Author Archives: Nicole Letts

Enjoying Summer’s Bounty with a Plum Tart

 

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As a relative of peaches and nectarines, plums are just about everywhere this time of year. They are a wonderful fruit that are perfect for tarts, one of my favorite dinner party desserts.

If you can’t find plums near you, pick up some fresh figs instead. Figs will start making their appearance on fruit stands this month, and you’ll find this tart to be just as exquisite with figs. Enjoy!

Plum Tart
serves 8

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees

For the crust, you will need:

– 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
– 1 tablespoon sugar + 2 tablespoons sugar
– 4 tablespoons cold butter cut into 1 inch cubes + 1 tablespoon butter
– 1/4 cup olive oil ( I got mine from a local press, 2 blocks away, gotta love Italy)
– pinch salt
– 1/2 cup ice water

To prepare:
In a Cuisinart or Kitchenaid put in flour, sugar, salt and 4 tablespoons butter + oil. mix on medium speed until it becomes a crumby mixture.

Slowly add ice water until the dough pulls together.
Place in the fridge and start on the figs.

For the plum filling, you will need:
– Plums or figs
– 3 tablespoon sugar
– 1 tablespoon butter, cubed

To Prepare: 
Slice the plums in half removing the pit, roll out the dough and place into the tart pan, arrange plums on the dough in a fan or row pattern.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons sugar + 1 tablespoon cubed butter on top of the plums arrangement.

Put into a 400 degree oven for 1 hour, or until the plums are bubbling and crust is browned.

Cool and serve.

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How to have Fresh Pesto Year-Round

At the end of each summer, I make sure to harvest all the basil in my garden. Then, I implement a little secret of mine to ensure pesto year-round: I make this summer pesto recipe and freeze it. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays. When you have a craving for fresh pesto, simply remove a few ice cubes, and add them to a pan. You’ll be able to have fresh pesto year-round!

This pesto recipe is straight from the source. My sweet Ligurian friend Monica Damonte is not only a great interior designer but a wonderful host and cook. Here’s her version of pesto ala Liguria. Hers has a twist with Ricotta Salata on top; it’s delish.

Enjoy xx

Pesto

Coin Pasta with Pesto
Serves 6

You will need:

– 4 cups basil
– 1 cup olive oil
– 1¼ cups grated Parmesan cheese
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 4 cups dried coin pasta, or trofie pasta
– 12 cups water for boiling the pasta, reserve ¼ cup pasta water
– 1 cup ricotta salata
– ¼ cup chopped tomato
– 6 mint leaves

To prepare:

Place basil, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, oil and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse for 3 minutes until it forms a paste. Set aside.

In a large pot cook pasta for 10 minutes until al dente and drain. In a large bowl combine pasta, pesto, and the reserved water (¼ cup). Add ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of ricotta salata. Top each serving with a mint leaf and tomato for garnish. Serve immediately. Place the extra Parmesan on the table for guests.

Photo credit : Victoria Lacarrieu

Food Styling: Me

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Summer Floral Dessert:: Lavender Ice Cream

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Believe it or not, we still have more than 6 weeks of summer left. In fact, the first official day of fall isn’t until late September. As such, let’s all agree to continue indulging in summer’s bounty and celebrating the season, shall we?

One of my favorite summer recipes is this delicious blueberry pie and lavender ice cream from my first cookbook, Picture Perfect Parties Rizzoli NY.

While this is the most delicious blueberry pie recipe, the lavender ice cream is the star of the show. It’s a beautiful combination. Lavender is an unexpected fun flavor for guests. If you’ve never cooked with it before, make sure you purchase food-grade lavender. Essentially, get the stuff that’s safe to eat!

I think you’ll love the floral notes of this ice cream, and if you want the blueberry pie recipe to pair with it, you can find it here. Enjoy!

Lavender Ice Cream
Serves 6-8

You will need:
– 3 cups heavy cream
– 1 cup whole Milk
– 2 tablespoons dried lavender
– 6 eggs + 2 yolks
– ½ cup sugar
-¼ tsp salt
– ¼ cup honey
– 1 teaspoon vanilla

To prepare:

Simmer cream, milk and lavender in a saucepan until milk is scalded about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat pour into a bowl and let lavender steep for 30 minutes.

Strain cooled lavender milk mixture back into the saucepan and bring back up to heat. In a bowl whisk egg and sugar, salt and vanilla until creamy. Pull the hot milk off heat and pour about ¼ cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking while pouring.

Pour warmed egg mixture into the sauce pan with hot milk and put back on heat (medium) simmer until custard is formed and coats the back of a metal spoon about 10-15 minutes.

Whisk in honey and place into fridge chill until very cold.

Put into an ice cream maker follow manufacturers instruction.

Place ice cream into low pan with plastic wrap on the bottom. Freeze until ready to serve.

Photo Credit : Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

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Summer soup? Why not!

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Even in the summer, I love soup because of all of the readily available, delicious summer veggies. Summer produce is some of the best we get all year, so why not indulge in soup in the summer?

Pistou is essentially the French equivalent of pesto, and with a bounty of basil, there’s no time like now to whip up a batch. Marry your pistou with a variety of summer vegetables like sweet peas, sweet onions, fresh corn, and zucchini. Then bring it all together in a big pot of irresistible soup. Adding Pistou to this summer soup makes it a yummy seasonal treat. You’ll love it!

Easy to make and easy to serve?! That’s my kind of meal!

Summer Soup with Pistou

You will need: 

– 1 large onion, chopped
– 6 garlic cloves, minced
– 1/3 cup olive oil
– 1 lb small red-skinned potatoes, quartered
– 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
– 1 lb kale, cut into ribbons
– 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1″ cubes
– 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, in juice
– 1 15 oz can of kidney beans
– 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 cup thin spaghetti broken into 1 inch pieces
– 10 cups vegetable stock

To prepare:

Using a heavy pot, saute onion and garlic until transparent. Add vegetables and saute for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, and stock. Add thyme and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat for about 2 hours. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes. Serve with a dollop of pistou on top of each bowl.

For Pistou:

– 3 garlic cloves
– 3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/4 cup olive oil
– 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To prepare: 

Finely chop garlic in processor. Add basil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process until basil is finely chopped, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. With machine running, gradually blend in oil. Add cheese; process to blend well. Transfer to bowl. *Can be made 2 days ahead , store in a sealed container and refrigerate.

xx Annette

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Surprisingly Simple Summer Dessert:: Cherries on Ice

Cherries on Ice

Ciao from Italy! I’ve had the best time hosting workshops this summer and dreaming-up new ways to entertain our guests. As you know, part of being a good hostess is developing a menu that is fresh and fun while encouraging guests to chat and have a good time.

As you also know, I like to think and work smarter, not harder. There’s no need to make a dinner party or gathering with friends complicated. The goal is for everyone to have a great evening, including the host.

Just last week, I served the most delicious surprisingly simple summer dessert, cherries on ice. Even though cherry season is wrapping-up in Italy, chances are you’re still finding plenty of them at your local markets and grocery stores. This simple dessert makes a fun, light end to a meal. Let me know if you give it a try and what you think!

Cherries on Ice

You will need:
– cherries, rinsed and drained
– ice water

To prepare:

Thoroughly rinse cherries and set aside.

Fill a large bowl with ice and cover it completely with water. Place cherries into the ice bath.

Replace ice as needed and serve cherries directly from the ice bath. Be sure to place a pretty bowl nearby (or give one to each guest) for stems and pits.

xx Annette

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