Cucina Valentina

Cucina Valentina

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Sweet & Spicy Sugar Snap Peas with Tomatoes

This bright, delicious, Asian-inspired side dish is a refreshing change of pace, and with only six ingredients, it's a quick and easy accompaniment to any protein.

Sugar snap peas are at their best spring through summer, but these days you can find them on produce shelves year round.

I've only recently come to appreciate this versatile vegetable.  Raw, they are great to snack on.  Stir fried to crisp-tender, then tossed in this sweet, spicy sauce, they are BOMB.  At least that's the reviews I get each time I make them!

I always choose heirloom cherry tomatoes when they are available, as their various sizes and colors add visual appeal to dishes, from salads to sautes.

As the snap peas caramelize and the tomatoes burst, their sweetness is intensified, then enhanced by the coating of sweet chili sauce.

I've been making this dish about once a week all summer long, and just love it.  I hope you will too!

Sweet & Spicy Sugar Snap Peas with Tomatoes


1 T Sweet Chili Sauce
1 T Seasoned Rice Vinegar
1 T Soy Sauce

1 T Sesame Oil
1 pound Sugar Snap Peas
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes

Optional: 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin


Whisk first three ingredients together in a large bowl.

Heat sesame oil in a wok or deep saute pan.  Stir fry peas, tomatoes and garlic, if using, until tomatoes begin to soften and burst.

Add to bowl with sauce and toss to coat.

Optional: Garnish with sesame seeds.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Toasted Coconut Corn

Who doesn't love sweet summer corn?  

No backyard cookout is complete without this seasonal staple.  Fresh corn on the cob just screams summer.

While I have cooked corn multiple ways, from boiling to barbecue, and have a drawer full of corn-handling and eating tools, this, by far, has become my favorite way of serving corn. 

Better yet, no gadgets required!

Tip #1  Choose corn with long stems still attached

Tip #2  Look for dry silk - wet and gooey means old corn.

Tip #3  Pull back the husk a few inches to assess kernel condition.  Look for large and plump! 

(I have bought corn that looked plump only to peel it and discover the kernels were barely developed.)

When peeling back the husk, be careful not to rip the leaves off.  You need to have enough husk left to make a sturdy handle.  And, as pretty as it might look tied with a strand of husk, it will come undone. 

Save yourself the headache and use butchers twine instead!

Butter and salt are great.  So are mayo and chili powder.  But something about this combination of sugared coconut milk, cinnamon and chipotle, compliments the corn's natural sweetness in an unexpectedly wonderful way.

Each time you turn the corn over the fire, baste with the reduced coconut milk until it is gone.

As soon as it is off the fire, while it is still wet from the baste, sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Toasted Coconut Corn


4 - 6 ears un-shucked corn (look for long stems)
6 - 8 oz Coconut Milk
1 T brown sugar
1 t coconut extract
1/8 t cinnamon
1/8 t chipotle powder
salt and pepper
shredded sweetened coconut


Heat coconut milk, brown sugar, coconut extract, cinnamon, chipotle powder, salt and pepper over medium - low heat until reduced and thickened. 
Carefully peel back corn husk leaves back one at a time.  As soon as you peel the thin inner leaves you can easily grasp the silk and pull it off.  Fold husk all the way back and tie with butcher's twine to form a handle.  

Roast over a low fire, basting with the coconut milk and turning frequently until nicely browned.

Spread shredded coconut on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and broil on low, tossing frequently until starting to brown.

Transfer hot corn to a platter and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Here in California, tomatoes are a summertime staple.

Unfortunately I am apparently lacking the all-important green thumb.  For three years in a row I have planted numerous tomato plants in the ground, in pots, hanging upside down, all to no avail.

My dreams of cultivating mammoth-sized red, ripe beauties are repeatedly crushed by the few spindly runts the plants produce.  So, I give up.  Why water, fertilize and worry and water some more, when I can drive a mile down the road to Tom's Farms, our local produce stand, and be dazzled by their amazing tomato display, while supporting our local farmers at the same time?

With so many gorgeous varieties and colors to choose from, even in grocery stores now, it's possible to put together a virtual, edible work of art in just minutes!

This tart is one of my favorites.  It makes for an incredibly impressive presentation - with only six ingredients!

Start with the prettiest tomatoes you can find.  I love mixing sizes as well as colors, from mottled greens to vibrant yellows and reds, to achieve a rustic effect.

Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets are deliciously flaky and fun to create with.  I've started keeping them in my freezer at all times. 

Just roll the sheet out to your desired size and shape, prick all over with a fork, pop it in the oven for ten minutes, let cool and you are ready to start creating!

A simple base of minced shallots mixed into cream cheese makes a delicious foundation that compliments the tomatoes.

Once the tomatoes are artfully arranged on top of the cheese, sprinkle with sea salt and coarse ground black pepper to enhance flavor.  I used Cucina Valentina Lemon Rosemary Sea Salts, of course.  lol

Then back into the oven for a quick broil and you are ready to start decorating!

Nothing crazy here.  Just a drizzle of balsamic glaze and a scattering of basil leaves is enough.

Heirloom Tomato Tart


Puff Pastry - 1 sheet
3 - 5 Heirloom tomatoes (assorted colors, sizes)
8 oz cream cheese
2 T minced shallot
salt and pepper
balsamic glaze
fresh basil


Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface to fit your rimmed sheet pan.  Prick all over with a fork to prevent puffing.

Bake at 400 for 10 minutes until golden. Let cool.

Mix minced shallots into the softened cream cheese and spread evenly onto the puff pastry, leaving a half inch border around edges.

Slice tomatoes 1/4 - 1/8 inch thick and arrange on top of cream cheese.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper then bake at 400 another 10 - 15 minutes, switching to broil if need be to help caramelize the tomatoes.

Drizzle warm tart with balsamic glaze and scatter with basil leaves.

Guaranteed to get you rave reviews!  My own husband scoffed at the thought of broiled tomatoes. Guess who took all the leftovers to work??

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fresh Peach Coconut Cake

One of the much-awaited joys of spring is stone fruit.  But when it arrives, it arrives en mass, as anyone with a peach or plum tree can attest to.

A while back I came home to find a bag of juicy, ripe peaches on my front porch, a gift from my next door neighbor, whose young tree had produced a mountain of tiny, but delicious peaches.

So many possibilities...

The decision didn't take long.  In general I'm not a cake person.  Give me a sticky, gooey chocolate concoction any day, but I cannot deny that there is something about a great coconut cake that makes me swoon.

Mild, creamy coconut, much like vanilla, pairs extremely well with a wide variety of flavors both savory and sweet, from spicy curries to sugar-laced desserts, so introduce some juicy peaches to the mix and how could I go wrong?

I have made a few cakes in my day, but I have to tell you, this batter was the best I ever tasted.  One beater was not enough.  I'm not too proud to admit that I licked both!

 The shredded coconut in this batter might have made it dense, but the addition of diced fresh peaches counteracted that, giving the cake a moist, yet light texture.

Adding peach preserves to the whipped cream between layers gave the cake a bright pop of sweet flavor in the center.

Fresh Peach Coconut Cake


  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 t coconut extract, 1 for cake and 1 for frosting
  • 1 C peaches, peeled and chopped (plus additional for decoration)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 C coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coconut sweetened, shredded (optional)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ½ C peach preserves
  • 1 t brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Add vanilla, coconut extract, peaches and lemon juice and beat until the peaches are broken up into small pieces, about 1-2 minutes on high.  Add the coconut milk, buttermilk, flour, baking soda and salt.  Continue beating for an additional two minutes, fold in coconut.
  3. Generously grease two 9 inch round cake pans.  Bake on middle rack of oven about 20-25 minutes.
  4. Remove and let cool.
  5. Whip cream with 1 teaspoon brown sugar and remaining teaspoon of coconut extract until stiff, then separate out about one third and blend in the peach preserves.  Reserve the remaining whipped cream.
  6. Place one cake on a cake stand and slather top with a thick layer the cream/preserves mixture.  Carefully place second cake on top then proceed to frost the entire cake with remaining whipped cream
  7. Peel, pit and slice additional peaches then decorate as you see fit.
  8. Sprinkle with additional toasted coconut.
 Serve with Vanilla Bean ice cream.  :)

 * Adapted from "A Bountiful Kitchen".

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Limoncello Pound Cake with Coconut Lemon Glaze




Happy 97th Birthday, Aunt Theresa!

It isn't every day that someone very dear to you turns 97.

My sweet Aunt Theresa has been in my life since the day I arrived home from the hospital.  My family had waited three long years to adopt an Italian baby, so my arrival was quite a milestone!

Decades later, my Aunt Theresa is one of the handful of relatives I have left, so when it came to celebrating her 97th birthday, a truly incredible milestone, I knew that a very special cake was in order.

An homage to our heritage, it only seemed right that lemons, an Italian staple, play a main role in this recipe.  This pound cake is bright and delicious, perfect for spring, and I think you will love it.

Limoncello Pound Cake with Lemon Coconut Glaze


2 large eggs
3/4 C plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 C butter , melted
1/4 C Sicilian lemon infused olive oil
4 T Limoncello (or use lemon juice if you prefer)
1 t vanilla
1 t lemon zest
1 C sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Lemon Coconut Glaze

3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 T Limoncello or Lemon Juice (to achieve desired consistency adjust as necessary)
1 T coconut extract


Preheat oven to 350.
Butter a loaf pan. Set aside.
In a large bowl or mixer, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, butter, olive oil, Limoncello, vanilla and lemon zest. 
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time until just incorporated, being careful not  to over-mix.
Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top of the cake is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let rest while you prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, coconut extract and Limoncello or lemon juice in a measuring cup until smooth.
Invert the cake onto a pretty platter and remove pan, then turn the cake over and drizzle with glaze.

I topped this cake with fresh berries marinated in coconut infused white balsamic vinegar.  Fantastic!

Me and my Aunt Theresa

* Recipe adapted from