sweet pea bruschetta, ricotta and mint

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

I’ve been wanting to eat at the restaurant A16 for a few years now, and I finally had a chance to go there while I was San Francisco earlier this month.

I dove into the absolutely amazing wine list,  carefully curated by wine director Shelley Lindgren, which contains literally hundreds of Italian labels, so many I’ve never tasted (yet).  If I were lucky to live anywhere near A16, I’d consider drinking wine there as much as possible. It would be an educational journey through Italy by way of wine, and I wouldn’t need a passport.

I sipped a Negroni while studying the list, tasting my starter, a sweet pea bruschetta that could have been a meal all by itself.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Firebrand, a brick oven bakery in Oakland, makes the bread served at A16. It’s the kind of bread that I crave every day. The crust is thick, dark and chewy, with a smoky hint of char. The interior crumb is dense, moist and full of flavor. Cooks at A16 toast the bread in their wood-fired oven before assembling the bruschetta, so it’s like a double-down of deliciousness.

The toppings on the bruschetta the night I was there were house-made ricotta, mashed sweet peas and preserved lemon-mint pesto. Every course I had after that was great, but it was that bruschetta I keep thinking about.

fresh mint

I did my best in this recipe recreation, but – poor me! – lacking a wood-fired oven, fantastic handmade bread and ricotta, it really does earn the label “inspiration”.

Despite the relative poverty of ingredients and firewood, my version took the edge off an urge to book another flight west. It’s fresh pea season somewhere, but not where I live, so I used frozen peas. I think they are a very fine substitute – and I have to say maybe even better than fresh ones. Sometimes after all the work of shucking peas, I find them starchy, hard and not very sweet.

The one element that came from “home” was mint, which has been stubbornly, happily green and thriving in my garden all winter.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen

Salt

Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh ground black pepper

4 ¾-inch thick slices crusty bread

1 garlic clove

Handful fresh mint leaves, sliced thin

2 ounce chunk Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Drain the ricotta for an hour in a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.
  2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil; add a teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook 1 or 2 minutes; drain and transfer to a bowl. Mash the peas to a coarse consistency using a potato masher or wooden spoon along with 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Heat a griddle or grill to medium high heat. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and toast until dark golden brown on both sides. Remove the toasted bread from the griddle and scrape the garlic clove over the tops.
  4. Spread some ricotta over the bread, sprinkle with mint and spoon some peas over. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Pecorino cheese over each bruschetta. Drizzle with olive oil before serving warm or at room temperature
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/sweet-pea-bruschetta-ricotta-and-mint/

cream of roasted tomato soup

cream-of-roasted-tomato-soup

My resolution to make more soup slacked a little; I haven’t made soup since the egg drop soup I posted last month.

Well, I take that back; I did add some Chinese noodles to a bowl of hot chicken broth last week when my kids had a sore throat, but that’s about it. For a few seconds there I felt my own self heading toward the flu, and joined them on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket.

That down time felt good, and it worked too. I finally added Downton Abbey to my Netflix queue and got all caught up with the first season during a marathon session – something I hardly ever let myself do.

I’m not a great television person. It’s hard to sit passively for what seems to me like time wasted; I find myself thinking of lists to write, books I need to read and some random details of daily life I think I forgot to do.

Letting all that stuff go once in a while is obviously good for the soul. And how lucky for me that since I’ve missed the first 2 seasons of a show that every person I know seems to be talking about, I now have LOTS to catch up on.

Don’t tell me what happened during last week’s episode – I know there was enough drama to cause sobbing in front of the television, but I’m not there yet!

cream-of-roasted-tomato-soup-recipe

I made a batch of this creamy tomato soup and my kids and I finished it off when they came home from school. When I make it again, I will double the portions to have a little leftover for lunch the next day.

Instead of milk, I used fresh bread as a thickener; thinking of the creamy version of Campbell’s soup my mom would make for me.

cream of roasted tomato soup

Serving Size: makes 2 - 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ large white or yellow onion, sliced

2 pounds small vine-ripened tomatoes, such as Campari, sliced in half

1 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste

½ teaspoon sugar

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

2 or 3 thick slices peasant-style bread, crusts trimmed

3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan

1 – 2 cups cup vegetable broth or water

Crostini, soft goat cheese or ricotta and chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme or basil)

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a baking dish or pan that will hold the tomatoes snugly (I used a 14-inch cast iron skillet); scatter the onion evenly over the bottom.
  3. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up over the onion and sprinkle with the salt and sugar.
  4. Roast 20 minutes; then scatter the garlic over the tomatoes and roast for about 10 more minutes – the tomatoes and onion should be soft and golden and their juices bubbling. Season the tomatoes with the black pepper to taste and cool 10 or 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer the tomatoes to a blender or food processor. Tear the bread slices into small chunks and add to the tomatoes (one half at a time if blending in 2 batches) along with the cheese. Add enough broth or water to barely cover the tomatoes – it will depend on how juicy the tomatoes are after roasting.
  6. Puree until smooth, in batches if necessary, adding more bread and/or liquid to achieve a consistency you like. I prefer the soup with a little body rather than very brothy. Taste for seasoning. Spread the crostini with some goat cheese and sprinkle with herbs to and place one in each bowl of soup.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/02/cream-of-roasted-tomato-soup/

Rosemary & Bittersweet Chocolate Quick Bread

rosemary-chocolate-bread-recipe

My favorite baking book this year has to be Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Grain Flours. The recipes are wholesome, accessible and appealing; the photography has a warm, rustic simplicity that I love. When I browse through the book I want to make – and taste – just about everything in it.

I’ve been experimenting with switching out butter for olive oil in baking, which led to Olive Oil & Cocoa Brownies a few weeks ago. I’ve also had this recipe for Olive Oil Cake from Kim Boyce’s book flagged for months, and after making it a few times I can say it’s definitely a keeper.

These are perfect little breads to give as gifts, or to snack on when you crave a bite of something not-too-sweet.

rosemary-chocolate-bread-recipe

I have a special place for rosemary in my cooking, so any time I see an opportunity to highlight its distinctive piney-lemon character I jump in to explore.

The first time I baked this lightly sweet cake (to me it’s actually more of a quick bread than a cake), I threw in some freshly grated lemon zest. Lemon is a nice partner with the fruity taste of the olive oil and chocolate, but it got a little lost in there.

Next, I tried adding some ground coriander, a spice that has essential elements of citrus and balsam. You barely notice it in the background, but I think it naturally unites the slightly unusual pairing of chocolate with rosemary and olive oil.

I couldn’t help gilding the rosemary, so I sprinkled rosemary sugar leftover from my Italian Greyhounds over the tops just before putting them in the oven.

Rosemary & Bittersweet Chocolate Quick Bread

Yield: 1 standard loaf or 4 mini loaves

Ingredients

3/4 cup spelt flour (or use an equal amount of all purpose flour)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

3 eggs

1 cup olive oil

3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces

Rosemary sugar

Instructions

  1. Position an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly coat 4 small loaf pans (5" x 2") or one regular loaf pan with olive oil. Place the pans on a baking sheet. If using a single loaf pan, you can skip the baking sheet.
  3. Put the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and coriander in a large bowl. Use a whisk to blend the dry ingredients.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Add the olive oil and whisk together. Add the milk and rosemary and mix again just to blend.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, stirring gently to combine. Stir in the chocolate until evenly distributed.
  6. Divide the batter among the pans and smooth the top. Sprinkle tops evenly with some Rosemary Sugar, about 2 teaspoons each, or regular sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes for small loaves; 45- 50 minutes for standard loaf or until the tops are domed and a skewer inserted in the middle of the loaves comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a rack before slicing either warm or cool.
http://familystylefood.com/2011/04/rosemary-bittersweet-chocolate-quick-bread/