Ziti with Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta Cheese
Ziti Alla Norma
Yield: 6 servings
2 large, firm eggplants (each about 3 inches in diameter and 1 ¼ pounds)
2 tablespoons coarse salt, plus more for cooking the pasta and seasoning the sauce
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid, crushed by hand
1 pound ziti
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and shredded
1/2 pound (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Trim the stems from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel about 1-inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes and toss in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons salt. Dump into a colander and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly and pat dry.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet with half the olive oil. Turn the eggplant cubes onto the baking sheet, toss to coat with oil, and spread them out in an even layer. Bake until the eggplant is very tender and browned, about 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant cubes gently once or twice during baking so they cook evenly.
Bring large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the ziti.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil, and cook, shaking the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, add the pepper flakes, and season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Stir the ziti into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes.
Drain the pasta and return it to the empty pot over low heat. Pour in about half of the sauce, tossing lightly to coat the pasta with sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in ½ cup of the grated cheese and basil. Toss in half the roasted eggplant cubes and toss again, then add the ricotta by heaping teaspoons, stirring it gently into the pasta; you want the ricotta to warm, but you do not want it to blend with the sauce completely.
Plate the pasta, and spoon the reserved sauce over each serving. Now add equal amounts of the remaining baked eggplant to the top of all the pasta plates. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, and serve.
Scallion and Asparagus Salad
Insalata di Scalogna e Asparagi
1 large bunch fresh asparagus (about 12 ounces)
1 bunch scallions
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
3 hard-boiled eggs
Using a vegetable peeler, shave off the skin from the bottom 3 inches or so of each asparagus stalk, so they cook evenly. Snap off the hard stubs at the bottom—they’ll break naturally at the right point as you bend the bottom of the asparagus. To prepare the scallions: Trim the roots and the wilted ends of the green leaves. Peel off the loose layers at the white end, so the scallions are all trim.
Bring 1 quart water (or enough to cover the vegetables) to a boil in a wide, deep skillet, and add the asparagus and scallions. Adjust the heat to maintain a bubbling boil, and poach the vegetables, uncovered, for about 6 minutes or more, until they are tender but not falling apart, cooked through but not mushy. To check doneness, pick up an asparagus spear by its middle with tongs: it should be a little droopy, but not collapsing.
As soon as they are done, lift out the vegetables with tongs and lay them in a colander. Hold the colander under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain briefly, then spread on kitchen towels, pat dry, and sprinkle ½ teaspoon salt over them.
Cut the asparagus and the scallions into 1-inch lengths, and pile
them loosely in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the oil and vinegar over the top, and sprinkle on the remaining salt and several grinds of black pepper. Toss well. Quarter the eggs into wedges, and slice each wedge into two or three pieces; scatter these in the bowl, and fold in with the vegetables. Taste, and adjust the dressing. Serve at room temperature, or chill the salad briefly; arrange it on a serving platter or on salad plates.
CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE WITH SOUR CHERRIES AND CHOCOLATE ZABAGLIONE MOUSSE FILLING
Torta “Rigó Jancsi”
This cake takes a bit of work—and it should be assembled at least 8 hours to a day ahead—but you don’t have to worry about it once it’s put together, freeing you to do last-minute tasks before your gathering. Amarene are wild cherries preserved in syrup. Fabbri is a very good brand.
Serves 8 to 10
FOR THE CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE
Unsalted butter, softened, for the cake pan
2 cups all-purpose
flour, plus more for the cake pan
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
6 large eggs
1½ cups granulated sugar
FOR THE CHERRY SYRUP
½ cup sweet Marsala
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 cup amarene cherries, with their liquid
FOR THE FILLING
8 ounces very good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
7 egg yolks, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dry Marsala
1½ cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
For the cake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a 10-inch-round, 3-inch-high cake pan. Sprinkle the sides and bottom with flour, making sure to coat the entire surface, and tap out the excess.
In a small bowl, sift together the 2 cups flour, the cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda.
In a medium bowl set over a large saucepan of simmering water in double-boiler style, beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture has warmed and the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Using a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg-sugar mixture at high speed until doubled in volume, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat. With a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake until a wooden skewer or cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake’s surface springs back when lightly pressed, about 25 minutes. Let it stand on a wire rack until completely cool, 1 to 2 hours, before removing from the pan.
Meanwhile, for the syrup, in a small saucepan, stir the sweet Marsala and confectioners’ sugar over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the amarena cherries and their liquid, and set aside.
For the zabaglione filling, in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring often to melt evenly. Remove the pan from the heat, and leave the bowl of chocolate over the water to keep it warm. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl. Let stand until softened, about 10 minutes.
In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and dry Marsala until smooth. Continue beating (switching to an electric handheld mixer, if you like) until the mixture is pale yellow and fluffy and falls in thick ribbons when the whisk or beaters are lifted, about 8 minutes if you are whisking by hand or about 4 minutes if you are using an electric mixer. It is important to whisk continuously, or the egg yolks mixture will curdle. Scrape the softened gelatin into the egg mixture, and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. With a rubber spatula, fold the melted-chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Let the mixture stand until cool, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the heavy cream with an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted. With a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the chocolate-egg mixture until no traces of white are visible.
To assemble the cake, with a long, thin serrated knife, slice the chocolate sponge cake horizontally into two even layers. Set the bottom layer into a 10-inch springform pan, and brush it with about a third of the cherry syrup—it will be quite moist. Scatter the cherries over the cake layer. Spoon the chocolate zabaglione filling over the cherries. Moisten the cut side of the top cake layer with the remaining syrup, and place it, cut side down, over the filling. Press very gently. Cover the pan securely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until the filling is firm, at least 6 hours or up to one day.
To serve, release the side of the springform pan and remove it. With a cake spatula dunked in warm water, smooth the mousse on top and sides of the cake. Decorate with the reserved cherries. Cut the cake into wedges with a thin, serrated knife.