Beans, Greens & Pasta Soup + the ultimate soup formula

A good, solid recipe in your repertoire -- one that has become a true standby -- means a couple of things. For starters, it's reliable, dependable, on call and ready to go whenever you need it. It's as comforting as your favorite sweater, the welcome answer whenever you've been asked to bring the dessert to your friend's dinner party with no notice or need to impress a guy who has pretty high standards when it comes to food (note: gnocchetti sardi worked pretty well for me here). You get the idea -- they're dishes that have got your back.

On the flip side, a solid recipe -- in its aforementioned sturdiness! -- also allows for flexibility and creativity, offering a good strong base upon which to experiment and make something slightly new. This never-fail Tomato, Butter, and Onion Sauce became a Tomato, Butter, and Fennel sauce with beautiful results; this A+ Lemon Ricotta Olive Oil Cake turned in to this Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake, for example; this solid Brownie Ciambellone is a riff on this White Chocolate Blueberry Cake; this foolproof egg pasta recipe has allowed me to make everything from ravioli to garganelli to fettuccine, my favorite pesto here is just as good with walnuts and Parmesan in the place of the Pecorino and almonds, this perfect-every-time Torta Caprese is excellent with hazelnut and vanilla instead of almonds and orange zest. You get the idea. 

But let's talk soup! I'm a fan -- it's the pinnacle of cozy, in my opinion -- and I've got a few on this blog, including these Roasted Tomato and this Butternut Squash. My favorite of all soups, however, is one made according to my Ultimate Soup Formula, or rather one that combines a mix of veggies, beans, greens, and any pasta you wish, however you wish. It started way back in the day with this Turkey, Spinach, and White Bean Soup, a recipe I came up with 6 years ago that then went on to evolve in to this Chickpea and Kale Soup, this Tomato and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, and a quick version of pasta e fagioli, among many others. 

It goes a little like this:

1. SOME VEGGIES! Start with veggies or your choosing, and saute them until softened in olive oil. I usually do a mix of carrot, celery, and onion, because that's what I like, but you could also do celery and onion, or just an onion, or even throw a potato in there if you'd like. You can also throw in a garlic clove for some flavor, or if you want, a little pancetta for extra flavor. Up to you!

2. A HANDFUL OF HERBS (if you want!) Once your veggies are cooked, you can also throw in herbs (a bay leave, rosemary, sage, all three, whatever you have). You can also add in a Parmesan rind at this stage if you have it -- I usually do, they add great flavor to soups -- or a little bit of tomato paste for flavor and color, or nothing at all. Salt and pepper is fine here too!

3. 2 CANS OF BEANS! Add in 2 cans of beans of your choice (chickpeas, lentils, borlotti, white beans, etc). As you can see in the recipe below, you can also mash these at a certain stage to change the texture of your soup; up to you if you want a thicker soup or a soupier (redundant?) one.

4. 6 CUPS BROTH! Add in about six cups (1500mL) broth of your choice, which can be either homemade or store-bought (in my case, store-bought). You can also sub some of this liquid with crushed tomatoes, to make a tomato-y soup (like this one).

5. 1/2 CUP OF PASTA! If you'd like to make your soup a little more substantial, add in about 1/2 a cup of dried small pasta, like ditalini, orzo, tortellini,  or anellini, or if you're me, maltagliati -- scraps of fresh pasta leftover from all your pasta making adventures -- that you have set aside to dry and then saved for occasions such as these (just me, I know).

6. 6 OUNCES OF GREENS! Up the nutrition factor in your soup with some greeeeens! Keep in mind that they cook down and shrink immediately when they hit the hot broth -- disappearing act! -- so if the quantity recommended below seems like a lot, it really isn't. I use spinach, kale, or swiss chard, but you use whatever you like.

7. CHEESE TO YOUR HEART'S CONTENT (if you want!) I personally like my soup topped with freshly grated Parmesan, but if you want to make this soup vegan -- I served this to a vegan friend who was quite happy -- leave the cheese out.

The soup I'm giving you here is my new favorite -- favorite yet? -- riff on my standby formula, and I've been making it on repeat this Winter. It's got creamy, flavorful borlotti (cranberry beans in English) which I recently discovered and have a lot more oomph than the chickpeas I used to favor (grazie C.T!). It's got notes of aromatic rosemary and sage, lots of virtuous-yet-tasty spinach, sweet carrots, and a dash of pasta (because it's me we're talking about) to round things out. It's the most interesting, craveable soup I've met yet, and while I'm willing to bet you'll agree -- I don't want to be presumptuous! I entrust my formula to you to use as you wish. Make the soup as written below if you like, or substitute in whatever you prefer and make a recipe that is all in your own. 

A couple of notes: As I've just finished saying above -- adapt this soup as you wish! If you want to add in meat like I did in the Chickpea and Kale or Turkey and Spinach versions, just stir it in already cooked once the soup is ready to go -- a little pancetta to start the soup off with along with the vegetables works well here too. 

Serves 3-4; feel free to double or up quantities as needed.

Olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, cut in to rounds
2 sticks of celery, chopped
A sprig of rosemary
A bay leaf, a few leaves of sage
2 cans or jars of good-quality borlotti beans
6 cups (1500 mL) chicken or vegetable stock, store-bought or homemade if you've got it
1/2 cup dried small pasta
6 ounces (168 grams) baby spinach
Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

Parmesan cheese/bread for serving

Heat some olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat (enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of said pot) and saute the veggies of your choosing -- in this case onion, celery, and carrot -- until softened golden brown. Season the veggies with salt and pepper. Add the herbs or flavorings of your choosing -- in my case rosemary, sage, and bay leaf, as I usually have them on hand -- and then stir everything together and cook for few minutes.  

Next, add your cheese rind to the pot if you are using one, then rinse and drain your beans -- borlotti beans here! -- and add them too. Stir everything around for a minute and then add your liquids -- in this case I used veggie broth. Bring this mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

Optional (though I never skip this step): using a ladle, remove two ladle-fuls of soup (more beans than broth) and place them in a bowl. Using a potato masher (or a food mill or food processor if you prefer -- just keep in mind these are hot liquids) mash until coarse. Set aside. 

Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary. Bring the soup to a boil again and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender, stirring as you go, and adding a little more broth or even if the soup seems thick (I ended up adding another cup or so). Return your pureed soup to the pan and stir, then add in the greens -- spinach here! -- and cook until wilted. Taste the soup again to make sure your seasonings are sufficient, and serve with crusty bread and extra Parmesan over the top. 

Chocolate Mudslide Cookies

When going through the blog posts recently, I noticed something very, very grave. You may have noticed it too. I'm surprised I hadn't spotted it earlier.

What with my pasta frenzy, a stretch of experimentation with fried desserts, and most recently, my focus on posting slightly more conscientious recipes it has been a very, very long time since I've posted a recipe for something chocolate-y. In fact, my last chocolate-inclusive recipe was all the way back in August -- six months ago! -- when I posted about this Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream. And before that -- all the way back in March 2019, when I told you about this Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake. As a blog that prides itself on its sweets (the name of the blog is Pancakes & Biscotti, after all) this is not acceptable. I apologize. I will try to do better. I will! Starting with these abundantly chocolate-y cookies, okay?

This batch of  some-of-the-best-cookies-I've-ever-eaten-ever came along thanks to the wise purchase of Anne Byrn's newest cookbook, American Cookie, a bible of sorts for all of the cookies of my home country, covering everything from Virginia Tavern Biscuits to 1922 Girl Scout Cookies to Black and Whites, Snickerdoodles, and homemade Fig Newtons, among many other American cookie classics. If this rings a bell, it's probably because I've also talked about Anne's book American Cake -- which I mentioned here, and here! -- the frosted, layered predecessor to American Cookie. For a culinary nerd like myself, these books are pure gold, with lots of fun food facts and knowledge, plus -- and most importantly of all -- consistently excellent recipes, like these Chocolate Mudslides. So! Mudslide cookies were first created and coined in the early 90s by pastry Chef Robert Jorin, who entered them in a baking contest in Petaluma, California, and subsequently won (no surprise there). A decade later, celebrity chef Jacques Torres made his own version of these cookies on his TV show, upping the ante and adding a whopping 2 lbs of chocolate in to the dough, thus making Mudslides a household name -- indeed, many bakeries in the U.S have their own versions of this cookie. 
I wasn't quite sure where to begin with this cookbook -- a classic case of l'imbarazzo della scelta, as we say in Italian, i.e spoiled for choice -- so my sister, who loves to browse cookbooks, but not make any of the recipes in them (she has me for that) came to the rescue, narrowing down the list of options swiftly and choosing superbly (did you expect any less from my other half?!) Here's the breakdown: a good amount of baking powder make these Mudslides expand and puff up in the oven and then deflate, souffle'-like, creating a crackly, brownie-ish exterior and a delightfully soft and fudge-y interior (yes, you read that correctly: a cookie that is reminiscent of both a souffle' and a brownie). These are spectacularly, profoundly chocolate-y -- a combination of melted chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate chunks -- a chocothon interrupted only by the welcome crunch of a buttery pecan. This first batch received rave reviews by my sister and group of amiche on a rainy weekend hangout, meeting various different ends -- some were whisked away right off the baking sheet once cool enough to eat, others were enjoyed alongside mugs of tea, and still others were then tucked away into paper bags to be brought home for eating the next day or quite possibly just later that evening; the very few cookies that made it to my office the next day promptly vanished, with a colleague of mine aptly describing them as "un pedacito del cielo," a piece of heaven. Awww.

Bonus: if you're planning on celebrating Valentine's Day this week -- a holiday that expressly celebrates chocolate -- these would fit the bill perfectly, because something that you've baked up yourself will always be a bit more special than a box of (store-bought) chocolates or a bouquet of (thorny) roses, at least in my book. Bake up a batch of these for February 14th and watch as you keep finding other new holidays to make them for -- a half birthday! President's Day! 2020 Leap Year! it's only Tuesday and I need a cookie! You get the idea.

A couple of notes: I made a few changes to the recipe as originally written; for one, the recipe in American Cookie calls for 7 eggs, which seemed like a lot of eggs to me; I halved the recipe, using 3 large eggs, which worked fine. I swapped in pecans for walnuts, used only semi-sweet chocolate instead of a combination of bittersweet and unsweetened, added in some cocoa powder to up the chocolate factor, and left out the 1/2 (which would've been 1/4 teaspoon since I halved the recipe) espresso powder as I didn't have any on hand. These minor changes produced perfect cookies, but do as you like. Even by halving the recipe, I found that these made quite a few cookies, but I used an ice cream scoop to form them rather than the 1/4 cup that is written in the recipe originally. These cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature and up to 6 months in the freezer. 

Looking for more chocolate-y recipes? I have these Brownie Cookies, this Brownie Pie, these Fudge Brownies, this Hot Fudge Sauce, this Pecan Chocolate Pretzel Pie, this Cioccolata Calda, this Chocolate Tartthis 1940s Wacky Chocolate Cake, this Wellesley Fudge Cake, this Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake, these Chocolate Lava Cakes, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, and this German Chocolate Cake

Recipe adapted from American Cookie, by Anne Byrn. Makes 20-22 cookies, depending on what size ice cream scoop you use.


6.5 ounces (182 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (225 grams) sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (90 grams) flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) cocoa powder
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (220 grams) chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/4 cup (155 grams) pecans, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 170 degrees Celsius, putting the oven rack in the middle of the oven.  In the meantime, melt the chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over low heat and set aside.

2. Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with the electric mixer on medium-high speed until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, then pour in a third of the melted chocolate, and beat on low speed until just combined. Add another third of the chocolate and mix to combine, then add the final third of the chocolate and mix briefly, about 10 seconds.

4. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Carefully turn the flour mixture onto the chocolate batter, and mix on the low speed until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans. The dough may seem too soft to be cookie dough, but don't worry -- it will be fine!

5. With an ice cream scoop, drop six scoops of dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving some space between each. Bake the cookies in your pre-heated oven until opaque and firm on top but still soft, 8-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies rest on the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Proceed in the same way to bake the rest of the cookies. Enjoy!

Classic Glazed Doughnuts

If you're in Italy this time of year, and if you too enjoy studying the displays in every bakery you go in to for your morning coffee (just me?) you'll have certainly noticed the abundance of fried sweets -- dolci fritti -- around lately, stacked high and proud, golden and sugar-dusted. This fried food frenzy is no coincidence, occurring (happily, and so very lucky for us) once a year in celebration of Carnevale, or rather the period leading up to martedi' grasso (Fat Tuesday) and subsequently Lent. The reasoning here is straightforward and sensible: if you'll theoretically be following Catholic protocol and fasting -- or at least giving up certain foods before Easter -- you might as well go all out beforehand and eat your desserts fried, yes? Italy's dolci carnevaleschi include all sorts of delightful fried treats with fun-to-say names, like bomboloni! crostoli! frappe! bugie! among many others, each more delicious than the next. 

So! As you may or may not recall, I've already dabbled with dolci carnevaleschi on this blog, mastering and devouring these castagnole (ricotta fritters rolled in sugar) and these zippulas (potato saffron fritters from Sardinia, likewise rolled in sugar). As this blog is a give and take of Italian and American recipes however, I got to thinking: what else could I fry -- in true Carnevale spirit -- that would put the (fried, bubbling, golden) spotlight on my home country rather than on my adopted one?!

I've said it before, here, but I'll say it again -- I love doughnuts. Love them.  Doughnuts and I go way back -- there was nothing more special than a stop at Dunkin' Donuts for a chocolate glazed when I was growing up -- and they're a nostalgic sweet I very much associate with home. Nowadays, my more mature taste buds and I prefer to get our doughnuts at PVDonuts when we're in Rhode Island -- pure doughnut witchcraft, I tell you -- and when we're not in the U.S, we have learned to make our own doughnuts at home (Rome is many things, but doughnut savvy it is not). 

Where to begin on these?! These doughnuts are marvelous. MARVELOUS. They're deeply golden and crisp but also light and airy and not at all heavy, a pillow of fried goodness, barely sweet and the perfect blank canvas for a robe of pearly white powdered sugar glaze -- and if you're living in a country where doughnuts are just not a thing, they are particularly exciting, a piece of home brought right in to your kitchen in Rome and in time for Carnevale, no less. I made more than 20 of these -- plus doughnut holes -- and the whole batch, the whole batch, disappeared or were whisked away in the span of an afternoon (my friends feel the same way about doughnuts as I do, apparently). Best of all, these aren't nearly as difficult to make as you might think -- throw together the ingredients for the dough, let it rest, roll out and shape said dough, let it rest again, and fry (each doughnut takes about 60 seconds to cook). Easy as pie (or doughnuts?)

Is it too early to say I've found my favorite recipe of 2020?!

A couple of notes on frying: If there's one form of cooking I used to tiptoe around and avoid, it was frying, as we're dealing with a pot of bubbling hot oil -- intimidating, to say the least -- and besides that, frying not done right equals soggy, heavy food or food burned to a crisp. But relax! Frying isn't so scary. Here are a few helpful tips that I've picked up over the years that have freed me from my frying fears:

-Use the right kind of oil! Vegetable, peanut, canola, sunflower, and corn oil are good for frying as they have a neutral flavor and high smoking point.

-If you want to be sure the oil is the exact right temperature, invest in a kitchen thermometer which can be found in most kitchenware shops (or and don't cost much.

-Make sure you have a large pot with high sides -- that way, if the oil gets a little bubbly, its sure to bubble right up the pot and not on to your stove top or you. Make sure that you have about 3 inches or so of side once you've poured the oil in. Woks, Dutch ovens, or big saucepans with high sides are usually suitable.

-Don't crowd the pot when frying, as this will lower the temperature of the oil and give you soggy fried food. 

-Be sure to lower whatever you are frying slowly -- no splashing! -- in to the oil using tongs or a slotted spoon. Be sure to wear an apron, too.

-To remove your doughnuts from the oil, you can use a slotted spoon. If you want to be fancy, there are also bamboo skimmers that work well and are cheap, but I doubt most people have them in their kitchens.

A couple of more general notes: This is an excellent yeast doughnut recipe that can be dressed up any number of ways; as you can see from the photos, I glazed most of them, but then improvised and added some cocoa powder to the glaze to make a few chocolate frosted, and then filled a few with jam and rolled them in sugar. My next mission: to make homemade strawberry frosting. These are best eaten the day they're made, but aren't terrible the day after (just not as soft). According to the recipe this makes a dozen doughnuts, but I got a lot more out of this -- I would say about 20 doughnuts (I did also make some of these mini). 

Looking for other fried sweets? I've got these cannoli, these pumpkin doughnuts, these zeppole sarde, and these castagnole di ricotta

Recipe from the New York Times. Makes 12 (see notes). 

Ingredients for doughnuts:
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) dry active yeast 
2 eggs
8 tablespoons (112 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/4 cups (552 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 quarts neutral oil, for frying 

Ingredients for glaze:
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
4 tablespoons (60 mL) milk 

Ingredients for my improvisations:
1 generous tablespoon cocoa powder (to make chocolate frosting)
Strawberry jam (to make filled doughnuts)
Granulated sugar

1. Heat the milk until it is warm but not hot, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) if you want to be very precise. In a large bowl, combine it with the yeast. Stir lightly, and let sit until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Using an electric mixer or a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, beat the eggs, butter, sugar, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add half of the flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons, 225 grams more or less) and mix until combined, then mix int he rest of the flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Ad more flour, about two tablespoons at a time, if the dough is too wet. If you're using an electric mixer the dough will probably become too thick to beat; when it does, transfer it to a floured surface, and gently knead it until smooth. Grease a large bowl with a little oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, and cover. Let rise at room temperature until it doubles in size, about one hour. 

3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and roll it out to 1/2 inch thickness (dust the dough or the rolling pin with a little flour if the dough feels sticky). Cut out the doughnuts with round cookie cutters or a drinking glass and shot glass if that's easier (I used a cookie cutter and a pastry tip, which worked great). The larger cookie cutter should be about 3 inches in diameter. Flour the cutters as you go if necessary. Reserve the doughnut holes for frying; if you want to make jam filled or filled doughnuts, do not cut out the middle. Knead any scraps together and repeat the process, being careful not to overwork the dough and letting the dough rest in between. 

4. Put the doughnuts on two floured baking sheets so that there is plenty room between each one. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until delicate and puffy, about 45 minutes. If your kitchen isn't warm, heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of this step, then turn off the eat, put baking sheets in the oven, and leave the door ajar. 

5. About 15 minutes before the doughnuts are done rising, put the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and then heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) using a candy or frying thermometer. Meanwhile, line baking sheets with paper towels. 

6. Carefully add the doughnuts to the oil a few at a time (don't fry more than three at a time). When the bottoms are deep golden, about 45 seconds, used a slotted spoon to flip the doughnut and cook until deep golden all over. Do the same with the doughnut holes, keeping in mind they cook faster. Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat this process until all doughnuts have been fried, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the oil temperature at 375 degrees.

7. Once the donuts are cool enough to handle you can finish them off as you'd like. To make glazed doughnuts, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Dip the doughnuts in on both sides, then place on a cooling rack (preferably with some paper under it to avoid any mess) and let the glaze harden and any excess glaze drip off. 

8. To make chocolate frosted doughnuts, make the glaze as above but add in some cocoa powder; to make filled doughnuts, fill a pastry bag with strawberry jam, poke a hole in the side of the doughnut, and fill accordingly; roll in granulated sugar. Yummm. 

Dreamy Pistachio Cake + 31st Birthday

Is it really your birthday if you haven't had any cake?

That's right! It's my birthday! Or rather, it was my birthday on Monday (27 January '89, for the record). I turned 31, which, honestly speaking, feels like a weird age -- in the words of my twin sister (who also turned 31, naturally) it's "sort of random, neither here no there," and I kind of get what she means. After all, there was such a lead up to turning 30, aka the entrance into a new decade and chapter in life; and turning 18, 21, and 25 for example had a similar sort importance (a legal adult, legal drinking age, halfway through my 20s, respectively). Thirty-one -- an odd number for starters, is it just me or do 30 or 32 seem more complete? -- is a bit fuzzier, the next baby step in to a decade that has so far treated me well but still contains much to be seen.  

Hazy-age or not, I celebrated turning 31 for four days straight (!!!) kicking off the celebrations with an elaborate dinner at my new favorite restaurant, Colline Emiliane, followed by an evening at the ballet with my sister, the next day heading to a very Roman lunch with friends, and then capping it all off with a magnificent milanese meal prepared by my friends Julia & Pino
As you can imagine, there was -- unsurprisingly, of course -- a lot of food involved, including, and going back to my initial opener: cake

If today's recipe seems like an odd choice of birthday cake, you'd be right -- after all, it's very unlike the layered, frosted, decorated cakes I celebrated with growing up in the U.S. Having said this however I'll remind you that my favorite sort of cakes tend to be simple, versatile and understated, just like this chic Dreamy Pistachio Cake (note: in the recipe as written, this is simply called Pistachio Cake -- but I feel that this is an excessively plain name that does not do justice to what is a spectacularly special cake). Contrary to its unassuming appearance -- at first glance a golden-brown loaf, nothing more! -- this cake is most certainly a celebration sort of cake. It's moist and rich and buttery with a dense crumb and an incredible (incredible!) hit of  intense, pure pistachio flavor; deliciousness aside, its a stunner, a pale, statement-making emerald green, and a slice of it is perfect not only to celebrate being a year older but also as dessert, or with a cup of tea, or even as an indulgent breakfast the day after your birthday, because hazy-age or not, you only turn 31 once, right? I'm quite certain you're all going to be making this cake anyway -- it would be a crime not to -- but I'd also like to point out that you can whip up this cake entirely in your food processor, meaning there's no softening of butter or mixer or eventual washing of multiple bowls involved. 

Did I mention this cake is dreamy? 

A couple of notes: I bet you could also make this with hazelnuts or almonds or even pecans, if you want to take this cake in a different direction (I will be experimenting with this). This cake is great on the first day but even better on the second, as the ingredients and flavors settle in. This cake keeps at room temperature for several days, wrapped in foil, and also freezes well. Finally, feel free to dress this up with whipped cream, powdered sugar, or berries, if you'd like. 

Looking for other simple cake recipes? I've got this Lemon Ricotta Cake, this White Chocolate Blueberry Cake, this Brownie Ciambellone, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, this Ricotta Pound cake, this Mimosa (orange and Prosecco) cake, this Triple Orange Pound cake, and this Lemon poppyseed loafLooking for other pistachio-centric recipes? I’ve got this pistachio semifreddo, this pistachio, cranberry, and chocolate fudge, this pistachio shortbread, and this pistachio pesto.


Serves 8-10. Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as adapted from Yossi Arefi's recipe from Sweeter Off the Vine.

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140 grams) roasted, shelled, and unsalted pistachios
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
10 tablespoons (5 ounces or 145 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
3 large eggs
1/4 (60 mL) cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Slightly heaped 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (115 grams) all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (162 degrees Celsius). Line the bottom and long sides of a loaf pan with a parchment paper. Coat paper and exposed short sides of loaf pan with butter and set aside.

Option 1: making the cake with a food processor! In the bowl of your food processor, grind pistachios, sugar and salt together until as powdery as you can get them without it turning to paste. Cut the butter into small chunks and blend with pistachio mixture. It’s going to be lumpy at first, and then balled for a minute, but keep running the machine until the mixture loosens up into a frosting-like consistency, i.e. smooth and shiny. Add eggs, one at time, blending briefly between each, scraping down sides as needed. Add milk, blend to combine. Add extracts and baking powder and blend to fully combine, scraping down the bowl. Add the flour and pulse just until it disappears.

Option 2: making the cake without a food processor! You’re going to want to start with 140 grams pistachio meal or flour and softened butter and can proceed as with a traditional cake. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in milk, then extracts until smooth. Beat in salt and baking powder until fully combined, scraping down bowl well. Add flour and mix just until it disappears.

Whatever method you've used, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread top smooth. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes; look for a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake to come out clean and then, do a second check near the top. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around cake and transfer to cooling rack. Let cool completely before eating. 

Pasta Series #8: Garganelli fatti in casa

First pasta recipe of 2020!

Let's dive right in, shall we? After a jaunt on semola/water pasta avenue with a detour down gnocchi lane and a right turn on to spatzle street, we're back in the land of fresh egg pasta (which we learned to make back in April and May, with these ravioli and lasagne). I'ts been a while, so allow me to give you a brief egg pasta refresher, just in case you need it:

1. The most important factor of all when making your own pasta!: use good quality flour and the freshest eggs you can get your hands on -- I use Molino Spadoni 00 flour, which I highly recommend if you can find it;

2. Ignore any sort of recipe you've seen in the past that tells you to use cups to measure your flour, or that tells you to use a certain amount of eggs, keeping in mind that cups are not as precise as a kitchen scale and all eggs vary in size. To make your own pasta, you absolutely need a kitchen scale (sorry fellow Americans). Use your scale to measure the weight of the eggs -- that weight, multiplied by two, will determine the weight of your flour; 

3. If you find that your pasta dough is too dry even despite using the above-mentioned formula (most likely due to the weather/temperature of your kitchen) feel free to add some water, keeping in mind the fact that a little water goes a long way. Start with a small amount (start by dampening your hands with water) and add a bit more at a time; 

4. When determining how much pasta to make, an egg per person is a good rule of thumb; in other words, 3 eggs and the corresponding amount of flour should do for 3 people;

4. A good pasta machine isn't prohibitively expensive (costing between 30-50 euros) and in any case lasts a life time. Good brands are Atlas and Imperial. Otherwise, you can invest in a long rolling pin and learn to roll out pasta by hand, per Bolognese tradition; I have tried both methods and while the pasta machine one is of course faster and easier, there is something truly special about learning the rolling pin technique. I highly recommend either method.

So! You didn't think there would be a Pasta Series post without me waxing poetic about pasta, did you? I'll try and limit my usual glowiness here and say: homemade pasta has many glorious qualities, one of them being versatility. I might have mentioned this before, but just to refresh your memory: pasta dough -- once you learn how to make it, and whether it be egg pasta or semola and water -- can then be used to make a countless number of pasta shapes, and in the case of egg pasta, this means everything from simple fettuccine to ruffled farfalle to slap-dash strapponi; paunchy cappellacci to tiny stuffed tortellini to candy-like casoncelli; super fine tagliolini to rotund paccheri to twisty tonnarelli. I could go on, but I promised you minimal fawning, right?

My preferred egg pasta at the moment is garganelli, a shape I encountered when I was living in Bologna back in 2009 (I first ate them with a sausage ragu', for the record). Garganelli are indeed typical of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, and interestingly (and unappetizing-ly?) enough the name for this pasta comes from the regional word garganel -- esophagus -- referring more specifically to the shape of the esophagus found in the neck end of a chicken. See also: orecchiette, or little ears; vermicelli, or little worms; and strozzapreti, or priest-stranglers -- a little food for thought (or not)?

But I digress! I didn't see much of garganelli after my year in Bologna -- after all, they don't have much of a place in Roman cuisine -- until I took a Northern Pastas class Grano & Farina. Having already mastered the dough-making/rolling out processes -- as will have you, if you've experimented with simple lasagne sheets and ravioli like I have -- my friend and teacher, the lovely and talented Julia, reminded me of this long-forgotten shape. With the help of a gnocchi board (the same one I'd used to make gnocchetti sardi back in June) and the accompanying wooden dowel (which came with the board, but whose purpose I hadn't yet figured out) she patiently instructed us how to make this pasta, advising on the proper angle of the board and the right amount of pressure to use (you can see her in action here) among other things. After promptly deciding that garganelli were most certainly the fancier, slightly more interesting older sister of penne pasta, I got to work mastering this shape, so as to be able to share it with you, my loyal readers (who hopefully love pasta as much as I do). 

Where to begin! Garganelli are ridge-y and quill-like, meaning they are toothsome and sauce-catching and perfect for serving with things like ragu', or prosciutto and peas, or sausage and mushrooms (in short: smooth sauces need not apply). However in keeping with my slightly-lighter recipe promise for January I'm showing them to you here tossed with a sauce I learned from my friend Carla -- a cozy and vegetarian-friendly "ragu'" made with creamy borlotti beans, slowly cooked tomatoes, lots of earthy parsley, and Parmigiano (optional but basically mandatory). This made for a perfect and beautiful and sublime dish of pasta, and I was truly sorry when the last garganello disappeared off my fork. Final verdict: to remake very soon, asap, absolutely, no doubt about it.

A couple of notes on egg pasta/pasta making in general, from Carla Tomasi, who first got me hooked on fresh pasta: Once you have rolled out your pasta, please keep pasta away from sunlight, too much breeze or heat. It will dry out too fast with the risk of crumbling once it is being cut.  It can be fully dried and kept in tight sealed boxes up to three months. However, if a cool spot for storing is not available it may be kept in the freezer for a long time. Concerning your pasta machine: do not wash with water and soap or a strong detergent. Use a brush to remove excess flour and just wipe with a damp cloth. Buff it up with a dry tea towel. Leave out on the worktop for a day and then turn the rollers few times and shake upside down to dislodge any piece of dough.

A couple of my notes: These garganelli also pair wonderfully with ragu' (this one here works particuarly well) or any other chunkier sauce that needs catching. As I mentioned above, I served these with a borlotti sauce made by Carla Tomasi, which worked splendidly; up to you! 

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

Serves 3-4.

Ingredients for the pasta:
3 medium eggs, the freshest you can find
00 Flour (you will calculate the weight of the flour based on the weight of the eggs; see above)

Ingredients for borlotti sauce:

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
2 sticks of carrot, finely chopped
1 can (28 ounce) good-quality crushed tomatoes or passata
2 cans of borlotti beans
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed
A generous handful of parsley, very finely chopped

You will also need:
A gnocchi board that comes with a wooden dowel, pictured below -- these can be found in most kitchen stores or on Amazon and do not cost much!
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions to make the borlotti sauce:
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large pan and saute the onion, celery, carrot, garlic cloves, and parsley until all the vegetables are soft and the garlic is fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Add the crushed tomatoes and let the sauce bubble vigorously for a bit, then lower the eat and let it simmer until reduced and the flavors have blended nicely. Add the borlotti beans, stir, simmer a bit more to let everything meld and taste for salt and pepper. Set aside. 

Directions to make fresh egg pasta, and how to shape it to make garganelli:
1. Start with your dough! Place a bowl on a scale and use the TARE option to eliminate it's weight; break the eggs into the bowl and measure the weight. In my case, the eggs weighed 165 grams. Beat your eggs together and set aside. Next, Measure out double the amount of flour (in my case, 165 x 2=330 grams of flour) and place it in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the eggs. Gradually, with the aid of a fork, work the eggs into the flour until you get a shaggy mass. If the dough is a little dry add a little cold water. 
2. Upturn the contents of the bowl onto a worktop (wooden preferably or maybe a large chopping board) and start to knead it. The pasta machine will do most of the work later so you only should knead the dough until it comes together. Unless your hands are very cold, body heat should work its magic on the eggs and turn the dough silky smooth. For a short explanation on how to knead the dough via my friend Carla, click right here!
3. Next, leave the dough under an upturned mixing bowl (or wrap in plastic wrap) to rest for at least 20 minutes. Note that at this stage, the dough may be refrigerated until the next day and slowly brought back at room temperature prior to use.

Once the dough has rested, you can start to roll it out in to sheets (hurray!) Set up your pasta machine, attaching the roller handle and securing it to a work table.Set the rollers to the widest setting (0 in my case). Divide up the dough in to four or so equal pieces. You will work with one piece at a time; take a piece of dough and keep the others covered.

4. Flatten the piece of dough out so that it will go easily through the pasta machine. Roll the dough through, fold the strip of dough like and envelope and roll it again. If the dough feels too sticky, dust it with a little flour. NOTE: never ever put any flour directly onto the rollers! Repeat this folding and rolling process about 5 times. Now that you have kneaded your dough, start to roll it out; set the machine one notch down (from 0 to 1, in my case) and pass the dough ONCE through the rollers (no need to fold it anymore). Continue, rolling the dough once through each successive setting, until you reach 6. If you start getting holes in the pasta or the edges are not smooth maybe some bits of unwanted pasta are causing the problems. Roll of the dough off and run your hand underneath the rollers. You most probably will find little bits of dough that are causing the pasta to tear when it is rolled out. Just wipe them off with your fingers. Do the same the three remaining pieces of pasta dough, cutting them in half once they are completely rolled out (to make them easier to handle, as the strip of pasta will be quite long!)

5. Next, cut your dough into small, even squares using a pasta cutter (the rolling kind) or simply a bench scraper, trying to make them more or less the same size.. Keep all squares covered with a clean tea towel so they don't try out. Take one square and, using your wooden dowel and gnocchi board, wrap the square around the dowel as you roll it down the board diagonally. You can see a demonstration of this here

6. Continue rolling out your dough, forming squares, and rolling garganelli until all the dough has been used up, keeping the garganelli lined up and separate from each other so they don't stick or get squashed (you can flour them a little if you'd like). 

7. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it generously, and cook the garganelli until tender but still al dente, about 4 or so minutes (taste periodically though -- this cooking time can vary). Toss the cooked garganelli with your sauce, top with some extra Parmesan, and eat immediately. 

Caponata di carciofi

I'm keeping my promise to post slightly more conscientious recipes in the first month of the new year -- you know, recipes free of butter/sugar/cheese and more like this soup here -- which actually hasn't been difficult at all. Despite the name of this blog, I actually am a big fan of vegetables -- truly, I am! -- and in the Winter everything from fennel to broccoli to kale to cauliflower are at their very best. Most importantly off all of course, there are -- 


A R T I C H O K E S. 

That’s right! My very favorite vegetable is back in season and will be here through to the Spring in all its spiky, emerald-violet splendor, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Rome – already a city that holds a special place in its (eternal) heart for veggies like pleasantly bitter cicoria and crisp, unruly puntarelle --  positively reveres artichokes (side note, I love living in a place who cares this much about vegetables). In markets here in the capital, you’ll find them stacked in impressive displays where they look far more like flowers than vegetables; inspected, admired hauled away by the bagful by the home cook; or see them artfully whittled down to their pale green interior in a flash, perfect for the cook with a little less time on their hands. In restaurants, you’ll find them fried whole until golden and potato chip-crisp (alla giudia), or braised until silky with garlic and parsley (alla romana) OR tossed with guanciale, Pecorino, and pasta (fresh tonnarelli, if you’re lucky). In my kitchen, you’ll find them cooked slowly with peas and fava beans to make vignarola, layered with pasta, bechamel, and cheese to make an artichoke lasagna, or, most recently, in this caponata di carciofi, aka artichoke caponata.

Now! If you’re thinking that caponata – hailing from Sicily, fyi -- is usually made with eggplant, you’d be right. Carla Tomasi – genius that she is! – taught me however that caponata can also be made with carciofi in place of the eggplant, neatly bringing this dish from Summer in to Winter and Spring. In true Tomasi fashion, this dish was a dream – a symphony of sweet, sour, salty, buttery, all at once! – and in true Bruzzese fashion, I knew at once that I had to recreate it in my own kitchen, mainly to have it on hand for eating whenever I pleased. This is my slightly altered version of the caponata I saw Carla make – a little more tomato, a little less sugar, fewer capers than the original recipe as written – and I find it to be, well, quite perfect. It’s tangy from the vinegar but also a little dolce from the sugar and slowly cooked red onion, which tempers the tomatoes perfectly; the pine nuts are crunchy, the olives briney, the capers punchy, the raisins sweet and juicy, and the artichokes! The artichokes here are mild and buttery and perfect against the backdrop of varied flavors, making for a dish where every bite is different and interesting. Speaking of artichokes – don’t be intimidated by them! Once you get past their sharp, leafy exterior, they're big softies, trust me – the artichoke prep process is really no big deal, and I actually find the whole thing to be sort of therapeutic (some people have knitting, or yoga; I have carciofi cleaning). 

A few more reasons to make this caponata, not that you needed them: it’s vegetarian! It’s vegan! It’s a substantial main for any vegetarian or vegan! it’s better when made ahead, has lots of nutritious things, and might be the best thing you make in 2020. 

A couple of notes: This is a good make ahead dish; the flavors improve the longer the caponata sits. It is quite flexible; feel free to alter the quantity of capers, pine nuts, raisins, etc to your taste as I did to mine. Finally, I chose to boil the artichokes here, but you can also saute them or even fry them if you want something a little richer. Also: my weekends are so very busy lately that I’ve not been able to cook and photograph, meaning this recipe was tested on weekday evenings, MEANING that there was no good light to take nice photos. Will update soon with photos taken with my trusty camera – in the meantime, I’ve shared those I took at the class where I originally learned this dish. 

Looking for other artichoke recipes? I've got these carciofi alla giudia, these carciofi alla romana, and this lasagne ai carciofi. Looking for other caponata recipes? I've got this classic eggplant caponata.

Recipe loosely adapted from a recipe given to me from Carla Tomasi, via a Sicilian cookbook (still have to get the name!) Serves 4.


3 large artichokes (I used carciofi romaneschi)
Olive oil
4 celery stalks
3 tablespoons capers, ideally packed in salt
About 4 ounces (100 grams) olives, pitted and sliced, whatever kind you like 
1 large red onion
1 1/2 cups (350mL) tomato sauce or good quality crushed tomatoes
3-4 tablespoons yellow raisins, soaked in water
1-2 tablespoons (about 12.5 to 25 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (50mL) red wine vinegar
A handful of basil leaves
A handful of pine nuts 

1.) Put a put of water on to boil -- you will need this to cook the celery and artichokes. Trim, peel, and slice the onion thickly. In a large deep frying pan, warm 4 tablespoons or so of olive oil over medium-low heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent.

2.) While the onion is cooking, get to work on your artichokes! Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a large bowl of cold water, add the lemon to the water, and set aside. If the stems of your artichokes are very long, cut them off only leaving a bit of stem attached to the artichoke. Using a sharp knife (though I prefer to use a vegetable peeler for this), trim away fibrous outer layer of the stem; you can tell what needs to be removed by looking at the base of the stem. You will see white in the middle surrounded by green -- the goal here is to get rid of the green so we only have the tender white part of the stem. Once trimmed, cut the stem in half and then in to smaller pieces. Put in to your bowl of lemon-y water. 

3.) Next, work your way around the artichoke and remove the tough outer leaves to expose the tender inner leaves. Cut off the spiky ends of the artichoke globe, then use a sharp knife to cut off the bits of artichoke base remaining from where you removed the tough leaves. Detach the trimmed stem and chop it in to pieces (lengthwise), then cut the trimmed globes into 8 wedges, removing away any hairy choke. Immediately, drop the wedges artichoke into the bowl of lemon-y water. 

4.) Trim the celery stalks of any tough ends or strings and cut in half, and then in to smaller pieces. Add the celery to your boiling water and cook until tender but still with a bite, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, add them directly to the pan with the onion (keep the water boiling, as you will need it for the artichokes) and cook for about two minutes. 
 Add the tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes to the pan, and cook for another few minutes and then add the capers, olives, raisins, and pine nuts, stirring well. 

5.) Add a good amount of salt to the same boiling water you used for the celery (this will flavor the artichokes) and then add your artichokes to the water. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until tender but still with a little bite. Drain.

6.) While the artichokes are cooking, make a well in the middle of the pan and add the sugar and the vinegar to it, allowing the sugar to dissolve in the heat. Stir and cook for a minute or two, tasting to see if it needs more sugar or vinegar. Turn off the heat, add the artichokes and rip the basil into the pan. Stir the mixture gently so that the artichokes remain in nice distinct pieces. Leave to sit for at least two hours, or better still several, turning once or twice. Enjoy!