Happy holidays and lots of panettone!

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I walked out of an appointment in the Flatiron District earlier this week with time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Looking down the street, I wondered if there wasn’t somewhere I could do some Christmas shopping for a couple of people still on my list.

That’s when I saw it: Eataly, the enormous food-hall-meets-gourmet-market of all things Italian.

The scream-thought in my head was immediate: PANETTONE!

I’d been craving one of those great big, beautiful Italian holiday breads since the first hints of the season (so pretty much, October) and now was my chance.

Every time I go to Eataly, I’m quite literally a kid in a candy shop. My heart races. My eyes dart from one awesome thing to the other. I want to touch everything. (And I do.)

This time though, I beelined straight for the long, colorful panettone display, some packaged in chic hat boxes with beautiful fonts, the rest wrapped in stylish paper and large bows, like the adult version of child me’s dream gift spread.

IMG_0581Panettone, traditionally from Milan but now sold throughout Italy and the world, is a large, sweet loaf usually made with raisins and other candied fruit. It has a soft, airy texture good for pulling apart, and resembles a muffin the size of your head, with a top covered in powdered sugar, candied fruit, almond slivers or similar toppings.

My fingers trailed over the different dazzling wrapping papers, lifting and turning over tags so I could read what made each one different. At Eataly, traditional panettone was just one option. There were some with white chocolate and others with currants and berries, some with lemon and orange zest, others infused with amaretto and peaches, each one more beautiful and delicious-sounding than the last.

But it was the panettone wrapped in electric green with a thick brown ribbon that caught my eye.  A photo on the tag showed the large, familiar loaf covered in a dark chocolate shell studded with Sicilian pistachios. Inside the cake itself, swirls of pistachio cream.

As I continued to move through the store, my prized panettone tucked under my arm like a basketball, dinner plans dissolved, and I happily went home to unwrap my present instead.

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It was just as gorgeous as I’d hoped. The pistachios, a softer shade of the bright green wrapping paper, covered the dark, smooth shell of chocolate perfectly coating the entire doughy dome. When I slowly pushed a serrated knife into the panettone, the shell made a deliciously satisfying crack before giving way to the fluffy, yellow cake inside.

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Ugh, it was so good. Close your eyes and mmmmm out loud type good. The bread was sweet and light, and the pistachio cream added a delicious contrast in textures and flavors to the crunch of the buttery, salty pistachios and the rich, almost espresso like flavor of the dark chocolate.

How I managed to stop myself after just one slice I’m not entirely sure. but if there’s even so much as a crumb or chocolate bit or loose pistachio left by the time this weekend starts, it’ll be nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

All I want for Christmas is…

If you didn’t read that headline in a sing-songy Mariah Carey voice, you did it wrong. Go back and try it again.  

All of my favorite blogs and magazines have been posting holiday gift guides and I can’t get enough of them. I read ’em all, even the ones that don’t apply to me: gifts over $250, gifts for your unruly toddler, gifts for your totally sane parents. I love going through them and seeing all the cool stuff that’s out there, and I’ve even snagged a couple of ideas for presents I’d like to buy for a few people on my list. 

With that in mind, I put together a little holiday gift guide of my own. Now, this isn’t necessarily MY specific wish list, more just like a few fun, food-related presents (that I also would totally not be mad at finding underneath my Christmas tree). Cough cough. 

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Please, Santa?

*Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese: I’ve seen this one on a few lists and well, it’s because it’s amazing. Murray’s (i.e. my happy place) sends you three different cheeses to have at home, and it can be a one-time thing or a subscription to last however many months you want. 

*Whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano: Ok, now hear me out. I know this one’s a big-ticket item but seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. 

*Christmas doughnuts from Doughnut Plant: You’d have to either be a diabetic or just the Grinch himself to not love one of these adorable, festive doughnuts. Choose from the coconut snowman, the mint chocolate Christmas tree, or the gingerdough man. Or better yet, get all of them. Oh and throw in a creme brulee doughnut too, cause those are the best. 

*Marseille Amaro from Forthave Spirits: Not only is this distilled in Brooklyn, which gives it extra cool points, but amari are everywhere these days and a great addition to any bar. I’m putting this one on my to-buy-for-myself list. 

*The Best American Food Writing 2018: It’s not all about what you can consume with your mouth, you know? Sometimes you gotta feed your brain too, and find a little inspiration from really great food writing. 

*Fig and chocolate panettone: regular ol’ panettone is already one of the best parts of the holiday season, in my humble opinion, but one made with figs and chocolate? C’mon! Think of the french toast you could make with that! And you don’t even have to wrap it since panettone already comes in its own showy wrapping.

*Good olive oil in a cool tin container: After watching the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix recently, I was reminded of the awesome olive oil they have in Italy and how I want to be the kind of person who only keeps the good kind around, the really bright green, peppery, fresh stuff that you’d keep in a cool, rustic-chic tin container like this one. 

*Food of the Italian South, by Katie Parla: Part cookbook, part coffee table book, part travel inspiration, this book isn’t actually available until March but you can pre-order it now. When better to get a present than when you’re least expecting it, like no-holidays March?

Buon Natale: Brunch edition

Panettone, it wouldn’t be a Buon Natale without it!

One of my now favorite holiday traditions started a few years ago when I was living in Italy and realized that during the month of December, at any given moment, I was surrounded by a billion panettones. You know panettone, we have them on this side of the pond too: those large, sort of muffin-shaped cakes, speckled with candied fruit and usually covered in some sort of decorative wrapping paper or in a festive, beribboned box. They’re the Italian version of holiday fruit cake, but actually good.

They were everywhere, and while I liked them, I was getting sick of eating just plain ol’ slices of panettone. One day, during a transatlantic phone call with my aunt who lives in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, I mentioned that I was basically drowning in an italian sea of panettone.

“Oh, well you should just make panettone french toast!” she explained matter-of-factly.

I immediately Googled recipes, of which I have to warn you, there are precisely one for every panettone in Italy, and went with one that seemed simple enough to pull off. I don’t remember where it was from, but for your viewing, reading, and eating pleasure, here it is below: Continue reading

Panettone alla Shake Shack

In the non-existent contest of which country got the better candied fruit flecked holiday cake, Italy has America beat. Fruit cake as we know it on this side of the pond, is an awful thing. Dense, brick-like, and speckled with unnatural-looking, jewel-toned bits of fruit that more closely resemble stale gummy bears, I can’t think of a single person who actually looks forward to receiving one of these or would ever willingly bring one home.

But Italians, well they have panettone. So they win, because panettone, which is soft, airy, fruity in a non-cloying way, and even comes in fun packaging, is, well, awesome.

But as great as I think panettone is, I don’t really like to eat it plain. For me, the perfect panettone eating experience includes something creamy like a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a fat dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone.

Panettone frozen custard at Shake Shack

So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Shake Shack not only had panettone frozen custard for the month of December, but it was only available on Wednesdays, which is exactly what day it was when I stumbled upon the December frozen custard calendar. (Side note: the awesome holiday-themed calendar also included other fun, seasonal classics like egg nog, spiced apple cider, and figgy pudding) Not only was it Wednesday though, it was the last Wednesday of 2010. During my lunch break, I bundled up, put my rain boots on, and power-walked through mounds of snow, lake-like puddles of dirty slush and icy water to go to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

Shake Shack rarely disappoints and this time was no different.  The frozen custard was thick and creamy  with the subtle fruity flavor and sweetness of panettone. And instead of gummy pieces of fruit , this milky, cool treat had fat hunks of actual panettone tossed in it, as if someone had torn them off the domed loaf and into the custard.

It was panettone exactly how I love to eat it, and being the last time this year that I could possibly enjoy it, what better way was there to say arrivederci? See you in 2011.