Sunday, September 26, 2010

Zucchini-Parmesan Bread

This fall we are hosting a lot of visitors from the States and I always like to offer fresh baked goods when there are guests in the house. (It gives the impression that I actually have my act together!) Lately, I've been baking some old favorites like banana bread, cranberry orange bread and last week I tried a new bread, using zucchini and parmesan. The recipe is slightly adapted from one of the oldest cookbooks on my shelves, Jane Brody's Good Food Book. My mother bought this book in the '80's when she was on her serious health kick. Back then, my sister and I thought her recipes were pretty disgusting, but now we both have well-worn copies of her book and I think its fair to say we both use it pretty frequently.

I made this bread twice and the second time I doubled the amount of parmesan for extra flavor. I also experimented with substituting olive-oil for the butter, but I preferred the butter version.

Zucchini-Parmesan Bread
makes 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded, unpeeled zucchini squeezed dry (the Roman type of zucchini I used yielded no liquid)
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar, let sit for 5 minutes)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons grated onion

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugar, parmesan, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the zucchini.

In a small bowl, combine the butter, buttermilk, eggs, and onion. Add to the flour mixture, stirring the ingredients to combine them well. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 55 to 60 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out of the loaf pan. Cool completely before slicing.

Zucchini on Foodista

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Birthdays have always been momentous occasions for me. Today was Roman's first birthday and there was a lot to celebrate. His first time around the sun. First words (mama, papa, "yum") first steps (we're up to 8), the innumerable list of skills he seems to acquire daily.

I've been planning his first birthday cake since some time in July. I have a soft spot for old-fashioned layer cakes, the kind that have all that soft, billowy frosting and that sit proudly on cake stands on imaginary grandma's kitchen counters. And until Roman starts asking for cakes shaped like trucks, super-heros or cartoon characters, I figure I will keep it traditional.

Well, this morning finally rolled around and the butter and eggs came out of the refrigerator early in order to get the cake baked by nap time, and I realized that I only have 2 of the requisite 3 pans required for a super high layer cake. Plan b was cupcakes.

This cupcake recipe comes from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, given to me years ago by my good friend Rita, who loves to bake. I have made these several times over the years- for my sister's baby shower (when my dad claimed he thought they were muffins and ate one when we weren't looking) and for P's 30th birthday a few years back.

While they were cooling on the racks before nap time, Roman spotted them and started saying "yum yum yum" and practically leapt from my arms to grab one, so I caved and let him taste one (un-iced). I think a little indulgence is all right when you're turning one, after all.

Sometime during his nap I realized I had a house full of people and nothing for lunch. After a quick trek to the butcher, I decided to make up a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs. Everyone seemed happy, especially the birthday boy.

Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cupcakes
Adapted from Magnolia Bakery Cookbook (The original called for self-rising flour. You can reduce the amount below by 2 teaspoons and add the amounts of baking powder and salt that I indicate below.)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (do not pack these full)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth, using an electric mixer. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flour mixture and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract, beating well after each addition. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers. Spoon the batter into the cups about three-quarters full. Bake until the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20-22 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on a rack before icing.

Traditional Vanilla Buttercream
I just about halved the Magnolia recipe for icing, and I still had far too much, but then again if you love icing, go for it... here is their full recipe.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
8 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, until icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency (you may not need all the sugar). Use and store icing at room temperature, as icing will set if chilled. Can store in airtight container up to three days.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sardinian take-away, the Coccoi

We traded the fig and pine infused breeze of Sardinia for the surprisingly cooler and pleasant Roman September.

Before leaving, I discovered a Sardinian dish called the coccoi (pronounced "co-coy") that reminded me of a potato pancake, only baked in the oven and loaded with different vegetables. It caught my attention at the bakery and I started to ask around for the recipe. I noticed I was getting a lot of conflicting information and finally I asked our landlord for the recipe, which he willingly gave to me, courtesy of his sister-in-law (along with a bag of freshly baked coccoi for us to take back on the ferry). He told me that the coccoi is a specialty of Bari Sardo and the townspeople keep the recipe well guarded. Well, not anymore. I was too excited about this to keep it to myself.

The Coccoi of Bari Sardo

I tweaked the recipe given to me by putting just half the amount of oil. The original coccoi left too much oil on my hands. I thought the result tasted lighter and healthier. It keeps well unrefrigerated for a picnic or the beach. It's perfect for small hands and lunch boxes and a vitamin packed snack to have around the house. This would make a nice addition to a brunch, especially for people who don't eat eggs. There are of course, variations on a theme. You can add small pieces of pancetta, or even some grated pecorino cheese.

16 oz. white flour (I used the Italian 00 flour)
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 lb roma tomatoes (about 7)
2 lb either squash (butternut would probably work) or zucchini
1 lb white onion (about 6 small onions)
1/4 cup oil, or up to 1/2 cup if you want to be really authentic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt (amount of salt was not specified. I used about one teaspoon).

Using a food processor and working in batches, pulse the onions until they are reduced to fine pieces. Add to the flour mixture. Repeat with the squash or zucchini. For the tomatoes, remove the skin by cutting a cross into one end with a pairing knife and dropping into boiling water for about 30 seconds. Rinse with cold water and the skins should slip right off. (If not, return them briefly to the boiling water.) Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and then pulse them in the food processor. Mix them with the other ingredients, then stir in the oil. Once combined, line a baking pan with parchment paper and spread the mixture out into whatever shape you like. I did ovals. You can do small individual coccoi, or larger coccoi that get cut into wedges. They should be about 2 cm. thick. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden and crispy on the edges.

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