilation of very Italian recipes (cappelletti, cannoli) and very Italo-American recipes (veal parmesan) and some very, very '60s era recipes (frozen cheese and pineapple salad, anyone?!). The winning recipe, in all this, was a humble but tasty meatloaf with ricotta. It's ultra flavorful (Parmesan! onion! parsley!) and juicy and tender and best of all, its filled with ricotta, more in line with the Italian polpettone than the typical American meatloaf. I'm glad you all loved this recipe as much as I did; it's a nice reminder of my nonno.

2. Brownie Ciambellone

Ahh, Brownie Ciambellone! This was my cake of choice to celebrate my 30th birthday, an Italian/American cross between a ciambellone --a plain, simple ring shaped cake usually eaten at breakfast -- and the rich and fudge-y and intensely chocolate-y American brownie. This cake comes together in a snap -- no softening or beating of butter, no frosting or layers here -- and it's a lovely cake that wears many hats, one whose functions include, but are not limited to: 30th birthdays, birthdays in general, middle of the week cake cravings, sudden chocolate cravings, extra special breakfasts, a simple dessert with a dusting of powdered sugar, a sweet way to say I love you/I'm sorry/Congratulations/just-because-I-wanted-to-make-a-cake/TGIF, etc etc. I am quite unsurprised that this recipe made the Top 5 most viewed recipes this year.

1. Focaccia alla Tomasi

**DRUMROLL** The number one most viewed recipe of 2019 is this fluffy, soft, light as air, completely addictive focaccia a recipe I learned from Carla Tomasi, one of my favorite people and culinary mentors. This focaccia has an excellent crumb, is olive oil-y and a little salty, superb sprinkled with a generous dose of earthy rosemary if you're going the classic route or topped with whatever ingredients your carbohydrate-loving heart desires, preferably seasonal ones. I was delighted to bring focaccia alla Tomasi in to my own kitchen, and from blogger to reader, can confirm the following: this recipe makes focacce that are simply perfect, and if you're smart, you'll make more than you think you need, because you'll soon discover that you can never have enough of this focaccia (you've been warned). If you're iffy about bread making, rest assured! Like most Tomasi classics, the recipe is low maintenance (just a few stretches and turns of the dough and a little waiting, probably the most difficult part, if you, like me, are always eager to get fresh bread in your sights) and the result is spectacular.
There you have it -- the Top 5 posts of 2019! I'll be back in 2020 with new recipes and posts; as I write this, I'd say to expect slightly lighter recipes in the first month of the new year, something I am personally feeling in need of/perhaps we are all craving? after decadent holiday/vacation eating (when was the last time you ate a vegetable?!) In any case: Happy New Year, everyone!



Pasta Series #7: Spätzle with butter + chives

I realize that at this point in the month -- just four days shy of Christmas -- you're probably not in the market for a shiny new pasta recipe, correct? I know, I know: you're imagining having to measure out ingredients, knead dough, roll and cut and shape it or even fill it, perhaps even make a sauce to serve it in -- all tasks you surely have little time for. You're wrapping gifts (even shopping for them, still?!) strategizing your Christmas lunch prep, putting up the last decorations, hurrying to the final Christmas parties, right?! You're short on time, I know.

But you can still make fresh pasta! Let me be clear: it does not get easier or faster than these spätzle (pronounced shpet-sleh) short, free form dumplings that hail originally from the south of Germany and made their way down to the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy and thus the city of Bolzano -- the most Christmas-y of cities -- where I first tried them a couple of years ago. This is an on-the-go type pasta, a matter of whisking together ingredients and melting butter, a dish that is done in just the time it takes to boil the water it cooks in (it cooks immediately, for the record). It is the quickest of dinners, cozy, comforting fare that fits perfectly into your busy holiday schedule -- a fresh pasta to boot! -- and oh so very delicious. These spätzle are light and airy and slightly (and festively!) nutmeg-scented, wonderful when tossed in butter (what isn't?) and sprinkled with chives for a little color and sharpness to break up the richness. Topped with a grating or two (or three, or four) of flavorfully sharp Parmesan, they make for a pretty spectacular dinner, around Christmas or any other time this Winter. I loved, loved, loved these, and in true holiday spirit, have to thank my friend Tiziana -- the best colleague, advice-giver, support-provider, and amica I could ever ask for -- for the spätzle maker, a gift she brought me from all the way up north (she knows me so well!) 

Merry Christmas, everyone -- I'll be back after the 25th with the last post of 2019! 

A couple of notes: You will need a spätzle maker to make this; they can most likely be found at your nearest kitchen store, or even on Amazon in a pinch (they don't cost much). Otherwise, you can use a potato ricer or colander which works just as well (see directions below). If you want to make these a little richer, feel free to serve with a little cream mixed with cheese until it melts (you could use this sauce gorgonzola here, for example!)  with the addition of speck or prosciutto, if you wish. That's it!

Want to know what the other six recipes are in my blog's Pasta Series? I've got these ravioli, this lasagne ai carciofi, these gnocchetti sardi, these cavatelli, these orecchiette, and these pumpkin gnocchi.



SPÄETZLE WITH BUTTER + CHIVES 
Recipe from Giallo Zafferano. Serves 4.

Ingredients:
2 cups (250 grams) 00 flour
2/3 cup (150mL) tepid water 
3 medium sized eggs
Salt, to taste
Fresh nutmeg, to taste

To serve:
4 tablespoons (56 grams) salted butter
Chives, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste

Directions:
1.) Put a pot of water on to boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and eggs, then add in the water. Season with salt and a good grating of nutmeg and set aside. This will be a pasta batter, not a dough!

2.) Next, melt the butter in a large skillet and keep warm over low heat. Cut up some chives (you can use a knife for this but it is much easier with kitchen scissors) and set aside. Once the water is boiling, get our your spätzle maker (or a potato ricer or colander if you prefer). Here is my shiny new spätzle maker, below!
3.) If using a spätzle maker: using a ladle, pour some of the batter into the square section of the spätzle maker, and, holding it over the boiling water, move the square back and forth, so that the batter falls through to the water below (video example here, at 1:51). As soon as the spätzle float to the top of the pot -- nearly immediately! -- remove them with a strainer, and add to the pan with melted butter. If using a potato ricer, pour the batter in and close the lid, then press down as if you're ricing a potato, letting the batter fall directly into the water (video here, at minute 2:26). If you're using a colander, pour the batter in, and using the ladle spread it back and forth until the batter falls through the holes of the colander (example here, at minute 2:11). 
4.) Proceed this way, until all batter has been used and all spätzle cooked. Toss with the butter in the pan, add in the chives and a few grounds of black pepper, and serve with a cloud of Parmigiano. Eat immediately, with gusto. 





Pistachio Shortbread

December – and subsequently the end of 2019 – has been pretty good to me so far. Ehem: I received a very unexpected but very much appreciated promotion at work, in the same department I’ve come to know and love (go Forestry!) with people I love to work with, in an organization I feel lucky to work in; I assisted HRH Carla Tomasi (vegetable whisperer, cook/baker/instructor, you know the drill) at Latteria Studio’s annual Christmas Pop-Up Kitchen -- one of my very favorite parts of the holiday season -- helping to sell her A+ collection of homemade cookies, cakes, jams chutneys, molasses, and vinegars, surrounded by freshly baked focaccia and vin brule’ and lots of lovely people; I’ve spent a lot of time with friends at old favorites like Pasticceria Charlotte and new favorites like Magazzino Scipioni and 180gr Pizzeria; I’ve found the time to take strolls down to St. Peter’s, to see the annual Christmas tree, have a hot chocolate or two, and do lots of pasta practice (working on my cappellacci and tortelloni, stay tuned).

Promotion! Pop-Up Kitchen! Pasta! Could it possibly get any better than this you might be wondering?!

Yes, yes it certainly can. Just when I thought things were at their very best, this pistachio shortbread turned up, to cap it all off.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let me explain: while Italy focuses more on torrone, panettone, and pandoro around Natale, the holiday season for me (American that I am) has always meant cookie exchanges, tins of cookies given as gifts, cookies left out for Santa, cookies alongside a mug of Swiss Miss brand hot cocoa, cookies baked up to make your (snow-capped, if you’re living in Rhode Island) house smell wonderful and cozy and Christmas-y. Every family has their own Christmas cookie traditions, of course; at our house there were always white chocolate and apricot biscotti, shortbread Santas and snowmen, and buttery, and nutty mezzaluna cookies, to name just a few. December in the U.S is cookie season, plain and simple.

Shortbread is a pretty glorious thing – perhaps my very favorite cookie, upon reflection? – and I’ve baked my fair share over the years, with the occasional variation (gingerbread shortbread! lemon shortbread! chocolate shortbread!) It was on my radar for this year’s usual flour-dusted, sugar-tinged, butter-happy holiday baking – nothing fancy, just solidly delicious, classic shortbread – when I came across the recipe for this pistachio version from Bon Appetit Magazine (my very favorite thing to read, other than Harry Potter, for the record).

So! This shortbread is everything shortbread was born to be; it’s buttery, its slightly salty, it’s crisp, it’s addictive, and the pistachios here shine, melding perfectly with the cookie in their own buttery-right and infusing the traditional cookie with their splendid, nutty, telltale flavor. Deliciousness aside, this is, quite possibly, the perfect holiday cookie –  the pistachios make this shortbread festive and a little special, yes, but most importantly, the dough comes together in a matter of seconds in the food processor, ideal when you’re still very, very behind on your Christmas shopping and the idea of remembering to take butter out of the fridge to soften and use multiple bowls and beaters may seem overwhelming. There is no rolling out of dough or cookie cutters required, just slicing and baking, and best of all, the dough can be stored in the fridge for a few days, up until you’re ready to use it (I found that when I did this, the cookies became even more intensely pistachio-y; win win). The quantity here is rather large, but never fear – I can guarantee you that many (most? If you’re not careful?) of these cookies will end up as merry-christmas-to-me! cookies rather than in the tin meant for your friends, and with good reason. Long story short: life is good, and a whole lot better with a few of these nearby.

Stay tuned for one more Christmas recipe before the big day!

A couple of notes: Pistachios were fantastic here, but I bet this shortbread would also work great with pecans, hazelnuts, or even macadamia nuts if you want to make extra luxurious shortbread. These would also be nice dipped in dark chocolate. This dough can be made up to five days ahead. It also freezes very well (just thaw it in the refrigerator when you want to use it). The cookies, once baked, can be made up to four days in advance, if stored in a tupperware.

Looking for other shortbread recipes? I’ve got these shortbread hearts and this gingerbread shortbread, plus this chocolate pear tart with a shortbread crust. Looking for other pistachio-centric recipes? I’ve got this pistachio semifreddo, this pistachio, cranberry, and chocolate fudge, and this pistachio pesto.

PISTACHIO SHORTBREAD
Recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine. Makes about 50 cookies.

Ingredients:
1 ½ (195 grams) cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 grams) powdered sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks, 168 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in to cubes
½ cup (about 65 grams) unsalted pistachios
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Mix the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter, pistachios, egg yolk, and vanilla. Using on/off turns, mix until moist ball forms. Transfer dough to work surface. Divide dough in half. Form each dough half into 8x1 ¼ in log (if this seems too specific, which it was for me, just roll the dough into a log that looks like it will give you big enough cookies and leave it at that). If the dough is too soft to roll (it wasn’t for me) chill for 30 min in the fridge. Wrap logs in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). Slice logs into ¼ inch thick rounds, rolling log after every few slices to retain round shape. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake shortbread until barely golden, 16-18 minutes. Cool shortbread on baking sheets and enjoy.










Gingerbread Pancakes

Hello, December! With Thanksgiving long behind us (until next year, pecan pie) I'm happily skipping towards my favorite holiday and preferred time of year -- Christmas -- hot chocolate, colorful lights, Frank Sinatra Christmas music and all. Here in Italy, the arrival of the holiday season is signaled by the arrival of the holy trinity of holiday sweets: panettone, pandoro, and panforte, which appear in droves in markets, bakeries, and stores seemingly overnight. Here's the breakdown: though the name of all three derive from the word "pane" (bread) their differences sort of end there. Panettone (literally "big bread") is a sort of cake/bread hybrid, topped with crunchy sugar and studded with controversial canditi (dried candied fruit, either you love 'em or hate 'em); pandoro ("golden bread") is a soft, yellow, buttery brioche-like cake that is baked until tall and sliced horizontally, creating start shaped slices that are served dusted with powdered sugar; and then there's panforte ("strong bread"!) which hails from Siena, a hardy, spicy, chewy sweet studded with nuts and dried fruit that could very well be the Italian cousin of British fruit cake. 

Sounds good, no? Something for everyone, right?

Yes, but also no! I don't crave golden, strong, or big bread around the holidays, but rather gingerbread. You see: Christmas for me is synonymous not with panettone, pandoro, or panforte but rather with the cozy, warming treat that I grew up eating in the U.S. Gingerbread was a wintertime staple for me, one that my mom often whipped up for breakfast or for an after-school snack (usually a dollop of whipped cream or a sprinkling of powdered sugar was involved, too -- you can see where I get it from). Spicy and gingery and cinnamon-y around the edges as it is, gingerbread never picked up speed here in Italy (most Italians I know are not great lovers of cinnamon or spice -- it doesn't play a big role in their desserts) but no matter! Armed with molasses my parents so kindly ferry to me on their visits (or cane sugar syrup, in a pinch -- easy to find at Castroni) I keep the gingerbread tradition going, as clearly evidenced on the blog. Take note! Since I started blogging in 2014, there has been one gingerbread recipe every December, in varying forms: classic gingerbread! dark chocolate gingerbread bars! gingerbread shortbread! gingerbread cookies! gingerbread cake! 

You get the point; it's not officially Christmas until I've had my gingerbread fix. 

So! This year I've combined my favorite holiday sweet with my very favorite breakfast of all time; ladies and gentlemen, I give you gingerbread pancakes. Where to begin?! These pancakes are, simply put, the whole holiday season stacked up and served with maple syrup, cozier than a winter jacket and scarf combined, the stuff of breakfast dreams. They're gingery in a way that will simultaneously coddle you but also remind you to wake up with a little kick of spice, and if you told me that these were an edible antidote to the winter chill and snow that my home state of Rhode Island is currently experiencing, I wouldn't question you. I will making and eating these well into Christmas and beyond, and I sort of think you will be too. 

Get ready: more Christmas-y recipes to follow!

A couple of notes: This recipe originally calls for lemon zest and the addition of fresh ginger (see below). I personally don't like fresh ginger and I didn't have a lemon on hand, so I left these two ingredients out and the result was marvelous nonetheless. I suspect that both ingredients help to brighten up the finished pancakes, but I like the dense cozy spiciness these provide -- if you don't add the candied ginger, up the amount of ground ginger slightly. I confirm that a few slices of thinly sliced pear or apple placed on top of these pancakes before flipping wouldn't go amiss, and I can also attest to the fact that this batter makes for lovely gingerbread waffles, too (proof below). Finally, these pancakes (or waffles) can be frozen and thawed in the toaster, too -- freeze them once they're cooked and cooled. 


Looking for other pancake recipes? I've got these cornmeal blueberry pancakes, these summer peach pancakes (which can also be made with apple or pear, to make them more seasonal,) these pumpkin pancakes, these classic chocolate chip pancakes, and these savory squash pancakes.  Looking for other gingerbread recipes? I've got these gingerbread cookies, this gingerbread shortbread, this gingerbread cake, these dark chocolate gingerbread bars, this pumpkin gingerbread cake and this gingerbread

GINGERBREAD PANCAKES

Recipe from the NY Times. Serves 4. 

Ingredients:
2 cups (256 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) whole milk
1/3 cup (80 mL) unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (optional)
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

In a separate bowl, whisk milk, molasses, eggs, melted butter, fresh ginger and lemon zest until well combined.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir until combined. (A few small lumps are fine.)

Heat a lightly greased griddle or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Drop the pancakes into the pan by the quarter cup, making sure to leave plenty of room in between for the batter to expand.

Cook until the batter bubbles on the surface and browns on the bottom, a minute or two, then carefully flip. Cook until the batter is completely cooked through and the pancakes are slightly dark brown. Repeat until all the batter is used. Serve pancakes as you make them or keep them warm as you cook them by setting them on a baking sheet in a 250-degree oven.