March, 2006

Prunes & Chocolate

prunes.jpgI am addicted to prunes and dark chocolate together. OH YUMMERS! There is a typical wintery dish from Piedmont that involves wild boar, cocoa and prunes that is just to die for. I’ve seen people do a garnish for this dish where you pit the prunes, insert a chunk of dark chocolate, roll them in bread crumbs and fry them. (Crunchy bread crumbs, plump fruit, molten chocolate…) I feel it would make a great snack or pre-dessert as well! I’ve been wanting to make a dark chocolate fondue to dip my new favorite fruit in for awhile now…

Prunes are so flavorful and so under-appreciated. Today I had a snack of prunes & chocolate with a new chocolate bar from Perugia that incorporates little pieces of cocoa nibs. It was highly enjoyable with the extra crunch of the nibs.

I love this great combination of savory and sweet!

In other prune news, a couple of weeks ago Luca made a pot roast with prunes in the sauce that was awesome. I’ll get him to post the recipe.

In honor of the prune, I leave you this WONDERFUL recipe for Prune Armagnac Cake, which was published in either Gourmet or Bon Appettit several years ago. They say you can substitute the armagnac with cognac or grappa barricato, but I’ve tried all three and the armagnac version is 10 times better. Don’t be afraid to open a new bottle of armagnac just to use in this recipe–it will keep for a long time, and I guarantee you’ll want to make the cake again soon!) This cake is great for both breakfast and dessert. It’s nice and big too, and freezes wonderfully, so put half in the freezer to save for a rainy day if you can’t eat it all in one weekend. Enjoy!

Prune Armagnac Cake
16 Servings
Pitted prunes 12 oz. (Save yourself the work and buy them already pitted!)
Water 2 cups
Armagnac 1/2 cup

Vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups
Sugar 2 1/4 cups
Eggs 5 ea.
Vanilla 2 Tbsp.
All Purpose Flour 3 cups
Baking Soda 1 Tbsp.
Cinnamon 2 1/2 tsp.
Nutmeg 1 tsp.
Allspice 1 tsp.
Cardammon 1/2 tsp. (if you don’t have it, don’t worry, it’s great without this spice too!)
Cloves 1/2 tsp.
Salt 1 tsp.
Buttermilk 1 1/2 cups (if you don’t have buttermilk, add 2 tsp. of lemon juice or vinegar to the milk and stir)

Sugar 1 1/2 cups
Butter 3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks)
Armagnac 1/2 cup
Light Corn Syrup or Honey 2 Tbsp.
Lemon Juice 2 Tbsp
Baking Soda 1 tsp.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Butter & flour a 12 cup bundt pan. In a medium-sized sauce pan, place the prunes, water and armagnac and simmer until fruit is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain prunes reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid for glaze (I hate to throw the rest of that great sauce away–if you’re using the cake for dessert, save all of the sauce and use it for garnish!) If you feel like it and have time, coarsely chop the prunes, if not, simmer the prunes a little longer so that they’re soft enough to break up with a spoon during mixing.

2. Beat oil, sugar, eggs & vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. In a separate bowl (or on a piece of parchment/foil), combine flour, soda, spices and salt.

3. Mix dry ingredients into the oil mixture. Add buttermilk, beating batter just until smooth. Fold in chopped prunes, distributing evenly throughout batter. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan (it’s a big cake!). Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean–about 1 hour & 5 minutes.

4. Towards the end of the baking time, prepare the glaze (you want the glaze to be warm when the cake comes out of the oven). Combine the 1/4 cup of reserved prune cooking liquid, sugar, butter, armagnac, corn syrup, lemon juice and baking soda in a med-large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly (about 2 minutes).

5. When the cake comes out of the oven and is still nice and hot, pierce in several places (poke the devil out of it!!) with a long wooden skewer (or similar instrument of torture). Brush/pour/spoon the glaze onto the cake covering thoroughly. Make several passes to use up all the glaze. Cool at least 30 minutes before turning out of pan. Bon Appettito!!

Waxing and Double Meanings

Signing in from Operation Missing In Action. It’s SO beautiful here today. The sun is shining and the sky is clear– you can see the snow on the Alps!

Have you all read or seen the movies Anne of Green Gables ? (oh god how I miss them!!) Well, the story is set in the early 1900s and is about an orphan girl who goes to live with a new family and finds only one really good friend–a kindred spirit if you will.

Anyways, there’s a part in the film where Anne and her only friend Diana have the opportunity to take special lessons after school that will prepare them for University. Anne (a bookworm with a real craving for knowledge) decides to take the classes. Diana’s mother, however decides that Diana’ should spend her time at home learning how to maintain a household.

When Anne discovers that her bosom friend won’t be continuing her education, she says something along the lines of “OH, Diana, I feel as though you’ve tasted the bitterness of death,” with such depth of feeling that you want to weep for poor Diana who will never discover the wonders of the scholarly world–doomed as she is to stay at home cleaning and ironing for the rest of her life.

Anyways, I feel a little like Diana today as I wax floors for the first time in my life. Keeping this place clean is a never-ending chore! At least I haven’t completely renounced the educational part of my life. Last week I got extremely fed up with not being able to read (hellow, why don’t they have libraries filled with books written in English in Italy?!). I’ve read every book I brought with me at least three times, I go through my same 20 magazines everyday and have memorized not only the recipes but also all of Dr. Phil’s helpful advice. I was at the end of my rope, so I decided to buy some romance novels in Italian.

Oh Nelly! They are STEAMY. I must say that my new endeavor into the Italian literary world has jump-started my language skills quite a bit. I’ve always been a strong proponent of reading, but hesitated to start reading in Italian because I figured it would be ridiculously tedious, having never properly studied Italian grammar. I’ve discovered however, that since I speak pretty fluently, reading isn’t that hard! Yay!

I mean, don’t get me wrong here folks, I definitely don’t open a book without my trusty English/Italian dictionary open and ready to go. And yes, I am pretty slow, but at least reading is enjoyable. I’m learning too! Okay, so maybe the content isn’t optimal, but I figure once I’m familiar with the basic writing styles, I’ll be able to graduate to books with more substantial content.

And you might not think so, but the words I come across in cheezy romances are surprisingly useful in everday life.

The other day I came across the word scopare, which I always thought meant “to sweep” (as in to sweep the floor with a broom). However, I found it odd that the couple in my romance novel would decide to take a break from their romantic schenanigans to sweep the floor, so I looked up “scopare” in the dictionary.

Well, it turns out that scopare does mean “to sweep”, but it is also a vulgar way to say “have sex.”


So, in conversation now, I’ve taken to using the phrase pulire per pavimento (clean the floor) instead of scopare so that there are no misunderstandings…

I’ve learned several other bits of useful information as well. For example, you needen’t translate dormire fra due guanciali literally. It’s actually a saying refers to something being “soft as velvet” and has nothing to do with the literal translation which is “to sleep between two (aged) pig cheeks that have been heavily seasoned with salt and pepper.” I’m sure that someday these little tidbits of information will come in handy.

In any case, waxing floors is quite the lavorone (pron. LAAH-VORE-OWN-AY; big job). We have two different types of flooring here at the agriturismo, one is parquet and one is a special type of marble that is crushed in little pieces and then pressed into the floor. First you have to vacuum, then mop, then apply the wax, then lucidate it, then buff!! Ai yie yie! Speaking of which, I better get back to the grind. Hope you’re all doing well!