Monday, June 16, 2008

Torta della no no

I read Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes last year and while I'd hate to write something as cliched as "That book changed my life", I must confess, that book changed my life. I'm not planning on buying a crumbling Tuscan villa, but I was struck by her passion for food and how that shone through in her writing. I found it very inspiring, both as a writer and as a food lover. That being said, there was a particular dessert she wrote of called torta della nonna, or grandmother's tart, that I've been wanting to try. The recipe sounded delightfully simple and rustic:

A thick custard filling made from two egg yolks, 1/3 C. flour, 2 C. milk, and a 1/2 C. sugar poured into a polenta crust made from 1 1/2 C. polenta, 1 1/2 C. flour, 1/3 C. sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 4 oz butter, 1 egg, and 1 egg yolk.

Top with a handful of pine nuts and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

There wasn't much direction other than that.

Since I've never made a custard before I turned to my mother's worn copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. Don't let the word New fool you. I couldn't find a publishing date, but based on the photographs of the BHG test kitchen, I'd guess this book is at least twenty-five years old. A lot of the recipes seem like holdovers from my Grandmother's time, but it is a venerable encyclopedia for timeless favorites.

The recipe for their custard was slightly different. It called for three whole eggs,vanilla extract, and less sugar but I figured the basic idea--stir over medium heat until it coats spoon--would still hold over.

I was wrong.

I had a feeling that the custard wasn't as thick as it could be, but I figured it would thicken as it cooled. It did, but not nearly enough. I baked it for around thirty minutes, hoping maybe the extra cooking time would help. The crust turned a nice golden brown and the top seemed to harden a bit, but I could tell from the way the surface wobbled that it would be soupy.

It looked great though and despite my warnings, my mother couldn't wait to cut herself a slice. As soon as she did, my worst fears were confirmed by her exclaimation: "Oh, it's all runny."


She then assured me that custard can be tricky and asked what the recipe called for.

"No cornstarch?" She asked.

No, just flour.

She shrugged her shoulders, then asked me if I wanted a piece.

The crust was pretty good. I used Red Mill polenta, which was a bit too coarse for my tastes. I wouldn't use it again.

The custard itself was quite runny. Oh well. It still tasted good, but wasn't what I was hoping for.

Then, I dropped it on the floor right before I took the picture.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

I want to be a gastronaut.

Lately I've been writing a lot of articles about food for and The Courant. And, I've come to the realization that food writing is something I am incredibly interested in. I am, in short, obsessed with food. It's quite sad really. But, having an excuse to write about food (and, subsequently, getting paid for doing so) is as close to a dream job as I'm probably going to get. Therefore, I think I'm going to start blogging about food on here. I just finished a couple articles about al fresco dining and gelato, which I'll link later as well as some older pieces.

Gyro Fix

I love a good gyro. It is easily my favorite sandwich. Or, maybe I just love tzatziki and the gyro is merely a more socially acceptable yet calorie-ridden way for me to ingest said sauce rather than from a tub with a spoon. Either way, I tend to abstain from authentic lamb gyros all year until it's time for the Hartford Greek festival in early June. But, Christmas came early this year when my boyfriend James, who happens to be Greek, suggested we go to a festival in Waterbury.

Apparently it's held every year during Mother's Day Weekend, but this was my first time going. Waterbury's a bit of a hike from my house but James was driving, so I was completely on board. Unfortunately the weather sucked, for lack of a better word, and I was fighting off a nasty cold. But the food was good and cheap, just the way I like it.

We each got lamb gyros with the works: tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. They were HUGE (see picture). Way bigger than the ones at the Hartford Greek festival. I think this might have had something to do with the 11 year old boys who made them for us. At $7 it was definitely a deal. They had six spits going, which is a ton of lamb. But it was done just right. We also got one spanakopita (spinach pie) and one tiropita (cheese pie). They were $3.75 and $3.25 each. The spanakopita was ok. I think I like Hartford's better. They give you bigger portions and it isn't as salty. I had never had tiropita before, which is made from a mixture of feta and farmer's cheese. It was also incredibly salty, but tasty.

We were so full after downing those massive gyros, but you can't come to the Greek festival without having dessert. I got a piece of galactobouriko, which is custard wrapped in filo and covered with honey syrup. I had it a couple of years ago at the Hartford Greek festival and loved it. They were sold out when I went last year, so when I saw it on the menu here I had to get it. They gave me a huge piece, well worth the $3.00, and it was still nice and warm. James got a piece of baklava, which was much smaller than the galactobouriko, for $2.50.

Once we finished eating, we walked around the festival a little bit. There wasn't much to see. It was pouring outside and everything was under a big ( and slightly leaky) tent. James noted that "Every Greek festival has the same things: There's the person selling jewelery, a booth selling icons, a raffle with a trip to Greece, which I always enter but never win..." He has a point. I, of course, come strictly for the food. And now that I've had my gyro fix I can move on to some moussaka or pastitsio at the next Greek festival. I've heard that New Britain has a smaller one at the end of May, which we'll definitely be hitting up. Ya sou!