Chocolate-Almond Meringues

When I was little, my mother made two desserts: creme caramel, which I adored; and meringues, which I did not adore. She made very good meringues, mind you: perfectly crispy and airy, not too sweet, pale, and light. Somehow, though, I never developed a taste for them. And then one day in Matera, I ate a cookie that looked just like a pebble, and discovered it was a chocolate and almond meringue… I was hooked. I worked out the recipe back home, and here it is.

Easy to make, meringues nevertheless require a light touch when the flavorings are stirred in, lest the egg whites deflate. They also need a low, slow bake, allowing the interior to dry fully rather than remain gummy. My mother always leaves her trays of meringue in the turned-off oven after they are baked, and only removes them when the oven is completely cold.

What makes the meringues below special is the almond extract stirred into the batter, which magnifies the almond taste immensely; and the dark chocolate ganache holding the two meringues together, which cuts down on the meringues’ natural sweetness and provides a deep, lingering chocolate finish.

For the meringues:

  • ½ cup almonds, skin on
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

For the ganache:

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 300°F (preferably set on convection bake). Line two 11-inch x 17-inch baking sheets with parchment paper.

Toast the almonds in the preheated oven until aromatic and a shade darker, about 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Chop coarsely in a food processor and set aside; do not pulverize the almonds, or the meringues will be too dry. The almonds should be in fine, small crumbs.

Chop the chocolate in the food processor until it is roughly the size of the almond crumbs, and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt and vinegar until soft peaks form; add the sugar in a thin, steady stream until it is all incorporated and the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Very gently fold in the almond extract, chocolate, and almonds, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.

Spoon the egg white mixture into a piping bag fitted with a wide, smooth tip, and pipe onto the lined baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches of space in between the mounds. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 200°F (preferably set on convection bake) and continue to bake the meringues until crisp and dry, about 25 more minutes. Cool to room temperature on a rack.

Meanwhile, make the ganache: Place the cream in a small pot and warm until boiling. Immediately pour over the chocolate in a bowl and stir until the chocolate is fully melted, stirring as needed. Cool to room temperature.

To serve: Spread the cooled ganache onto the flat side of half of the meringues. Place another meringue half, flat side down, over the ganache. Serve immediately, or store in hermetic containers at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.


Agretti (aka Friar’s Beard) with Olive Oil

You may be lucky enough to run across this vegetable at a farmers’ market in late spring or early summer, and if you do, grab it! Agretti tastes a lot like spinach, but with a slight saline tang to it, and a more chewy, resilient, slippery texture. It is absolutely delicious. I always loved agretti on my trips to Italy, but never found it here until we went to the the Ramsey, NJ Farmers’ Market this week. To my surprise, Blooming Hill Farm had some (along with a huge array of other greens) so I snapped up a bunch and cooked it for lunch.

In Italy, agretti also go by the name barbe di frate (friar’s beard), and they grow abundantly in central Italy. They’re usually just boiled or steamed, and served with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, though some people also drizzle them with lemon juice. I find the lemon juice superfluous as it masks the natural brightness of agretti. When preparing agretti for cooking, take the thin, delicate leaves off the thicker central stems, then wash thoroughly in several changes of cool water.

On a historical note, agretti’s Latin name is Salsola soda, and in ancient times, the plant (which grows across the Mediterranean and can even be irrigated with saltwater) was an important source of soda ash. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances crucial to glassmaking and soapmaking, and apparently, it was the key ingredient that ensured the famous clarity of glass from Murano and Venice.

Serves 2

  • 1 bunch agretti (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash the agretti in several changes of cool water. Strip off the thin, delicate leaves from the thick central stems. Discard the thick stems and wash the tender leaves again in several changes of cool water until the water runs clear.

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the agretti for 3 minutes, or until just crisp-tender. Drain and cool under running water. Squeeze dry gently with your hands (a little moisture is ok, but if the agretti is water-logged, the flavor will be diluted).

Place in a bowl and add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, the olive oil, and the pepper. Toss well, taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Serve at room temperature.


Grilled Flatbread with Olive Oil & Sea Salt

There is a recipe my husband refers to, simply, as “The Dough.” This is it. It is an all-purpose, delicious, versatile dough that you can use for any type of baked or grilled or even fried bread. You can stuff it, bake it flat as pizza or focaccia, shape it into ciabatta or baguette, or, as below, grill it.

The dough takes 2 minutes to make in the food processor (in fact, it takes longer to wash the food processor than to make the dough). You can definitely knead it by hand if you have 10 minutes to spare, and then all you need to wash is a bowl and a wooden spoon. But as quickly as the dough comes together, I strongly advise you to let it rise overnight in the refrigerator for best flavor, so plan ahead. The bread will taste amazingly wheaty and complex thanks to a long, slow, cool rise.

A word of caution: once you’ve tasted grilled bread, you’ll be addicted, and if you live in a climate where outdoor grilling is only an option a few months of the year, you’ll find yourself indulging almost daily just so you can get your fill (impossible) before cool weather returns! The dough is grilled directly on the grill grates, so you don’t need any special equipment other than a bit of aluminum foil to aid in shaping and flipping onto the grill.

Makes 2 large flatbreads (serves 8 people)

For the dough:

  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups warm (110°F) water
  • extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the bowl

For the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing when serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add enough warm (110°F) water (about 1 and 1/2 cups) to make a soft dough that rides the blade. Be careful not to use water that is too warm; anything above 120°F will kill the yeast, making the dough heavy rather than springy and light.

Process for 45 seconds. Add a little water if the dough is dry or a little flour if it is sticky. The dough should feel as soft as an earlobe when done; if it is dense or dry, add more water; you are better off with a slightly sticky dough than a dry one, as the bread will be much lighter and have beautiful air bubbles if your dough is a bit wet and sticky.

Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in it, roll to coat with the oil, shape into a ball, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Place in the refrigerator and allow to rise, undisturbed, for 24 hours; this will result in a deliciously wheaty tasting bread with a lighter texture. You can certainly let the dough rise at room temperature in just 2 hours or so, but the flavor will not be nearly as good.

Three to four hours before you are ready to grill the bread, take the dough out of the refrigerator and return it to room temperature before cutting it and shaping it.

Shape the dough: Cut two large pieces of sturdy aluminum foil (each piece should be about 12 inches long). Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil on each piece of foil and rub to coat the surface of the foil. Cut the dough in half and place one half on each piece of foil. Turn to coat both sides with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes.


Uncover and, using your hands, flatten each piece of dough into a rectangle roughly 1/2-inch thick. Do not worry if it is not a perfect rectangle. The even thickness matters far more than the shape. Even thickness insures that the bread will grill evenly, with no doughy, thick parts.


Flip the dough.


Season with the salt. Let rest 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, heat a grill to the highest setting for about 5 minutes. When the grill is really hot (about 500°F), place one bread on the grill, with the foil side facing up. Quickly peel off the foil. Repeat with the second bread. Close the grill and cook the breads about 3 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom; there should be deep grill marks on it. Cook longer if needed. Flip the breads, close the grill, and cook another 3 minutes, or until the second side is also browned; there will not be any grill lines on the second side, so what you are looking for is a golden color with a few deep brown spots.



Remove to a cutting board, brush with olive oil, cut into large pieces, and enjoy hot.

Fresh Fava Beans with Mint, Scallions, and Lettuce

Have you ever tasted fresh fava beans? They are nothing like their frozen counterparts, which are usually mealy and not very sweet. And they are nothing like dried fava beans, which, although delicious and earthy in flavor, are neither vibrant in color (they turn a delicate yellow-ochre when dried) nor flavor (they mellow and become far more “beany” when dried).

This is the season to taste fresh fava beans, and my husband and I have been gorging on them since April. We love them plain, boiled briefly and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper; sautéed with bacon and onions as a simple sauce for pasta; transformed into a soothing, creamy soup with a sprinkling of dill upon serving; or, as below, slow-cooked with scallions, mint, and lettuce. The latter is a technique you can also use with fresh shucked peas, which are just coming into season.

Look for fresh fava beans with unblemished, stiff, heavy pods. The brighter colored pods indicate sweeter beans. Try to buy them the day you plan to cook them, as they will be even sweeter if they never see the inside of the refrigerator. If you are feeling particularly industrious, you can shell, boil, and shuck fava beans in large quantities for freezing; place in freezer-safe plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 year, and your frozen fava beans are sure to be endlessly better than store-bought frozen fava beans.


Serves 2 as a side dish

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds fresh fava beans
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 mint leaves
  • 4 leaves Boston lettuce, washed, dried, and cut into slivers

Shell the beans and rinse them thoroughly. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the beans for 3 minutes, or until they look wrinkly and have softened a bit. Don’t be alarmed if the boiling water looks a bit dark, as this is completely normal. Drain and rinse under cool running water to stop the cooking, then drain again. Slip off the thick papery skin from each bean (this is shucking, and is necessary for the beans to be edible, as the skins are very fibrous).

Place the olive oil, scallions, and garlic in a 10-inch sauté pan. Warm over medium heat until the scallions soften, about 5 minutes, stirring as needed. Stir in the shucked fava beans, pour in 1/2 cup of water, and cover. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring once in a while and adding a bit of water as needed to maintain a bit of moisture in the pan. The fava beans should never dry out completely. If the beans are still crunchy, cook a little longer, covered; they should be crisp-tender, not hard, when done.

Uncover the pan and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Add the mint and lettuce, stir well, and cook 1 minute, or until the lettuce wilts. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.


Salt and Pepper Ramps

I first tasted ramps five years ago. I had heard of them and read about them, but never managed to find them at the market when I searched for them. Then one spring day at the Union Square Market in New York City, shortly after we moved to an apartment in Gramercy, I spotted a table full of what appeared at first glance to be hairy purplish scallions. Bearded, gritty, and topped by long, tender green leaves, they looked like spring itself. I picked up two bunches, headed back to our kitchen, and washed (and washed) them. A brief toss with olive oil in a hot skillet, and we had an amazing side dish. I make sautéed ramps twice a week now, whenever the season is upon us. I have tried ramps in soups, sandwiches, pesto, and more… but my favorite way remains the simplest, as with most foods. I urge you to head to your local farmers’ market while you still can this year and get a fat bunch of ramps to sauté and savor.

Serves 2 as a side dish

  • 1 bunch ramps
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash the ramps several times under cool running water, using your fingers to dislodge any grit between the leaves and on the bulbs. Cut off the thin, hairy beards at the bottom of each bulb. Keep the pretty green leaves attached.

Blot the ramps dry on paper towels.

Toss the ramps with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and set over medium-high heat. Sauté 5 minutes, tossing with tongs to cook evenly, or until the ramps are softened and browned in spots. Serve hot or at room temperature.