I almost filed this away as a post for next summer since I was really late in getting this up and now it’s September (sobs). Should I even post something that is for keeping cool in the dead of summer? I didn’t need cooling off from today’s autumn-like, blustery winds and rain but I do want to willfully ignore that summer is over so I will pretend that the cicadas are still singing in the hazy heat.
Sue Riedl from the awesome blog cheese and toast perfectly expressed her grief at summer’s passing by “clutching onto its leg and crying.” She’s clutching onto one leg and I’m clutching onto the other. If you want to join us in not letting go, then this absolute peach of a semifreddo is for you. You can still find the last of the summer peaches at the markets and green grocers but you’ll need to hurry.
This semifreddo is totally peachy and I’m not speaking figuratively. It literally screams Peach! Peach! Peach! as it melts on your tongue. Its flavour is clearly focused on this fuzzy late summer bounty. Compared to the divinely creamy peach semifreddo I wrote about before, the dairy in this version is kept to a minimum so peaches can be front and center and the texture a bit more icy.
I found this recipe on my semifreddo research trip to the Toronto Reference Library. Out of all the books I flipped through looking for semifreddo recipes, I found what I was looking for in Silver Spoon, a tome of Italian cookery that not only breaks up the recipes by courses but then also gives you the geographic provenance of each dish because Italian cooking is never just Italian – each dish comes from a very specific nook of Italy.
Peach and Amaretti Semifreddo from the Piemonte region
Silver Spoon (Phaidon Press, 2005)
2 lbs ripe peaches (about 7-9 peaches depending on size)
2/3 cup coarsely crushed amaretti cookies
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream*
1 large egg, separated (you’ll only need the white for this recipe)
*your cream should be at least 30% butterfat so it can be whipped into proper peaks
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.
Whip the cream until it stands up in stiff peaks. Set aside. Whip the egg white until it’s glossy and stands up in stiff peaks. Set aside.
Peel and pit the peaches. If you need a refresher on how to do this, check out this post. After prepping the fruit, chop them up roughly and toss them into a food processor or blender with the amaretti cookies and sugar. Puree until smooth. You don’t want any chunks of peach. When you open the lid of the processor/blender, the peach slurry will smell divine. You might want to slurp this stuff with a spoon. You’ve been warned.
Pour the peach mix into a large bowl and then fold in the whipped cream and stiffly whipped egg white. Be gentle so you don’t deflate either of the whipped items. That air in the egg white and whipped cream will give your semifreddo lift.
Pour the mixture into the prepped loaf pan and freeze for four hours to set.
The cookbook advises that the semifeddo should be turned out onto a serving platter. I took it out of the freezer, let it thaw out a little bit while sitting out at room temperature for 15 minutes and then flipped it over onto a plate. I took a good, hard look at its homely self. Regardless of my apprehension of its looks, I was going to photograph it as it lay whole on the plate. My boyfriend walks by and grimaces, “you’re not going to shoot it like that, are you?” I tried taking a beauty shot of it, but no matter what angle, it still just looked like a pale peach homogenous loaf. Regardless of appearance, the taste is AMAZING. Don’t bother with showing anyone what it looks like whole. This semifreddo should be scooped and served in dishes just like ice cream.
Hold onto that summer feeling.
This summer’s been hot. (Don’t worry Toronto, we’ll be back in the 30’s again by this weekend.) That’s my reason for consuming an untold amount of ice cream sandwiches. The box in the freezer keeps spontaneously regenerating them – a bottomless pit of cheap and cheerful frozen delight. But can a girl live on ice cream sandwiches alone? Surely there must be something tastier (and more special) out there that would keep me cool and still keep my waistline inching outward? Since the start of our gloriously blistering summer, the only recipes that my brain has been acknowledging are the ones that are frozen, sweet, and have an above average butterfat content. I’m not going to fight it; I decide to make some cool treats of my own. I pick two recipes to try. I’m excited. And then I’m not. They both fail miserably. One was so much work and the other one less so but both outcomes were really annoying. I consoled myself by eating an ice cream sandwich.
These two failures sat in my freezer for weeks. I didn’t want to deal with them. But every time I opened my freezer door to reach in for an ice cream sandwich, I was confronted by their hulking glacial masses. This couldn’t be the beginning and end of my attempt, so I threw them out, picked myself up and decided to try again. But this time I would do as an Italian would. This is a good rule of thumb and one I use when I hit a cooking obstacle. An Italian wouldn’t overthink it, which is why I think the other recipes failed. If an Italian wanted to make a frozen confection, they’d make a semifreddo. The flavours aren’t mucked about with and the ingredient list is simple. You don’t need much skill, just a mixer with a whisk really. But be warned, you will sully a few bowls while making this.
Ontario peaches are in season and with the thought of making a semifreddo obsessing me, I serendipitously came across a peaches and cream semifreddo recipe on The Kitchn. My only amendment was to add crushed amaretti cookies, an Italian almond cookie that is a perfect match for a peach.
This dessert tastes as good as it looks. That creamy expanse is flecked with vanilla and bejeweled with bright summer peaches. The amaretti give the semifreddo a bit of crunch here and there with that sweet, almost burnt sugar almond taste. This is a bit of an upgrade from your standard ice cream sandwich.
Peaches and Cream Semifreddo
Adapted by the Kitchen from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Luques (Knopf, 2005)
5 ripe peaches, peeled and diced into small pieces*
1 ½ cups whipping cream**
4 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar, divided
16 amaretti cookies, crushed
*check out my post on Peachy Keen Mess to find out how to skin peaches.
**in Canada, a cream with at least 30% butterfat is whipping cream. I believe this cream goes by other names in other places. So, just check the butterfat content. You need your cream to have at least 30% butterfat in order to whip it into stiff peaks or else you’ll exhaust yourself and only get a flaccid frothy cream.
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, letting excess drape over the sides. Try andsmooth out the bottom and the sides as much as possible so your semifreddo won’t come out wrinkly. But don’t worry about it too much – you can always smooth out your semifreddo with a warm offset spatula or knife.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium speed until stiff peaks have formed. Transfer to another bowl and pop in the fridge to chill.
Slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds within.
Clean the bowl and whisk attachment. Add the egg yolks, vanilla bean seeds, vanilla extract, and 1/3 cup sugar. Beat on high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside. You’re going to use this bowl with the egg yolks to mix everything together.
Clean the bowl and whisk attachment again. Add the egg whites and mix on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high. Slowly add sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks have formed, about 4 minutes.
Fold the chilled whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture. Gently fold in the egg whites, a third at a time. Before adding and folding in the last third of the egg whites, add the diced peaches and the crushed amaretti cookies. Once all your ingredients are in the bowl, gingerly fold it all together until everything is well incorporated but be careful not to deflate the mixture. When doing all this folding, don’t rush and beat the mixture. It might not look like it’s coming together but it will.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Spread evenly with a spatula, and cover with another piece of plastic wrap, smoothing out any wrinkles with your hands. Tuck excess plastic wrap over the top. Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours but preferably overnight (and up to a week).
To serve, invert semifreddo onto a serving platter and remove pan and plastic wrap. Let stand 10 – 15 minutes at room temperature to soften. Depending on the warmth of your kitchen, I’d say 15 minutes is better. No matter how hard you try for the plastic wrap to be smooth, you probably will still have a few wrinkles in the surface of the semifreddo. No worries. Run a knife under some warm water and then smooth the top and sides.
Or you can bypass all of this and just defrost the semifreddo in the pan and then scoop it like ice cream.
I’m a proud card carrying member of the library who regularly takes out books and tries really hard to return them on time. When there were proposed cuts to Toronto’s library system, I joined up the cause to stop the cuts, writing impassioned, intelligent (if I do say so myself) letters to the city arguing why libraries are crucial for the public good. Growing up in Cleveland (where the library system is dubbed the People’s University), I still remember going to the library with my older brother to get my first library card. I remember signing my name really carefully in cursive on the back of the card, thinking that this card is really important and I have to do a good job signing my name. And I remember the first time I used that card. I just couldn’t believe I could take piles of books home with me! For free! Every week when I was a kid after I got that magic card, I was at the library getting more books or just cruising around the stacks picking up any book that caught my eye and trying to get up the courage to check one of those romance novels out with the saucy cover.
I work right around the corner from the Toronto Reference Library. With my library supporting and library loving pedigree, I’m surprised it took six long months before I stepped foot into the place. For half a year, I walked past the library every day and barely gave it a glance. I just didn’t see what I would do there. It’s a reference library, you can’t take the books out. I imagined that the place was full of people using the wifi in a climate-controlled environment and retired folks doing crossword puzzles and reading encyclopedias…to help them with their crossword puzzles.
I was doing some online research on semifreddo and just wanted a decent source on the recipe. After getting frustrated with what I couldn’t find online, I looked at my own very slim selection of Italian cookbooks. None of them had anything on semifreddo. Mid sulk, it dawned on me that I worked right around the corner from a giant library where I could research semifreddo in proper books. The library to the rescue! When the lunch hour hit the next day at work, I tore out of the office and headed to the library. Cookbooks are on the third floor. I bounced up the stairs and planned on finding the cookbook section on my own even though I could have a librarian quickly point me in the right direction. I wanted to savour the anticipation. After combing the aisles, I hit jackpot. It’s a generous selection of cookbooks and a lot of serious tomes, not at all the same varieties found at my local branch. There were lots of Italian cookbooks. I picked the most promising ones and carried my prized stash of books over to a table and plopped down, eagerly flipping through the pages. I was so excited to be there with my pile of Italian cookbooks that I didn’t even mind that the guy sitting across from me smelled really bad. Best lunch hour ever.
After all that talk about semifreddo, you’re ready for the semifreddo recipe. It’s not happening in this post. This was a bit of a tease but don’t worry, semifreddo is up next! With peaches! Yum! Hopefully that sneak peak will earn your forgiveness. Where I was going with this library story is that while I was doing my semifreddo research, I came across this suggestion on what to do with a peach from Elizabeth David, the much respected British cookery writer whose Italian Food (Knopf, 1954) introduced Italian cooking sensibilities to Britain in the 1950’s.
Into your glass of white wine after luncheon slice a peeled yellow peach. Leave it a minute or two. Eat the peach and then drink the wine.
This is way easier than making a semifreddo. Really, it’s easier than most things that aren’t half as enjoyable. You don’t even have to peel the peach (I didn’t). Feel free to drink the glass of wine before luncheon not after. Or this would do perfectly well before or after dinner, too. Or you could just skip the meal all together and have the glass of wine (or two) with the peach.
I’ll be practicing these different approaches to Elizabeth’s recommendation while I prep my next post.
It’s summer in Ontario. This is a huge deal.
It’s hot. There’s sun. There’s no snow! I don’t have to wear socks for at least three months. I ride my bike everywhere. And there’s the summer harvest: strawberries, peaches, cherries, corn, tomatoes, plums, apricots, all grown in and around the Niagara region, just around the corner from Toronto. I gorge on all this local bounty because I know when the weather turns cold I’m back to going completely without (I’d rather eat dust than an out of season peach) or settling for a pallid imitation of summer staples (like tomatoes and strawberries).
A few posts ago, I wrote about an Eton Mess made with in season Ontario strawberries. As I was writing that post I had an idea that once those Ontario strawberries were done for the year (sob!), I’d swap them for Ontario peaches. Well, it’s Peach Season! Peach Season is a proper noun. It’s a place and you need to go there. Buy peaches by the basket, bring them home, smell them in your kitchen as they finish ripening. Eat peaches over the kitchen sink, trying not to get the juices to dribble down the front of your shirt. If you’re up for a bit of effort, make peach pie or peach ice cream or white sangria with peaches or peach cobbler. Or you could make this peachy keen Eton Mess. It’s a bit more work than just gobbling up juicy peaches over the kitchen sink but it’s worth it.
Eton Mess with Peaches and Raspberries
For the full recipe on Eton Mess go here. Follow the recipe exactly, except for where the recipe calls for 1 cup chopped strawberries substitute that for two whole diced peaches. This will yield a bit more than 1 cup but hey, it’s Peach Season!
To get the skin off of a peach and the flesh off the pit, here’s what you do. First of all, your peaches need to be freestone peaches as opposed to clingstone peaches. The words mean exactly what they look and sound like. Freestone means the stone (or pit) will pull away from the flesh easily. Clingstone means the flesh will cling to the pit and it will be a total messy pain to separate the two. How do you know if peaches are clingstone or freestone? I’ve asked at the greengrocers where I buy and they don’t usually know. I just ‘guess’ hoping that they’re what I want and I’ve been lucky for the most part, hitting jackpot with freestone peaches. If you have any tips on how to judge, let me know!
Get a pot of water to boil with enough water for your peaches to be fully submerged. Cut a thin, shallow X on the bottom of each peach (just a quick slash to get through the skin) and plop them gently into the boiling water. After about a minute or two, pluck them out using a strainer (don’t use tongs!) and put them into a bowl of water and ice. This cold bath will stop the cooking process and cool them down so you can peel the skin off. The skin will come off easily, pulling away from the peach where you cut the X. To get the flesh off the stone, cut all the way around the peach and then twist your knife so that the peach divides in half. Using your knife tip, pop out the stone. All that’s left to do then, is to dice up the peach flesh itself.
It’s a blazing hot summer. My diet has consisted of a regular stream of ice cream sandwiches to keep me cool. I’m eating one right now, trying not to sully my keyboard. Ice cream and other frozen concoctions have been catching my eye in my favourite food mags and blogs. So, why not try to make my own frozen delights? I printed out two recipes (one more involved and one super easy) and hung them on the fridge (my new trick to remember to make things I want to make). I bought everything I needed, cleared my schedule and my freezer. This is where you come in. I was going to write these amazing posts and tell some really funny, charming stories that you were going to love. You’d be reading these posts, thinking ”Oh that Ania. I love her stories and this looks so delicious. She’s the best.” Happily ever after.
By now you know that these recipes never materialized on this blog. Let’s just say I got a little bit too ahead of myself thinking how amazing it all would be. These recipes were failures. Failure is fodder, my friend Cal tells me. But not these. These were not spectacular failures – that at least would be something to talk about – just mediocre ones, somewhere south of ‘meh’ but north of total disaster. I was grumbling to my friend Rowena about my failures and spending all that time and not having anything to write about. My grumbling came off as, even to my own ears, a whiny excuse why there was no new post in a while. Rowena didn’t mince words. She nods her head, listening to me, and then politely cuts me off: “Why don’t you post that beet and dill salad? I had it written down on a post it note from you and then I lost it. I really want to make it again.” Even though this was officially a request, it didn’t leave much room for negotiation. So, for Rowena, here’s the beet salad recipe. I’m sorry you lost your post-it note. We’re good, right?
Grated Raw Beet Salad with Fresh Dill and Mustard Vinaigrette
From Farmer John’s Cookbook The Real Dirt on Vegetables
By Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics (Gibbs Smith, 2006)
The beauty of this salad is that you don’t have to cook the beets. No hot oven, no boiling water. I guess you can call it Beet the Heat salad. Har har.
4 medium beets
1 clove garlic
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 good handful of fresh dill
Peel the beets and grate them coarsely into a large bowl. Mince the shallot and the garlic. In a jar with a screw tight lid, combine the minced shallot and garlic with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Shake the jar vigorously until the mixture is thickened and resembles a vinaigrette.
Pour the dressing over the beets and toss until well coated. Season the salad with salt and pepper. Cover the salad bowl with plastic wrap and pop it into the fridge. The grated beets need to marinate in the dressing for at least an hour. When you’re ready to serve, chop the dill and toss it in the beet salad.
This salad keeps in the fridge for 3 days at my last count. It didn’t go bad at that point. That’s just the longest I’ve gone without finishing it off. Anyway, it keeps in the fridge and even tastes better on the second day.
In Italian, fennel is called finnochio. It rhymes with Pinnochio. When I was in Campania, the vegetable garden had baby finnocchi growing in the garden. Finnocchi is plural of finnochio. They were darling, their lightly ridged pale bulbs sitting atop the soil and their fragile green stalks and fronds stretching up, a petite version of the adult vegetable they would become. I became their mother hen, clucking about making sure they were well tended to and taking lots of photos as they grew.
A giant hailstorm, blowing in from nowhere one day, caused major stress. As I was safely ducking for cover in the house, what was to become of my bambini finnocchi? After the storm dumped its ice and whizzed past to reveal clear skies and sun, I headed straight to the garden where the finnochi were. Phew. A stalk here or there slightly bent but really no one looked worse for the storm. I left the farm before the finnochi grew up to be harvested. Maybe that was a good thing: a mother hen eating her young is probably not the best conclusion to this vignette. But I sure do wonder what they would have tasted like.
After abandoning my young in Campania, I headed to Sicily on holiday. On the isle of Sicily, and elsewhere in southern Italy I found out, fennel grows like a damn weed. It’s a sturdy wild thing that will emerge under your feet and attempt to trip you when you least suspect. Or at least that’s what happened to me. Perhaps it was retribution for the Campania finnochio abandonment?
Wild fennel is called finocchietto. It’s used in making a digestif of the same name – a kind of sweet, syrupy after dinner drink similar to limoncello except lemons are substituted with wild fennel, making a drink with an herby, floral anise flavour. It was interesting, an acquired taste perhaps.
In Sicily, a fennel and orange salad was on almost every menu. The fennel was of the domestic variety, not the wild, and the oranges were probably plucked from a tree somewhere nearby. It was sometimes tossed with a bit of onion and sometimes with black olives. Again, the olives were most likely plucked from a tree nearby. Fennel, oranges and olives: a showcase of sunny Sicilian ingredients.
This salad is perfect when the weather where you live could be mistaken for the weather of a certain Italian isle floating in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Sicilian Fennel, Orange and Olive Salad
serves 2 generously as a side
1 Fennel bulb (use half if really large or a whole one if medium sized)
2 navel oranges
½ small red onion
¼ to ½ black sun ripened olives (the inky shriveled ones)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
*optional: a splash of red wine vinegar or some lemon juice
Cut off the top of the fennel bulb and reserve some of the fronds for the salad. Cut the bulb into quarters and then cut each quarter into super thin slices. You want the slices to be almost transparent. Do the same with the onion – slice it whisper thin.
A mandolin would make easy work of slicing the onion and fennel into the thinness required. I would have mentioned it off the top but I know no one who has one so I do not expect that you do either.
Remove the peel and pith from the oranges and then segment them. First up, slice the top and bottom of the orange. Place the orange on one of its flat ends on the cutting board. Line up your knife blade where the white pith meets the orange flesh and following the curve of the orange, cut from top to bottom taking off all the pith and peel. Keep going all the way around the orange until you’re just left with orange flesh. Holding the orange flesh in one hand over a bowl to collect any drips (you’ll need the juice for the dressing), cut on the inside of each of orange wedge section on an angle. Each wedge segment should then come loose. Drop them into a second bowl. Once all the segments are cut from the orange, squeeze the remaining pulp core over the bowl of juice to get every last drop.
Pick a few fronds from the fennel stalks you cut off earlier and chop them up gingerly.
I usually don’t fuss over plating salads but with this salad, I like it to be a bit artful, bringing a composed salad to the table. You can toss the salad at the table before serving.
I layer the thin fennel slices first on the plate and then sprinkle the onion over the fennel. I purposely place the orange segments amongst the fennel and onion. The olives come next, nestled here and there. The fennel fronds are sprinkled on top.
Season the salad with some coarse salt. I used sea salt. Drizzle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the collected orange juice over the plate. If you would like a punch of acid (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t), drizzle a bit of the lemon juice or red wine vinegar. Then drizzle a good quality extra virgin olive oil over the salad. I actually used the olive oil pressed from olives that I picked while I was in Campania. I felt like I was anointing my salad with olive oil from Jesus himself.
After showing off to all at the table, lightly toss the salad to mix in the dressing and serve. It still looks pretty when it’s tossed about. See?