Sunday, June 27, 2010

Risky kitchen business

Cooking is a wonderful process, activity, hobby, necessity, flirtatious pastime, love affair, obsession. It entails creativity, imagination, the use of most of the senses, it's inspiring, satisfying, fun. But you know what else? Cooking can also be painful.






A couple of days ago, as I was contemplating the oh so common topic of what-will-I-cook-today I thought, "What's a better meal for a sunny, summer day than a bowl of fresh peas cooked with spring onions, olive oil and dill?". Yes, the idea was perfect, a meal that would certainly satisfy my number one demanding 'customer', my boyfriend. We love these vegetarian dishes, especially during the summer. They're fulfilling yet light and surely not one of those that make you want to lie on the couch for the rest of the day.






It's been one of my favorite meals ever since I was a kid. My mom made it for me and my brother all the time when we were growing up and, as with so many other dishes that my mom prepared for us, I've incorporated this one also into my repertoire of easy, quick and gratifying recipes. But I'm getting carried away here. This is not about the peas or the recipe for the peas- which will come at some point, I promise- or my mother's great talent at succeeding in feeding me healthy food. No, this is about pain. The pain associated with food preparation.






So, my peas were bubbling away on the stove top, I was listening to 'All of me' by Billie Holiday on the radio and I reached for my big Japanese vegetable knife that my uncle gave me as a Christmas present last year. I wanted to add the dill at the very end of the cooking process so I began chopping away the spiky, green dill strands while thinking to myself, "Gosh, this knife cuts like a dream, I have to be careful not to cut my fingeeeeers"... and it happened. Yes, I cut my finger. I actually cut my nail as well as my finger. It was painful and I totally freaked out but, fortunately, it turned out it wasn't that deep a cut. What angered me the most was that I had ruined my dill!






S. says that sometimes I'm a hazard to myself in the kitchen and since this was not my first unfortunate incident with knives, I tend to agree with him. I go around thinking, "I got it, I can chop like a pro" and then things like this happen and I realize that I'm not. What's the obvious moral here? Be careful when handling knives! I think it'll get through to me someday.






When I manage to surpass my knife handling issues, I do produce some pretty decent food. Take this combination for example. Fried calamari rings and tentacles with a homemade saffron mayonnaise. A totally Mediterranean dish, a complete and utter delight.






I love calamari (squid) or 'kalamaraki' as it is called in Greek, especially when it's fresh. Whenever I can find large calamari, I prefer to stuff them with a mix of green bell peppers and feta and cook them on the grill. But when I buy the smaller ones, there's really no other option than to coat them in flour and fry them, which is the classic Greek way of preparing calamari, the original mezes, served with lemon wedges and accompanied by a shot of ouzo.






This time though, I wanted something different to pair with my fried calamari. A while ago, as I was going through the myriad of recipes I want to cook someday, I stumbled upon one for homemade mayonnaise using saffron so I immediately thought of that.






Saffron (named 'krokos' in Greek), the Mediterranean miracle flower, with its valuable antithrombotic, anticancerous and antioxidant qualities, is being produced in Greece since the 17th century. It is biologically produced specifically in the small village of Krokos in Kozani county of northern Greece and it is considered to be one of the most intense and supreme varieties of saffron in the world. That is the variety I used for my mayonnaise.






Homemade mayonnaise is by far superior in taste and texture to the store bought type, not to mention that it is healthier since it doesn't contain any preservatives or additives. Egg, mustard powder, olive and sunflower oil, lemon juice, saffron. A few simple ingredients and an extraordinary one, whipped up together, producing a magnificently delicious and luscious condiment. This mayo is sharp, slightly sweet and light, so much lighter than the ordinary mayo, with a smooth and creamy texture. The saffron is a strong spice but the addition of only one pinch ensures its discrete presence. It is noticeable as an aftertaste, allowing the olive oil, lemon and the hint of mustard to shine as the prominent flavors.






Use this mayo in a grilled chicken sandwich, slathered on top of a burger patty, or mixed in a green salad. There are innumerable ways to use it, but the combination with the fried calamari is superb. The crunchiness of the scrumptious seafood pairs beautifully with the velvety mayonnaise and the unique flavor of the calamari is a perfect match for the piquant mayo. Ideally served as a mezes, with ouzo or a cold beer, this combination can also be served as a main meal alongside some French fries and a Greek salad.










Kalamarakia Tiganita me Spitiki Magioneza me Safran (Greek Fried Calamari with Homemade Saffron Mayonnaise)
Saffron mayonnaise recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Homemade mayonnaise is a really special treat but I would like to stress the fact that it contains a raw egg. This means that it should not be consumed by pregnant women, infants, people who have problems with their immune system or the elderly.

It is essential that the egg you use for the mayonnaise is super fresh. Don't use old eggs!

I used saffron threads for the mayonnaise but you can also use saffron powder. I prefer the saffron threads since they have a significantly stronger and richer flavor than the powder.

I used a hand held mixer to prepare the mayo but you can also use a blender or a food processor.







Yield: 4 first-course servings / 1 heaped cup of mayonnaise

Ingredients

for the saffron mayonnaise
1 large fresh egg
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 heaped tsp dried mustard
120 ml (1/2 cup) light olive oil
120 ml (1/2 cup) sunflower oil
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
A pinch of saffron threads ( about 20 saffron threads or 1/16 tsp saffron powder)

for the calamari
500 g fresh or frozen* calamari with tentacles (about 12-14 cm in length and 4 cm in width)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
900 ml sunflower oil

Special equipment: hand held mixer, sieve.

Preparation

for the saffron mayonnaise
Combine the olive and sunflower oil in a jug.

Important note: Once you start mixing the ingredients for the mayonnaise with the hand held mixer, you must not stop the machine at any time. This is crucial for the success of your mayo, since it might split or curdle, so have the ingredients prepared and lined up on your work surface before you start preparing the mayonnaise.




In a small bowl, add 1 tsp of lemon juice and the saffron threads. Let the saffron steep for 15 minutes, until the liquid turns a yellow-orange color. Then strain the mixture into another small bowl, discard the saffron threads and reserve the liquid.
If you're using saffron powder, do not strain the mixture. Just stir to dissolve the powder in the lemon juice.

In a medium-sized bowl, place egg, mustard powder and salt and, using a hand held mixer, beat everything on high speed until you have a pale golden and foamy mixture, about 2 minutes.
With the mixer still running, add the combined oils (about 60 ml of the oil), one drop at a time until the mixture begins to thicken. You must not stop the machine at any time during this whole process.

Pour the remaining oil in the mixture, in a slow, steady stream and keep mixing until all of the oil is incorporated in the mixture.

With the mixer still running, add 1 Tbsp lemon juice gradually, a couple of drops at a time until incorporated and you have a smooth, creamy mayonnaise.

Drizzle in the saffron-infused liquid and combine with a rubber spatula. Check for seasoning, place mayonnaise in an airtight container and refrigerate to firm up.

You can keep mayonnaise in the refrigerator for 3 days.

for calamari
In a medium-sized baking tray, place the flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix everything together. Set aside.

Rinse the calamari well under running water and cut them into 1.5 cm-thick rings. Keep the tentacles intact.
Place calamari on paper towels to dry a little (don't dry them completely otherwise the flour won't stick to them), place them in the baking tray and coat them with the flour mixture. Then put them in a sieve, slightly shake them around so that any excess flour passes through the sieve and set aside.

Heat sunflower oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. You can check if the oil is ready for frying by dropping in it a 2.5 cm cube of white bread and if it browns in 60 seconds, it is ready. If it browns in less time then your oil is too hot!

Deep fry the calamari in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan because they will not be uniformly fried. Fry them for 2-3 minutes. In case your calamari is bigger in size you will need to adjust the frying time. Keep in mind though that, if you fry them for too long they will become tough and chewy.

Remove fried calamari from the pan with the help of a slotted spoon, place them on paper towels to drain excess oil and check for seasoning.

Serve them while still hot along with the saffron mayonnaise.






*If you're using frozen calamari you need to defrost them first. It's best to take them out of the freezer the previous night and put them in your fridge. This way, the defrosting will be gradual and not abrupt. Take them out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you need to prepare them for frying.


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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tomato happy

Last week, as I was preparing a horiatiki salata (Greek salad) for dinner, a sweet smell hit me as I was cutting into one of the tomatoes. Juices came running down my fingers and I immediately brought a wedge to my mouth. As I tasted it, it dawned on me. The tomato season has started!






I get so excited when I taste the first tomatoes of summer. Their flavor is infinitely superior to the ones you've been eating all winter long, that they suddenly seem like the sweetest thing you've ever had the pleasure of introducing to your taste buds. Ranging from pale golden to bright red and to glossy burgundy they are what summer is all about. That day, the salad was preferred to the main meal.






In Greek cuisine, there is a multitude of ways to use the simple tomato fruit; well it technically is a fruit after all. Apart from the famous Greek salad that every person who ever visited Greece is familiar with, there is the traditional dish of gemista, one of my all time favorite dishes, which is baked tomatoes stuffed with minced meat and rice and then there's every other Greek dish that includes tomatoes, which is almost 80% of your typical Greek dishes.






The Greek variety of beefsteak tomato that comes from the beautiful island of Crete is incredibly flavorsome and widely used but the most exquisite and rare variety of Greek tomatoes is that of the cherry tomato of Santorini island, also known as tomatini. Being smaller than the normal cherry tomato and having slightly flat sides, this unique variety has very thick skin, is extremely flavorful with both sweet and sour notes and highly aromatic.






Grown exclusively in Santorini, this variety is being harvested on anhydrous and volcanic soil and the tomatoes manage to acquire the necessary moisture they need for their survival from the mist that spreads over the island during the night. It has been found that this variety has more vitamin C than the average tomato and it has also been shown to contain the largest amount of lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Tomato paste is also produced from this small miracle of a tomato.






The cherry tomatoes of Santorini have been cultivated there since 1875 and by the 20th century there were almost 20,000 acres of land that were being harvested and fourteen tomato processing factories that were in operation. A massive earthquake in 1956 that caused great damage to the land as well as the rise in tourism, struck a blow to the tomato farming industry leaving only a few acres of land to be cultivated, a few islanders interested in continuing the tomato farming tradition and one processing factory still in operation. Most of these factories have now been converted to restaurants or bars.






I wish I could find these glorious miniature-sized fresh Santorini tomatoes in Holland but unfortunately I can't- they are even scarce in Greece. I have to settle for the normal cherry tomatoes which, in all fairness, are not at all bad but indeed quite delicious. I love using them in all kinds of salads, savory tarts and sauces, roasting them in the oven with lots of herbs, or stuffing them with cheese. Recently though, I discovered another way of enjoying these bright little jewels; by making tomato jam.






I love savory jams and chutneys. I think they are the best accompaniment to so many dishes that they are definitely worth making a batch of every now and then and keep in the fridge to spice up all kinds of boring dishes.
This cherry tomato jam has a vibrant red color and a sweet and slightly sour flavor with a hint of heat. Its jammy texture is well contrasted by the small shallot wedges and garlic slices and its powerful aromas are able to excite the senses. The combination of ingredients in this jam is uniquely straightforward. Tomatoes, shallots, garlic, sugar, vinegar, olive oil. You could make a simple salad with these ingredients and yet, by cooking them all together in a specific way, you end up with a delicious and original condiment.






Feel free to use different kinds of tomatoes for this jam, mince the garlic or remove it completely, finely chop the shallot if you don't like its texture (like my boyfriend), add more heat, add more spices (cumin or cinnamon or both would be great in this), herbs (like dried oregano or thyme), substitute vinegar for lemon or even lime juice. Play with it.




Play with pairings for this jam. I used it to enliven the taste of a plain roasted chicken and it was a hit. I served it on top of crostini with a little crumbled feta and a sprinkling of Greek dried oregano as an appetizer and it was fantastic. I substituted the boring and uninspiring ketchup in my homemade burgers with the zingy and fresh taste of this tomato jam and it was exceptional. There is so much more you can do with it. Just use your imagination.










Cherry Tomato Jam
Adapted from Donna Hay

This is a quick and easy recipe. It doesn't require a lot of prep work and the jam takes only 40-45 minutes to cook.

The cherry tomatoes need to be deseeded because they contain a lot of water but not peeled. I don't mind tomato skins in the jam at all but in case you do, go right ahead and peel them.
You can also use plum (Roma) instead of cherry tomatoes though they might require more cooking time (about 1 hour).






Yield: 1 heaped cup

Ingredients
500 g fresh cherry tomatoes
4 small shallots (around 70 g), peeled and quartered
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
75 g caster (superfine) sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder*
1/2 tsp sea salt

Preparation

Deseeding the cherry tomatoes
Make sure you wear an apron when you deseed the cherry tomatoes because this might get a bit messy. Some seeds may fly around once you crush the tomatoes!

Rinse the cherry tomatoes well under running water, remove their stems, put them in a colander and place it in your sink or over a big bowl. Gently crush the tomatoes, using your hands or a potato masher, allowing the seeds and water to run out of them. Once you've deseeded all of them, shake the colander well so that any seeds or water drains out.

Make the jam
Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 minutes or until soft and translucent.
Add the deseeded cherry tomatoes, red wine vinegar, sugar, cayenne pepper and salt and bring to the boil over medium-high heat.
Then lower heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and making sure the mixture doesn't get burned, for 40-45 minutes or until mixture has thickened and has the consistency of jam.
Remove saucepan from heat and if you want to serve the jam the same day, let it cool completely.

If you want to store or preserve it, take a hot sterilized glass jar- making sure you're not touching the inside of the jar- and fill it with the still hot jam. Secure the lid tightly and put the jar in a cool, dry place for storage.
You may keep an unopened sterilized jar of this jam in a dark and cool place for up to a year.

Once you open a jar, you have to immediately refrigerate it. It will keep for about 2-3 weeks, as long as you don't contaminate it with dirty spoons or hands.
(Read this)






How to sterilize glass jars
Sterilizing jars is extremely important if you wish to preserve jams. It is unhealthy and risky to store jams in unsterilized glass jars.
Preheat your oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Wash the jars and lids with soap in hot water. Put them, while still damp and without touching the inside of the jars and lids, on a baking tray, open sides up, and into the oven for 35 minutes. Take them out of the oven, fill jars with the hot cooked product and seal the lids immediately.

*In case you don't like the heat of the cayenne pepper- even though it is quite subtle in this recipe- you can substitute it with 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper.


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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tuna and a fresh, spicy green sauce

My last job back in Greece was that of an executive at a commercial company where I worked 12-hour days and sometimes weekends also. By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was grab something to eat and go to bed. Cooking during that period of my life was limited to reheating, frying, using the microwave and boiling. Exciting huh?






What I usually cooked- and I use the word loosely- after work was French fries, ready-made flavored rice that I only had to add water to and let it boil, the occasional spaghetti with ready-made (again) sauce, a simple sandwich or a boring salad. It was a nightmare for my health and my figure. When I finally got the sense to quit that job, I managed to quit that awful diet too.






Nowadays, a healthy diet is extremely important to me. Without excluding desserts or pan-fried food, I try to retain a healthy dietary balance between legumes and vegetables, meat and fish, carbohydrates and dairy products, grains and fruit. I can't say that I don't ever get distracted by fancy, extravagant, self-indulgent food and I do cook it sometimes but, for the most part, my choices are the healthier ones.






I favor olive oil rather than butter, which is after all the norm in Greek nutrition, I prefer lean cuts of meat to fatty ones, drink low-fat milk, avoid condiments such as mayonnaise and I have to say that, when I finally decided to incorporate fish into my diet on a regular basis, it was a really wise decision on my part.






I always loved the taste of tuna but I invariably ate it from a can. In Greece, only small tunas are available, those that are the size of mackerel which is pretty small, nothing like the tuna steaks I discovered here in Holland. What a revelation that was. Ever since, I buy them whenever I have the chance- mind you they are pricey here- and they always constitute a glorious meal. Tuna is an oily fish, rich in vitamin D and extremely healthy and pairing it with this spicy chimichurri sauce and a salad of green leaves makes for an inspiring combination.






Grilled tuna steaks have an incredible taste. S. says it's like eating meat but without the guilt and he's right. Tuna has such a rich flavor with an amazingly firm and meaty texture that holds spectacularly well on the grill and can be accompanied by the spiciest of sauces without its savor getting lost. Enters the chimichurri sauce.






Chimichurri sauce is a green sauce originating from Argentina, though others claim it comes from Uruguay or even from the Dominican Republic. No matter where it comes from, it is marvelously delicious. It contains herbs, mainly parsley, lots of garlic, olive oil, vinegar and spices. There are many versions of this sauce and there is even a red one, containing red bell peppers or tomatoes.






Chimichurri sauce is spicy and vibrant and is traditionally used as either a marinade or an accompaniment to grilled meats. It's greatly versatile with its use not only contained to meat but also to grilled fish, vegetables or poultry. You can use this sauce to coat burger patties or shrimp and it can also be served as an appetizer or a dipping sauce alongside grilled slices of baguette or crusty bread.






The beautiful, red-colored tuna, like all fish, if cooked too long tends to lose its flavor so grilling the tuna only for a couple of minutes ensures the retention of its moisture, while avoiding becoming tough and dry. The succulent, oily meat of the tuna combines perfectly with the hot and herbal flavor of the chimichurri sauce. Serve it with a side of assorted small, young salad leaves including rocket, tossed with some of the fresh and zingy chimichurri sauce and you'll have one exceptionally flavorful, health conscious and original dish. Pair it with a glass of Sauvignon blanc and you'll be all set to enjoy an excellent meal.










Grilled Tuna Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce and Mixed Greens
Heavily adapted from Eric Ripert

In case you have trouble finding tuna steaks, which I'm sure is true if you're living in Greece, you can use swordfish instead. Swordfish is a first-rate substitute for tuna and it's equally flavorsome.

You can use a grill or griddle to cook the fish but you can also use a regular skillet (preferably heavy-bottomed)*. The directions for cooking the tuna are the same as when you cook it on the grill.

My version of chimichurri sauce is rather hot. I add chili powder as well as cayenne pepper that give the green chimichurri sauce a reddish hue.
So beware; if you don't enjoy hot sauces you might want to use half of the amount of chili powder and cayenne pepper.






Yield: 4 servings / 1 cup chimichurri sauce

Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil plus a couple of Tbsp for oiling the grill and the tuna steaks
1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley (stems and leaves)
2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup onion or one 1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 fresh tuna steaks**, 170-180 g each
200 g mixed greens

Special equipment: a grill, a small food processor or blender

Preparation

Make the chimichurri sauce
Put the chopped parsley, oregano leaves, red wine vinegar, garlic, chopped onion, cayenne and chili powder in the food processor or blender and process until you have an almost smooth paste. Add the olive oil little by little and, using on/off turns, process until incorporated. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour sauce into a bowl and let stand for at least 20 minutes although it's better to let it stand for 2 whole hours.

You can prepare this sauce one day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. The more time the flavors have to blend the better the sauce gets.
Take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature before serving.

The chimichurri sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for 5 days, in an airtight container.

Grill the tuna
Take the tuna steaks out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you grill them in order to allow them to come to room temperature***.
Rub a little olive oil on both sides of the steaks and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Oil your grill or griddle and heat over high heat. Once it gets very hot (in order to check, you can pour a few drops of water on the grill and if they sizzle it is ready) add the tuna steaks and cook until browned on the outside and cooked to your preference on the inside.




Cook for:
30 - 40 seconds on each side for rare
1 - 1 1/2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other for medium-rare (this is the best option for me)
2 1/2 - 3 minutes on one side and 2 - 2 1/2 minutes on the other for well done

Note: These cooking times apply to tuna steaks of about 180 g with a 2-cm thickness. The cooking time has to be adjusted depending on the thickness and weight of your tuna steaks.

You will notice how the tuna changes color as you cook it. From deep red it will turn to almost white. You can check between the flakes of the tuna to see if the inside is cooked to your preference.
Keep in mind that the fish will continue to cook even after you have taken it off the grill.

Make the salad
Wash the salad leaves under running water, strain them in a colander, put them in a large bowl and toss them with 3-4 Tbsp of the chimichurri sauce.

Serve
Place tuna steaks on individual plates, top with 1-2 Tbsp of chimichurri sauce, mound salad on the plates next to the tuna and serve. Place the bowl with the remaining chimichurri sauce on the table for extra helpings.
Alternatively you can serve the tuna steaks without the chimichurri on top, just serve the sauce on the side.



*If you don't have a grill or griddle and want to cook the tuna in a skillet, you need to pour into it 2 Tbsp of olive oil and heat over high heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the tuna steaks and cook according to the above instructions.

**It is best that you eat fresh tuna within 24 hours of purchase as it has a short shelf-life

***By allowing the fish to come to room temperature there's a less harsh change in temperatures when you place it on the grill thus less contraction and a more tender, juicier outcome. Plus it is easier to sear and it cooks more evenly.





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Sunday, June 6, 2010

A touch of Italian flair

Ever since I started this blog, back in November, my boyfriend has been complaining about two things. First, the fact that I spend too much time in front of my laptop and second, the fact that he has gained a couple of kilos.





If truth be told, he is right. I have been spending a lot of my free time cooking and in front of my laptop. Writing a food blog is not such an easy task. Having to figure out what recipe I want to post next, cooking the food while attempting to take decent photographs of its preparation and taking notes on what works or not in the recipe, photographing the food after it's been cooked while trying to keep my boyfriend away from it, writing the actual post for both the English and the Greek version of my blog and selecting the photos to go with it, well, it does take a lot of time and effort.






As far as his second complaint is concerned, I have to admit, it is partly my fault. For every dish you see posted on my blog there are one or two that don't make it on the blog but make it into our stomachs. My boyfriend's stomach to be more accurate. He has become my guinea pig. He must taste everything and tell me what he thinks and I trust his judgment and his palate completely.






Since I started food blogging, I have been making far more desserts than ever before and usually I have a slice of cake or just one scoop of ice cream or a small brownie square, but S. is the one who just can't control himself. Most of the time he ends up eating the whole lot in a matter of days. He says that my food is irresistible. Is that my fault? Besides, he has no reason to worry. He looks more attractive than ever, even with the extra two kilos he's gained because of this blog.






Perhaps food blogging is time consuming and causing me some trouble with S. but it's worth it. I love everything about it. The whole process. The writing, the sharing of recipes and ideas, the reading of your comments, the cooking, especially the cooking. That's what I enjoy immensely and even if it's detrimental to our waistlines, what I particularly love is making desserts. Like this one right here. Individual amaretti and chocolate tortes with almond flavored whipped cream and a sprinkling of crumbled amaretti biscuits. Be still my heart.






I have made a lot of cakes, a lot of chocolate cakes but these are so different. They are actually tortes which mean that they contain ground nuts rather than flour, making them ideal for people who are on a gluten-free diet. They also contain amaretti biscuits which are small almond flavored biscuits originating from Italy. They are very light and have the distinct taste of the famous Italian liqueur, Amaretto. These biscuits are called the Italian macarons.






The chocolate is dark and luscious and once melted, it is added to the batter. A bit of butter, not a lot, just enough to make the tortes creamy is also added along with the ground almonds, the biscuits and some sugar to add further sweetness. Batter is then divided among ramekins, put in the oven and finally, after thirty minutes, the moment comes. The tasting.






These impressive looking tortes have a superb chocolaty and almond flavor and paired with the freshly whipped cream make a uniquely scrumptious combination. They are moist and dense yet light and so incredibly fragrant. There is a depth of flavor from the amaretti biscuits in the batter that give a slightly bitter almond taste to the tortes and the light sprinkling of crushed biscuits on top offers a pleasant contrast of textures.






Eating one of these tortes straight out of the oven is just fantastically delicious. Gooey, rich, hot tortes with refreshing cooled whipped cream on top and crunchy biscuits. Perfection. Eat one of these tortes the following day when all the flavors have had the time to blend and they will taste even better.
Accompany these delectable little tortes with a cup of coffee or a small glass of Amaretto liqueur and you'll have the ideal after-dinner treat.










Individual Amaretti and Chocolate Tortes with Almond-Flavored Whipped Cream
Adapted from Bon Appétit

I bought the amaretti biscuits ready made but next time I will definitely make my own since they are very easy to make.

In Holland they have similar biscuits called bitterkoekjes (bitter cookies) which you can use in this recipe instead of the amaretti biscuits.






Yield: 6 individual tortes

Ingredients

for tortes
120 g dark 55% good quality chocolate, roughly chopped
80 g amaretti biscuits
85 g ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
60 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the ramekins
100 g sugar
4 medium-sized eggs
All-purpose flour for dusting the ramekins*

for almond-flavored whipped cream
170 ml chilled cream, full-fat
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp icing sugar

2-3 amaretti biscuits, crumbled, for sprinkling over the tortes
Icing sugar, for dusting the tortes

Special equipment: 6 ramekins of 150 ml capacity or 3/4 cup ramekins, large food processor, hand mixer

Preparation

for tortes
Butter and flour the ramekins. Place a round piece of baking paper at the bottom of each ramekin. Set them aside.

Put chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and place bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Don't let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring it around with a rubber spatula and once completely melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Place ground almonds, amaretti biscuits, cinnamon and salt in the food processor and, using on/off turns, blend everything together until finely ground. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

Place butter, sugar and eggs in the food processor and mix everything until you have a well blended and smooth mixture, for about 3 minutes. In between, you might want to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Add the ground almonds-biscuit mixture and the melted chocolate to the butter-sugar-eggs mixture. Using on/off turns, process until well blended.

Divide the batter equally among the 6 ramekins, filling them by 3/4 each.

Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking tray and place the tray on the middle rack of the oven.
Bake for around 30 minutes, until tops of tortes are puffed and dry and when inserting a cake tester or a toothpick it comes out with moist crumbs attached.

Once tortes are ready, take ramekins out of the baking tray and onto a wire rack to cool. Let them cool for about 15 minutes and then turn them over onto the wire rack to cool completely. If you're having trouble releasing tortes from the ramekins, take a small knife and run it around the edges of the ramekins to release the tortes.




for almond-flavored whipped cream
Place cream, almond extract and icing sugar in a large bowl. Using a hand mixer beat everything together for about 5 minutes until stiff peaks form.

You can make the whipped cream a couple of hours before you serve the tortes and keep it in the refrigerator.

to serve
You can either crumble the amaretti biscuits with your hands or you can place them in a food processor and process to crumbs.

Place each torte on a small plate. Dust tortes with a little icing sugar and top with the whipped cream. You can either just spoon it on or you can fill a pastry bag and pipe it on the tortes.
Sprinkle with the amaretti biscuit crumbs and serve.


The tortes can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days, at room temperature.






*If you are on a gluten-free diet you might want to dust the ramekins with rice flour instead of all-purpose flour.


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