Saturday, April 21, 2012

Orange-Scented Italian Cheese Cake: Lower-Fat success in an Overall Failure

OK. Some of my trials are a bust. I just forget them, and certainly don't put them out on the blog. However, this trial had success mixed with failure.

I wanted a dessert recipe with figs. I was anticipating the arrival of fig season in Georgia, having noted that the tree by our market's herb garden has 1/2-inch fruit already. Maybe this year there will be enough so I can actually get to them before the squirrels (there's a neighborhood cat that may help on that front) and before my frugivorous granddaughter Isabella gets them.

I thought that fresh figs baked on top of an Italian cheese cake was a natural. It was a little surprising that none of my many Italian cookbooks, even the Sicilian ones, had anything like it. And even on Google, the only fig and cheese pie was from Emeril Lagasse. He used chopped dried figs soaked in rum, and his readers awarded him a one out of five for interest. Maybe figs baked with cheese just don't work

I tried, nonetheless. Alas, the fresh figs I used (Black Missions from California, which are never great fresh) were dull, bland, and vaguely unpleasant when cooked. But the good news is that the basic ricotta cheese pie, or "torta," was delicious. And it even carried little fat, though still could not be considered dieting food.

Since I have relatively few desserts in my blog (I'm not that enthusiastic a baker), I thought I'd put the cheese pie part of this one in. It would probably work well with wedges of plum baked atop the cheese filling, and it certainly would do well, when served topped with fresh strawberries or peaches or raspberries.

Italian Cheese Cake: Torta di Ricotta

1 pre-made pie crust lining a 9-inch pie pan
3 eggs
1 quart (32 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange

This is easiest using a food processor. Otherwise press the ricotta through a sieve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In food processor or large bowl, beat eggs lightly. Use about 2 teaspoons beaten egg to coat inside of pie crust.

Add remaining ingredients to food processor, and puree well. Alternatively, press ricotta through a sieve into bowl with the eggs, then mix with remaining ingredients.

Pour cheese filling into crust. Bake 50 to 60 minutes on bottom shelf of oven (so bottom crust browns). Top will turn golden and middle will puff up. Shake lightly, and when center is no longer wiggly, remove from oven. Cool on a rack, then refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap.

Enjoy alone or with cut-up fruit or whole raspberries.

Lentil stew with meatballs for Babs

One of my most faithful food enthusiasts is Babs, on the staff of St. Barthelemew's Church, where my wife Christina is a deacon. Babs particularly enjoys lentils. This recipe is for her, since she asked for a recipe when I made a version of the dish a while ago.

This recipe serves six generously. Accompany with rice or brown rice.

Lentil Stew with Meatballs
1 pound tan/green lentils (supermarket type)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
5 cups water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Chopped parsley for garnish

2 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup quick oatmeal
1/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Soak lentils in hot water 20 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile, fry onion and celery in oil until limp and starting to turn golden.

Add garlic and fry one minute, stirring. Add drained lentils, wine, dry herbs and spices plus water. Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are tender, 20 or more minutes, depending on the variety.

Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes.

Prepare meatballs by mixing all ingredients together well. Shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls, wetting hands from time to time with water.

Drop them into simmering lentil mixture. Be careful not to stir, or the meatballs will break. Rather, shake and swirl the pot to move the meatballs. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, shaking and swirling pot several times.

When meatballs seem to be cooking, stir them carefully. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste stew and add salt, if needed.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley when serving.