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February 2008

Banana Chocolate Walnut Bread


I know it's only Thursday. I know we technically have a whole new day to get through before we can collapse in good conscience. But in the last four days, I've battled a fever and a cold and a smattering of seriously evil hormonal swings, so I've decided that this week is done. Done and over with. Move along, week. We've had enough of you here. Wake us up when it's next week and we can go back to speaking, walking, and living like normal people again.

If you've not yet been stricken by this miserable plague making the rounds of the Tri-State area, bless your lucky stars, then rush rush rush into the kitchen to bake something, preferably this banana cake. Trust me, it'll be the one bright and shiny spot in an otherwise miserable week when you, too, are felled by this winter ailment and need to eat something other than yet another half a grapefruit, a dusty Ricola lozenge, and that never-ending thermos of mint tea. (Oh yeah. It's coming for you. Don't think you can escape it.)


I happen to like baking my banana cake in a loaf pan, and if it's baked in a loaf pan, then I happen to like calling it banana bread instead of cake. You know? The butter versus oil debate is secondary to the pan debate and while it's true that all of this is semantics, yes, it's about the only thing my fever-addled brain can handle at this moment.

In fact, I don't even really seem to be capable of stringing coherent sentences together anymore, at least not without going cross-eyed and yelping feebly at the computer screen, so with that I leave you, folks. I'm going to bed and if my prayers are answered, I'll be waking up in about 72 hours.

Over and out.

Banana Chocolate Walnut Cake
Serves 8
Note: I made a few changes from the original recipe, like eschewing the whole streusel thing Gourmet's version has going for it by incorporating the cinnamon, walnuts and chocolate directly into the batter. Oh, and reducing the sugar a little. Just a little! Yeesh.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
3/4 cup sugar
large eggs
1 1/4
cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
cup plain whole-milk yogurt
teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Trader Joe's chocolate chips)

cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Butter a loaf pan.

2. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

3. Beat together softened butter (1 stick) and the sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in eggs 1 at a time until blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt, and vanilla (mixture will look curdled).

4. With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Fold in the chopped nuts and the chocolate. Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

5. Bake until loaf is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on a rack 30 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Focaccia di Patate


I'd like to tell you that I spent the past week elbow-deep in dough, slaving away at the oven for your sakes, but in reality I spent most nights after work watching The Best of Youth. It started out slow, but my God, by the end I was a hot mess of heaving sobs and heartache. You know when you want to jump right into the television set and hug someone that that thing you're watching is good, good cinema indeed.

So it's actually kind of ironic that this week turned out also to be the week I finally figured out that darn focaccia I kept going on about after I got back from Europe. Yes! It took me four tries and close to a month, but I finally got it. Victory has never tasted so sweet. Or, actually, salty and pliant and herby and mmmm.


Turns out that most of my problems with the three previous focaccie I made had to do with the amount of fresh yeast I was using. A little research into other people's potato breads and some choice advice from the Internet (thank you!) got me on the right path. I rejiggered the yeast and the temperature of the oven and suddenly everything starting falling into place.

Oh, and I found Italian oregano. Well, really, Sicilian oregano (those are two different things, wink wink). At a grocery store in the Hudson River Valley. Weird, right? Only that I've also seen that exact package at Dean & Deluca in the city, so keep your eyes peeled, city folks. Herb nirvana is at your fingertips. The oregano, instead of being stripped from its stalks and packaged in little pots and sachets, is gathered and packaged into large plastic sacks, so you can strip the leaves and buds yourself and your oregano isn't turned to dust by someone else's fingers. This oregano is incredibly fragrant and worth seeking out. Hop to it!


This might be one of the easiest yeast doughs you'll ever make. And it's so quick that you can start the dough after getting home from work and eat focaccia for dinner that same night. Bliss, I tell you. Make a big salad or a pot of braised vegetables to round out your meal and you'll have contented eaters all around. I suppose you could also make this for a dinner party and cut it into wedges to serve as an aperitif, but it feels so nicely rustic and humble that I kind of prefer it just hacked into pieces at the cozy dinner table.

There's an agreeable chewiness to the damp crumb from the potato, which also gives the focaccia a delicious sweetness and heft. Sweet, juicy tomatoes explode gently here and there, and unexpected crystals of salt provide a welcome flavor and textural balance. Oh, it's just so good. I hope you think so too.

Potato Focaccia
Makes one 8-inch focaccia

1 medium Yukon Gold potato
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon fresh yeast
A pinch of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for salting water
2/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced crosswise
1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano
Coarse sea salt

1. Wash the potato and place in a small saucepan along with enough water to cover the potato by an inch. Place the pot over high heat, covered, and bring to a boil. Add a handful of kosher salt to the water. Simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a knife, around 20 minutes. Drain the potato and let it cool. Peel the potato and mash finely with a fork. Set aside.

2. Put the yeast in a large mixing bowl along with a pinch of sugar. Add the warm water in a thin stream over the yeast, using a fork to help dissolve the yeast entirely. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes.

3. Pour the flour into the yeast water and stir with a fork, then add the mashed potato and the salt. The dough will be relatively thick and shaggy. Use the fork to incorporate the potato into the flour. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and begin to knead the dough by hand. It will come together quite quickly. Knead against the bowl for a minute or so, until it is relatively smooth. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest, covered with a kitchen towel, in the bowl for an hour.

4. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan. Using your fingertips, gently release the puffy and risen dough from the bowl and place it in the cake pan. Gently tug and pat it out so that it fits the pan. Cover the top of the focaccia with the tomato halves, distributing them evenly. Sprinkle the oregano and a large pinch of coarse salt over the tomatoes, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and let it rest for another hour.

5. While the focaccia is resting, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the cake pan in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes before removing the focaccia from the pan.

Regina Schrambling's Salmon Rillettes


I don't know about you, but all I want to do in January is snuggle up on the couch wearing woolly socks, with a pot of soup on the stove and a movie on the television. Maybe, too, some low-intensity creative projects and quiet reading, but that's it. The hyper-insanity of December leaves me so exhausted that I'm quite relieved to not leave my cozy living room for a while, with the windows all fogged up and candles burning blurrily in the corner of the room.

But we can't exactly hibernate until the buds come out and the birds chirp again, can we? It wouldn't be much fun in the long run. Instead I invite people over, figuring that the equation's not half bad: we ply our friends with good food and plenty of wine and in return, they don't make us venture out into the chilly evening - at least not for a while. Everybody wins.

Planning the menu for an evening like that is always a bit of a challenge. Cooking for two is a cinch, cooking for four is pretty easy, cooking for six starts to get a little hairy, and by the time you get to eight whole people it's tough to keep your head on the ground. You don't want to be stuck in the kitchen the entire day, making things that are too time-consuming, too complicated, too harrowing. The larger the group, the simpler the food should be.

But I do like to choose recipes that I wouldn't get to make ordinarily - it is a party, after all. So I pull out the binders that have appetizers and hors d'oeuvres recipes tucked away in them - roasted, spiced chickpeas or pickled shrimp or home-cured olives - and I pore through them, delighting in my choices. The recipe I alighted upon last weekend was one that I'd actually meant to make at Thanksgiving - salmon rillettes.

Now doesn't that trip just beautifully off the tongue? Rillettes, rillettes. Ree-yett. We don't eat much salmon around here - Ben doesn't like it and since there are so many other types of fish that we both really love, I'm happy to forgo salmon most of the time. But this recipe had lodged itself in my mind ages ago (briefly supplanted by Thomas Keller's somewhat more complicated version) and I just couldn't shake it. Ben would have to eat olives instead.

It's such a lovely little recipe: you very briefly cook wild salmon in vermouth (or wine, as I did), then mash it up with smoked salmon, chopped chives, lemon juice and creme fraiche. The fresh salmon tempers the smoky stuff beautifully and the creme fraiche gives it some elegance without getting goopy or rich. The few drops of hot sauce are a genius touch - the heat sasses the rillettes right up. No Plain Jane pate here, move along now. The mixture is bright and flavorful, improves with a few hours in the fridge, and best of all, can be arranged on good bread by your guests.

I read somewhere once (was it Laurie Colwin? No. Someone else. Who, though?) that a good dinner party can always be guaranteed if you enlist your guests' help in the kitchen just after they arrive. It keeps them busy, so you can finish up whatever else you're still working on without having to worry that they're all standing around in the living room feeling bored, and it keeps your stress levels down, because now at least someone else is dealing with the hors d'oeuvres and you can stop worrying that the whole meal is going to hell in a hand basket in about three seconds flat.

Arm them with a glass of champagne while they're at it, and who knows - they might even want to come back next time.

Salmon Rillettes
Serves 8 to 10

2 cups dry vermouth or white wine
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
4 white peppercorns
8 ounces fresh wild salmon, skinned and boned, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ounces wild smoked salmon, minced
3 - 4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or more to taste)
4 tablespoons chopped chives, divided
4 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 ficelles, thinly sliced

1. Combine the vermouth or wine, bay leaf, sea salt and peppercorns in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the salmon cubes and cook 15 seconds exactly. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well, then place in a mixing bowl.

2. Mash the salmon cubes with a wooden spoon until chunky-smooth. Add the smoked salmon, crème fraîche, 2 tablespoons chives and the lemon juice and mix well. Taste and add the hot sauce, salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice and/or crème fraîche if you like. Chill 1 hour to meld flavors. Makes about 3 cups.

3. Return to room temperature before serving. To serve, spread on ficelle slices and sprinkle with the remaining chives.

Pichet Ong's Squash Pie



I'll just start this post by saying that, after taking a few bites of this squash pie last night, my friend Andy put down his fork and said, "This is the best dessert I ever ate." He then picked up his fork again, and through bites said I could quote him, in fact that I must. So there you have it, readers. This pie blew Andy's mind.

It's pretty darn good, I'll say. I was going to make it for Thanksgiving, but my father took one look at the cream cheese in the ingredient list and put the kibosh on it right quick. (Who knows - he's a bit of a mystery.) So instead I saved it for the dinner party we had last night and it was a resounding - nay, stunning - success.

The recipe comes from the now-defunct The Chef column that used to run in the The New York Times. I miss that column. You too? I got so many good recipes from it, like a chicken liver sauce from Judy Rodgers and a Breton butter cake from Gabrielle Hamilton. (I'm still waiting for Gabrielle's memoir with recipes to be published, by the way. This year, I think!)

Pichet Ong, he of P*ONG and The Sweet Spot, delivered the recipe for the squash pie. It's thick with cream cheese, flavored strongly with cinnamon and nutmeg, and nestled in a completely addictive crust that you should commit to memory for any number of other things, like cheesecake or banana cream pie or key lime pie (though I still think this Grape-Nuts crust version via Gemma takes the cake (groan) for that).


The pie is silky and creamy and really, really easy to make. A crumb crust is a joy to make, an uncomplicated antidote to all those hand-rolled pie crusts of the holiday season. Plus, it means you'll end up with a few extra graham crackers knocking around in your cupboards, which is a very good thing indeed.

Also, though the recipe calls for a Kabocha squash to be steamed and peeled and pureed, canned pumpkin works beautifully here. Yes, Kabocha would have been lovely, all sweet and dry and tasty, but Pichet himself says that butternut squash and cheese or sugar pumpkins (which is what are usually found in those cans - remember to only buy the "pure pumpkin" ones, not the cans that are labeled "filling"!) are a good substitute, so cut those corners, come on.

Lastly, with no brandy in the house (I know! A crying shame. But you might not have any either, so let's be brandy-less together.), I substituted a splash of pure vanilla extract. It perfumed the pie ever so subtly.

Whatever you do! Make sure you serve this with creme fraiche. (You like how I did that, told you how to make your own, and then told you how to use it all up? You're welcome! A pleasure, really.) The cold, slightly sour cream cuts the sweet richness of the squash pie just perfectly and rounds out the flavors a bit. I'd say, honestly, that the pie just isn't right without it.

So serve up the pie, let your guests do the dolloping, then sit back, put your feet up, and let the compliments just wash over you. After all, wouldn't you, too, like to be responsible for the best dessert someone ever ate?

Squash Pie
Serves 8

For the filling:
1 medium kabocha squash, about 3 pounds, or 2 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin (skipping the steps below for roasting and pureeing the squash)
10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (about 1/4 of a nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy or 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
2 eggs at room temperature

For the crust:
3/8 cup (2 ounces) walnuts
1/2 cup packed, light brown sugar
3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 7 crackers)
Grated zest of 1 lime
3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
3/8 teaspoon salt (I'd use less salt next time, just 1/8 of a teaspoon)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

1. For pie filling, bring an inch of water to a boil in a large covered pot fitted with a steamer basket or rack. Put in squash, cover and steam, replenishing water as needed, until fork tender, about 1 hour. Turn squash over halfway through steaming. Set squash aside until cool enough to handle.


2. Heat oven to 325 degrees. For crust, place walnuts on a baking tray, and toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until fragrant, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

3. In a food processor, combine walnuts with a few tablespoons brown sugar and pulse a few times, until nuts are coarsely ground. In a large bowl, whisk nuts with graham cracker crumbs, remaining brown sugar, lime zest, spices and salt. Pour melted butter over this mixture, and mix with your fingers until butter is distributed. Press evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 12 minutes, then set aside. Keep oven at 300 degrees.

4. When squash is cool, cut it in half and scoop out seeds and pulp. Scoop squash flesh into a measuring cup until you have 2 1/2 cups.

5. In a food processor, process cream cheese with sugar, spices and salt until light and smooth. Scrape down bowl, add squash and process until smooth. Mix in brandy and then eggs, one at a time. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula.

6. Place pie plate on a baking sheet and scrape filling into crust. Bake until just set in center, about 1 hour. Let cool, then serve topped with crème fraîche.

Regina Schrambling's Mushroom Ragout



For the past week, I've been elbow-deep in flour and boiling potatoes and yeast (dried, instant, fresh, you name it), trying like mad to get this potato focaccia recipe figured out for you all. And you know what? I'm totally enjoying it. It's slow-going, yes, but it's fun, too. Plus, Ben seems to enjoy all the doughy, not-salty-enough, sunken-in-the-middle test specimens. Who knows. More on this later.

In the meantime, while we all wait for my oven to finally produce The Right Version of La Focaccia, I need to quickly tell you about this mushroom ragout I made last weekend that, literally, is good enough to eat from the pan with a spoon when no one's looking. (If you want to be a little more dignified, I'd suggest you boil some rice and spoon the ragout over it. While we're at it, you could also eat this over pasta, or pan-fried chicken paillards, over steak, or straight out of the pan.)

It's so simple that I almost feel silly writing about it, but it's so darn delicious that I just have to urge you to make it. You basically saute a bunch of wild mushrooms with a few aromatics, deglaze them with stock and wine, and give the whole dish some body with a nice dollop of creme fraiche. Yeah, yeah - see what I mean? Easy-peasy and deja-vu. Except is it? Have you made this lately? Get to it.

Russ (because of course it's his recipe) Regina (sorry!) calls for wild mushrooms, but after getting slightly worked up about the state of even the standard Portobello caps at my local grocer (seriously, I'm thinking of lodging a formal complaint with the manager there about the piles of rotting vegetables I see on a regular basis - I mean, I don't want to be shrill, but come on. I should take pictures of the place and show them to you - it's appalling.), I marched off to the organic grocer and ended up with plain old champignons de Paris, little cremini (yes, I know they're the same thing), and shiitake mushrooms.

I also used less butter and less creme fraiche than the original recipe because it's January and I'm just not in the mood for gilding lilies. The dish turns out fabulously nevertheless - the mushrooms are each napped in a lovely little cloak of winey, brothy, herb-scented cream without being bogged down with fat, and their woodsy flavor shines right through.

And for those of you who can't get your hands on creme fraiche in the grocery store? Make your own instead of substituting sour cream or whatever else - creme fraiche has its own lovely flavor profile and reacts uniquely with heat, which is why cooking with it is such a pleasure. Plus, making your own is beyond easy. Here's what you do:

Pour 2 tablespoons of buttermilk and 2 cups heavy cream (do not use the ultra-pasteurized, additive-filled kind or this won't work) into a clean glass jar. Screw the lid shut and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using (this helps to continue thickening the cream). It will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Mushroom Ragout
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I used white button, little cremini, and shiitake mushrooms)
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/4 cup creme fraiche (plus a little more if desired)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into chunks of roughly even size.

2. Melt the butter in a large shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and stir to mix well. Add the thyme, bay leaf and cayenne pepper and mix well. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid is reduced to a glaze.

4. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, about 15 minutes (cooking time will depend on variety and age of mushrooms).

5. Stir in the creme fraiche and heat through. (Add more if you want more liquid.) Taste and add more salt if needed. Season well with pepper and serve.

Marcella Hazan's Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup


More patience.

Less anxiety.

More seizing-the-day, more exploration, more adventure.

Less routine, less ruts.

Oh, and more vegetables.

* * *

New year, new resolutions. Every January rolls around and I feel mildly twitchy and on edge about any number of things I'm meant to be improving Right Now (the state of my cuticles, the number of times a week I find myself gyrating to a hopped-up 80's music in a class full of other Spandex-clad ladies, the amount of letters I hand-write to my acquaintances, and my determination to make this year the year I finally join a choir).

I try not to get too caught up in the clean slate, fresh page thing, but it's hard. After a month of excess - too many truffles from gift baskets at the office, too much alcohol from one too many holiday parties, too many heavy meals that mark each celebration at the end of the year - it seems a given that January become an ascetic month. Early-to-bed, early-to-rise, frequent visits to the gym, main-course meals made of nothing but plants, and wholesale rejection of anything sweet... oh, it's all so dour.

(Except that while I was in Brussels with my family, eating meal after meal of amazing vegetables (my Sicilian uncle, man, he has his sources - boiled broccoli rabe, braised artichokes (every day!) filled with seasoned breadcrumbs, tender slices of raw fennel, and spunky little puntarelle (which sparked a discussion about the various kinds of endive/chicory were best and things got a little heated, I won't lie, because people have their favorites and you can't go around impugning someone's favorite green, you really can't), just to name a few, I realized that, if vegetables are as delicious as the things I ate there, it's not exactly deprivation.)

(Swear to God and I hope that doesn't make me a total nerd.)

(Tragically, and somewhat predictably, the fare available to me at my local Key Foods, and (to be honest) even at the somewhat more upscale organic grocer in my neighborhood is a pale, pale comparison to the tasty shoots and leaves we ate in Europe. Everything there was sweeter, greener, more tender, more flavorful. Why? I don't know. It just was. And I promise it's not because someone else was cooking either.)

(Okay, enough of this.)

In Berlin last week, I appalled some friends by admitting that Ben and I routinely polish off an entire head of cabbage in one sitting. I was thinking, specifically, of Marco Canora's braised cabbage, but then the other night, fueled by Marcella Hazan's urging and my determination (my trousers, they are snug), I turned an entire head of Savoy cabbage into soup and - zing! - it was gone in a minute. Hey, presto! Think of it as my version of the cabbage soup diet. (Ba-da bing.)


It's so much richer, though, and delicious than it sounds. You shred cabbage and braise it within an inch of its life with a bit of vinegar (a Venetian treatment, this is). Then you take the whole lot of it (I know, it's rather wan. But so tasty!) and boil it with broth and rice into a soupy, sludgy stew. You beat butter and Parmesan into it, kind of like with risotto, let it sit for a few minutes and then you eat it.

It fulfills quite a few January requirements - some low, slow cooking; a goodly amount of vegetables and just a wee bit of fat; and has the stick-to-your-ribs quality that you simply need when the wind howls around the corners and your pipes threaten to freeze. It's not much to look at, that's true, but who said January was pretty, anyhow?

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup
Serves 2 if that's all you're having for dinner

Smothered Cabbage:

2 pounds Savoy cabbage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1. Detach and discard the first few outer leaves of the cabbage. Shred the remaining head of cabbage very fine, either with your food processor's shredding attachment or by hand. Be sure to remove the cabbage's inner core.

2. Put the onion and olive oil and a large saute pan and turn the heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring, until it's softened and taken on some color. Then add the garlic. When the garlic has turned a pale gold, add the shredded cabbage. Turn the cabbage over 2 or 3 times to coat it well, and cook it until it has wilted.

3. Add salt, pepper, and the vinegar to the pan. Turn the cabbage over once, completely, then lower the heat to minimum and cover the pan tightly. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, or until it is very tender, stirring from time to time. Add 2 tablespoons of water, if needed, during the cooking if the cabbage becomes too dry. When done, taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Allow it to settle a few minutes off heat before serving.


The smothered cabbage
3 cups homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 2 cups of water or 1 1/2 bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of water
2/3 cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the cabbage and broth into a soup pot, and turn on the heat to medium.

2. When the broth comes to a boil, add the rice. Cook, uncovered, adjusting the heat so that the soup bubbles at a slow but steady boil, stirring from time to time until the rice is done. It must be tender, but firm to the bite, and should take around 20 minutes. If while the rice is cooking, you find the soup becoming too thick dilute it with a ladleful of homemade broth or water. The soup should be on the dense-ish side when finished.

3. When the rice is done, before turning off the heat, stir in the butter and the grated cheese. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual plates and allow it to settle a few minutes before serving.

Riccardo Cosentino, 1909-2008


On Christmas, we talked about spending the holidays next year in Italy - in honor of my grandfather's 100th birthday. But this morning Nonno died, two days before he turned 99.

Ben always talks about how lucky my grandfather was to have enjoyed many meals with four generations of his family at the table with him. I can't - don't want to - yet imagine our next meal in Urbino with his spot at the head of the table empty, but I know Ben is right. Nonno Riccardo was a lucky man.