Easter Treats: La Gubana and an Asparagus Tart

When I was a university student I had a good friend who was from Milan. His mother was a fabulous cook and I can still remember how impressed I was when she served me this bread, a soft sweet dough wrapped around a filling of nuts, spices, raisins, and cocoa. I never knew what it was called until I found a recipe for it in Carol Field's The Italian Baker. La Gubana is a specialty of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and it's been around for a long time - it was listed on a menu in honor of Pope Gregorio XII in 1409.

One of the features of this bread is its slight bitterness from the addition of nuts and an assortment of liqueurs, but since I was making it for some friends with children I used unsweetened apple juice mixed with a small amount of rum to replace most of the alcohol (I heated the rum with the raisins to burn off the alcohol). I also added a big handful of chocolate chips for added sweetness to appeal to a kid's palate.

The bread was much easier to make than I expected. The only tricky part was mounding the filling onto the dough without it spilling out the sides - there was easily as much filling as dough.

It was sealed at the edges and rolled into a snail shape. The Gubana rose for about two hours and was baked for about an hour.

I loved the beautiful swirls of chocolate and nuts. The bread itself was very similar to a panettone, fragrant with vanilla and orange with a dense crumb that contributed to its keeping qualities. The chocolate counterbalanced the slight bitterness of the hazelnuts and walnuts without making the bread too sweet.

The next day we were invited to a pot luck at a friend's place. I'd been dying to try out a potato crusted tart that I found in a recent issue of King Arthur Flour's baking newsletter, The Baking Sheet. Since the friend who was hosting the dinner has coeliac disease I though it would be the perfect opportunity to test the recipe. The newsletter called for leeks and mushrooms in the filling but I couldn't resist the asparagus that I found in the market. The crust was very simple, just shredded potato, onion, some cornstarch to bind it, and a little salt and pepper. The ingredients were combined, pressed into the tart pan, and baked. I made a custard of whole milk and eggs and poured it over some sauteed asparagus, leeks, and grated cheese in the shell. The tart was decorated with the tips, sprinkled with more cheese and baked for about 40 minutes. I was happy with the results although the potato crust was a bit soggy on the bottom. It would make a wonderful spring brunch dish.

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