Saturday, March 05, 2005

Powdered Spices

More and more recipes are calling for powdered rosemary, basil, oregano, and many other spices. The only problem is they are hard to find, and very expensive if you can even find them.

You can buy the most inexpensive dried spices, and turn them into an intensely flavored powder. All you need is a Krups or other coffee bean grinder. The powder goes twice as far because you need half as much as the recipe calls for. AND, the grinder will pay for it self in a VERY short time.

Just make sure you store the powder in a dark place, and seal the spices. We use a food saver for vacuum sealing just about everything. It's worth the investment.

La Pastiera Napoletana.

This sweet cheese pie is made with cooked grain, and is flavored with lemon or orange. Other rich, sweet ricotta based cheesecakes or pies are popular in many regions, but as the title suggests, it's a prominent pie from the Naples region made around Easter.

It's a cheesecake, but one that has cooked wheat berries added to it which changes the texture considerably. The pie is lightly flavored with citrus, and cinnamon, and it is unbelievably delicious.

These days, you can find cooked wheat in many Italian specialty stores, but if you wanted to, you could easily cook your own following these directions:

1/4 Pound purpose flour
1/2 Cup powdered or confectioners Sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon Orange Juice
8 Tablespoons unsalted, cold butter cut into small pieces
1/4 cup milk
6 eggs
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1 Teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, or lemon extract
2 1/2 Cups granulated sugar
2 Pounds Ricotta Cheese
2 Tablespoons candied citron, cut into tiny diced peices
2 Tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds
1 egg white beaten with 1 Tablespoon water for topping

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Mix together the flour, and powdered sugar. Make a well in the center, and add the two egg yolks, and orange juice. With your fingers or a pastry cutter, mix in the butter until the dough is in pea sized pieces. Add just enough milk so the dough comes together.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 of an inch. Place the dough in the bottom of a deep 10 inch pie pan. Trim excess dough around edges and reserve for topping. If the dough is too soft to roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, orange zest, lemon extract, and sugar. Add the ricotta and mix well. Stir in the cooked wheat, candied fruit and chopped almonds. Mix well.

Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared pie pan. Using the remaining dough, cut strips about 3/4 inch in width, and place them in a crisscross pattern over the cheese. Brush the strips lightly with the egg and water mixture, and then bake the pie for about 1 1/2 hours until lightly. browned on top. A topping of fresh strawberries adds to the visual impact and the taste,.

Cool before serving.

(Cooking Your Own Wheat: Take 1/4 pound skinless wheat and soak it overnight in cool water in the refrigerator, changing the water three or four times. Cover with lightly salted water in a heavy saucepan, and cook for about 1 hour. Drain, and rinse the wheat in cool water in a sieve. Use as needed.)

This is a special project for special guests.