Cheesecake con pomodoro al profumo di arancia

Ciao everyone! I am back here to tell you all how well the event went Friday. The morning was busy making all eight cheesecakes, six small for the judges and two large ones for the guests who will arrive after the judging takes place. It was such a wonderful day watching the rest of the finalist prepare their dolci and meeting everyone. It was an honor to be a finalist and I still can't believe how lucky I was to be involved in such an important event. There were journalists, photographers and not to mention the guest of honor, Loretta Fanella. Loretta is a well known pastry chef here in Italy who has worked with the Italian Master Chef, Carlo Cracco, who is a judge on Master Chef Italia and a very highly rated chef in Europe.

There were five finalist including me that made fabulous desserts I couldn't wait to taste! Rose-tomato macaroons with vanilla rum and raspberry (Macaron alle Rose con confettura di Pomodorini Vaniglia e Rum al Profumo di Lampone), Tomato Cake Pops with a hint of pepper (Cake Pops al Pomodoro Piccante), Candied Tomato Crumble with yogurt gelato, Tomato Chocolate Cake (Tomato Cake) and my Tomato-Citrus Cheesecake with aroma of orange. All were such creative ideas. It was nice to get to know all the ladies and most of them were food bloggers too.

(photo by Andrea Gattini)

First place went to restaurant owner, Roberta Piazza (pictured right), with her divine Candied Tomato Crumble. I am beyond thrilled to tell you all that my dessert took second place! I was shocked and incredibly happy! Third place went to Silvia Iacoponi who made the Cake Pops. After the contest was finished the guests arrived and gathered around the front of the store while Loretta presented her 'cooking show' where she showed and explained to all how she made her dessert with tomato. She made a Plum Cake with Tomato served with a lavender and a raspberry cream. Afterwards the guests were able to taste all the finalist's desserts with tomato. Unfortunately I had to leave early because E was really sick at home, but I heard that everyone loved the cheesecake and wanted the recipe. Happy news to hear.

It was such a fun event and I feel fortunate to have been involved, especially with what little experience I have cooking and baking. I couldn't have done it without the help of E's mom. Here is my recipe for my 2nd place prized Chessecake con Pomodoro al Profuma di Arancia! (Pictured are the one person servings I made for the contest)

Cheesecake con Pomodoro al Profumo di Arancia 

Serving size; six 

Cheesecake filling;
3/4 cup (175 g)  fresh ricotta 
3/4 cup (175 g) Philadelphia cream cheese
3/4 cup (200 g) heavy cream 
2/3 cup (150 g) caster sugar 
2 egg yolks (organic fresh eggs are necessary!)
3 gelatin sheets 
about 2 cups of graham crackers (200 g biscotti)
7 tablespoon (100 g) butter 

Tomato filling;
3 cups (750 ml) tomato sauce 
(as natural as you can find without any seasonings)
1/2 cup (150 g) caster sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
Zest of 1 lemon

9" springform pan

I used a product from Mediterranea Belfiore which is unavailable online unfortunately, but it is basically a light sauce with tomato, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. You can use any glaze you would like or even an orange marmalade on top.

Blood orange cooked in whole form in pot of water for 30 minutes.
(sliced once cool)

First you want to take your gelatin sheets and cover them completely in cold water and rest in a bowl for 15 minutes. Then you need to get your tomato filling started because you need time to let it cool after cooking. In a medium pot on medium heat, pour your tomato sauce in along with the sugar, zest of two oranges and one lemon. Stir frequently for the next 15 minutes. This is necessary so that the aroma of orange and lemon are released. Take one sheet of gelatin and a little but of water over the stove for 1-2 minute until completely melted and dissolved, then mix in with tomato sauce. Pour the sauce into a large bowl to cool. 

While your tomato filling is cooling it's now time to make the crust. In a food processor grind all the cookies until fine and transfer into large bowl. Melt butter on the stove and pour over cookies and mix until it feels damp. Pour the cookie mixture in your 9" springform pan and press until compact. Place in fridge while you start your cheese filling.

For the cheesecake filling you want to first whip together the egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes until light colored yellow and becomes somewhat creamy. It is important to use fresh and organic eggs because you will not be cooking this cheesecake, therefore it has raw eggs. Whisk together the ricotta and cream cheese with the egg yolk mixture until very creamy with no lumps. In a separate bowl whisk with an electric mixer the heavy cream until it peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and set aside. Now heat the other two gelatin sheets with a little water over the stove until dissolved (takes less than 1 minute) and slowly whisk into the cheese mixture a little at a time. Set aside.

Once your tomato mixture has cooled and has become a bit thicker, spoon a layer on top of the cookie crust. (Set in fridge for 15 minutes if you have time before adding cheese filling) Take your cheese filling and spread it gently over the top of the tomato layer. Rest in the fridge for 2-3 hours to set before serving. 

I decorated with the glaze and slivered blood orange pieces right before serving. 

Dolce Pomodoro - In Cucina con il Coure

I don't know what it is, but pretty much everyone I know here since I moved seems to appreciate great quality food. I'm not talking about those expensive restaurant critic-type people either. Quality of food is valued highly here whether you are at that rundown building that turned rustic restaurant serving fresh carne on the grill, or a nice seafood ristorante on the sea. Moving here has taught me so much about food and how much quality and freshness is absolutely number one no matter where you are. Using produce that is in season and that is organically grown makes a huge difference. That's what makes Italian cuisine so special.

One ingredient that is a staple in Italy is the tomato. Typically tomatoes, pomodori, are used like a vegetable even though they are technically considered a fruit. Well have you ever thought about making a dessert with tomatoes? (Do you think I've gone off the deep end?) I know it sounds crazy, but about two months ago E's mom told me about a local contest going on that her friend's company were involved with here in town. You must invent a dessert recipe using tomatoes. I was sold! Pretty much everyone loves tomatoes, right? Except for my grandma who will only eat tomatoes if they are cooked. (Grandma, you are missing out!) E's mom is good friends with a lady who her and her family own a business for jarred organic tomatoes, vegetables and sauces all made from raw materials . It is the most darling store. Antonella and her two sister's father started the business and they are carrying on the family name, Mediterranea Belfiore. The contest guideline is to use the tomatoes from Mediterranea Belfiore, write the recipe and send it in with a photo and Chef Loretta Fanella will pick five finalists to participate in the final where judges will then taste your creation.

Last week when E was in the United States for work, I spent some time at his mom's house. One day we decided we would try experimenting desserts with tomatoes. It was a lot of fun, but also quite difficult. E's mom made an amazing dessert, Master Chef worthy. She made a pureè with the tomatoes and tried three different spices to sweeten them; ginger, cinnamon and vanilla. We narrowed it down to the ginger and cinnamon as the best flavors. She made a gelatin with the puree and ginger spice. She then made thin almond waffle crisps and a fluffy whipping cream with cream cheese and heavy cream. Layered the three ingredients in a glass. It was delicious! 

I am not so experienced in the kitchen, especially when it comes to desserts. Since I needed to be thinking of tomatoes as the fruit they are, I tried to think of a fruit that is similar. Persimmons are pretty similar but aren't in season anymore. Oranges? Oranges would be a good idea to try, I thought. I also knew that I wanted to involve some kind of cream to the dish. Cheesecake! Cheesecake with a biscotti crust, layer of pureed tomato sweetened with sugar, orange and lemon and then the layer of cheesecake using fresh ricotta and cream cheese. E's mom helped me with the idea to become a reality and reminded me that we must use two products from Medierranea Belfiore. On top as s glaze I would put un vasetto di passatina which is a product from them, a light and sweet tomato and lemon sauce.

I sent out the recipe and three days later to my absolute surprise I was chosen to be a finalist! I am still in shock and I can't believe that my recipe was chosen by Chef Loretta Fanella! I am so grateful and excited to participate in this Friday's event. (Not to mention a little nervous seeing as it will all be in Italian.) Thankfully E's mom is very supportive and will help me out. Tomorrow I must make six small cheesecakes and two large ones for the contest. I will keep you posted on how it turns out tomorrow and will post the recipe as well. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY! 

Risotto zucchine e gamberetti

This morning I am sitting here with my cup of tea while E sleeps away his jet lag from his two week business trip to the United States. As I walked down the street to go get some fresh bread from the panificio it seemed as if it would be another beautiful Spring day again. I don't want to jinx it, but I think Spring is here to stay and I couldn't be happier. As my succulents and cactus sun bath outside I decided I should start to think about what I will prepare for lunch. First thought was risotto. Risotto! "Why on earth have I not yet posted a recipe for risotto on my blog yet?!", I thought. Risotto has a special place in my heart for many reasons, one being I love literally everything that has rice in it, and two because it was one of the first homemade Italian dishes I perfected without any prior disasters. It's so easy and you can add just about anything to it that your heart desires. I really like to get creative when it comes to risotto.

One thing I always like to keep in my freezer are shrimp. I buy a pound or so and keep them in a large freezer-safe bag for later use when I don't feel like heading to the store to buy them fresh. It's perfect for making risotto. Of course I am going to add some sort of green vegetable to the mix because I can't live well without a good veg. This recipe I will be sharing with you today is a delicious and creamy risotto using zucchini, yellow squash and medium shrimp. You will need some white wine for this recipe so go ahead and pop open a bottle now and pour yourself a glass. Cooking can be fun and relaxing if you make it that way. It doesn't always have to be a chore.

Risotto zucchine e gamberetti 

2 tablespoon butter 

2 tablespoon olive oil 

2 cup Arborio rice 

half of white onion finely chopped

1 green zucchini chopped 

1 yellow zucchini squash chopped 

2 handful of medium shrimp cut in pieces 

7 cups vegetable broth 

white wine 

salt & pepper 

chili powder 

First things first and that is the vegetable broth. It is so easy to make your own vegetable broth, I  really can't stress that enough. You know what you are putting in it and you save money, win-win situation, right? Okay, so quarter of an onion, let's chop up some stalks of celery and carrots, throw a tomato in there and season as you wish. The more salt you add to the broth the less you have to add later to your risotto. Cover with water and a lid over medium heat for about 30 minutes. BAM! Your own vegetable broth. You can't tell me that was not easy. 

Alright, now you have your vegetable broth in a pot next to your large saucepan that you will now take out on the stove that you will add a good swirl of olive oil and start sauteing your chopped onions until they are translucent, not brown, over medium heat. By the way, you are going to want to use a wooden spoon for this. Time to add your rice and mix it with the onion and oil mix. (I add a few more drizzles of olive oil to make sure the rice is all covered and looks shiny) 

After a minute of stirring, add a good splash of that white wine you are sipping on. It makes such a beautiful sizzle sound. Wine aromas are the best. Once most of the wine is reduced then it is time to start ladling your vegetable broth one at a time and stirring it frequently, once the broth is absorbed it is time to add another ladle of broth. Keep doing this process for the next 12-15 minutes. You will begin to see the rice puff up a little but when you taste it the rice will not be fully cooked yet. Add your chopped zucchini and squash. At this point I add the spices also, salt, pepper and a little sprinkle of chili powder. The kick from the chili powder is very much appreciated, trust me. 

Shrimp time! I used my frozen ones in this recipe so I defrosted them prior to starting the broth. De-vain and cut the shrimps 1/2 inch pieces. Sautè them in a separate pan until they are opaque in the center. You are still stirring the rice often so as not to make it stick to the pan. I like to think of it as a good arm workout. At this point you want your rice to not be crunchy at all anymore. 

Add the shrimp LAST. The warmth of the bed of rice will gently finish to cook them and they will be so delicious and tender it will blow your mind. Taste-test time, does it have enough salt and pepper? Total time for the risotto all really depends, that is why taste-testing is key. Average time altogether is about 20-25 minutes. Take your butter and stir it in to make it creamy. I learned here in Italy that you know you made a great risotto if there is no liquid residue when you spoon it out from the bowl. 

Any good excuse to open a good bottle of wine, right? We paired this meal with a Vermentino from Aia Vecchia.  

Buon appetito a tutti!

Marmellata di kumquat

Isn't spring time just wonderful? It's as if the world wakes up again. Flowers begin to bloom, the temperature begins to rise and of course the spring produce. I was a little too excited when I saw that asparagus was making an appearance in the grocery stores again. Believe it or not, I would pick some green veggies over a dessert any day. I'm crazy, I know.

One thing I do love almost as equally as vegetables is citrus. I love the way it looks, I love the way it smells and obviously I love the taste. We were over at E's grandparents house for a special Sunday lunch where she made a delicious shrimp pasta and I had noticed a gorgeous kumquat tree in her front yard. I just go crazy when I spot a citrus tree, I am absolutely obsessed, maybe it's because I grew up in Portland where it would literally be impossible to grow any form of citrus tree there. Anyway, I managed to tell her how beautiful I thought the tree was (in Italian, mind you) and two days later she came knocking on my door with a huge bag full of them. Oh happy day!

Kumquats are a little different than other types of citrus because you pop the whole thing in your mouth. (peel and all!) No, this is not a joke. The peel is surprisingly the sweetest part. I had to convince E to try at least one. It's a pet peeve of mine when someone doesn't try something at least once to know if you like it or not. Well okay, hand me a plate of cow brains and I will tell you no, but you get the point. Since I knew I would be the only one in the household to eat them I decided I would try to make a marmalade. Thinking about a piece of whole grain toast with kumquat marmalade and a cup of tea was enough to convince myself.

I'm going to tell you the truth because that's what we do here, and the truth of the matter is the first time I experimented this marmalade it turned out very bitter and not what I was expecting. (There goes my morning toast and tea party idea), I was pretty disappointed but I didn't lose hope. The next time I saw E's mom I told her what had happened and the wise woman that she is told me that with her experiences it was best to soak the citrus a few times in water to help the acidity disappear. And so the love story continued... It turned out bounissimo and ready for the toast. Party time.

Kumquat Marmalade 

Makes; three petite jars 

1 pound of kumquats 

2 cups of granulated sugar 

1 cup water

Wash your kumquats well with water through a strainer. Now for the tedious task of cutting up the kumquats in thin slices and picking out all the seeds. SEEDS, SEEDS, SEEDS EVERYWHERE! It's worth it in the end, you have to trust me. Fill a large bowl of water and place the kumquat slices inside and cover with a tea towel, making sure the water is covering all of them. You will need to leave them in their "bath" for 8 hours before you change the water and then leave them again overnight. 

Next day strain the kumquats and put them in a large pot. Add one cup of new water in the pot along with the sugar. Cook over medium to low heat for about an hour stirring every once in a while and skimming the top if there is foam. A great tip to make sure your marmalade is ready is putting a plate in the freezer for 15 minutes and when you take it out add a little spoonful of marmalade on the plate and it will be set if it starts to become wrinkly and doesn't run.

Take your jars (sterilized of course) and spoon the hot marmalade inside until full and screw on the cap. Now you must turn the jar upside down until it is completely cool to seal it. I learned this tip from my grandma who makes the world's most amazing raspberry jam. (Oh how I miss it) 

 Now you have your own natural marmalade without added preservatives. How fantastic is that? Other ideas to use this marmalade if you (somehow) don't enjoy toast as much as I do..
Add a little dish of this next time you do a cheese platter to spice things up, on top of a cheesecake or even make a bruschetta platter with a mild cheese such as brie. Kumquat crepes anyone? The options are endless. 

Buon appetito