by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton
photos by Christopher Hirsheimer; illustrations by Melissa Hamilton
At the risk of being accused of having a bias toward Italian cookbooks, I’m going to review two in a row. But, other than the fact that each book has tasty Italian recipes, they couldn’t be more different. And, Canal House Cooking, Volume 7: La Dolce Vita is a gem.
Canal House — which happens to be on a canal — isn’t a restaurant but rather a studio/kitchen/atelier where Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton cook every day. They are proponents of home cooking – even the tagline is “home cooking, by home cooks, for home cooks.”
Oh, and you noticed that this is Volume No. 7? Previous volumes focused on seasonal, holiday, and farmers’ market cooking. Then one afternoon, a lunch of cannelloni inspired them to focus on Italian food, specifically homemade food.
To have true in-depth knowledge of Italian home cooking, they needed to be on Italian soil. A rustic Tuscan farmhouse was their base camp for a month – daily excusions would be their fodder. The first day they noticed that a vegetable farmer was within walking distance and hiking a bit further they “passed a garage with the door rolled up and noticed two aproned women… chatting away as they plucked a pile of chickens.” Back at the farmhouse that evening, they dined on roasted capon with chestnut stuffing. Each day was an adventure that ended in the kitchen developing recipes and recreating flavors.
The experience yielded toothsome recipes like Speck, Fontina & Lemon Panino, Salt Cod with Tomatoes and Green Olives, Braised Lamb & Green Beans and Vin Santo-Poached Pears with Gorgonzola Dolce. All courses are represented in clear and well written recipes, i.e., a few cocktail recipes followed by antipasti, soups, pasta and rice, fish, meats and desserts. Salute Melissa and Christopher!
To see Canal House and hear the authors talk about Italianate cooking watch this video.
Gelato di Gianduia
Makes about 1 quart
In any form, the classic Piemontese combination of toasted hazelnuts and chocolate is one of our favorite flavors. You’ll see why, when you taste this luxurious gelato.
3 cups skinned hazelnuts
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Heat the oven to 350°F and toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. When cool, finely grind 2 cups of the nuts in a food processor. Chop the remaining cup of nuts and set them aside.
2. Put the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in finely ground nuts, and steep for one hour. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into another saucepan, pressing on the solids before discarding them. Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
3. Put the egg yolks, salt, and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a medium mixing bowl and whisk together until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the cocoa. Gradually ladle about 1 cup hot milk into the yolks, whisking constantly. Stir the warm yolk mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and registers between 175°F and 180°F on an instant read thermometer, about 3-5 minutes.
4. Strain the custard into a medium bowl. Add the liqueur and vanilla and stir frequently until cool. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 4 hours. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
5. Churn the custard in an ice-cream maker following the manufacturer’s directions. Just before the gelato has finished churning, add the reserved chopped nuts, letting the paddle stir them in. Transfer the gelato to a quart container with a lid. Cover and freeze for a couple of hours or until it is just firm.