Un’Caffe! Please!

In my last blog post I shared how disappointed I was that I couldn’t go visit my sister this spring.  I must tell you as much as I so wanted to see my sister there was one other thing that I was so looking forward to.  I have been dreaming about it!  I am drooling right now as I think about it.  No! It’s not Italian men! 

It’s the coffee!  Some of you know that I went to Italy this past fall. For some reason I became obsessed with the espresso.  Every morning I had a cappuccino.  In the afternoon I had an espresso after lunch.  In the late afternoon I had a macchiato.  By late afternoon I became very fluent with my Italian or so I thought as I hysterically waved and greeted every person I came across. I need to admit to you all that I have a caffeine problem.  For some reason it makes me talk nonstop.  My daughter always knows. When I go into a fast-long-winded story, she scolds me as I am panting out of breath, “You had coffee. Didn’t you?”

  But! OMG!  The coffee that was enjoying every day while I was in Ischia was delicious!  It wasn’t acidic or burnt tasting.  It was so smoooooth and creammmmy!  And I am not talking about the cappuccino. Just plain espresso is thick and creamy.  They only fill those little espresso cups half-way.  That’s why at the coffee bars in Italy there are no seats.

  • People go in.
  • Stand at the bar with no stools.
  • Order un’caffe.
  • Down the espresso.
  • Share a greeting with the barista and fellow coffee drinkers.
  • Out the door they go!

The morning is the only time the cappuccino is enjoyed by Italians.  They won’t drink it after 11.  If you order a cappuccino during the day, they will exclaim, “Pffttt Americano!”.  I was very careful not to order one because I wanted to be inconspicuous ( yeah right, as I hysterically wave and greet)! But I did order a macchiato.  The macchiato was heaven!  There was a little but more in the cup than espresso with a thick foamy caramel colored top. Not like a cappuccino at all.  The cappuccino is served in a large cup with a 3/ 4 filled cup of white foam.  The macchiato is served in an espresso cup with ¼ of the cup filled with a dark caramel colored foam.  Such a thick and creamy espresso drink.  If I had my way I would have asked for a triple.  I don’t think my sister, her husband and the rest of the people in the bar would have been happy with me.

Ever since I got back from Italy, I keep searching for the perfect espresso drink.  I tried all the chains from low end to high end.  I went directly to coffee roasters to try their espresso, restaurants that tout their espresso drinks, and bakeries.  I even bought high end coffee beans and would grind them myself. I just can’t replicate that delicious taste.  I started researching and reading.  Some say it’s the way they roast the coffee bean.  They said that in the US we over roast the coffee bean to get the bean extra dark which is a mistake. Others say it’s the water.

As I sit here with my cup of espresso made with my moka pot, dunking an S shaped Italian cookie into the espresso, I pretend I am gazing at the Mediterranean Sea alongside my sister. I really do miss her so. Maybe it wasn’t the espresso. I think it was my sister’s company!

Italian S Cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

      Egg Wash

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon milk

2 teaspoons demerara sugar for sprinkling on egg wash

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350℉.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs on medium-high speed until nice and frothy (about 3-4 minutes).
  5. Slowly add sugar. Continue to whisk until well combined and slightly thickened (about 2 minutes).
  6. Add the oil, extract, and the zest. Combine well.
  7. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix with wooden spoon until well combined, dough will be soft.
  8. Scoop dough with medium sized cookie scoop and drop on a lightly floured surface (about 2 tablespoons).
  9. Roll out each piece in a 4-5 inch strand about 1/2 inch in diameter.
  10. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and form into an S shape.
  11. Brush tops of cookies with egg yolk mixture.
  12. Sprinkle with demerara sugar
  13. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned (this is a pale cookie).
  14. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

Let’s bake while we wait!

     It’s been such a whirlwind of a few months.  I am writing this blog post today sitting at my desk.  But if all was right with the world, I would it to be sitting under a lemon tree on the Island of Ischia in Italy with my beautiful sister.  In January while the news from China was just coming out about the Coronavirus, my daughter and I oblivious to the severity of the situation planned a fun trip to trip to Europe.  Our first stop was to be in Lisbon, Portugal and then we were flying to Naples to finish our trip visiting my sister Giovanna who lives in Ischia. Alas, a few days after I booked the trip the news started to get more and more serious.  My daughter, my sister and I started to become obsessed with watching the news. It was the strangest thing.  Like a snowball rolling down a hill this coronavirus epidemic was becoming bigger and bigger each day. We didn’t even need to make the decision to cancel the trip. Every week the flight kept changing. First the flight’s destination was changed to land in Rome instead of Naples. Then as Italy put in more restrictions the flight’s destination was changed to Lisbon.  Finally, 5 days before we were to leave all flights were suspended. 

     As we followed whatever was going on in Italy, we knew it would be a matter of time that we would be the doing the same thing here in the states.  When US advised us to limit our gatherings to 10 people, I hurried up and finished my sauce deliveries not knowing if they were going to close travel between states like the provinces of Italy. I even made a last run to stock up my grown children who live in Connecticut and Westchester with the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce, 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce and pasta.

    Because I was so preoccupied with keeping up with the news and tying up loose ends, I inadvertently forgot about St. Josephs Day on March 19th.  Not only is St. Joseph the national Italian holiday for Father’s Day but we always celebrated the holiday because Joseph was my dad’s name, followed by my son and husband whose middle name is Joseph. We all celebrated by making zeppole. aka Sfingi di San Giuseppe, aka Cream Puffs.

     Since I am settling in at home now, I am catching up with my baking.  So, I made St. Josephs Cream Puffs!  Here is an easy recipe that I used for the Cream Puff and the Pastry Cream.  I hope you enjoy making it and eating it as much as my husband and I did!  Stay safe while we are making history!

Cream Puffs

Ingredients:

  •  1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 to 4 eggs, plus 1 egg for egg wash

Directions:

  1. To make the cream puffs: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt, and granulated sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds
  2. Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, and working 1 egg at a time, add 3 of the eggs, stopping after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy, and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining egg and mix until incorporated.
  3. You can use a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe the dough onto the baking sheet lined with parchment paper, in 2-inch diameter rounds or balls.  But I used a tablespoon and dropped the dough on the baking. Whisk the remaining egg with 1 1/2 teaspoons water. Brush the surface of the rounds with the egg wash to knock down the points (you may not use all the egg wash). Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake until puffed up, and light golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet.
  4. To fill the cream puffs, place a pastry tip on your finger and poke a hole in the bottom of each puff.  Or you can slice the cream puff and insert pastry cream by a spoon.

Pastry Cream

Ingredients:

  •  2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise or 1 tsp of pure vanilla
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pinch salt

      

Directions:

  1. Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl and whisk until light in color. Add in the flour and the salt, mix to combine.
  3. When the milk just begins to boil, remove from heat and remove vanilla bean.
  4. Very slowly dribble the hot milk into the yolk mixture, stirring all the time. When about half of the milk has been added, place all the yolk mixture into the saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Using a spatula or a whisk, mix the pastry cream as it heats, making sure to reach all the corners of the pan when you stir. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will be thick.
  6. Remove from heat and add the butter. Strain if you wish for a smoother cream. Place into a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap to stop a skin from forming on the cream. Chill and use within a few days.

Cured Green Olive Recipe

Fresh Green Olives

Fresh Green Olives found at your area farm market. I got my fresh green olives at Adams Fairacre Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York

I grew up watching my grandparents on both sides of the family, can all kinds of produce besides just tomatoes.  Vegetables were marinated and jarred for the winter.  Peaches were peeled and halved in a sugary syrup. My family would also cure olives.  They were jarred in a salty brine and cured for months.  In the last few years since I retired from my life in the restaurant, I have had time to relive my upbringing.  I kept seeing raw green olives at Adams Fairacre Farms, our local farm market. I decided to try to cure my own olives.  One year I tried the saltwater brine version, while changing the water for months and fretting every time I forgot to! So, then the next year I found an easy recipe that cured olives in vinegar and to let it sit in extra virgin olive oil for 2 months.  The olives were delicious!  And what was surprisingly good was even the oil from the olives. My family and I just loved spreading it on crusty Italian bread! I couldn’t wait to do it again this year.   I decided to share my olive curing journey and hope you will try a hand at it too since olives are in season.

Cured Green Olives

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh green olives
  • 1 carrot, finely dices
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 1 qt white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • ½ cup water
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil to cover the olive

Procedure:

  1. Wash and dry the olives making sure they are all firm and no bruises.  It’s if your green olives have a slight purplish tint.  They are just beginning to ripen.

2.     Make 4 incisions lengthwise on each olive spacing evenly.

3.      Place olives in a bowl or large jar.  Whatever you use make sure it’s not reactive. Add celery and carrots.  Then add the salt, water and vinegar solution to cover all the olives.

4.     Mix well and add a paper napkin on top to keep olives submerged.
5.       Stir the contents in the bowl once or twice a day.
6.      After 4 days the olives should have darkened slightly and become soft but not mushy.  If they are still hard wait another day.

7.       After 4th or 5th day drain olive mixture in a colander. Toss to get rid of all the liquid.
8.    Put the drained olive mixture in a clean jar or jars and cover the olive oil mixture with the extra virgin olive oil.  The olives need to be completely submerged in the olive oil.

9.      Place the jar of olives in a cool dark place.  I put mine in the fridge! Let them rest for 2 months before tasting.
10.       The olives will have a pleasant vinegary taste.  And don’t throw out the extra virgin olive oil.  It’s delicious!  Since it’s in the fridge it will thicken like butter and you can spread it like butter!!  Yum!