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Sugar High Friday: Watermelon Sundae

28 July 2006

Watermelon Sundae

I have been a subscriber to Gourmet magazine for a few months, and I have to say that I have been a little disappointed by my experience thus far. While I enjoy the lavish spreads of photographs from exotic places and the reviews of glamorous restaurants, they haven't inspired me much. There have been recipes here and there that intrigued, but not many. It seemed to focus more on eating out than eating in, and I just don't get out much, you know? Once you knock out the holy duo of New York and San Francisco and all the urban divinities in between (Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Miami and Los Angeles) you're not exactly left with representative coverage for the rest of us mortals.

But I suppose that I shouldn't expect the gorgeous, high-flying Gourmet to cater to the proletariat; they do the aspirational thing well. If I wanted to build my recipe repertoire, I told myself ruefully, I should have picked Cook's Illustrated.

And then, just when I was feeling let down by my faith in Ruth Reichl and this highbrow establishment of a rag, the July issue rolled in with a gorgeous painterly cover of sea-green dishes and bright fruit, tomatoes, and pasta. The entire issue was packed with recipes and features that captured the languorous sensuality of hot, hot summertime and its tumbling overflow of good food.

Every story made me want to try the recipes - the whole issue is now thumbed and a little crumpled, a little spattered. But the very first thing I saw was what I wanted to try the most. Watermelon sundae, with a ricotta ice cream and dark chocolate shavings.

Ricotta Ice Cream

Now, watermelon is not something I would ever think of pairing with ice cream. It's too sweet, too watery and full of its own character to pair with a rich and creamy ice cream. And yet this recipe was instinctively intriguing. Throw together almost every kind of dairy you can think of - ricotta, then cream cheese, then milk and cream - add some sugar, dark rum and lemon zest and toss it in the ice cream maker. This produces an unusual rich, sweet ice cream with just a touch of acidity from the lemon and the cream cheese, a slight graininess from the ricotta, and all the body you'd expect from a custard without any of the work. It took literally five minutes to put the mix together, and since all the ingredients were still cold from the fridge, it went straight into the ice cream maker. It freezes up beautifully into firm yet easily scoopable ice cream.

Then, this is where it gets seriously brilliant. Serving this over watermelon punches up all the watermelon's natural crisp flavor, with the lemon and the rum and the rough texture of the ricotta catching on every juicy bite of the watermelon. I love my watermelon in the summer, and this just gives one more reason to buy a quarter, chill it into a freezing cold confection of nature and then smother it in this wonderful ice cream and a flurry of chocolate flakes.

Ricotta Ice Cream

This is what I was hoping for from Gourmet - a sophisticated and inspired twist on an American institution, the family picnic and the sweet, sticky watermelon juice left spattered on the rough wooden tables, the taste of rustic, homemade ice cream. It's homey and elegant all at once, and I am going back for seconds while I read my next issue of Gourmet. It came in the mail today, with a special literary supplement. Things are looking up.

Oh, and this is my entry for Sarah's episode of - Ice, Ice Baby. How appropriate! While the rest of the country is experiencing a heat wave, we here in Florida are slogging through our own normal summer temps of 90-110; it's been like this since May, and it's not going away any time soon. So ice in any form is welcome. Go look at some of the great recipes and cool down!

Ricotta Ice Cream

Watermelon Sundae
From Gourmet's July edition

Ricotta Ice Cream
1 (15-oz) cold container whole-milk ricotta (1 2/3 cups) or 1 2/3 cups fresh ricotta
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cold milk
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold heavy cream

1. Blend the cheeses, milk, sugar, zest and rum in a blender until smooth.
2. Add the salt, vanilla and cream and blend for just a few seconds until combined.
3. Put into an ice cream maker and freeze according to directions.
4. Put in the freezer to harden for at least two hours.

1 (4 1/2- to 5-lb) wedge of watermelon, cut into 1-inch-thick slices and chilled
1 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (from a 3-oz bar), shaved (1/4 cup)

Serve watermelon with scoops of ice cream and chocolate shavings.

Posted by Faith at 28 July 2006 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Pretty in Pink: Beet & Goat Cheese Ravioli

27 July 2006

Beet Mezzaluna

There isn't much to tell about this dish; its inspiration is a mystery to me. I just decided to make beet ravioli. Like I've said before, I will take just about any opportunity to persuade people that beets are delicious, especially when paired with goat cheese. My sister was in town and I made this meal for her and some other friends (beet and goat cheese mezzaluna, lemon and thyme pork meatballs with sage, and wilted spinach with garlic).

My sister was skeptical about the beets, not being of the beet persuasion (yet). She dubiously eyed my pasta-making efforts as I cut, filled, and sealed the little rounds with juicy, creamy beet goodness, and cautiously agreed to eat them.

But fortunately they were a success - I may not have quite won her over wholeheartedly to the side of the beet-eaters, but this was a step in the right direction.

I used the pasta wraps you can get in the produce section of the grocery. Initially I was going to only use goat cheese but found the combination to be a little too aggressive; I am happy about the ricotta addition. Also, I froze these overnight to keep them fresh and found that the flavors melded even better after they had chilled for a day or two. The poppy seeds are a must, for the sauce - they lend a piquant texture to the rich and creamy pasta.

Beet Mezzaluna

Beet Mezzaluna

Beet & Goat Cheese Ravioli
Adapted from Epicurious

4 beets
Fresh sage
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 oz. goat cheese (I used a log that had been crusted with pepper)
1 cup of ricotta
Salt and pepper to taste
Ground nutmeg if desired
Pasta wraps - I used 2 packages, or 28 squares total. I got four ravioli out of each square, so about 112 total

For sauce
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
A couple tablespoons of poppy seeds
Fresh grated Parmesan

1. Heat oven to 400F. Wash and dry the beets and cut off their tops and root ends.
2. Place a large square of foil in a heavy baking pan and put the beets in it, then drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle them fresh sage leaves, salt and pepper.

Beet Mezzaluna

3. Seal the foil and roast for about an hour, or until beets are tender and can easily be pierced with a knife.
4. Let beets cool completely, then rub the skin off with paper towels.
5. Grate the beets into small shavings.
6. Crumble the goat cheese in and mix well.
7. Add the ricotta and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
8. Cut rounds out of the pasta wraps with a cookie or biscuit cutter. I stacked several sheets on top of each other for maximum cutting efficiency. Keep slightly moist and covered until ready to use.
9. Prep your pasta assembly area with your pasta, the beet mixture, a cookie sheet lightly dusted with flour, and a small bowl of water. Also, a movie or a good TV show helps here too. This isn't exactly quick cooking.
10. Take each round and put a small dollop of the beet/cheese mixture in the center. Then close the round into a half moon shape and seal the edges with water. Rinse, repeat.
11. Watch out - beets seriously stain, as you probably know by now. It took me awhile to get the hang of the right amounts.
12. When you are finished, you can either cook the pasta immediately in a pan of salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes, or you can freeze them. Put them in the freezer, still on the pan, for about six hours then take the frozen pasta out and put in plastic bags. I did this and it worked great. Frozen they need to be cooked for about 4-6 minutes.
13. For the sauce: While the pasta is cooking, gently warm the stick of butter in a large shallow frying pan. Add the poppy seeds.
14. Add the drained cooked pasta and toss quickly then serve, garnished with a little bit of fresh Parmesan.

Posted by Faith at 27 July 2006 | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Nibs & Cream: A Raspberry Cupcake

15 July 2006

Raspberry Cacao Cupcake

Aaaaand we're back. Back from a trip up the California coast and a hectic following week at work, which really put a crimp in my staid and placid cook, blog & eat routine. And yet I did not return from this trip entirely empty-handed, as you shall see.

This week I was back on church potluck duty, and I must say it is good to be home in my own little kitchen, juggling hot pans between two tiny strips of countertop, washing dishes as soon as they get dirty so I have a place to put the new ones. I took Parmesan chicken, some herbed corn, and a dessert to church, duly inspired by the dog days of summer.

For dessert I had intended to make Chockylit's raspberry almond cupcakes, but then changed my mind and did my own riff on them - inspired by loot from my trip. See, while in Berkeley I made the now well-trodden blogger trip to the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory to see artisan chocolate making in person. It was a surprisingly fun and educational tour; the huge red roaster in action, the robust sweet smell of chocolate fingering its way out onto the street, the wine-like tastings of cacao.

Scharffen Berger Roaster

We learned about the cacao pods that droop like pendulous growths on the slender treestalks, and rattled a whole dried pod in our hands, then poked at the beans that fill it up. We learned about the long fermentation process that gives their chocolate its unusually complex flavor. Then we saw how the beans are roasted in a beautiful cherry-red Sirocco roaster, looking like a child's fantasy of a machine, with a glossy oversized funnel and wheels begging to be pulled.

Scharffen Berger Cocoa Butter

Then the beans are winnowed and cracked as the shells are shucked off (to be fed to a herd of cows in the Berkeley area; insert joke about chocolate milk here). What remains is the nib, the heart of the cacao product, that is pounded and mixed to release its fatty cocoa butter and liquor. More cocoa butter and sugar get mixed in, and fine chocolate is born.

Scharffen Berger Factory

We could taste notes of raspberry in some of these roasted nibs, crunching plain between the teeth with a pleasantly bitter acidity, filling the mouth with the unadulterated aroma of dark chocolate. Others, with a different global provenance, had a deep caramel taste. It was like tasting coffee or wine, hunting out all the flavor notes.

At the end I finally got my hands on a bag of these cacao nibs, and I wanted very much to put some in these raspberry ricotta cupcakes.

Cacao Nibs

I ended up adapting a ricotta poundcake recipe, which has less of that creamy ricotta flavor and texture, but holds up very well as a moist, tender cupcake. The produce stand I frequent had raspberries for 99 cents a package, which sent me into paroxysms of minor joy and let me heap three cups of tart little jewels into the cupcakes. Add a handful of crunchy, intensely chocolate roasted nibs and you have a small bite of summer heaven in a cupcake. I topped them with a mound of whipped cream and milk chocolate shavings.

These aren't too sweet; the poundcake is buttery and tender and does its job as a support to the soft baked berries and the savory nibs. Without the cream you just might be able to justify them as a breakfast item. But only just.

Raspberry Cacao Cupcake

This recipe makes a ton of cupcakes - four dozen at least. But they don't rise in the cups too much, so you can fill them pretty full.

Raspberry Cacao Cupcakes with Whipped Cream

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
0.5 cup dark brown sugar
1.5 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons amaretto syrup (optional)
zest of 1 lemon
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups milk or light cream
1.75 cups (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
0.5 cup cacao nibs (Note: Next time I will put in more nibs)
3 6 oz. packages of raspberries (about 3 cups), washed and picked over

1. Preheat oven to 350 F and prepare four cupcake pans with liners. (Or bake in two batches.)
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.
4. Beat in the vanilla, amaretto syrup, and lemon zest.
5. Puree the milk or cream and ricotta cheese in a blender.
6. Add half the flour (2 cups) into the mixer bowl and stir in gently.
7. Add half the milk and cheese mixture and stir.
8. Add the other half of the flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir.
9. Add the rest of the milk and cheese and stir until barely combined.
10. Fold in the raspberries and cacao nibs.
11. Fill the cups of the prepared pans, then bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a center comes out clean. (Note: These do not rise very much when baked, so I was happiest with the ones I filled nearly to the top.)
12. Cool on racks for at least 30 minutes before icing.

Whipped Cream

3 oz. cream cheese
0.5 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
0.5 cup confectioners sugar, or to taste

Good chocolate bar
Fresh raspberries

1. Whip cream cheese until light in the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Stir in vanilla and salt.
3. Add whipping cream and whip, slowly at first so it doesn't splatter, until the mixture has gained body and stiffness.
4. Fold in confectioners sugar by hand, until you have your desired sweetness.
5. Put the whipped cream in a pastry bag and swirl lavishly on cupcakes. Garnish with chocolate curls and raspberries, if you want to. I wanted to.

Posted by Faith at 15 July 2006 | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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