Ciao Down

Award-winning chef Silvia Baldini showcases family recipes in a new cookbook, in stores now

Let me make you lunch… I can make omelets, it will be the best you’ve ever had.” When you’re invited over to Silvia Baldini’s home, you better arrive hungry. The Italian-born New Canaan mom and professional chef had seemingly effortlessly prepped for our photo shoot and interview on a recent rainy fall morning. There were freshly baked croissants and beautiful holiday cookies, fresh from the oven, ready to be sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Yum.

Baldini’s home is a charming warm and cozy European-style 1922 cottage, eclectically decorated in her signature collected vintage style. Family photos and loved artwork can be found throughout the home, with Baldini’s own humor on display as with the framed “Closed For Lunch” sign hanging in the casual dining nook. The kitchen is small but perfectly equipped for her to whip up her handmade pastas, desserts, or whatever else she is cooking up for her family of four. “We fell in love with this house right away,” she explains. “It just felt like home.”

Baldini prepares her favorite holiday cookie from the book

When Baldini isn’t sitting on the sidelines as a dance or soccer mom, the award-winning chef, (most often known for her win on The Food Network’s Chopped in 2015) is planning her next move in the food world. Coming from a background in marketing and advertising in New York, Baldini jumped into the culinary world and now holds prestigious degrees from Cornell and Cordon Bleu in London. She’s worked in Michelin-starred kitchens, collaborated with LG appliances and worked locally with Grace Farms Foods, amongst so many other ventures. Now she’s busy promoting her new cookbook, Stirring The Pot…Les Dames d’Escoffier New York Cookbook, a collection of 76 family recipes and wine pairings from 61 of some of the most respected women in the food industry. Each of these women are hand selected members of Les Dames d’Escoffier in New York, a prestigious non-profit organization that vets forward-thinking and successful female leaders in food, beverage and hospitality. The mission of Les Dames d’Escoffier (LDNY) is to advance and support aspiring culinary professionals. All proceeds from the sales of the book, whom Baldini partnered with fellow Dame Sharon Franke, will go to LDNY’s scholarship fund.

The book, on sale locally at Elm Street Books in New Canaan and Barrett Bookstore in Darien, is available at stores nationwide as well as online. It’s a beautifully curated collection of recipes from the home kitchens of many influential chefs like Lidia

Bastianich and Ellie Krieger. Whether it’s a weeknight dinner or a holiday specialty, the recipes you will find in this book are for every skill level from breakfast to main dishes, sides and desserts.

“We wanted these recipes to showcase who each of these women are, but also make them easy to understand,” Baldini says. “This is a book about cooking with a purpose and empowering women.”

Each recipe is more than a step-by-step instruction guide, they also showcase stories from the Dames themselves as to how the particular dish came to be. There are Kat Craddock’s Rhode Island Clam Stuffies, for example, which Croddock gives insight into her home state’s fisheries and her connection to this particular family recipe calling it “just about as classic as they come.” There are so many dishes to choose from Francine Kowalsky’s Mom’s Lasagna, Rita Jammet’s Lemon Saffron Chicken Titine and Stefanie Sacks’  Vegan Chocolate Mousse made with avocado as the base.

As Baldini states in the preface of the book, “the kitchen is where I feel alive,” and it’s her hope that readers will feel the same as they cook their way through this expertly curated collection of recipes.

Mangia!


Yellow Polenta Cookies

Silvia Baldini

I bake these buttery, crunchy yellow polenta cookies in large batches a couple of weeks ahead of the holidays, with anyone in the family who is willing to help. I shape them with my 2-inch cookie cutters, and once baked, I keep them fresh in a metal tin lined with parchment paper. Stars and circles are always popular, but I also cut a few in the shape of our initials and hang them on the Christmas tree.

I mix yellow polenta and fecola (potato starch) for a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Once cooled, I like to dust them with a light coating of powdered sugar, and I personally enjoy them as a treat with a cup of tea or hot chocolate.

Makes 30 cookies,
2 inches in diameter

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Passive Time: 2 hours

Wine: Muscat du Cap Corse / de Beaumes-de-Venise, France

Notes: Choose good quality Italian yellow polenta. The polenta should be a fine grind and never instant. My original recipe calls for fecola, which is the Italian equivalent of potato starch (not flour). You might be able to find the impalpable fecola online or in an old-fashioned Italian deli.

Ingredients

cups fine Italian polenta

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup potato starch, preferably
Italian fecola (see note)

1 cup ground almonds

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch fine sea salt

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

Zest of ½ medium lemon

½ teaspoon natural vanilla extract

Powdered sugar for dusting

Method

1.In a bowl, mix the polenta, flour, fecola or potato starch, almonds, baking powder and salt.

2.In a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the lemon zest and the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until a firm dough forms

3.Divide the dough in half; place each piece onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Cover with another piece of parchment and roll out both pieces with a rolling pin into 2 rectangles, ¼ inch thick. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

5.Cut the cookies with small-shaped cookie cutters. I like to cut them so that they are about 2 inches in diameter. Place them on the prepared cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.

6.Bake in batches, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through, until cookies are just blond in the middle and slightly brown on the edges, about 10–12 minutes. These cookies are small and thin. They cook fast. I usually adjust my timing after the first batch.

7.Transfer to a rack to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar.

8.Polenta cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

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