Our First Ever Best Of List - Stella Nonna's Best of 2016

Yes, we’re doing it, jumping on the long-running “best of” bandwagon and have put together a kind of random, totally-not-definitive or complete list of favorites from 2016. Because let’s face it, 2016 was full of a lot of stuff that won’t go down as favorites for many of us, ever. But there were some amazing things that happened during the year, including simple things like regular meals and coffees spent with friends and family, walks in the sunshine, new marriages, and landmark anniversaries and birthdays – all things that give us hope and remind us how lucky we are to live where we live and get to share our lives with such fabulous people at home and at the restaurant. So without further ado, here is our little list of 2016 favorites:
 
Event: Mitch and Tim’s wedding, of course. It was a fantastic day celebrating the union of these two special men and all the people who love and support them. Starting with a beautiful church ceremony at St. Paul’s Lutheran followed by cake and champagne followed by dinner and dancing the night away, it was an unforgettable day.
 
Favorite short film about food: You guys! We love collard greens so imagine how excited we were to find a short film about collard greens – their cultural importance, how to prepare them, all things collard greens – and it’s a good film! Like really goodDo yourself a favor and go watch The Culture of Collards asap! . It even won a Saveur Best Of Award. Which brings us to our next favorite, a list of Best Ofs.
 
Best Best of 2016 list: Saveur Blog ’16 Awards. Yes, there are a lot of great blogs to check out, so many beautiful photos, super weird things like an Instagram account all about a woman smashing her face into bread, but what we love the most about this list are the non-blog awards like the list of food and culture essays – read all of them! – and the list best food videos. Also, we discovered this hilarious blog via the Saveur ’16 Awards, so bonus points!
 
Favorite go-to when we’ve got no time to cook or just need a pizza fixArtichoke Basille Pizza. We had our first slices in New York and when they opened a location in Berkeley, we were pretty excited. We love a simple slice of their Margarita or when we’re feeling (kind of) decadent the almost-coma-inducing namesake artichoke pizza topped with artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella and Pecorino Romano (you’ve gotta try it, but we suggest sharing).
 
Made-our-restaurant-life-easier tool: sparkling water, on tap. I mean, come on! Professional systems like Natura’s pass local tap water through a carbon filter, removing bad stuff like rust and chlorine, then it gets disinfected to kill 99% of the nasties that can make people sick and then finally carbonates it. And then it’s cold and ready to serve to all our customers. It’s fantastic. And if you want to go above and beyond your SodaStream for sparkling water at home, there are now home systems, too! We definitely want one of these! Some of the choices include the Sparkling Water, Powered by AGA, the the Zip Chilltap™ Sparkling tap, and the GROHE Blue®.
 
Coffee: There are so many amazing coffees to choose from in the Bay Area, and we’re fans of a lot of them, but we’re dedicated to ourRuby’s Roast. We’ve known owners Debbie and Sherry for many years and we love them as people but for the restaurant (and our cups at home) the most important thing is having fabulous tasting coffee and Ruby’s Roast delivers. We also love that they’re a fully woman-owned, local Berkeley business that we can support. You can, too, by bringing their coffee home. You can order it from their online store or pick some up at the Berkeley Bowl, Saul’s Deli and other great local retailers.


Worth-the-bridge-trip patisserie: They’ve gotten a fair bit of hype and it’s well worth it, as is the trip across the bridge. The pastries atCraftsman and Wolves are fabulous and the interior design of each of their outposts is stellar. They’re really beautiful and their beauty matches the taste. Their Valrhona Chocolate Chocolate Croissant with churro sugar is a revelation and their kouign amann is to die for. If you haven’t yet had a kouign amann and love buttery, caramel-y layers of deliciousness you must get one forthwith. And the one from Craftsman and Wolves is a great introduction.  We recently found out one of our most dedicated foodie friends, who has spent a lot of time in France over the years, has never tasted one! What?! We think she should stop whatever she’s doing and get herself to CAW. We’ll admit that we’ve kind of made pigs of ourselves on our visits because we can’t choose just one thing, but there are so many more things we want to try. The Rebel Within, which is homemade sausage, scallion muffin, and slow cooked egg. How delicious does that sound? Or yuzu almond, smoked butter, or shoyu caramels? Intriguing, right

Favorite have-an-easy-morning bakery: Obviously we’re big fans of pastry if the previous entry is anything to go by. But really, ho doesn’t love well-made croissants and other deliciousness from puff pastry? When we get a chance for a nice, leisurely walk on a beautiful morning off we love the College Avenue/Clairmont neighborhood in Berkeley and we especially love to grab some excellent pastries to take along on our rambles from Fournée, tucked just across from the Berkeley Tennis Club and the Clairmont Hotel on Domingo Avenue. Their morning buns (mmm, puff pastry and cinnamon sugar), savory ham and manchego croissant, and classic pain au chocolat are some of our favorites. They also make pretty tasty breads and desserts.

Award for a lifetime of great music and poetry: We couldn’t do a best-of list without mentioning the Nobel Prize for Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. Sarah’s love for Dylan’s work is legendary and we love that he was awarded the Nobel and that Dylan acknowledged it (after a few days) in his typical, odd, somewhat gruff, not-too-fond-of-publicity kind of way. Have you listened to his music recently? Or read the liner notes to Highway 61 Revisited? Check them out, they’re worth a read even without listening to the album. But we suggest sitting down with your favorite libation and listening the album from beginning to end while reading the liner notes. It’s an experience we all should have. Seriously.

So that's our list. We had fun making it, even if it's missing about another 40-100 things and places but we've gotta get back in the kitchen to make more food for all of you amazing people. Please come visit us and check out our specials and let us know some of your favorite things from 2016. It'll make you happy. Just like this video will make you laugh.

Maple Pumpkin Pie

maplepumpkinpie

At first glance this pumpkin pie recipe may seem incredibly simple, and it is. But it’s making it a day or two ahead that takes it above and beyond regular pumpkin pie recipes. When it sits and chills in the fridge, the maple flavor from the maple syrup intensifies and makes this pie something really special. We like it with a regular rolled pie crust but it would also be delicious with a graham cracker or even vanilla or chocolate wafer crust for something a bit different. Give it a try. We think you’ll thank us, especially since you can make it ahead of the big day and have one dish crossed off your list before Thanksgiving Day even starts.

Your choice of pre-baked 9” pie crust
2 large eggs
One 15-oz can pure pumpkin purée
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C whole milk
1/2 C pure maple syrup
3/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground cloves
1/2 t kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, heavy cream, and maple syrup. Add dry ingredients and whisk until completely blended.

Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and bake until the center is just set, 60 to 70 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving. Holding off on serving helps the flavors blend and the maple syrup flavor to come to the forefront.

 

Celebrate Fall with a Pear & Toasted Almond Clafoutis

pearalmondclafoutis

Clafoutis, a fruity, pudding-y, not-quite-a-cake dessert, is traditionally made with black cherries. But as some of you may have noticed here at Stella Nonna we like to play with tradition a bit. Clafoutis is a super easy and delicious dessert to make at home, impressing guests, family, or just yourself. If you happen to have any leftovers, it’s also delicious at breakfast. This twist on the classic French dessert blends beautiful pears that are in season right now with toasted almonds. We like the toothsome texture the ground almonds give to the clafoutis, making it just a little bit more interesting (and less prone to the rubbery texture not-so-good clafoutis can get). This recipe also works really well with toasted hazelnuts and pears or switch out the pears for apples. In the summer it’s amazing with almonds and apricots or peaches or really any stone fruit, including the cherries of the classic recipe.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup raw almonds
  • 2 large pears, enough to cover a shallow 9” tart pan in a single layer
  • 2 T flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the almonds in single layer in a small baking pan or cast iron pan and toast in the oven until they start to smell toasty, about 15 minutes. Alternately you can toast them on the stove top but they won’t have exactly the same toasted flavor. Remove from the oven, transfer to a dish and set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

Butter/grease the bottom and sides of a 9” shallow tart or baking pan.

Peel and core the pears. Depending on how fancy you want to get, either cut the pears into large chunks (about 1 ½” square) or into wedges (about 3/4” wide at the bottom). Place the pear chunks into a single layer in your pan –or– arrange your wedges in a circle around the pan.

Put the cooled almonds into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until very fine and sandy. Watch it carefully so you don’t make almond butter. Add the flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, and salt and blend until smooth.

Pour the batter over the fruit, carefully if you’ve made a circle of pears. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown on top. Serve warm (or cold if you’re eating leftovers for breakfast).

Keep summer going with a sangria that celebrates summer fruit

Photo courtesy of Gwyneth's Goop, where you can find another sangria recipe, if you want it.

Photo courtesy of Gwyneth's Goop, where you can find another sangria recipe, if you want it.

Apparently it's the summer of frosé, and we admit that it does sound pretty tasty. We’re going to give this recipe a whirl. In the meantime, we’re eating summer fruit - juicy peaches, ripe berries, sweet-tart plums, luscious grapes whenever and however we can. And sipping crisp, cold rosé on the patio. Hopefully without a sweater and patio heater, but you never know with Bay Area summers. It doesn’t matter, though. If we have to put on a sweater and crank up the patio heater, give us a cool glass of this very summery sangria and we’ll close our eyes and imagine we’re somewhere you need an icy glass of fruit-infused wine to keep you cool.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe peaches
  • 1-2 ripe pluots
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 1 - 750 ml dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • 1/2 bottle Lillet Blonde
  • 8 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • Fizzy water, ice cold
  • Fresh mint for garnish

Peel the peaches: Bring a medium pot of water to the boil and prepare an ice water bath. Lightly score the bottom of each peach with an X. Submerge peaches in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice-water bath to stop the cooking. Slip the skin off with the help of a paring knife.

Slice the peaches in half and remove the pits and cut into slices about ½ inch thick.

Pit and slice the pluots.

Place all the fruit in the bottom of a large pitcher and pour wine, Lillet, and St. Germain overtop. Stir gently and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Serving option #1:

Stir your fruit and wine mixture to blend all the flavors completely.

Fill a large wine glass with a few ice cubes, a ¼ cup of the fruit. Fill just above halfway with the sangria liquid and top off with fizzy water. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint for color.

Serving option #2 (for those who don't like chunks of fruit in their drinks)
Muddle the fruit and wine mixture with a muddler or wooden spoon to break the fruit up a bit.

Fill a large wine glass with a few ice cubes. Pour the sangria through a fine-strainer into the glass just above half way and top off with cold fizzy water. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint for color.

Peach Ice Cream to Die For

Peaches

We've got peaches on the brain this month. They're getting really, really good - sweet and juicy, filling the kitchen with their scent when we bring a bag home oh so carefully so they don't get bruised. Never fear, though, if they do get a little bruised because that gives you a perfect excuse to make peach ice cream. You should also try this recipe if your peaches don't get bruised. And July 17 happens to be National Peach Ice Cream Day - who knew - so that's a good excuse as any, right? The recipe comes from Chez Panisse alum and one of our favorite food bloggers, David Lebovitz, and his brilliant book, The Perfect Scoop. As an aside, if you're not already a fan of David's blog, you should head there forthwith. He's living the sweet life in Paris and delivers up great recipes and good writing on a regular basis.

We love this topped with extra sliced peaches, or, for an extra special touch, grilled peach halves.

David Lebovitz’s Peach Ice Cream (adapted from The Perfect Scoop)

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds ripe peaches (about four large peaches)
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ C sugar
  • ½ C sour cream
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring a medium pot of water to the boil and prepare an ice water bath. Lightly score the bottom of each peach with an X. Work in small batches, 2 at a time if your peaches are large, 3 to 4 if smaller. Submerge peaches in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice-water bath to stop the cooking. Slip the skin off with the help of a paring knife.

Slice the peaches in half and remove the pits. Cut the peaches into chunks, about 1/2 inch.

Place the peaches and the ½ cup of water into a nonreactive saucepan and cook over medium heat, covered, stirring once or twice, until soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the sugar, and cool to room temperature.

Set aside ½ cup of the cooked peaches. Purée the remainder of peaches and any liquid in a blender or food processor with the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla, and lemon juice until almost smooth. Stir in the chopped peaches you set aside.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Grilled Peach Halves

You’ll need:

  • peaches (1/2 per person is good)
  • melted butter
  • maple syrup

Cut peaches in half and remove the pit.

Brush them with melted butter and maple syrup.

Place the peaches cut side down on a hot grill (barbecue or a heated cast iron skillet works) and cook on a medium-low heat for no more than 3-5 minutes. Watch closely to make sure the maple syrup doesn’t burn! Serve while still warm.

 

 

Corn Season is here! Happy dance, happy dance!!!!

CornSeason

Oh joy! Corn season is upon us. We've got too many favorite ways to eat it to count. Hot and buttery, of course. Amazingly delicious elote - grilled, slightly charred, slathered in creamy, spicy chile goodness. On the sweet site in puddingy cake, topped with juicy purple berries. As griddle cakes, the sweet kernels bursting in your mouth and blending with the slightly salty taste of butter and sweet maple syrup. Not as common, but no less delicious, fresh sweet corn ice cream topped with juicy peaches to get the full summer effect. Instead of offering you one recipe of our own this month, we've compiled a list of some of favorite ways to enjoy corn. Come on over to Facebook and tell us your favorite way to enjoy corn and which of these recipes you try. Some recipes you might want to try:

Elote (we suggest skipping the mayo in the recipe and just using crema, or try both and see which you prefer)
Elote en Vaso (in a cup!)
Corn, Sweet Onion, and Zucchini Saute with Fresh Mint
Fresh Corn Cakes (serve them savory with roasted tomato salsa or sweet with maple syrup)
Vaghareli Makai (spicy Indian corn)
Corn Fritters
Corn and Jalapeño Muffins
Corn Spoon Bread
Creamed Corn without the Cream
Sweet Corn Cake
Corn Ice Cream
 

Poached Apricots for the Dessert Win

poachedapricots

With apricot season up on us, we’re eating as many fresh ones as we can, making up pots of jam to bring early summer back to us in the midst of winter, and thinking about apricot ice cream topped with slivers of crunchy almond brittle. Even easier, but with a more complex, spicy, layered flavor is this riff on poached apricots. We like it best with Cocchi Americano, an Italian apertivo, made from a base of moscato wine fortified with brandy and then infused with gentian root, cinchona bark, orange peels and herbs, then aged in a wooden barrel for a year. It’s Lillet’s stronger, more complex, more bitter cousin. Poaching apricots in Cocchi Americano, vanilla, and spices makes a fantastic topper for ice cream. The poaching syrup isn’t half bad added to a cocktail, either. Try it while apricots are still in season; we think you’ll like it.

Poached Apricots

1 750 ml bottle Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
3 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out and reserved or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
4 green cardamom pods, smashed
1 small star-anise pod
1 pound apricots, halved and pitted

Bring the wine, water, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds or paste, and spices to a simmer in a medium pot, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add apricot halves and cover surface with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the inside of the pot. Simmer just until apricots are barely tender when pierced with a knife, 6-8 minutes. Don’t overcook them. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked apricots to a bowl. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil and cook until it is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 40 minutes. Strain the spices from the reduced liquid, cool and add to the fruit. Let it all come to room temperature or chill in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Serve over vanilla ice cream or with a dollop of whipped cream.

April showers bring ... Rhubarb Syrup

rhubarbsyrup

The tart, ruby-red, almost floral flavor of rhubarb just screams spring. It's a very versatile vegetable, that's delicious in desserts but is also tasty in savory incarnations. Check out some ideas for savory uses on The Kitchn or Saveur's ideas for sweet and savory. We love it in a classic rhubarb-strawberry pie or as a fruit crisp filling mixed with a generous portion of ginger and topped with a crumble topping that includes diced candied ginger for the win. What we’re really loving right now is using it to make a bright red syrup that is fantastic in cocktails (see the recipe for a Rhubarb Collins below) or added to lemonade.

Rhubarb Syrup

Makes about 8 ounces

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes.

Pour the cooked mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large container. Once most of the liquid is in the container, press the remaining solids gently to get more syrup. ***Don’t throw those solids away – they make a great refrigerator jam for toast, paired with goats cheese on crackers, or a topping for ice cream.***

Using a funnel, transfer the syrup into a clean bottle that you can seal. The syrup will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator, but it probably won’t last that long.

Rhubarb Collins Cocktail

1 oz rhubarb syrup

2 oz gin

1 oz lemon juice

2 – 4 oz chilled sparkling wine or soda water

Put the rhubarb syrup, gin, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously until mixed, about 15 seconds. Strain into a highball glass and top with sparkling wine or soda water.