Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Striped Delight: Pistachio, Strawberry and Vanilla Semifreddo

I can’t take credit for this luscious layered semifreddo. I can definitely vouch for its sinful deliciousness, though. And it was so very, very good that I just might decide to make it myself, despite the fact that this is definitely not a spur of the moment undertaking. I can picture one day in the dog days of August when it’s so stifling hot that I’ll dream up any excuse to stay inside the air conditioning and take several hours to make this delightfully refreshing frozen concoction.

My sister Lynn, a wonderful cook, the best in the family, hands down, hosted a little dinner for her four siblings and spouses. The semifreddo was the piece de resistance that capped a wonderful array of light and fresh dishes that included an endamame and arugula pesto appetizer and spicy sweet pork tenderloin served over greens with citrus and avocado. (Don’t worry; you’ll hear about those soon.)

This semifreddo is featured on the cover of June’s Bon Appetit and its pastel prettiness captured Lynn’s fancy on sight. I’m happy for the rest of us that the recipe’s detail did not scare her off. Actually, it’s not that hard, really, just time consuming and one of those recipes that requires you dirty half your bowls and utensils.I loved the fact that the recipe uses the real vanilla bean. And ground pistachios and fresh strawberries.

But combine pistachios and vanilla and strawberries, with cream and eggs and sugar, I’m one easy mark for near gluttony. Although I really don’t have a great sweet tooth, I’m a sucker for any kind of ice cream. But my all-time favorite is pistachio. As a child, our family traveled three hours each way once a month to Grandma’s and a pit stop at a Howard Johnson’s on the way meant coffee for the driver and ice cream for the kids. And pistachio was my perennial request.

So if you ever want to spend a day in a cool house, make this. Trust me; you’ll be rewarded with kudos like you would not believe.

Pistachio, Strawberry and Vanilla Semifreddo
Serves 10
Bon Appetit June 2011

1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
4 T sugar, divided, plus ½ cup
1 c whole milk, divided
¼ t almond extract
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 C fresh strawberries (about 4 oz.), hulled, halved
1 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ t kosher salt
1 1/3 C chilled whipping cream

Line a  metal loaf pan (approximately 9x5x3”) with two layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.

Grind pistachios and 2 T sugar in a food processor until very finely chopped. Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan. Add ½ C milk; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep 20 minutes. Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl; strain, discarding solids. Stir in almond extract; set pistachio mixture aside.

Place remaining ½ cup milk in a separate small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes. Set a strainer over another small bowl; strain, discarding solids, and chill vanilla mixture.

Puree strawberries and 2 T sugar in food processor until smooth. Set a fine mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Stir in vanilla extract and set strawberry mixture aside

Whisk eggs, salt and remaining ½ cup sugar in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Beat egg mixture at high speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 170 degrees Fahrenheit, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from over water and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes. Add one-third egg mixture to each of the pistachio, strawberry and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend.

Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add one third of cream to each of the pistachio, strawberry and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend. Cover vanilla and strawberry mixtures separately; chill.

Pour pistachio mixture into pan; smooth top. Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently pour strawberry mixture over pistachio layer; smooth top. Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently fold vanilla mixture to blend and pour over and smooth top. Freeze until firm about 4 hours.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Fold plastic wrap over. Seal tightly and keep frozen.

When ready to serve, uncover semifreddo and using plastic wrap as an aid invert onto a chilled platter. Peel off plastic. Slice cross wise. You can freeze any leftovers, but I doubt there would be any.

Bon Appetit also suggests that if you want to bypass the layered look, you can choose just one of the flavors and just triple the measurements.

Monday, June 13, 2011

“Go To” Sausage Pasta Toss for a Down in the Dumps Day

Everyone has a dependable dish you can always go to when things seem like they’re just not going your way, when everything seems to be piling up against you, when there’s no time to play in the kitchen and all you want is something tasty and comforting and that you can eat with a fork, not your hand.  (I'm not against sandwiches at all, but when I'm feeling frumpy, I want fork food.) 

This is mine. 

A simple sausage and pasta dish, made fresher with a bag of baby spinach and a little fresh basil, fun shaped pasta, a couple scrapes of fresh nutmeg and a great handful of freshly grated cheese.  Twenty minutes go by and the world looks better.

It’s been a helluva week.  We just got back from a week long fishing trip.  Great fun, great food, horrible bugs.  And as lovely as it is to get away, it’s even better to come home.   But in addition to the usual unpacking and laundry stuff, fate had thrown a few extras our way.    My petunias were dying.  Some critter trampled trough the freshly planted vegetable garden (and apparently hastily eschewed the onions,) the barn bridge is starting to collapse, begging for repair, the nine acres of yard needs to be mowed (and the lawn tractor has become testy) and it’s time to make hay.

So making this go-to meal, as simple as it is, as warm as it is outside, was still just what I needed to assure me that all's right with the world. Oh, did I mention that my computer is on the fritz?  That’s what really has me bummed because how am I going to blog about all the ways we cooked our walleye?  How am I going to share with you the absolutely delightful dinner my sister hosted this past weekend?  How am I going to share all the new things I’m going to do with my blog, my reading list, my description of my family, my favorite cookbooks?  It will all just have to wait a bit.

In the meantime,  I cooked up this favorite dish and relaxed a bit.  A glass of wine helps a lot, too.  Tomorrow's another day and I'll be ready to tackle the world -- and plant my begonias.

Sausage Pasta Toss
makes about 4 to 6 servings
1/2 pound small-sized pasta (like shells, mini-penne rigate, bow ties)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 bag fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, or couple scrapes of a fresh nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh Parmesan, depending on how bad your day/week was

Get the pasta going and while it's cooking, crumble and brown the sausage in a big skillet. When it's browned, add the undrained can of tomatoes.  Add the Italian seasoning -- or a mixture of dried basil, oregano and thyme.  Drain the pasta and add it to the pan.  Add the spinach and stir until just wilted.  Add the nutmeg.  Add the cheese. Mange.