Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kolokythopita (Squash Pie) Two Ways

Winter squash is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and carotene

Although I cherish the traditional Greek recipes of my mother, grandmothers and aunts and incorporate them daily into my family’s diet, I enjoy reading up on recipes from different islands and areas of Greece as dishes can change dramatically from city to city, island to island. One of my favorite sources for island recipes is Aglaia Kremezi’s The Foods of the Greek Islands – Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean. For the last seven years, I thumb through the pages every now and then to get a fresh perspective on traditional dishes from the islands of the Dodecanese, the Ionian, the Cyclades, Crete and Cyprus. Kremezi, a photojournalist and food columnist, includes great recipes for appetizers, pies, vegetables, breads, meat, poultry, seafood and dessert and complements each with anecdotes of her trips to the islands to obtain the recipes and info on the origin of each dish.

When I saw Ivy’s Savory Pies event over at Kopiaste I decided to take the traditional route and put together a kolokythopita, one of my favorite of all the Greek “pites.” Of course, a kolokythopita can take on many forms and flavors – I’ve always made it savory using summer squash (like zucchini) or any winter squash (usually butternut or acorn) combined with feta, onion, eggs and different herbs. In her book, Kremezi features one such kolokythopita in which she uses pumpkin, fennel, onion, bulgur and feta highlighting that this is a typical dish found across the island of Chios. I tweaked the recipe here using short grain rice as opposed to bulgur and Carnival squash as opposed to pumpkin. It turned out to be a hearty pie and with a side of salad or a bowl of soup, could be turned into a meal in and of itself.

But one pie this week just wasn’t enough … Kremezi also discusses a variation of the kolokythopita made in certain villages on Chios that uses cinnamon and sugar to complement the pumpkin. I set out to replicate this sweeter version of the kolokythopita as I find cinnamon and sugar to go amazingly well with winter squash. You'll find my recipe below.

Kali Orexi!

Kolokythopita with Fennel
Adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands

1 Carnival Squash (or any other winter squash), peeled and diced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
1/3 cup short grain rice
½ cup chopped fennel fronds, or dill
1 ½ cups crumbled feta
2/3 cup grated pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe Cretan Phyllo (recipe to follow)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions until soft. Add the squash and fennel and increase the heat to high and cook until squash is softened. Throw in the rice, salt and pepper and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chopped fennel fronds or dill, cover and let stand for 15 minutes or so.
Stir the feta and pecorino Romano into the filling mixture.
Roll out the phyllo to overhang a well oiled 13x9 inch rectangular baking pan and carefully layer it into the bottom. Add the filling. Roll out remaining phyllo and fit to the top of the filling, trimming the sides as necessary and pinching it closed with the bottom layer. Brush the top of the pie with milk or sprinkle with water and bake in a 350F degree oven until golden.

Cretan Phyllo
From The Foods of the Greek Islands

3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
½ cup vodka
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
About 2/3 cup water

Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined. With the motor running add the vodka, lemon juice, and oil. Then add just enough water to make a soft dough. Let rest in processor for 15 minutes. Process for a minute longer or until it seems elastic. Let rest again in the food processor for 20 minutes or so.
On a lightly floured surface knead the dough briefly until it is smooth. Divide the dough according to your recipe (cover remaining dough with plastic wrap while rolling out the other).
**This dough is also great when used to fry individual pies (bourekia) as it takes on the texture of a rustic puff pastry.

Glykia Kolokythopita

1 Acorn squash, peeled and grated
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup short grain rice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Myzithra cheese
2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 sheets ready-made phyllo

Combine grated squash, sugars, rice, oil, cheese and cinnamon. Oil a 9-inch pie dish.
Lay out phyllo and layer first sheet into pie dish so that nearly half over hangs one side. Brush phyllo with oil and layer next sheet overhanging the opposite side of the pie dish and brushing with oil before continuing with the remaining 4 sheets (alternating which sides of the pie dish the phyllo overhang). Fill phyllo with squash filling and begin turning down the layers that overhang the dish, oiling each layer as you go.
Bake in a 350 degree oven until golden.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


U2 is among my favorite bands and I was lucky enough to see them in concert once, be it over 11 years ago, during their 1997 PopMart tour. I was thrilled to get tickets and it was a great show--despite the steady rain, crowds packed Giant’s Stadium.

The concert’s set design was among U2’s most elaborate, complete with a huge LED screen, a 100-foot high golden arch, a 40-foot motorized lemon mirrorball and a 12-foot olive atop a 100-foot cocktail stick. The lemon mirrorball was created as a reference to U2’s “Lemon,” a track from their 1993 Zooropa album. To start the second half of the PopMart concert, the group walked out of their 40-foot citrus fruit to the tune of the “Lemon” Perfecto remix and onto the B-stage for an encore. The show ended with my favorite U2 song (my favorite song period, actually), “One.”

The Eat to the Beat event created by Elly of Elly Says Opa! inspired me to cook up this Asparagus and Dill Avgolemono (Egg Lemon Soup) to the beat of “Lemon.” I’ve always made avgolemono with chicken soup, giouvarlakia or the Greek fricassee, so this was a slight deviation but just as delicious. The flavorful combination of asparagus, leeks and celery finished off with a frothy egg-lemon mixture and the sweet somewhat licorice-like flavor of dill really made for a satisfying and fairly elegant soup.

Asparagus and Dill Avgolemono Soup

Adapted from a recipe found in Gourmet

3 pounds asparagus
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek, white part coarsely chopped and washed well
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups water
3 large eggs
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup minced fresh dill

Trim off ends of asparagus and using a vegetable peeler remove about 3 to 4 inches of the skin of each stalk, reserving both the ends and peels. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces, reserving tips for garnish. In a saucepan combine the asparagus peels and trimmings with the chicken stock, bring to a boil, remove from heat and allow stock to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain stock and reserve.

In a pot of salted boiling water blanch the asparagus tips for 2 to 3 minutes, or until bright green and barely tender. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water. When tips are chilled, drain and reserve.

In a large pot heat the olive oil over moderate heat and cook the leeks, onion and celery, seasoned with salt and pepper, until softened. Add the 1-inch asparagus pieces and stir to combine. Add the infused stock and water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until asparagus is tender. In a blender puree the soup, in batches, until smooth. Return pureed soup to large pot and let cool to lukewarm. In a heatproof bowl whisk together eggs and approximately 1/4 cup lemon juice, adding 1 cup of the lukewarm soup in a stream, while whisking constantly. Whisk the egg mixture into the remaining soup. Cook the soup over moderately low heat without boiling, whisking constantly until thickened slightly. Whisk in minced dill, additional lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Serve soup hot or chilled, garnished with the asparagus tips.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thank You

As I have been trying to get the hang of this whole blogging thing, I've forgotten to formally thank one individual who has ventured to show me the ropes. Ivy of Kopiaste has been kind enough to act as my blog's "Nona" (Greek for Godmother) and I thank her dearly for explaining many a things regarding the blogging process and for making me feel like I have known her for years, even though we've exchanged only a few e-mails for just under a month. I especially thank her for awarding me, among others, the:

Ivy, your acknowledgment is greatly appreciated and, again, thank you for all your help. Se euxaristw para polu kai na se panta kala!

In turn, I would like to pass this award on to all the blogs listed in my blog list as I feel they are all innovative, informative and indeed brilliant.

Peter of Kalofagas -- thank you for being one of the first to visit my blog and for your kind comments!

Ivy of Kopiaste -- Polla filia kai xilia euxaristw!

Peter of Souvlaki For The Soul -- also a big euxaristw to you Peter for visiting and leaving me your kind words!

I don't personally know the rest, but again I've read and continue to read your blogs and feel your efforts are well deserving of this recognition ...

Jenn of The Left Over Queen

Ruth of Once Upon A Feast - Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories

Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy

Michelle of Bleeding Espresso

Elly of elly says opa!

Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast

Wannabe Gourmet

Melissa of Love At First Bite

ChichaJo of 80 Breakfasts

Ivonne of Cream Puffs In Venice

Brilliant Weblog is a prize given to sites and blogs that are smart and brilliant both in their content and their design. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.
Here are the rules to follow:
When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back.
Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’.
Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).

O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness

After reading Jenn The Leftover Queen’s post on Gina DePalma’s battle with ovarian cancer, I was inspired to participate in her joint effort with Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso to raise awareness of this disease. Their call for O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness prompted me to put together this refreshing salad featuring oranges, onions and olives. It's a simple dish and a simple post as I would rather the attention be placed on the much more complex and ever so significant subject at hand, ovarian cancer.
My heartfelt wishes go out to Gina DePalma, the inspiration for this event.

O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of Gina DePalma, author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen and Executive Pastry Chef of Babbo Ristorante in NYC, who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy, Jenn of The Leftover Queen, and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso are asking you to donate to the:

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (via FirstGiving.org)

and then, out of the goodness of your hearts and to be eligible for the O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Contest, please do the following:

1. Post a recipe to your blog using a food that starts or ends with the letter O (e.g., oatmeal, orange, okra, octopus, olive, onion, potato, tomato) and include this entire text box in the post;


2. If you’re not into the recipe thing, simply post this entire text box in a post on your blog to help spread the word about the event and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.


3. Then send your post url [along with a photo (100 x 100) if you've made a recipe] to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on September 30, 2008.

We will post a roundup and announce prize winners on October 3.

  • 1 Recipe Prize for best “O food” concoction: $50 gift certificate to Amazon;
  • 1 Awareness Prize for only publicizing event: Copy of Dolce Italiano cookbook.


From the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund:

  • Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1 in 67.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that 21,650 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. in 2008 and about 15,520 women will die from the disease.
  • The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, making it difficult to diagnose. There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests which can detect ovarian cancer when patients are at high risk or have early symptoms.
  • In spite of this patients are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. Only 19% of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region.
  • When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%.

    Please donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
    and help spread the word!


Orange, Olive and Onion Salad

2 medium oranges, rind and pith removed
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Half a small red onion, thinly sliced
Splash of cider vinegar
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped lettuce (I used Romaine)

Slice orange sections over a bowl to catch juices and stir together with olives, sliced onion, cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add lettuce and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
I paired this light and fresh salad with simply roasted chicken breasts—which I seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzling of olive oil along with some chopped parsley gently pushed under the skin—and cooked in a 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Burgers and Fries

We’ve taken the kids out to some farms the last couple of weekends to do some apple picking (to be the topic of a later post), pumpkin picking and to enjoy the outdoors before the weather changes. Luckily, we’ve picked up some great fruits and vegetables from these local farms which have made for some great dishes over the last couple of weeks. A farm we visited out on Long Island had gorgeous homegrown tomatoes, squash, lettuce, beets, potatoes, broccoli, onions, corn and more. Unfortunately, I always buy so much that in the end I don’t know where to store it all. Thank goodness the variety of squash I brought home held up well the last two weeks and we got to enjoy it in a number of ways.
Last night, I was in the mood for a burger so I put together these Feta Burgers in a jiffy and served them up with some oven baked Acorn Squash "Fries." I used mint I’d dried after collecting it fresh from our garden to flavor the ground beef. It was a quick and ultra easy meal--one loved by the kids and us adults alike.

Feta Burgers with Yogurt Sauce

1 1/2 lbs ground beef, or a combination of ground beef, veal or pork
One large onion, grated
One teaspoon dried mint
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup crumbled Feta
One clove garlic, minced

Yogurt Sauce:
1/3 cup Fage Yogurt
½ teaspoon Dijon
One small clove garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Sliced onion and tomatoes
4 Pitas

Combine ground beef with remaining ingredients and knead briefly to incorporate. Form into large patties. Heat grill pan or griddle and place patties on to cook once hot. Cook burgers about 5 minutes on each side.
Meanwhile, combine yogurt, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper and stir well. Heat pitas through and cut into fourths. Top each burger with onion, tomato and yogurt sauce and place between two slices of pita. Serve with Acorn Squash “Fries” (peeled, sliced acorn squash tossed with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, arranged in a single layer on a baking sheet and roasted in a 375 degree oven until tender and browned).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quick Weekend Pasta

Leonetto Cappiello

I’m a sucker for pasta. I can eat it with just about anything. Give me linguine with seafood, give me fettuccine Alfredo, give me penne with sauteed broccoli rabe, give me rigatoni Bolognese, give me ... well, I can go on and on with this list forever. I simply love it all. Just picture me as the harlequin in the vintage ad above -- so buoyant and ecstatic over a heaping plate of pasta.
As I was packing for our return home from Greece earlier this month, my husband’s parents, aunt and uncle were bombarding me with things they thought I should bring back. Among the olives, honey, oregano, chamomile, almonds, pistachios and raisins were also bags of pasta made by his aunt’s neighbor. As I’ve never gotten around to making my own pasta--although I have bought fresh pasta from a great Italian store in our neighborhood--I graciously accepted the homemade goods and tucked them safely away in my duffel.
The pasta were flat, wide, wavy three- to four-inch long pieces that worked well with this sausage and porcini mushroom cream sauce I paired them with this weekend. The Italian sausage I used was made with broccoli rabe and Parmesan, which added another depth of flavor to the dish as well.

I'm submitting this dish to Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast, creator and this week's host of Presto Pasta Nights.

Pasta with a Sausage and Porcini Mushroom Sauce
Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 Italian sausage links
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ oz. dried Porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, rinsed over and blanched 2 tablespoons sherry
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pound of pasta
½ cup pasta cooking liquid
Chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Remove sausage from casings and add to hot skillet, breaking it up into smaller chunks with a wooden spoon as you go. Once the sausage has browned, add the garlic and mushrooms and saute for a minute more. Add sherry and deglaze the pan.

Meanwhile cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water. Before straining the pasta, remove ½ cup of cooking liquid and add to the sausage mixture. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the heavy cream and continue to simmer until sauce is slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a couple of spoonfuls of sauce to pasta and toss to coat.
Top individual portions of pasta with sausage and mushroom sauce just before serving and sprinkle with chopped parsley and grated cheese.

Friday, September 19, 2008


As a kid I remember eating beets once a year—on Palm Sunday when we would sit down to the customary Greek lunch of bakaliaro (fried salt cod), skordalia (garlic dip) and boiled beets made every year on this holiday. And I’m pretty sure I still ate beets only on Palm Sunday right up until I was married and began testing the cooking waters for myself. I now make beets at least every other week and I’ve even gotten my mom to make them occasionally (on days other than Palm Sunday).
At first I would buy some fresh beets, boil them and then serve topped with some oil and vinegar. That is until I tried out a great recipe from Gourmet that I use religiously now and which has gotten much acclaim by family and friends whenever served. The original recipe calls for using canned beets, but I love the taste of fresh beets as compared to canned. So I always make my own—oh, and I don’t just boil my beets anymore. A few years ago I realized I can bake beets wrapped in aluminum foil just as I would potatoes. The earthy flavor of the beets after cooking in the oven is unparalleled. I like to add this as a side dish to simply roasted or grilled meats like beef, lamb or pork. And be sure to stick with the cider vinegar cited in the recipe—it makes all the difference.

Beets with Caramelized Onions and Feta

(Adapted from a recipe found in Gourmet Magazine)

Serves 6

Six well sized beets, ends cut away and skins scrubbed clean
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup feta crumbled

Wrap the cleaned beets in aluminum foil and prick with a fork. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until a knife can easily run through them. Remove and let cool slightly. Unwrap and peel away the skin. In a small bowl combine the cider vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper and slowly whisk in the 3 tablespoons of oil. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook onions combined with about ¼ teaspoon salt until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add onions to the dressing. To serve in individual plates, cut beets crosswise into thin rounds and top with some onions and crumbled feta. To serve as a salad, slice beets crosswise and then cut into half moons. Gently stir in the caramelized onions and top with crumbled feta just before serving.

Pork Loin Conundrum

So I’ve tried my hand at roasting a simple pork loin a number of times. The result: a dry, tasteless slab of pork that no amount of sauce or gravy could save. I’ve rubbed, I’ve stuffed, I’ve plain old seared then thrown into the oven, but no matter what my approach, what I’ve gotten in the end is an awkward look my from husband as he sinks his teeth into what’s really shoe leather disguised as pork.
Yes, my futile attempts at perfectly roasting or baking—whatever you’d like to call it—a nicely cut piece of pork have been discouraging. But I won’t give up. I will fight this battle until I’ve won—I wasn’t born a Taurus for nothing. And I think I’ve finally figured out a way to do so.
My husband and I were able to renovate the outdated kitchen in our new home this past spring and as such I’m lucky enough to have some new appliances to help with my cooking adventures. Nothing high-end or super spectacular, I’ll admit, but new nonetheless. Anyhow, our pretty standard oven apparently came with this contraption that appeared to be a thermometer of sorts, but which I tossed into a drawer during the clean-up process following the renovations and our move into the new house. Now, I’ve had a manual instant read thermometer sitting in its package in the back of a kitchen drawer for at least two years now. Why haven’t I used it you ask? I don’t know … I’ve always kind of played it by ear when roasting, baking, grilling my meats and things have turned out just fine (except for the whole pork thing). But when I found a juicy piece of pork loin calling out to me in our local meat market the other day, I resolved to buy the darn thing and let my virgin meat thermometer work some magic.
After prepping the pork (I simply rubbed some garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and olive oil into the meat), I came across the wire/probe thingamajig that came with the new oven while searching for the meat thermometer. I decided it was time to figure out what this thing was, so I rifled through the appliance manuals I’ve left in one of the kitchen drawers and got to reading. Wouldn’t you know it? The contraption is actually a meat thermometer, one end of which is placed into the meat and the other into an outlet within the oven. Press a few buttons on the digital keypad and … voila! The oven, as I fervently write this post, is roasting the pork until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, is it just me or is that pretty cool?

It’s an hour or so later and the oven’s declared the meat has reached 155 degrees, I’ve let the pork sit for 10 to 15 minutes tented with aluminum foil and with fork and knife in hand I am now ready to carve, and … drum roll please … I won the battle! The pork is tender and juicy and my overly enthused husband is ecstatic he’ll finally get to taste what a truly well cooked piece of pork loin should taste like.

P.S. I served the pork loin with some beets over caramelized onions topped with crumbled feta and a cider vinegar dressing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My husband and his friends usually get to go fishing twice a year, once early in the summer and once in Mid-September. They usually tag along on one of the day boats that set out from Long Island’s Orient Point. I must admit I usually nag at the fact that he gets to spend a whole day with his buddies—I don’t think I’ve gotten to spend more than a couple of hours (that’s total over the last four years) alone with friends since I had these two little beings currently running laps around my kitchen wearing a shoe on each hand. Yes, I said a shoe … on each hand.
Luckily, my husband never comes back empty handed. Actually, there’s usually a freezer full of Porgies for him to show off afterwards. And now that my kids love to eat fish, it’s great that he can bring home a fresh catch for them. My daughter and son, four and two years old, respectively, are not picky eaters. Thank goodness. They’ll eat pretty much anything I put in front of them and that’s a huge relief to me. I’ll usually grill or broil the fish for them, or every once in a while I will prepare it in traditional Greek fashion making what’s known as Plaki.
Plaki is basically whole fish baked with vegetables. Different areas of Greece have different recipes; the one I stand by is pretty basic and rather simple as all the vegetables and herbs just need to be sliced, diced and tossed around the fish in one baking dish. The simplicity of the dish really benefits from the freshest ingredients possible. I used fresh tomatoes we found at a Long Island farm this weekend, lots of fresh parsley, onion, potatoes, garlic, dried oregano that I’ve brought back with me from Greece and, of course, olive oil. As I began working on this post, I realized that Peter of Kalofagas featured Psari Plaki the other day as well, using his family’s recipe which boasts what he dubbed a “slurry” of olive oil, flour and paprika to add great flavor and thicken the sauce of the dish. I look forward to trying his version soon …

Serves 3 to 4

Whole fish (such as one large Snapper or Sea Bass, or three to four smaller Porgies), cleaned inside and out
Two large tomatoes, diced
One large onion, sliced
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 large potatoes, sliced in rounds
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Layer the sliced potatoes, onions and tomatoes in a baking dish. Whisk together the olive oil, parsley, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and pour some over the layered vegetables. Season the fish with salt and pepper and place atop the vegetables. Pour the remaining oil mixture on top.
Place baking dish in center of oven and bake for about 40 minutes, adding a little water to the dish if necessary.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Biscotti are my favorite sweet to bake during the winter holidays. They are flavorful, so very versatile and they last quite a few days. Of course, they’re such a good treat and my husband and kids love them so, that I don’t limit them to just the holidays. I make them year round, except on horribly humid New York summer days when turning on an oven is not an option.

But today's dry, lower 80s forecast afforded me the perfect opportunity to make this batch for the Great Cooks Community September 2008 – Biscotti Bake Off. I used a basic biscotti recipe that I've been making for the past five years, and which can endure endless variations. This time I added sherry, which I had on hand, and after reading up on the subject, find this is actually a slight variation of a traditional Tuscan biscotti where some vin santo is added to the dough. The combination of toasted almonds with the sweet wine, I find, really works.

Sherry Almond Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons sherry or other sweet wine

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each well. Add the wine and then stir in the chopped almonds.
Form the dough into a log directly on the parchment lined baking sheet (the dough will be slightly sticky). Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, let cool. Place the log on a cutting board and slice on the diagonal with a serrated knife, making ½ inch pieces of biscotti. Place the slices cut side down on the baking sheet and bake again until golden, about 15 minutes.

Monday, September 8, 2008

All about Figs

One of my favorite childhood memories is of climbing the large fig tree in my family’s yard every August to gather the sweet fruit along with my two cousins. We enjoyed the “adventure” of climbing the tree to pick the figs while our parents, grandmother and aunts indulged in eating the ripe fruit. My husband and I recently bought a one family home here in New York and much to our delight the yard contains a number of fig trees. This being our first summer in our new home, we were delighted to see that dozens of figs sprouted on the dense branches of our fig trees beginning in late July and were even happier to see how well they ripened by the end of August. I brought in a fresh batch today and seeing the quantity, wanted to do much more than just eat them as a snack. My first inclination was to make a traditional Greek spoon sweet, that way we can savor the fruits of our garden for weeks down the line. As I’ve been too lazy to venture out and find cooking lime though, I decided to make a phyllo dessert filled with custard and ripened figs. And as there were still plenty more figs to consume, I tried my hand at a fig jam shared by Ivy over at http://kopiaste.org/. It all turned out just figgy.

Custard Filled Phyllo with Brandy Glazed Figs

I made this using more of a Greek custard for the filling, which comes out fairly thick, and which I love. A slightly thinner custard may work more to your liking.

1 Box of Phyllo Dough (preferably #7)
4 cups of whole milk
1 ½ cups sugar, plus one tablespoon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons plus 1 ½ sticks of butter
¾ cup fine semolina
3 eggs, lightly beaten
One tablespoon cinnamon
Powdered sugar, for dusting
12 ripe figs, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons of brandy

Heat the milk, 1 cup of sugar, lemon zest and 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan to a simmer. Add the semolina while whisking and allow to thicken slightly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the beaten eggs, whisking briskly. Place the saucepan back on low heat and continue whisking briskly for a minute or so. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Combine one tablespoon of cinnamon and ½ cup sugar and set aside.

While custard is cooling, remove stems from figs and slice in half. Place in a sauce pan with brandy and one tablespoon of sugar and cook until heated through.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Once custard has cooled to room temperature, melt the remaining butter. Coat a 10 inch round cake pan with butter and begin layering phyllo starting by placing the corner of one sheet in the middle of the pan and allowing its remaining corners to overhang. Continue placing the corners of three more sheets of phyllo in the center of the pan. Brush the sheets liberally with butter and dust with the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Repeat this step making two more layers of phyllo, brushing each layer with butter and dusting with the cinnamon sugar once completed (you should have used 12 sheets total).
Pour custard into pan and top with figs. Begin folding over the layers of phyllo, making sure to brush each with butter and sprinkle with any remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake until golden (my oven seems to take longer – needed almost an hour to get adequate color and crispness of the phyllo right). Sprinkle with powdered sugar once removed from the oven.
Serve warm or at room temperature.