“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day with Death by Nutella Cake

Buongiorno a tutti!! Happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re spending today with your boyfriend, spouse or just a group of friends, I have the perfect treat to share. It involves nutella and chocolate. Do I have your attention now? I thought so. I am making my Death by Nutella Cake for tonight’s festivities (and no, I’m not telling you what they are!!). This cake is incredible. I made it the first time a few weeks ago and brought it to some friends who went nuts over it!

This is a layer cake made with a nutella brownie, nutella mousse, nutella glaze, melted chocolate and roasted hazelnuts. It’s insane. If you aren’t in love, you will be!! And if you’re looking to seal the deal with some tonight, I think this cake will do the trick. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be around you more if you keep baking cakes like this!?!? This cake is a lot of steps, but believe me…it is 100% worth it. Enjoy!!


Nutella Brownie

1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup cocoa powder
¾ cup sugar
½ cup nutella
3 ounces melted chocolate
2 eggs
½ cup flour
½ tsp. salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a round cake pan (9 by 1 ½ inch pan) and set to the side.

Melt 1 stick of butter and ½ cup of cocoa powder in the microwave, very slowly. You will want the cocoa to completely blend with the butter until it is smooth. When it’s silky, add ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup of nutella and 3 ounces of melted chocolate. Whisk in 2 eggs, add ½ cup flour and ½ tsp. salt. Fold. Make sure there are no lumps!! Pour into your cake and bake for 30 minutes.

When it is done, take it out of the oven and allow to cool for at least two hours. In the meantime, prepare the nutella mousse….

Nutella Mousse

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. espresso powder
1 tsp. hazelnut extract
½ cup nutella

In a medium size steel bowl, add 1 cup heavy cream, 1 tsp. espresso power and 1 tsp. hazelnut extract. Whisk until the espresso powder is dissolved. Add ½ cup nutella and using an electric beater, whisk until soft peaks form, this should take around 2-3 minutes. Do not overbeat though. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for two hours. Prepare the nutella glaze now..

Nutella Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup nutella
3 tbsp. milk

Add powdered sugar, nutella and milk to a medium size bowl. Whisk together until smooth.

Chocolate Drizzle

3 ounces of 70% chocolate

Prepare a double boiler filled with an inch of water and melt chocolate slowly until smooth. Set aside.

Toasted Hazelnuts

½ cup of blanched and toasted hazelnuts

After blanching and toasting the hazelnuts, roughly chop them and set aside.

Assembling the Cake

Step 1- First start off with the cooled nutella brownie. Using a serrated knife carefully cut the brownie into two layers. Set one layer aside, leaving the other bottom layer where you will fully prepare and present it when it is done.

Step 2- Take the nutella mousse out of the refrigerator and spoon onto the bottom brownie layer. It should flow over the whole cake. Using a spatula spread over the brownie, leaving an inch or so of the edges of the brownie bare (when you put the final brownie layer on top, it will naturally push some of the mousse further.)

Step 3- Drizzle 1 ounce of the melted chocolate over the mousse layer.

Step 4- Carefully put the top brownie layer over the mousse layer. Drizzle the rest of the melted chocolate over the top layer. Pour the glaze over the top brownie layer and spread evenly. Let is drip over the sides of the cake.

Step 5- Last but not least, sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the top of the cake. Buon Appetito!! 

Valentine's Day Eve: Breakfast in Bed, Ricotta Pancakes

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day Eve and you’ll need something to prepare for breakfast in bed, right? Look no further…Ricotta Pancakes!! These ricotta pancakes are moist, light, fluffy and delicious. Imagine the most amazing Italian cheesecake in pancake form…this is what you’ll get. Serve with a pat of butter, a little maple syrup and a cappuccino and you’re sure to start Valentine’s Day right!!

Ricotta Pancakes

2 large eggs, separated
½ cup flour (for a paleo version, use almond flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. buttermilk powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup ricotta
2 tbsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla

Start off my beating your egg whites until there are stiff, but not dry. In a serperate bowl, whisk your flour, baking powder, buttermilk powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolk, ricotta, brown sugar and vanilla. You will want to whisk for a few minutes so everything is smooth and creamy. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Next, very gently fold in the egg whites. Do so carefully!!

Prepare a griddle over medium heat with 2 tbsp. of butter. Spoon the mixture out into whatever size you like. The batter is pretty dense, do not be alarmed! It is not a loose batter. Cook on each side for at least 2-4 minutes. I like my pancakes pretty golden. Serve and enjoy your Valentine’s Day morning. Come back tomorrow for your Valentine’s Day evening treat…Death by Nutella Cake! Buon Appetito! Xoxo 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Parmigiana and Hazelnuts

Ciao a tutti!! Okay, so I know I may be alone here, but I LOVE Brussels sprouts. I mean, I really love them. I have a dear family friend to thank for that. A few years back we went to her house for Thanksgiving and one of the sides she served was sprouts with garlic. My first thought was “Brussels sprouts? For Thanksgiving? Uhhh.” But, I am never one to be rude and insult someones effort in the kitchen, so I gave them a try. Wow. She made them so crispy and delicious, I was shocked. Since then, I've been hooked and I look for anyway to have some fun with them.

Now, if you were like me and thought you hated Brussels sprouts, that’s probably because you've had plain steamed or boiled ones. I promise you that this recipe will definitely change your mind. I shave my sprouts using a mandoline so they get really browned and crispy. It is more time consuming, but it is worth it. I also fry them in bacon fat. I know, I know, not the healthiest thing, but hey, why not?!? I also add hazelnuts, parmigiana and bacon. Yes, bacon. I mean, crispy Brussels sprouts, hazelnuts, parmigiana and bacon. Who wouldn't love that? So, please give them I try. You won’t regret it.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Parmigiana and Hazelnuts

1 pound of bacon (I like applewood smoked, but you pick whatever you prefer)
1 clove of garlic
1 pound of Brussels sprouts
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. black pepper
½ cup of roasted hazelnuts
½ cup of grated parmigiana (good quality!!)

Start off by cooking your bacon in a large pan over medium heat. Let it cook long enough to get really, really crispy, for around 15-20 minutes. Take the bacon out of the pan and put on a paper towel to soak up any of the excess oil. Allow to dry. You will be using the same pan you cooked your bacon in to prepare the sprouts.

Mince your one clove of garlic and add to the pan, allow to roast slightly.

Trim all of the sprouts, removing any bruised leaves and cutting off some of the hard root end. Using a mandoline, shave your Brussels sprouts one at a time. Add the sprouts to the pan, along with salt and pepper. Toss the sprouts and make sure they are completely coated in the bacon fat. Cook for 30-45 minutes depending on how crispy you like it. I like my Brussels sprouts VERY crispy. When they are done cooking, move them to a bowl.

Chop your bacon in 1 inch pieces and add to the spouts. Add ½ cup of roasted hazelnuts and ½ cup of grated parmigiana and toss. Buon Appetito!! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Dark Side of Nutella - Nutella Zeppoles

It happened again. I woke up this morning, my hair a mess, half off the bed, memory blurred and my hand clutching a spoon like it was a teddy bear. What happened? What had I done? And then it all hit me. The familiar scent of hazelnut, the rich taste of chocolate in my mouth, the sticky fingers. I hit the nutella….again. Real bad too. How could I keep doing this? It was so unlike me. There was just something about the way nutella smelled and tasted, the smooth and creamy texture, all the versatility, the things I could do with it.

Never mind that now, I had to figure out exactly what got me here. I looked to the right side of the bed and saw a few half opened jars of the stuff, to the left there was a plate full of crumbs. Crumbs. Okay, I didn’t just eat out of the jar then. They texture of the crumbs didn’t make sense. They weren’t brownies or cookies, they were too crispy for that. I needed to investigate further. I got up and walked into the kitchen searching for more clues. A large mixing bowl sat on the counter, whisk still in it next to a used container of ricotta. A frying pan with a fresh layer of oil on the stove. Frying pan? Ricotta cheese? I clearly wasn’t making cheesecake, so what could I have possibly done with a frying pan, ricotta and nutella?  Oh no. I remembered. It all came back to me. I made my great aunt Carmella’s Nutella Ricotta Zeppoles. But how? My mother kept the secret recipe hidden, I didn’t even know where it was. I checked my phone, seeing that I had called her four times last night, she must have spilled. Obviously, what else could explain the zeppoles? I certainly didn’t know how to make them. Only my mother held the key.

I went back to the bedroom searching desperately for more clues and there it was. Placed neatly on my desk. The recipe. The recipe for the most amazing, crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside, Nutella Ricotta Zeppoles. Glancing over the recipe, it wasn’t hard to see why I had ended up like this.

Nutella Ricotta Zepploes

1 ½ pounds ricotta
½ cup of nutella
2 cups of flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 eggs

1 cup of neutral oil for frying

First, mix together your ricotta and nutella. Then add your eggs. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the nutella ricotta mix. Let the batter sit for around 20 minutes.

Prepare a deep pot for frying over high heat and add your oil. Drop batter by large tablespoons into the oil. Each zeppole should take roughly 4-6 minutes to fry, so please stand by and watch them. They should also float to the top!! Don’t get nervous if when they are done frying they look dark, the nutella makes the batter a mocha color! When they are done, take them out and put on a wire rack so any excess oil drips off. I like to serve these the traditional way with a light dusting on powdered sugar! Boun Appetito!! 

For more intense Nutella cravings and recipes, be sure to take a look at Ms. Adventures in Italy, Bleeding Espresso and World Nutella Day!!

World Nutella Day Logo - February 5th

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Insalata Caprese

Ciao a tutti!! When I’m in Italy, something that I really look forward to eating is a beautiful, fresh Insalata Caprese. It’s just a perfect meal. Milky and creamy mozzarella, plump, juicy tomatoes and sweet fragrant basil  with a drizzle of beautiful olive oil and sprinkle of salt. 

I certainly eat Insalata Caprese in America, but……they’re just not the same. The big thing for me…the tomatoes. Tomatoes in Italy are just amazing. The oil, air, water and sun in Italy all contribute to the extraordinary quality and taste of the tomatoes. When I was first in Ischia the summer of 2011, we brought some tomatoes at the local market, took them home and cut them in half and ate them with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bliss. We had never had such good tomatoes. Honestly, they just taste different then what we have back home.

So..one day while wandering around Rome, literally, just wandering and seeing what we found, we weren’t looking for anything specific, just taking in all of the beauty, we came across a little trattoria and decided to give it a try. I ordered the Insalata Caprese and did not regret it. Another key to making a fantastic insalata is getting REAL mozzarella. Not the kind packaged in the supermarket. You need to find a place that sells fresh, milky mozzarella.

I know this may sound like the most, simple, easiest recipe ever and it is…but that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. You’ll be amazed at how something so simple, can taste so incredible. Buon Appetito!!

Insalata Caprese

3 vine ripe tomatoes (cut into ¼ inch thick slices)
1 pound fresh mozzarella (cut into ¼ inch thick slices)
1 bunch fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil (to drizzle)
Salt and Pepper

Layer alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella, adding some basil between. Drizzle the top of the salad with the olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper (quanto basta!). Enjoy!!