Skating on the World’s Longest Skating Rink

Photograph by J.S.Swider

Photograph by J.S.Swider

I checked off another box on my bucket last week. I had always wanted to skate the Rideau Canal in our country’s capital city of Ottawa.

With the plan to do this we drove to Ottawa for a long weekend getaway. I had only been to Ottawa in warmer weather so I had never seen the canal frozen and open for skaters. The canal rink is 7.8 km long and is the longest skating rink in the world. Local residents use the canal as a way to commute to work to work on skates while carrying their boots in backpacks.

The canal rink is very well maintained. Every 0.2 km along the route there are signs to tell you where you are and how far you have travelled. Also, every few kilometres there are change huts, washrooms and food concessions where you can buy a hot chocolate or other hot drinks.

The traditional snack along the way are Beaver Tails. Since beavers were declared our national animal in 1975 some clever person decided to make a pastry in the shape of a long flat beaver tail. You can try them with a variety of toppings from sugar and cinnamon to maple and hazelnut. Even though Beaver Tails have become a classic Canadian treat I had never tasted one until this year. I tried one after skating and quickly fell in love. The pastry had a long, thin fried doughnut-like texture that had been topped with cinnamon and sugar. It tasted amazing!

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On our first evening in Ottawa we skated part of the canal to get used to the ice. Afterward we enjoyed a terrific dinner at Maxwell’s Bistro on Elgin St.

The next day we rose early and set out to skate the canal from end to end. I had never skated such a long distance before but the sun was shining, the day was beautiful and I was determined to make it to the end. I was very tired in the last kilometre and had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath but I made it to the end, then we walked all the way back. That afternoon we rested and then ventured out to another local bistro called The Buzz to enjoy a delightful dinner of Steak Frites, Creme Brule and Red wine. I slept like a baby that night.

I hope to go back to Ottawa again soon so I can skate the canal both ways.

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Photograph by J.S. Swider

Photograph by J.S. Swider

After a long day of winter activity I love to enjoy a bowl of hot soup. This Winter Minestrone is from Ina Garten’s new book Foolproof and the recipe is just that.

winter-minestrone

Winter Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, ½-inch-diced
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (½-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2½ cups (½-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1½ tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
½ cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste.

Serve large shallow bowls of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.

NOTE: To cook the pasta, put 1 cup of pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.

You can make this soup ahead and reheat it before serving. It will need to be re-seasoned.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten and also published in Canadian House and Home Magazine

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Are we there yet?- A Maritime Adventure

We recently took a road trip to New Brunswick. Since I had never been to the Maritime provinces, I decided I was up for the adventure.

On the first day, we packed up the car and headed out for our first stop, Quebec City.   Once we made the 9 hour trip to Quebec City using our Mapquest instructions we immediately got lost. The instructions called for us to take a highway that we could not find to our downtown hotel.  After driving around town we finally gave up and used my iphone app to find our location. Immediately we were found and a map appeared showing us how to get to our destination. I love technology.

I booked our hotel on Hotwire.com which I understand provides varied results. I have to say that when we drove up to the back side of our hotel I was not impressed. From the back it looked like an old warehouse and from the front it looked like a warehouse with flags. Since we were just stopping overnight we decided to take our chances. Upon check in we were pleasantly surprised to find a large, clean room with modern fixtures, although we were right next to the elevator.

The hotel was advertised to be a 15 minute walk from Old Quebec. When we ventured out for dinner we had a brisk 35 minute walk up and down steep hills to get to Old Quebec. The good news is that we knew our way around Old Quebec once we got there and we enjoyed the lovely sights and a wonderful dinner.

The next day we rose early and headed out to New Brunswick. It was another 6 hours of driving through Quebec and New Brunswick before we got to Fredericton. The drive through Quebec both ways was riddled with construction and aggressive drivers. We determined that there are more construction pylons in the province of Quebec than in the rest of provinces put together. Luckily, the drive in New Brunswick was more relaxed and picturesque with very few drivers on the road and roaming vistas on either side of the highway. We exhaled and enjoyed every minute of our stay in this lovely relaxing province.

While in New Brunswick we were able to experience some of the local fare in Fredericton. One place that really caught my attention was a chain of gourmet burger spots started by New Brunswick entrepreneur, Rivers Corbett and Chef Ray Henry. We are always on the lookout for great burgers so Relish Gourmet Burgers was a great choice for lunch. The menu offers a long list of specialty burgers each named for their special topping combinations. My burger was a “L.A. Lady” which came with sliced ripe avocado, sweet roasted red peppers, basil pesto and creamy goat cheese. The burgers come with New Brunswick homestyle fries and Cole slaw and a drink. We were pleased to experience such friendly staff and to taste the sumptuous gourmet burgers.

One day we drove down to the Bay of Fundy so we could see the Hopewell Rocks. This natural wonder is well worth the visit. Each day 100 billion tons of sea water flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy. The water rises and falls twice where the tides are the highest in the world. It takes approximately 6 hours for the tide to rise and fall again. You can walk out onto the beach while the tide is out, but you must move quickly when the tide is rising. Scurry up to the lookout and you will quickly be seeing the water climb onto the beach and up the rocks. It does not take long for the beach to be covered in water.

If you are ever in the Maritime provinces on vacation, I highly recommend this park. It is now on the list of my 10 favourite places in Canada.

After enjoying a day in the Bay of Fundy I recommend a lobster dinner in one of the local fishing villages like Alma. New Brunswick is definitely worth a return trip and further exploration.

Pistachio Macarons and Memories of Paris

It has been almost a year since my last trip to Paris. I remember clearly how much fun we had discovering her beautiful neighbourhoods, her arts and culture and her history. I also recall how we enjoyed discovering new and interesting places to eat and culinary delights to savour. Paris holds a special place in my heart as a great walking city and a great people city.

One of my fondest memories of Paris was the abundance of Macarons. Beautiful patiserries like Ladurée, Jean-Paul Hévin, and la Maison du Chocolat dot the neighbourhood streets offering row upon row of these lovely colourful sweets. We tried many different varieties from many different shops. These little gems are not only light and delicious, but they are also gluten-free. I was travelling with a friend who is a celiac and macarons were as much a treat for her as they were for me.

In memory of our trip I am featuring a recipe for pistachio macarons. The subtle nutty flavour in the rich butter cream nestled between two pillows of meringue makes this flavour one of the nicest.

Pistachio Macarons

Makes about 15 macarons

Ingredients

For the Shells:

2 large eggs
½ cup ground almonds
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ tbsp. superfine sugar
Green food colouring

For the Pistachio Ganache:

Scant ½ cup whipping cream
½ pistachio paste
1 tbsp. vanilla sugar
2 eggs yolks
1 1/2 tbsp. softened butter

Directions

Prepare ahead:

Separate the eggs and set the whites aside in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before making the macaron shells the following day. Reserve the yolks to use in the ganache.

To make the pistachio ganache:

Gently beat the whipping cream in a saucepan and dissolve the pistachio paste in it. Add ½ tbsp. vanilla sugar and bring to a boil. In a mixing bowl, blend together the egg yolks and the other ½ tbsp. vanilla sugar and add to the cream-pistachio mixture. Heat to 200 degrees F, using a candy thermometer to check the temperature. Let cool, then add the softened butter, mix in well, and chill in the refrigerator.

To make the shells:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Finely grind the ground almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a blender. Strain the mixture over a baking sheet and cook for 5-7 minutes. Let cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites into snowy peaks using an electric hand mixer. When they start to stiffen, gradually add the superfine sugar, beating constantly. Add a few drops of green food colouring and combine until evenly dispersed. Strain the almond mixture over the egg whites and fold in using a silicone spatula.

Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and pipe out 30 x 1 ½ inch uniform circles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let stand for at least 1 hour in a dry place until a crust forms on the surface, then cook for 10-12 minutes. Let the shells cool, then pour a trickle of water between the parchment and the baking sheet and remove the shells using a small frosting spatula.

To assemble the macarons:

Spread the pistachio cream over half of the shells, then top them with the remaining shells. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

Recipe from Macarons by Berengere Abraham

A Taste of Sicily-Cannoli

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

Photography by Lisa Spinello

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

Photograph by Lisa Spinello

The island of Sicily is nestled between the Calabria region of Italy and the African coast. It has changed ownership many times over the past centuries being ruled by Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Islamics, Normans, Hohenstaufen, Catalans and Spaniards. Each of these rulers has left an indelible mark on her history and culture. Sicily is rich with beautiful archeological sites, modern cities and glorious beaches. Although it is classed as an autonomous state, it has been part of Italy since 1860.

The Sicilian people are very proud of their island and their cuisine. The island is rich with agriculture producing olive oil, wine, citrus fruit, figs, artichokes, and pistachios. She also has a thriving fishing industry. Sicilian cuisine, like all Italian cuisine, is centred around the freshest fruits and vegetables accompanied by veal, chicken and fish. Octopus and squid are very popular holiday dishes.

Life in small town Sicily is still very simple compared to her large cities. Many of the small town shops still close from 1:30 to 4:00PM each so that the owners can enjoy a mid day meal and a siesta before opening for a few hours in the evening. Often the large meal of the day is the mid day meal followed by a light supper in the evening.

One of the best desserts in Sicily has become popular in North America. Cannoli are considered to be lucky so they are often served during celebrations. They are one of my favourite desserts. I love the rich, creamy filling of ricotta and cheese surrounded by a crunchy shell flavoured with cocoa and cinnamon.

Sicilian Cannoli

Makes 10 servings 

Ingredients 

For cannoli shells

1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 lb cold lard
2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
1 large egg, separated
About 3 cups vegetable oil

For filling

1 lb fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 oz soft mild goat cheese
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon minced candied orange peel
1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water (also called orange-blossom water)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (not dyed red), chopped
2 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped (1/2 cup)

Special equipment: a pasta maker; a 4- to 4 1/4-inch round cookie cutter; a deep-fat thermometer; 6 (roughly 5 5/8- by 5/8-inch) metal cannoli tubes; 2  heavy-duty oven mitts; a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch plain tip

Garnish: confectioners sugar

Directions
Make dough for shells:
Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Add 2 tablespoons lard and blend in with your fingertips until combined. Add wine and yolk and stir until a dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Form dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Make filling while dough stands:
Beat together ricotta, goat cheese, confectioners sugar, orange peel, orange-flower water, and cinnamon in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed 1 minute (do not overbeat). Fold in nuts and chocolate until combined and chill.

Make shells:
Set smooth rollers of pasta maker at widest setting. Unwrap dough and cut in half, then lightly flour 1 piece (keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap). Flatten floured dough into an oval and feed through rollers. Turn dial down 2 notches and feed dough through rollers again. Continue to feed dough through rollers, making space between rollers narrower by 2 notches each time, until narrowest setting is used.

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Transfer rolled dough to a lightly floured surface and cut out 4 or 5 rounds with floured cutter. Transfer rounds to baking sheet and keep covered with more plastic wrap. Roll out remaining dough and cut rounds in same manner. Gather scraps and let stand 10 minutes. Roll out scraps and cut in same manner.

Heat remaining lard with 1 1/4 inches oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 350°F on thermometer.

Meanwhile, lightly oil cannoli tubes. Lightly beat egg white, then brush bottom edge of 1 dough round with egg white. Wrap dough around a tube, overlapping ends (egg-white edge should go on top), then press edges together to seal. Make 5 more shells in same manner (keep remaining rounds covered with plastic).

Fry dough on tubes 1 at a time, turning with metal tongs, until 1 shade darker, about 45 seconds. Wearing oven mitts, clamp end of hot tubes, 1 at a time, with tongs and, holding tube vertically, allow shell to slide off tube onto paper towels, gently shaking tube and wiggling shell as needed to loosen. (If you allow shell to cool it will stick to tube and shatter when you try to remove it.) Transfer shells to paper towels to drain and cool tubes before reusing. Wrap remaining dough around tubes and fry in same manner.

Spoon filling into pastry bag and pipe some into 1 end of a cannoli shell, filling shell halfway, then pipe into other end. Repeat with remaining shells.

Cooks’ notes:

Dough can be made 1 day before frying shells and chilled. Let dough stand at room temperature 1 hour before rolling.
Shells can be fried 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept, layered between paper towels, in an airtight container at room temperature

Recipe from Epicurious.com

Tiramisu-a farewell to Florence

Florence is not just a city filled with great architecture and history. It is not just the place where great artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created timeless paintings and sculpture. It is not just the place were Galileo dreamed of exploring the world.

Florence is a not just feast for your eyes but it is also a feast for your belly. Florentine cuisine includes simple pleasant style cooking where locals enjoy the best olive oil, pastas, wine and bread as well as more elegant dishes passed down from the years of aristocratic rule.

Her trattorias, cafes and restaurants are filled with flavourful dishes that showcase the local artisan food products and local produce. One of my favourite meals in Italy was in a cafe just off of the Piazza del Duomo. We had an amazing lunch of pasta and cheese that was very simple but the flavours were memorable.

As we leave Florence for other adventures I would like to share this rich, creamy Tiramisu recipe with you.

My family loves to cook and loves to eat. At family dinners we all bring food and each of us has special recipes that become family favourites. My daughter’s father in law, Louis Ferreira, has the best Tiramisu recipe and he has generously shared it with me so you can try it. Thanks Louis!

Tiramisu

Ingredients  

500g of mascarpone cheese
1 package about 17oz of savoyard or sponge biscuits
4 eggs, separated at room temperature
5 tablespoons sugar
2 teacups about 12oz strong espresso coffee
4 tablespoons coffee liqueur
pinch of salt
unsweetened cocoa powder to sprinkle

Directions 

In a large bowl while gradually adding sugar, beat egg yolks until they appear pale in colour, add mascarpone and fold gently until smooth.

In a separate bowl beat egg whites with a pinch of salt, using a wire wisk or electric beater until they become very stiff and then gently fold them into the mascarpone mixture.

Dip the biscuits into the coffee and liqueur mixture, the biscuits should be moist but not saturated, arrange them in one large or several small individual serving dishes. I used a 9 1/2 inch springform pan lined with parchment paper so it would look like a cake when served.

Cover the first layer with the cream mixture and sprinkle with cocao powder, continue adding layers until you are finished with all the ingredients and finish it off with a sprinkle of cocao powder.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably longer, before serving.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna- A Taste of Florence

Both times that I have been to Florence I was only there for a day. Of all of the places in the world that you want to explore, Florence is in the top 10.

I promise myself that I will go back and I will stay for a few at least a week.

I will return to her open air markets that wind through her streets for miles. I will barter with the vendors over fine leather goods and treasures from local artisans. I will spend at least one day touring the Uffizi Museum to see the amazing sculptures. I will spend hours studying the Florentine architecture.

I will also spend time in the local restaurants and cafes enjoying some of Italy’s best cuisine.This recipe reminds me of Florence and the Florentine style of cooking.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Ingredients

For the filling:
1-1/2 lb. (about 3 cups) whole milk ricotta
2 lb. fresh spinach, or 2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 oz. (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To assemble:
3/4 lb. fresh lasagne noodle
1 jar of tomato sauce
1 recipe Basic Cream Sauce (see below)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 oz. (1 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Directions

Make the filling:

Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl for 1 hour, or longer if the ricotta is very wet.

If using fresh spinach, stem and rinse it well; don’t dry the leaves. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, cook the spinach until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the excess moisture, and chop finely. If using thawed frozen spinach, squeeze it dry.

Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the spinach and toss it for 1 or 2 minutes to coat it with the butter. Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well. You should have about 4-1/2 cups.

Cook the noodles:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Slip the noodles, two or three at a time, into the boiling water and cook them until they’re tender and pale, 3 to 5 minutes (thinner noodles will cook more quickly). To make sure they’re done, taste a small piece. If it’s still tough, it needs a little more cooking (fresh pasta should not be cooked al dente like dried pasta).

Carefully scoop the noodles out of the pot with a large wire skimmer and slide them into the ice water to stop the cooking. When they’re cool, layer them between clean dish towels until you’re ready to assemble the lasagne (The noodles will keep this way for up to 2 hours).

Assemble the lasagne:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Choose a baking dish that’s about 9×12 inches and 3 inches deep, or about 10×14 inches and 2 inches deep. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in a sparse layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill the gaps. With a spatula, spread one-third of the spinach and ricotta filling (about 1-1/2 cups) over the first layer of noodles. Then spread one-third of the remaining tomato sauce (about 1-1/3 cups) and one-third (1/2 cup) of the cream sauce over the filling. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano on top. Add a new layer of noodles, overlapping them slightly, and repeat the layers as instructed above, using all of the filling and ending with the Parmigiano, to make a total of three layers (you may not need all the pasta). Dot the top with the butter cubes. Cover with foil.

Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and bubbling at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Basic Cream Sauce (Beciamella)

Ingredients

1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened to a creamy, gravy-like consistency and no longer tastes of raw flour, 6 to 8 minutes for a single batch, 10 to 12 minutes for a double batch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. If not using right away, transfer to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to keep a skin from forming. Plan to use the sauce within 30 minutes because it thickens if it’s left to sit for too long. If that should happen, add a little warm milk and whisk well to thin it.

Recipe from The Best of Fine Cooking- Pasta

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Blackberries

When travelling through Tuscany, you really want to make sure you see the town of Pisa. It is not just a tourist place with a bell tower that leans quite severely. It is a cute little spot to grab lunch and see the more than 20 historical buildings and churches that accompany the tower. I think these churches are an excellent example of the beautiful architecture of this region.

This recipe is very popular in Tuscany. Ricotta cheese is one of my favourites. This light, fluffy cheese is made from the whey of buffalo mozzarella. It is so delicious!

We used to drive to a cheese factory in Northern Ontario to taste the fresh cheese as it was just finished. We had to get up very early in the morning but it was worth it. If you ever get the chance to taste Ricotta that is freshly made, you will be surprised at how light and flavourful it is. There is nothing like the taste of freshly made, warm ricotta cheese.

Ricotta cheese is the centre of so many Italian recipes because it is so versatile. It makes great fillings and wonderful cheesecakes.

I added the whipped cream and blackberries to this recipe. You could easily change the berries to strawberries or blueberries, if you prefer. I just love the way the tart blackberries compliment the lemon flavours in the cheesecake.

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Blackberries

Ingredients

For the crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into ¾ inch pieces
¼ cup heavy (double) cream

For the filling:

2 cups ricotta cheese
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cups heavy (double) cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 3 lemons

For the topping:

2 cups whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 pints fresh blackberries

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Pulse until mixed. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks crumbly. Pour into the cream and continue to pulse until the mixture is light yellow, but still crumbly. Do not pulse too long or the mixture will come together into a dough.

Measure out 1 cup of the crust mixture for the topping and set aside in a bowl in the freezer until needed. Pour the remaining crust mixture into a 9-inch springform pan. Using your hand, press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Place the crust in the refrigerator while you making the filling.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, preheat to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling, combine the ricotta and the sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is creamy. Add the eggs, cream, vanilla, flour, cinnamon and lemon zest and pulse to mix well.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator and immediately pour the filling into it, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of it into the pan. Sprinkle the frozen crust crumbs evenly over the surface. Bake the cheesecake until the crust is golden, the filling puffs up slightly, and the centre jiggles very slightly when the pan is gently shaken, 45-50 minutes. If the centre looks soupy, continue to bake for a few more minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To unmold, set the cheesecake on an inverted tall, narrow can or bowl. Release the pan sides, opening them widely and carefully so that they fall way from the cake.

Whip the cream for the topping and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Using a spatula, smooth the whipped cream over the top of the cooled cake. Place blackberries into cream with the ends facing up.

Keep refrigerated until serving.

Recipe adapted from Essentials of Baking from Williams-Sonoma

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter

No trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to the ancient ruins of the old city. Standing in the Colosseum and imagining gladiators and the historic events of centuries long past, really puts time in perspective. In North America we think of history as the past two hundred years. In Europe and Asia history is a world of ancient civilizations. Ruins of the Roman times are strewn across the country bearing witness to this historic era.

Before we leave Rome for Florence and Tuscany I want to share one more recipe from this region. It is one of my favourite Italian dishes, Gnocchi. These fluffy little dumplings were first introduced in Roman times and have become very popular all over Italy. This recipe is a modern-day variation of the classic potato gnocchi that I adapted from one in the Earth to Table cookbook.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

4 medium sweet potatoes
4 medium Russet potatoes
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
12 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place sweet potatoes and potatoes on baking sheet, prick with a fork and roast until soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool slightly, then cut in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl.

Add flour, salt and pepper to the potato mixture and mix until smooth. Make a well in the center and pour in eggs. Using a fork and starting at the centre of the mixture, incorporate the eggs into the mixture.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a soft, slightly sticky, spongy dough forms. Do not over work the dough. Shape into a ball and place on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut ball into 8 pieces and cover with a clean tea towel. Dust a baking sheet with flour.

On a lightly floured surface, working one piece at a time and keeping the rest covered, roll each piece into a 20-inch rope, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rope into 1-inch lengths. Using your thumb, roll each piece back over the tines of a floured fork, leaving an indentation from your thumb on one side and the marking of the fork on the other. Place gnocchi on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is prepared.

Dough can be refrigerated in an air tight container for up to one day.

Melt butter in a small fry pan and add sage leaves. Simmer over medium heat until the butter turns golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

To cook gnocchi bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Plunge half of the gnocchi into the boiling water. Once they float to the surface, continue to cook for 1 minute longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to a plate and repeat cooking process with the other half of the gnocchi.

Drizzle with sage butter and parmesan and serve.

Recipe adapted from Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann

Prosciutto, Fig and Arugula Pizza- fit for Angels and Demons

The first time I was in Paris I was reading the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown while I was on the plane to France. When I got to The Louvre I was so excited to hunt for places described in the book while, I was exploring the museum.

The last time I was in Rome I was touring the Vatican and Castel Sant’ Angelo. These two sites are only a few blocks apart and seeing them both in one day is a good way to experience the history of the area. What I did not know when I was seeing these sites, was that I would be seeing them in a movie, soon afterward. The week after I got home the movie Angels and Demons came out on DVD. I was able to revisit so many of the great spots in Rome while watching the movie. It was like reliving my time in Rome through one of Tom Hanks’ adventures.

Rome is a great food city. I love the espresso bars where you stand and have your morning coffee. I love the gelateria where you can go for sweet treats until the wee hours of the morning. I love the panini trucks that will make you delicious toasted sandwiches for lunch. I love the small cafes hosted by families that make you simple, but flavourful bowls of pasta for your dinner. I love the pizzerias in Rome.

I made this pizza recipe in memory of this great city.


Pizza Dough

Makes 1 pound or enough for 4 individual pizzas

Ingredients
3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil

Pizza Topping

Ingredients
6 slices of buffalo mozzarella cheese, ¼ inch thick
½ cup arugula
3 slices prosciutto
3 fresh figs, quartered or 3 dried figs, quartered
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. Semolina flour
2 tbsp. honey

Directions
Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix until just blended, then, add 1 1/3 cups warm water. Mix until the dough comes together, then mix for another minute.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for 8 hours or until risen dough is marshmallowy.
On a lightly floured surface, use a bench scraper or sharp knife to divide into quarters. With lightly floured hands, shape the pieces into balls by cupping the dough and turning it against the floured surface until round and tight.
Transfer the balls to a highly oiled baking sheet or bowls, then, lightly brush the tops with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until tripled in volume, about 1 ½ hours. Use immediately or put a sheet of parchment on top of the dough balls, then cover tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 2 days. When ready to use, remove from the refrigerator and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour.

Place a pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Let the stone heat up with the oven.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it is approximately 9 inches in diameter. Lay on a pizza paddle lightly floured with semolina flour. Add cheese, prosciutto, arugula, figs, salt and pepper.
Slide pizza onto the heated stone and bake on 12- 15 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Slide pizza back onto paddle and remove from the oven. Drizzle pizza with honey and serve.

Let pizza stone cool down with the oven to avoid cracking.

Recipe for pizza dough from Home Cooking with Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten