lunedì 30 novembre 2009

Torta marmorizzata or “Marble cake”: classics never die


This post is a random repechage of what I wrote on Nov 22nd as the second post to this blog: last night, while posting the vegetarian stir fry recipe through Windows Live writer - an amazing tool lacking in clarity as to how to save new posts without overwriting the previous ones- I accidentally deleted that post. Surely I am no geek (this is one a big truth) but on my side I have to firmly assess that I know a “save button” when I see it (or a pop-up saying “you are deleting the previous post…are u sure???”). Ok, maybe I am rambling, but this is how it - roughly - went

A few nights ago I had a chocolate craving, that subtle, instant need for the most wonderful anti-depressive substance ever discovered by mankind: cocoa.

We were watching “Night at the museum 2” - an awful movie with great visual effects – when I caught myself wanting a fluffy, chocolate-y something to munch: I had no comfort food matching these characteristics at hand, so I arranged a quick dessert by melting dark chocolate with a dash of milk in the microwave and use it to glaze a left-over shortcake I made for a blueberry shortcake experiment  (yum!).

At that point the night was saved, yet my chocolate thirst was far from being quenched.

A quick detour (I promise I have a point): lately I had dreamt of my grandma Rosina, my father’s mother, a smart, open-minded, sensitive  Catholic woman (yeah, Catholic AND open-minded, amazing uh?) who was literally the CEO of a kitchen feeding 15 people on a daily basis. Nana arranged meals for her husband, 2 children, her old mother and her nurse (who brought home some of the food she made to the 3 members of her family), her unmarried sister in law, 2 nieces and an obnoxious brother in law who had a sweet wife - zia Angelina – who served as co-cook. She wasn’t exactly a subtle chef, yet  Nonna Rosina literally majored into an Italian classic, torta marmorizzata, a simple yet rich marble cake she called “Notte e Dì”, Night and Day. How evocative!

This reminiscing + my extra hunger for chocolate resulted into this lovely recipe (here’s the point!), that definitely helped me feed the chocolate beast inside.

This cake is really simple and, like Proust’s madeline, it brings back memories of time spent with Nana telling me stories about family people I have never met and about her hometown village Tufo, where our family owned a chestnuts wood (and still owns actually, only I think there must be 15 heirs or so by now ).

As I said, Nana was a smart woman, extremely social and charitable: she was always busy visiting someone in need, in pain, on the verge of delivering or who had just delivered a child. The usual setting of all this “visiting” activity was our little town, Scurcola Marsicana, where she managed to cook for loads of people with her kind-hearted way, always wearing a warm smile and lavishing silent and heartfelt prayers.

Mind you, being such a busy PR person didn’t make her the most focused cook, still she made 2 or 3 dishes like no other, and this cake is among those three points of excellence. Unfortunately I don’t have the original recipe, first because grandma never wrote it -  she eyeballed almost every recipe she made – second because I always forget to ask my cousin Francesca, the only one who ever cared to put it down in measurements, to pass it on. So, when I thought of making Notte e Dì in I started from this recipe and some adjustments to match my memories: and the result was surprisingly close to the original!

Ah, the good ol’ times…


150 grams sugar

150 grams butter at room temperature

100 grams rice flour

200 grams all-purpose flour (Italian 00)

1 phial of vanilla essence (1 teaspoon)

20 grams chocolate chips

4 eggs

75 ml milk

60 gr dark, unsweetened cocoa

pizzico abbondante di sale

2 tbsp baking soda 


1 I creamed sugar and butter in a bowl, then gently added the eggs, mixing with a wooden spoon ( if the butter is at real room temperature there’s no need for an electric whisk)

2 Add the flours and the baking soda, mixing in the milk as you go on. Add the vanilla essence.

3 Once the Day is ready,make the Night dividing  the batter between to bowls: add the cocoa and the chocolate chips to one of the two, and if the result is too thick add a couple of spoons more of milk, so it will loose a bit.

4 Add the two batters in spoonfuls in a bundt-shaped cake pan, previously greased with butter and dusted with all-purpose flour; distribute the batter alternating chocolate and vanilla. Once it’s done, use the back of a wooden spoon to trace circles in the cake pan. This will mix the colors creating the elegant marble effect.

5 Put in the middle rack of the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes. I have a very aggressive oven  so it only took me 30 minutes to get it done. I suggest you insert a toothpick into the cake to check if it comes out clean.

It should look like this:

amazing marble cake - photo by kitchn dahling all rights reserved  
Enjoy with a warm cup of Earl Grey tea!


P.S. I thought it was curious to add that Nana also cooked for her husband’s manpower everyday: these people brought  metal bowls working as sort of Tupperwares,  filled with polenta, oat meal, pasta or boiled potatoes to work where grandma – at midday everyday - would add stew or sauce made with meat and vegetables. She did so, so that every person could enjoy a warm, nourishing meal at least once a day. Even the wine was a collective benefit: our family made 3000 liters of red wine every year and even if - as my dad recalls - it had an awfully bitter taste, it quenched the thirst of family members as well as co-workers’. Not a drop seems to have ever gone wasted.

Nana took care of feeding anyone who came to her home all through her life, cooking for the workers, for her mother’s nurse Vittoria and her family, and for almost everyone she knew who needed extra help: when times got better for all, she kept on making cakes for every neighbor, friend and villager she knew, sometimes making 10 in one day… her sister called her “Aggiungi un posto a tavola” (verbatim: add a seat at the table), from a famous Italian musical theater play.

I hope I get to be nicknamed like that someday soon. She simply was amazing… ciao nonnì!

domenica 29 novembre 2009

Back after a long weekend away: Savory Veggie Rice, a quick answer to “what do I make for dinner tonight?”


I am sure you know the feeling when you get to go away for a long well deserved weekend after a long, tiring week at work (week? sorry I meant MONTH!). So, this weekend I had my treat for I took the friday off and started enjoying freedom one day in advance.

Friday was spent doing all sorts of things I can’t get hold of during the week: I went to the dentist, walked to the city centre and bought a few cosmetics I really needed to replace in my beauty case and went to my new home to meet the funny team made by my architect+electrician+construction manager to decide where the lights+electric plugs are meant to be in the kitchen (VITAL!) and basically all over the place.

It took more than expected but when we finally drove back to where we still live now (Ioska and I met directly at the team’s rendez vous) we had a quick lunch consisting of a stir fry of Nuremberg’s sausages and cabbage served on grilled dark home-made bread. Not heavy, not light if you ask me: just perfect if completed with a little glass of white wine and a nice espresso.

After lunch we chilled out for half an hour, packed and headed to Trento, a beautiful town in Trentino 3 hours away from Milan: a land of fine mountains, amazing wines (whites my favorites, but reds - like Teroldego Rotaliano or Marzemino - as charming as my top-of-the-list Muller Thurgau), delicious salami (ah, Luganega!) and a lovely, little, energetic, skilled cook called Adriana, aka my boyfriend’s grandmother.

Adriana was waiting for us, her usual affectionate but brisk way and her great shape ( at 80 she mounts little stools like a young woman of 20, without any help from us nor from any handhold) only the frame to a characteristically trentino, clear-headed and straight-forward manner I have learnt to love during the years. Knowing me and Ioska as foodies, she cooked all sorts of amazing dishes: canederli (knodels), polenta with sour krauts and pork (in different cuts: smoked roast, sausage and cotechino), strudel, all served with a nice Marzemino wine, a red with great body but  “only” 12% alcool.

In order to bring back home some of these wonderful tastes, Saturday was devoted to buying typical products in Levico Terme, a nice village where they set up in the Hapsburgian Gardens, the most enchanting Christmas market I have seen lately(even if I heard that Bolzano’s is twice as big and twice as nice) .

Ioska was as taken as I am,we dragged ourselves from a stand to another until the cold became so unbearable we bought some biscotti in a nice patisserie in the main street, and went to our friend Tommy’s home where we had a wonderful tea waiting for the evening plans to unroll.

We spent the night to a concert, then to a party, then back to Tommy’s home where we had pasta at 3 in the morning while chatting about art, politics, expectations and (wonder) homes! When we finally went to bed we woke up at what felt like 5 minutes after bedtime,  just in time to go back to Trento, have lunch with Adriana and her daughter – Ioska’s aunt – Dorotea, and then drive back to Milan filled with the family’s attention, our friend Tommy’s company and Trentino’s delicacies.

So, tonight, we arrived home after this scrumptious weekend with a need for warmth (the air was chilly, my sore throat a mess and the rain not wanting to stop) and a simple meal: the fridge was almost devoid of fresh goods, only a couple of zucchini and a bunch of fresh carrots I randomly bought during the week when I decided to make stock.

To me, the best way to combine these two veggies is to stir fry them with onion to make a mixture that begs to be added to neutral ingredients like eggs or rice (or both). This dish, which is baptized under the name of “quick veggie rice” is easy to make, fulfilling, tasty and light, and it makes a perfect dinner after a long weekend of culinary indulgence.

To make it


100 grams rice, boiled in water added with dried vegetarian broth 

2 large zucchini, thinly sliced (1/2 cm) with a mandolin

2 carrots, cut into a large julienne with a potato peeler

1/2 big red onion or 1 whole small one, thinly sliced

a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan

4 tbsp extra vergin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon  garlic paste (or a garlic clove cut in two pieces so it’s easy to remove)

salt & pepper

some drops of soy sauce (optional)


1 I heated 2 tbsp of oil and the garlic paste in a large pan for 2 minutes, then settled the slices of zucchini in a large layer ( as large as possible so to cover the bottom evenly) and let them cook for 4 minutes before I stirred for the first time.

2 I “tumbled” the zucchini instead of turning them with a wooden spoon: this lets you check if the lower side touching the pan has browned already without scrambling the slices (being very thin they break very easily). Also, tumbling will allow the slices that don’t reach the bottom of the pan to soak gently in the oil once they have swapped places with the lower layer (and have their chance to brown). Let cook for 5 minutes turning the zucchini upside down twice to check if they have all browned and almost cooked through. Salt and set aside in a small bowl.   

3 In the same pan, I added the last 2 olive oil tablespoons with the thinly sliced onions and let them cook on high heat for two minutes until they have become translucent: I added the carrots’ julienne, salt, pepper and let it brown nicely on medium heat adding a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan when the carrots have started to stick slightly.

4 Once the wine has evaporated, I added the zucchini back in the pan and let the aromas blend, adjusting seasoning if needed. I turned the heat off and set aside (covered) until it was time to serve.

5  I boiled the rice in a pot using the infusion method: I put the thai rice (even if any long grain variety will do) in the pot covering it with cold water (1,5 cm above the rice level). I added a teaspoon of dried vegetarian broth and let cook covered for 10 minutes until the liquid has evaporated completely. You’d better start with very low heat so the “broth” has time to infuse in the rice.  Mind you, if the rice  is done before all the water has gone, uncover and let the rice go on a higher heat until the liquid has disappeared. Stir and let rest for 3 more minutes covered, or until the rice is soft enough to your taste.

6 Fill single serving cups with the rice and add a nice amount of veggies over it: I like my serving garnished with some drops of soy sauce and olive oil, but you can skip this step if you want.

Serves a couple of hungry two or 3 decent people keen on having dessert too. Enjoy!

quick savory veggie rice - photo by kitchn dahling - all rights reserved

sabato 7 novembre 2009

november 7th, day one

First and foremost: my native language is not English.
Then why writing my first blog ever in English if this might imply a possible lack in correctness, you might wonder. Well, I have been reading loads of food blogs lately, and the best ones were all written in English: English is clear, minimal and straightforward while still allowing a powerful and entertaining prose (ah! all those neologisms, those onomatopoeias!) .
Plus, English speaking blogs in general are the best on the Net, and - last but not least- English is my second language being my granpa American and my mom ("just") a naturalized American ( who never uttered a word of English all through her life to be honest...not until last summer when, at 53, she went to the U.S. for the FIRST TIME and discovered she could interact perfectly with everybody in New York): in short, this is a language I love to speak, to write, to read and sometimes to dream in.

As of me as a cooking passionate, I have had this "thang" with cooking ever since I was a kid, although it never occurred to me this could be something I would once wish to share with others (at least on a theoretical level...unless you all intend to show up for dinner one day or the other): recipes, new ingredients discoveries, tastes from travels around the world or thoughts on how food can speak louder than some "I love yous", are some things I can't seem to be able to keep to myself any longer, so why not take advantage of this brilliant, entertaining way to express oneself that is a food blog? Plus with English I reach more people, so the more the better.

Then so be it: English, Latin, Sasckrit or Italian (ta da! my native language) who cares? Let's all be entertained under the sublime mark of good food.
Buon appetito!