Crema al Limone Gelato from Cinque Terre

I had to eat some before I took the photo… yum!

I have a rule when I go to Italy.  I eat gelato every day!  And if I miss a day I should have it twice the next.

I’ve had gelato all over Italy. But the best I ever had was discovered on the waterfront in the town of Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre in a shop called “Slurp… Gelato Artigianale”.  It was here and only here I found a flavor known as Crema al Limone made with the fresh local lemons and fresh cream. Other lemon gelatos I saw throughout Italy were not creamy but more like a sorbetto. This creamy version was so amazing I knew I had to learn how to make it and I nailed it on my first try!

 

 

The owner of the shop was super friendly.  I forgot to find out his name.  When I took his picture his friend had to get in it.

Owner of Slurp and his friend

The key to this gelato is the double whammy of freshly squeezed lemon juice (don’t use the bottled stuff!), and fresh lemon zest.  Feel free to sub some limoncello for some of the lemon juice for a different twist.

My beautiful wife and granddaughter

Gelato is not any more difficult than ice cream to make. First you make a custard with the dairy and egg yolks.  Then, once cooled you freeze it just like ice cream.  Ice cream makers mix in a little more air than is ideal for gelato.  If you want to make gelato all of the time you can buy a gelato maker but I find the results satisfactory with my ice cream maker.

I served this gelato at a dinner with some chef friends recently and everyone raved about it.  We had just finished a six course dinner so we were pretty full but this lemon gelato topped us off perfectly.

Train station in Monterosso

If you’ve never been to Cinque Terre this will give you one more reason to go.  But even if you can’t make the trip, this amazing gelato will transport you there.

Scroll down for the recipe or if you would like it in PDF format click here… Crema al Limone Recipe PDF

Buon appetito!

My version of Crema al Limone

The view from the tables across from Slurp

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My Winter & Spring Insalata Caprese… variations on a theme

Winter Insalata Caprese

Variations on a Theme:   On my catering menu I have seasonal variations of the classic Insalata Caprese… one is on my Winter Menu, so naturally I call it my Winter Insalata Caprese.  Then for this upcoming season I have… yeah you guessed it… a Spring Insalata Caprese.  So original, huh?  While the names might not be so original I feel that I have put my own creative twists on this Italian classic.  But why mess with perfection?

Traditional Insalata Caprese

A Simple Answer… a traditional Insalata Caprese is only good with fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes bursting with flavor.  And you don’t find those here in Seattle unless it’s mid-to-late-summer and you either grow them yourself or buy them at your local farm stand or farmer’s market.  I’ll come back to the tomatoes later.

At Frankie’s we did a couple of variations on the Insalata Caprese over the years, including this stacked version.  But we only offered it on our summer menu for the reasons listed.

Frankie’s Insalata Caprese – served in summertime

 

Other Key Ingredients:  Two other key ingredients on an Insalata Caprese are fresh mozzarella (the young, creamy version of mozzarella), and fresh basil.   We’re fortunate to live in an age when these items are readily available.  Almost every store carries fresh mozzarella, though as you might expect, some brands are better than others.  You can also get fresh basil almost year round around here.  I like to buy the live plants (which are grown in greenhouses).  The best plants I’ve found are at Trader Joe’s.  They have them nearly year-round now.

Another version of Frankie’s Insalata Caprese

 

Let’s Talk Cheese!  There are just minor variations between my Winter and Spring version of this salad.  On my Winter version I use burrata cheese which is a fresh mozzarella with a creamy filling.  It’s delicious!  For my Spring version I switch to authentic mozzarella di bufala (buffalo milk mozzarella).

We are not talking the American bison here.  This mozzarella is made from the milk of Italian water buffalo,  traditionally manufactured in Campania.  The authentic stuff has a DOP designation which translates Protected Designation of Origin.  This ensures it is made with the right ingredients, from the designated area, using the same recipe.

You can of course switch up either of these cheeses, or use a more moderately priced fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk.  But if you want to take it to another level, I suggest one of these.  I find the burrata at Trader Joe’s and the mozzarella di bufala at Costco.

Grilling Tomatoes

Optimizing Flavor of Off-Season Tomatoes:  Another difference with my variations is that I do not slice and layer these cheeses as you would in a traditional Insalata Caprese.  I leave the mozzarella balls whole and then top them with roasted tomatoes… actually to be more accurate I grill my tomatoes on my outdoor grill.  Why?  Because the best tomatoes this time of year are little ones… cherry tomatoes or something similar.  And the grilling, which I do with some extra virgin olive oil, really brings out the flavor!

My favorite tomatoes for grilling

My favorite tomatoes for this are from Trader Joe’s.  They are called “Heavenly Villagio Marzano Tomatoes” and are described as a Mini San Marzano Plum Tomato.  They are grown in greenhouses by Village Farms, and are really, really good, especially when roasted or grilled!

How I Grill the Tomatoes:  Easy… take some heavy duty foil, fold it two or three times to make it thicker, and fold up the edges to form a shallow vessel.  Drizzle olive oil on the foil, add the tomatoes and toss to coat with oil.  Then I grill them over medium to medium-high heat until they are softened, and some are a little blackened and start to burst.  Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.  If you don’t want to grill them you could accomplish the same thing in the oven using high heat (say about 425 F), or a broiler with the pan down a couple of levels from the top.

Another twist… Pesto: The next twist on my recipes is to top these salads with pesto instead of layering fresh basil leaves (there are no layers anyway).  I love the look and flavor of doing it this way.  On my Winter version I use an Arugula Pesto since arugula is a more seasonal winter ingredient, but you could use Basil Pesto if you prefer (homemade or store bought).  If making your own pesto, the Arugula Pesto recipe is very similar to my Basil Pesto recipe, and both are easy to make.  I prefer to make my own (make extra and freeze it!), because store bought brands almost always use inferior oils and cheeses.  But if you want to buy Basil Pesto I think the one from Costco is the best I have found.

Balsamic Glaze

Two More Flavor Enhancement Options:  To bring this to another level… first I like to add an artful drizzle of balsamic glaze.  You can make your own easy enough but this one I suggest buying.  One that I like is Nonna Pia’s which I got at Costco but I’m sure there are other good brands.

Secondly, top it all with a good coarse or flaky sea salt such as fleur-de-sel, maldon, or a flaky pink Himalayan salt.

Putting It All Together:  Okay, let’s put this all together now.  One important thing… when removing your fresh mozz or burrata from its brine, gently dry it with paper towels before using.

Slicing baguette

I like to use a narrow rectangular tray, platter, or cutting board for presenting this.  I place three or four balls of the mozzarella in a row… top with the roasted tomatoes… drizzle with pesto… and maybe with the balsamic glaze if you desire.

Wait… We’re Missing the Crostini!  Okay, last thing… serve this with toasted crostini.  I use baguettes because I like the size.  I slice the loaf at an angle, place the slices on a metal tray, and brush them lightly with extra virgin olive oil.  Then I toast them over medium heat on my barbecue

Grilled tomatoes and crostini

grill, flipping with tongs when ready, until toasty on both sides.  I do this ahead of time, when I grill my tomatoes, and then re-warm briefly in an oven before serving.  Place in a bread basket next to the Insalata Caprese.

All in all this may seem like a lot of steps but it’s really very easy and most of it can be done in advance.  Then it only takes a few minutes to assemble and serve.  Trust me, your guests will be impressed!

Time to eat.  Mangia, mangia!  Buon appetito!

Here is my Winter & Spring Insalata Caprese recipe as well as the recipe for Arugula Pesto.  You can find the recipe for my Basil Pesto on my most recent post (just keep scrolling down).

Below are the recipes for the Winter-Spring Insalata Caprese and Arugula Pesto.

If you’d prefer the Caprese recipe in PDF click here… Winter & Spring Insalata Caprese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d prefer the Arugula Pesto recipe in PDF click here… Fresh Arugula Pesto Recipe

 

Homemade Limoncello… so easy… start a batch now for Spring!

I am taking a brief unplanned diversion from my pizza series (I’ll do my third pizza post next week).  I recently posted a couple of pictures on Facebook of me starting a batch of Limoncello.  I got so many people asking for the recipe that I thought I better post it to avoid a rebellion.  I also mentioned a couple of dessert (dolce!) recipes made from the Limoncello.  I will post those soon.

About Limoncello:

Limoncello is a lemon liqueur which is primarily produced in the southern coastal areas of Italy, such as the gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.  It is made from fresh lemon peel, alcohol, water and sugar.  Traditionally it is served chilled (from the freezer) as an after dinner digestivo.

Limoncello is super easy to make; however it needs time to steep properly (weeks or even a month or two).  So start your batch soon so you can enjoy it when the weather warms up!

Recipes I’ve worked with vary widely in how long to steep the lemons in the alcohol, and then again after the simple syrup (of sugar and water) is added.  Essentially, the longer it steeps, the better it will be; yet you hit a point of diminishing return, where the differences are so subtle it is hard to even differentiate.  Here is a tip for you… if you want to speed up the process, you can always add more lemon peels than what the recipe calls for.  Just don’t go crazy or the lemon flavor might overwhelm.

What you will need:

In addition to the ingredients listed you will need a large glass jar, such as you would use to make sun tea. You will also need enough clear, sealable glass bottles to accommodate nearly 8 cups (about 1800 ml) of finished Limoncello. In my experience, World Market is a good place to find both the glass jar and the small bottles.  You will also need a veggie peeler (see note further down).

How to make it:

Unless you are using organic lemons, wash them with produce wash or soap to remove any residue of pesticides or wax.  Dry with a clean towel before proceeding.

The next step will be to remove the peel from the lemons in long strips using a vegetable peeler.  You want to avoid getting an excessive amount of the white pith, which will lend bitterness.  In the past I used an standard vegetable peeler and had a fair amount of the white pith, which I then tried to trim off with a pairing knife… a bit of a pain.  This time I used a Titan peeler (see photo left) and it was fabulous!  I was able to get clean strips of peel with almost no white pith!  So, I highly recommend buying one, though be careful, they are super sharp.  I cut my finger with it once so was a little intimidated.  But if you hold it properly and don’t peel toward your fingers, you’ll be fine.

 

After peeling the lemons, save what remains for another use (such as making fresh squeezed lemonade).

The next steps are to steep the lemon peels in alcohol and then later create a simple syrup which you combine with that, and then steep a bit longer.  I’ll refer you to the recipe for the rest of the information.  Be sure to read the Frankie’s Tips on page 2 of the recipe before proceeding.

Buon appetito!

Download PDF Recipe or Click on Recipe below

My new outdoor kitchen

Frankie and his new Italian Pizza Oven

I have just fulfilled a decades long dream!  I recently completed the addition of a beautiful outdoor kitchen at my home in Redmond, Washington.  I am a happy camper as they say.

My new kitchen includes an Italian wood-burning pizza oven made by Fontana Forni, a beautiful new Delta Heat grill made right here in the good old USA, a Blaze double ring power burner (that will boil a huge pan of pasta water in just minutes), and I built in a spot for old favorite stand-by… my wood charcoal burning Big Green Egg which I’ve had for about a decade (to which I added a rotisserie).  We also installed an outdoor heater to keep the covered portion warm and useable all winter.

Humble beginnings

The process started last spring.  I researched pre-fabricated islands and talked to others about building some or all of it for me, but when all was said and done I decided the only way to get what I wanted, in a timeframe I wanted, and at a price I could afford, was to build it myself.  Luckily I am now semi-retired so was able to devote a lot of time to it.

Siding begun

Forms for countertop complete

 

 

 

 

 

 

So last May I began to do just that.  It took a little convincing with my wife, who didn’t want to deal with a torn-up patio all summer, but I promised to keep the mess to a minimum (which I managed to do except when doing stonework), and get the project done as quickly as possible.

My original goal was to complete it before going on vacation in early July.  I wasn’t quite there but did manage to have it mostly complete and useable by the end of July.  There were finishing touches which took a few additional weeks but now it’s complete and I am extremely happy with the results.  AND, I managed to hit my budget!  It still was not cheap but I’m certain I would have spent at least twice what I did if I’d have had a contractor do the work.

Concrete work

I did hire out two things.  I had an electrician friend wire the outlets and the electric heater.  And I hired someone to do the concrete counter top, for which I built the forms.  I did the rest myself, including drawing up the plans, the framing, siding, stonework, tile, and cooking equipment installation (well I did hire my teenage grandson and his buddy to carry that big pizza oven).

Coming along

The remarkable part is that I was not experienced at much of what I did.  I’ve done some framing but had never done any stonework.  That’s where having good friends comes in.  I picked the brains of three contractor friends (and found out there are multiple ways to skin a cat!).  I received guidance from another friend who had done stonework (and borrowed his stonecutter).  And I utilized YouTube videos to fill in some gaps.  It’s amazing what you can learn on-line these days!

Joetisserie added to my Big Green Egg

Using my power burner

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy seeing these pictures of the job in progress, and a few of the meals we’ve been preparing.  I had a great time with this project and it was very rewarding.  The only thing better is the fun of cooking with all of my new toys!

Fontana Forni Pizza Oven

 

 

 

 

Celebrating with family. My son Chris.

Family fun. My sons Noah and Chris making pizza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPCOMING:  With this job complete I am ready to get back to some regular food blogging.  My ambition is to do a series on pizza making.  Look for the first post soon.

 

Finally! A successful Gelato recipe… Pistachio!

I love gelato!  At least I adore the gelato I have in Italy.  I have a strict personal policy… when in Italy, I must eat gelato every day!  And if I miss a day, I must have it twice the next day.  Now that is a rule I can live by.

I’ve always desired to have great gelato here at home, but until now I’d never had any as good as what I have had in Italy.  I’ve wondered if it is the magic of the place that makes it so good?  This may be partly true.  But I’ve also become convinced that nobody in my part of the world makes it as good.  This was true across the board… whether I purchased in a gelato shop, a grocery store, or an attempt to make it at home.  I’ve tried making gelato a few times and it never came out like the wonderful stuff I’ve had in Italy… until now! YES!

I took this recipe from a couple of different sources.  The custard base was adapted from the Best Recipe Italian Classics cookbook published by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  These people always test their recipes thoroughly.  The pistachio cream recipe I got elsewhere, and when I put the two together, well it was like magic happened.

This base has be cooked ahead of time and thoroughly chilled before churning.  It takes a little time but is well worth the effort. There was a lot of science and testing behind the procedures and temperatures for cooking the custard.  I cannot explain all of those here but please follow them as carefully as you can.

A gelato maker would be ideal for churning this, but I used my Cuisinart ice cream maker and was very satisfied with the results. What is the difference you ask?  Well a gelato maker only mixes in about half as much air as an ice cream maker, giving a denser consistency.  I don’t yet have a gelato maker.  I hope to one of these days, but they cost over $200 so its hard to justify unless I know I’m going to use it frequently.

Gelato is often viewed as a healthy alternative to ice cream due to it’s lower calorie content. This is because gelato is generally made with whole milk, or even 2% milk rather than cream. The lower butterfat is one reason it has more flavor, partly because the flavors are not coated over by fat.

Gelato also has a greater density and therefore you can eat less quantity and still be satisfied. So for those who are watching their waistlines, take heart, gelato may soon become your new midnight snack!

The other thing about gelato is the intensity of it’s flavors.  This recipe calls for making your own Pistachio Cream.  You can buy Pistachio Cream in some specialty grocery stores but this was easy to make.  It would not have been easy if I’d have had to shell all of the pistachios, but luckily I found raw, unsalted, shelled pistachios at my local Trader Joe’s.  With those in hand, it was easy.  I made mine in my blender, but I think it would be easier in a food processor.  I’ll find out next time.  Either way, get the cream as smooth as you can.  Then if you like you can add a few pistachios on top of the gelato when serving.

A few additional tips:

I highly recommend that you use an Instant Read Thermometer to keep track of
the temperature during the custard making.

Also, gelato is typically served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. It is best served either right from the ice cream/gelato maker, or frozen for up to a few hours prior to serving. If you freeze it overnight, I suggest pulling it out a little while before serving.

Hope you enjoy!  Buon appetito!                 Pistachio Gelato recipe

 

Pizza Rustica (AKA Torta Rustica, AKA Easter Pie)

Is it a pizza?  No, not really.

Ciao amici!  With Easter coming early this year I wanted to post this in time for you to consider making it for your Easter brunch or dinner.  It is well worth the effort involved.

This is not really a pizza in the traditional sense. It is often referred to as a torta, which I think is more accurate. In Naples and southern Italy it is traditionally served on Ash Wednesday and again on Easter so it is also known as Easter Pie.

 

This dish is very unique in that it combines a sweet, tender, egg pastry dough (what the Italians call pasta frolla) with savory fillings such as prosciutto, salami, eggs, and a blend of cheeses. The sweet-savory combination comes alive in your mouth. It is one of my personal favorites.

If you are having a party or an Easter brunch, and don’t mind going to a little trouble—this delightful, unusual dish will impress your guests like few others. It looks gorgeous. It’s delicious. And it tastes unlike anything they’ve ever had before. We made it for one of our Frankie’s wine dinners and it was one of the most popular dishes we’ve ever served. It may be served hot or at room temperature.

Buon appetito!

Pizza Rustica Recipe PDF

 

 

A great time for Tuscan Clam Sauce

Ciao friends!

If you are like me you sometimes think of summer as seafood season. But clams are best in the winter.  This recipe was published in my cookbook, Frankie at Home in the Kitchen, still available online as an eBook.

I really love traditional clam sauce, but this Tuscan variation with the addition of some crushed tomatoes is really amazing.  This recipe is best with fresh clams, but for a simple, and still delicious weeknight dinner, you can make it with canned clams.  You could make this with spaghetti or another long pasta if you prefer but I really like the linguine.  It holds the sauce better and has more body to it.

Nobody likes eating sand with their clams so be sure to read my Frankie’s Tips on how to purge the sand from fresh clams.  

One other Frankie’s Tip… this one for Food Safety.  Be sure to discard any clams which do not open up when you cook them!  This means those clams were not alive to begin with and may be contaminated with bacteria or toxins.

Buon appetito!  Frankie

Recipe for Linguine with Tuscan Clam Sauce