Archive | October, 2012

Pan dei Morti (Bread of the Dead)

28 Oct

The Pan dei Morti are traditional Italian cookies prepared for the Day of Dead (Commemorazione dei Defunti) celebrated on November 2nd, the day following All Saint’s Day (Ognissanti).  On these two holy days Italians honor the souls of deceased relatives and loved ones, and many believe that the spirits return to Earth to visit those ones they have left behind.  In fact, the use of other cookies (amaretti and savoiardi) or left over sweets as ingredients clearly symbolizes the transmutation of the old into the new.  It is also interesting to note that dried fruit and figs, also fundamental in this recipe, were always present in pre-Christian offerings to dead people. Cacao is a modern acquisition to render these sweets as dark as the earth in a burial ground.  In ancient times, honey, browned on the stove with a little butter, was used to get the same result for color and sweetness.  The Pan dei Morti recipe has as many variations as there are regions in Italy, and this particular one is a specialty of my own region, Lombardia.

This version has the advantage of being easy to prepare, but at the same time it is delicious and fun to eat.  The cookies are dense, chewy and moist, with a little crunch from the ground cookies and toasted pine nuts to remind of dead people’s bones.  (My husband remarks that the ghoulish background to these cookies makes them perfect for Halloween, too.)

PAN DEI MORTI (BREAD OF THE DEAD)

Preparation time: 40 min.               Baking time: 15-20 min.

INGREDIENTS
150 g (5-6 oz) dry amaretti cookies
350 g (12 oz) ladyfingers (large Italian savoiardi are best)
130 g (1 cup) blanched whole almonds, toasted
130 g (1 cup) pine nuts, toasted
120 g (4 ¼ oz) dried figs
120 g (4 ¼ oz) raisins, soaked in Vin Santo
300 g (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
300 g (about 1 ½ cups) sugar
10 g (2 teaspoon) baking powder
60 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 large eggs (4 egg whites and 2 whole eggs)
100 ml (½ cup) Vin Santo
Powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)

  1. Toast the pine nuts and the almonds separately for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove.  Keep separate and set aside
  2. Soak the raisins in Vin Santo
  3. Using a mixer, finely grind the ladyfingers and amaretti cookies, and place them in a very large mixing bowl
  4. Finely grind the almonds, and then separately grind the figs as well.  Add both to the cookie mix (the damp figs may clump together; just add the clumps into the dry ingredient mix). Add raisins.
  5. Sift together the flour and the baking powder, then add to the cookie-almond-fig mixture.  Stir in sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and pine nuts.  Toss until completely blended
  6. Pour the eggs and the Vin Santo over the dry ingredients and mix well until smooth and doughy
  7. Line the baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper
  8. To form the cookies, first flour your fingers.  Scoop out a ball of dough of a size somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball.  Using as little flour as possible flatten the ball into an oblong shape with pointed edges, about 4 ½ -5 ½ inches (12-14 cm) long and about 2 ½ inches (6 cm) wide.  Use just enough flour to work the dough and keep the cookies from sticking to the baking paper.
  9. Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving some space between each.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly puffed, with a brown color and crisp look
  10. Dust with powdered sugar sprinkled on top
  11. Remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.

Note: This recipe makes about 48-50 cookies.  These butter-less cookies are light and pretty healthy, and they are rich in nuts and dried fruits.  Some recipes also call for candied orange peel, another good flavor for this time of year, so feel free to throw in a handful if you wish. This “dead man’s bread” is best eaten fresh, although the cookies keep well for several days, too.  -Paola

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Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

23 Oct

Eggplant, also known by its French name aubergine, is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well its unique, pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.  It originates from Asia, and the first one imported in America was round and with a yellowish-white color (like an egg!).  The Italian name melanzana means” mela insana” (insanity-apple), because when it was first introduced in Italy (around 1500) people thought that this vegetable was noxious and could cause mental and intestinal disorders.  Notwithstanding this dubious start, eggplant is, in any case, a delicious vegetable that can be enjoyed grilled and marinated, stuffed, roasted or fried.  I like to cook and eat “insanity apples” in a wide assortment of recipes.  In addition being an important source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, eggplant also contains phytonutrients, many of which have antioxidant properties and protect us from a variety of diseases. 

MELANZANE ALLA PARMIGIANA (EGGPLANT PARMESAN)

Preparation time: 2 hrs.                  Baking Time: 40 min.                        Servings:4

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, a symphony of Italian flavors, is a appetizing main dish made of eggplants, tomato sauce, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and is flavored with fresh basil.  It is not know if the name Parmigiana means “melanzane all’uso di Parma” (eggplant from Parma, the city of Parmesan cheese), or if it comes from Parmiciana (par-mee-CHA-na), a Sicilian word referring to the louvered shutters made of overlapping wooden strips, recalling the arrangement of the eggplant slices in the pan.  As far as I know, Sicily is where you can enjoy the most delicious and authentic eggplant Parmesan.

INGREDIENTS
900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
Kosher salt
½ small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
600 ml (about 2 cups) tomato sauce
1 sprig of basil
300 g (2 cups) diced Mozzarella cheese (see note, below)
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Wash the eggplants under cold water.  Cut off the ends and slice them vertically into thin (4 mm, ¼ in) slices.  Arrange one layer of slices in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Repeat this procedure until all the eggplants are in the colander.  Weigh down the slices with something heavy, (for example three plates) and let them drain for at least one hour.  This step helps release some of the moisture before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

  1. In a large sauce pan over a medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the tomato sauce, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  (I personally do not add salt because my cooking is low in salt, but this depends on your taste).  Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.  Set aside.  I recommend using a dense tomato sauce rather than a liquid one
  2. When the eggplants have drained, press down on the slices to remove the excess water, wipe off the excess salt, and dry with paper towels
  3. Heat about 1 cm (½ in) olive oil into a large, deep skillet.  When the oil is hot, fry the eggplants until light golden brown on both sides.  Drain well on paper towels
  4. In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of tomato sauce.  Arrange the eggplant slices side by side, covering the sauce in the bottom of the baking pan.  Spread some of the tomato sauce(about ⅓) evenly on top of the eggplants, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, some basil leaves and Parmesan cheese (about ⅓ cup) and some pepper to taste.  Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of eggplants and finish with the remaining tomato sauce and parmesan (no mozzarella) 
  5. Bake covered with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Let it rest at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Note: Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size.  Their skin should be smooth and shiny.  Eggplants are sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures.  You can leave eggplants at room temperature for a day or two with no ill effects.  After that, refrigerate them, but not for too long, at about 10°C (50°F).  Also, do not use fresh mozzarella cheese in this recipe, it has too much liquid in it.  I would suggest using a pizza mozzarella, if you can find it.  Caciocavallo cheese and Provolone cheese are good substitutes for pizza mozzarella.  Also, if you do not want to fry the eggplants, you can grill them (but I would recommend the fried ones, they are much tastier and more appetizing!).  -Paola

Filetto Arrosto ai Porcini (Roast Fillet with Porcini)

17 Oct

OCTOBER GROCERY SHOPPING: PUMPKIN AND MUSHROOMS

Autumn started a few weeks ago and there are already some of the season’s delicacies on our tables: zucca (pumpkin) and funghi porcini (Boletus edulis, cep mushrooms).  The Italian name porcini (pronounced “por-CHEE-nee”) means ‘piglets’, probably to the fondness pigs have for eating them.  Porcini have more proteins than most of other vegetables apart from soybeans.  They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Porcini have a nutty and slightly meaty taste, with a smooth and creamy texture.  Young, small porcini are tastier than older and larger ones.  Certainly these mushrooms have more taste than any other cultivated white mushrooms, giving dishes like a hearty, earthy flavor.  They are delicious raw, as well as when sautéed with garlic, parsley and butter, of if used in pasta, risotto, soup, meat or other recipes. 

FILETTO ARROSTO AI PORCINI (ROAST FILLET WITH PORCINI)

Preparation Time: 1 h                                  Servings: 4

Roast fillet is an elegant main course for any special occasion.  This cut of meat is extremely tender, and it goes exceptionally well with any side dish.  The earthy flavor of Porcini mushrooms is an outstanding complement to the delicate taste of the filet.

INGREDIENTS
Porcini
450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushroom
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin )

Roast Fillet
700 g (approx. 1 ½ pound) fillet or tenderloin roast
Balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves
80 ml (about ⅓ cup) olive oil (extra Virgin)
1 sprig of rosemary
1 sprig of sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 250 °C (475°F)
Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

Before cooking the filet roast, let stand unrefrigerated until it reaches room temperature.  Marinate the garlic with the olive oil for at least two hours.

  1. In a large roasting pan, rub the olive oil seasoned with garlic all over the meat
  2. Lay the rosemary and sage sprigs in the bottom of the roasting pan, and place the fillet roast on top of them.  Generously season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with some balsamic vinegar on the meat
  3. Place in the oven for about 10-12 min.  Reduce heat to 180°C (350°F) and cook for an additional 25-30 minutes.  Use a meat thermometer to determine when it reaches your preferred level of doneness (50°C/125°F for rare and 55°C/135°F for medium)
  4. Remove roast from oven and let stand (covered with aluminum foil) for about 15 minutes before serving
  5. Heat the mushrooms and serve on top of the meat.

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer to do this. If you decide to, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  When cooking, it is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using dried mushrooms, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  -Paola

Lasagne al Pesto (Pesto Lasagna)

11 Oct

Lasagne, one of the most popular Italian dishes, has a long and interesting history.  A popular tradition traces its origin to the ancient Greeks. In fact, the name “lasagna” is actually not Italian at all!  It comes from the ancient Greek language and means dish or bowl, but over time, the term lasagne has come to refer to layers of thin pasta that are cooked with and separated by different ingredients such as meat, fish, vegetables or cheese, as well as besciamella, or béchamel, sauce, of course.  You have may tried the traditional Lasagne with Bolognese sauce, but maybe not the Lasagne al pesto that I am going to present today.  The pesto sauce makes lasagna even more special and delicate, a tasty delight for your palate, and is an excellent vegetarian dish (remember, however, that it does contain eggs and dairy products).  You can enjoy this dish as a first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish.

LASAGNE AL PESTO

Preparation time:  1 ½  hrs.          Baking Time:  30 min.
Servings:  4

 

INGREDIENTS
1 l (approx. 4 cups) besciamella sauce
180 g (¾ cup) pesto
6 sheets of Lasagne pasta (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in)

Pesto
3 medium sized garlic cloves
60 g (2 cups) fresh Sweet basil
40 g (⅓ cup) pine nuts
70 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt to taste (optional)

Besciamella Sauce
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup ) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F)

Pesto (makes about 1 cup)
1.Toast the pine nuts for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove.  Set aside
2.Wash the basil and dry it.  Drop the garlic in a running food processor.  Add the basil and pine nuts until it becomes a grainy mixture
3. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on to reach the desired consistency
4. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until blended.  Add a pinch of salt to taste and set aside.

Besciamella Sauce (makes about 4 cups)
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth.  This will prevent any lumps from forming
2. Add the salt
3. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
4. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy).  Add the butter.  Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn
5. Remove from the heat.  Mix well the besciamella sauce with pesto.

In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella mix.  Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets).  Break the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to  side.  Spread some of the besciamella (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by another layer of pasta.  Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining besciamella.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly (follow the suggested baking time on the lasagne package).  Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle some toasted pine nuts on top and serve.

Note: Pesto is not too difficult to make, but tasty and fresh basil is not easy to find all year round.  Pesto is a pasta sauce which originates from Genova, in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and is made with fresh Sweet basil (Mediterranean basil) and pine nuts.  If you don’t want to make fresh pesto, then look for a  good Italian brand in the grocery cooler or with the canned sauces.  One final word of caution!  Make certain that the ingredient list on the package specifies “olive oil”!  –Paola

Tiramisù

7 Oct

A pick-me-up that really picks you up

Tiramisù, arguably the most popular Italian creamy dessert, combines the flavor of mascarpone cheese, coffee and savoiardi cookies.  The name literally means “pick me up”, metaphorically “make me happy”, and usually the diner’s expression when eating it betrays this emotion.  The “pick me up” may refer to the caffeine in the espresso and the effect of cocoa used in the recipe.  The name may also have another meaning; it is commonly thought that this dessert is stimulating and aphrodisiac!  Tiramisù is not an “exotic dessert” and is not even too difficult to make.  My own tiramisù recipe is a very light  (no raw eggs and no cream), but at the same time it still has a smoothy and creamy  texture. One secret is to use very good, fresh mascarpone (if you can not find fresh mascarpone, I recommend the brandGalbani“) and to prepare the tiramisù one day in advance. If you are reading this recipe, you may have tried traditional tiramisù at least once in an Italian restaurant, but I hope you will find that this tiramisù will be an even more intense sensorsial ecstasy for your palate.

TIRAMISU’
Preparation time: 20 min. + 4 hrs refrigeration time      
 
INGREDIENTS
650 g (1 ½ lbs) fresh Italian mascarpone cheese
90 g (1 cup) powdered sugar
400 ml cold (and strong!) espresso coffee
3-4 tablespoons rum
200 g (7 oz) Ladyfingers (large Italian savoiardi are best, the bigger the better), about 28-30 cookies
cocoa powder

DIRECTIONS
1. Place the mascarpone and sugar in a medium mixing bowl
2. Mix with an electric mixer for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves
3. Add rum and set aside

4. Dip one Ladyfinger at a time, very quickly, into a bowl of coffee, placing them in a single layer to cover the bottom of an 11-cup serving dish (23 cm x 18 cm, approx. 9 in x 7 in)
5. Spread half the cheese mixture evenly over the layer of sponge fingers
6. Repeat to make one more layer with the remaining Ladyfingers dipped in coffee
7. Spread the rest of the cheese mixture on top
8. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (overnight is best for the flavors to mingle fully)
9. Before serving, cover by evenly sifting some cocoa powder on top

Note: The traditional tiramisù recipe calls for raw eggs too, but I prefer not to use them for a couple of reasons: a) to reduce cholesterol; b) raw eggs can cause salmonella.  Also, if the mascarpone is very thick, as some pre-packages cheeses are, you may have to add a few tablespoons of cream to make it a little more workable.  -Paola

Pane con Pancetta e Formaggio (Bacon and Cheese Bread)

7 Oct

This delicious bread, soft and tasty, and flavored with bacon and cheese, originates from the regions of Tuscany and Umbria in central Italy.  The bread is simple and quick to prepare and is a suitable recipe to accompany a cocktail, a salad, or a picnic.

PANE CON PANCETTA E FORMAGGIO (BACON AND CHEESE BREAD)
Preparation time: 55 min.               Baking time: 50 min.

Pane con Pancetta e Formaggio 

INGREDIENTS
3 large eggs
370 g  (2 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
15 g (3 teaspoons) baking powder
150 g (about 1 cup) diced Swiss cheese (Emmenthal)
150 g (1 ½ cups) grated Parmesan cheese
80 g (½ cup) diced bacon
60 ml olive oil (Extra Virgin)
150 ml milk

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F)
1. Mix the flour, baking powder and grated Parmesan cheese in a medium bowl
2. Add the eggs, olive oil and milk, mix until well blended
3. Add the Swiss cheese and the bacon
4. Stir well until the dough is smooth (you can add extra milk)
5. Pour the dough in a greased and floured bread pan (34 cm x 10 cm)
7. Bake for 50 min.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 5 min. on a rack, then remove it from the pan and let it cool on the rack or about 15 more minutes.  

My son can hardly wait for this bread to cool before cutting into it.  It’s excellent served at room temperature, but he says that it tastes best just out of the oven!  -Paola

Risotto di Zucca (Winter Squash Risotto)

6 Oct

IT’S PUMPKIN SEASON!

Fall has arrived, nature has changed its colors from green to yellow, red, brown and ochre, we have exchanged our summer wardrobes for the winter ones and changed the types of food on our tables. It’s pumpkin season!  Winter squash is a very nice vegetable, suitable for preparing a variety of recipes ranging from risotto to ravioli, soup to pasta sauce, cakes to croquettes – and even all by itself.  Fall’s famous vegetable, in addition to being a tasty part of many recipes, is a very good and healthy choice of food, an excellent source of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, magnesium and manganese.  Pumpkin is low-calorie and contains lots of water, thus a perfect ingredient to use when slimming down.

RISOTTO DI ZUCCA (WINTER SQUASH RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 2 hrs       
Cooking time:            1 ½ hrs + 15-20 min.                   
Servings: 4

Squash or pumpkin risotto is extremely popular in northern Italy during the cold months. Little wonder, because a good winter squash has a delightful tangy sweetness to it, while the risotto has a splendid creamy texture, perfect on a cold, gray winter day with a nice glass of Italian wine!  There are several varieties  of winter squash you can use; the one I like the most is zucca di Mantova (Cucurbita maxima, Kabocha).  It takes its name from Mantova, a city in northern Italy, where it grows.  It has a very sweet, tender flesh, tasting like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin.  It is large, round and squat, dark green and mottled, often with bumpy skin.  A good alternative is butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) that also has  sweet and nutty taste.  When you choose your pumpkin make sure it is firm all the way around. 

INGREDIENTS
Zucca di Mantova (half) about 750 g (1 ½ lb)
1 liter vegetable or chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390-400°F).  Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material.  Wash in plain cold water.  Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake for about 1-1/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork.  Don’t worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor.  When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mush it with a fork.  Set aside half of the puree. You can freeze the other half in a plastic bag or air-tight container for another risotto.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until is completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 15 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Add the squash and cook for about 2 minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly  tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about  30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto from the heat.  At this point, stir the risotto vigorously to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: Cooking pumpkin is much easier than you think.  There are different methods: Boiling, Steaming and Roasting.  Roasting is my favorite one because it give a richer flavor.  You can roast the pumpkin some days in advance and freeze it until you are ready to use it. This process will speed up your risotto preparation time. 

It is important to know about rice when buying for risotto; choose short-grained round or semi-round rice, rich in starch; among the best rice for making risotto are Italian Arborio and  Carnaroli.  Don’t forget that risotto requires a great deal of attention and continuous stirring!  Risotto is a perfect gluten-free dish.  -Paola

Crostata con Confettura (Jam Pie)

6 Oct

…..The crostata is perhaps  the oldest Italian dessert.  A popular tradition traces the origin of this Italian pie to the ancient Romans. This is the first kind of baked dessert that, as little girl, I learned to make from my mother.  It evokes memories of many happy hours spent with her in the kitchen preparing delicious food. This Italian version of an American pie can be prepared by using different ingredients such as jam, fresh fruit, ricotta cheese, chocolate (kids love a Crostata di Nutella) and pudding. It can satisfy a wide variety of palates! In Italy, it is not only eaten as a dessert, but often for breakfast too, with a hot cup of espresso or capuccino, or with tea in the afternoon.

CROSTATA CON CONFETTURA (JAM PIE)
Preparation time: 1 h               Baking time: 40 min.           Servings: 6-8

INGREDIENTS
300 g flour (245 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour and 55 g (⅓ cup) potato starch)
5 g (1 teaspoon) baking powder

100 g (½ cup) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
130 g (½ cup + 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
grated zest of half lemon
350 g (1 cup) jam (fig, plum, strawberry, raspberry, peach and etc..)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350 °F)
To make crostata you first need to prepare the “pasta frolla”:

  1. Cream the butter
  2. Combine all the ingredients, handling them as little as possible
  3. Wrap the dough (the pasta frolla) in wax paper and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, on a lightly floured board roll (or gently pat the pastry dough in the pan) ⅔ of the pastry dough to 4 mm (a little less than ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides of 24 cm (10 in) springform pan. 

The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom, about 5 mm (¼ in).  Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient), then spread with the jam on the pasta frolla.  Roll the remaining pastry on a lightly floured board (3 mm), then with a sharp knife or pastry cutter cut it in strips (5 mm) wide and make a lattice top on the layer of jam. There might be some leftover pastry.

Bake the crostata until golden, about 35 minutes. Unmold the pie as soon as it is ready and let it cool on a rack. If left in the pan it will turn irremediably soggy.  It is great freshly baked but it definitely improves after a day if kept in a closed container.

——

Note: Usually the crostata crust is quite hard.  I prefer a tender, fluffy crust.  My recipe calls for starch,  baking powder (a leavening agent) and creaming the butter; all contribute to making the dough lighter.  A note on the jam: select a jam that is relatively low in sugar, or prepare your own.   For example the crostata in the picture has fig jam on top (see the recipe in the fig jam post).  Jams that contain a higher percentage of sugar tend to be negatively affected by the baking temperatures, turning sticky and ruining the final result.  -Paola

Confettura di Fichi (Fig Jam)

6 Oct

…..la delizia per eccellenza.  Figs are an ancient fruit, first appearing in the earliest of historic accounts.  They are the symbol of abundance and fertility, and they were even used as a sweetener before the advent of refined sugars.  Figs are rich in calcium, potassium, iron, phosphorus and high in fiber.  They are one of the most delicious and versatile fruits found both in savory (for example with Prosciutto di Parma) and sweet recipes.  In summer I have a ritual of making confettura di fichi, fig jam, a versatile ingredient for sweets and desserts, a filling for a brioche (breakfast pastry) or a condiment for cheese (it is delicious with Pecorino).  The whole point of making jam is so that you can then use it to make something else … that is even more delicious!

CONFETTURA DI FICHI (FIG JAM)

Preparation Time: 50 min.

INGREDIENTS
1 kg  (about 2 ½  lbs) fresh figs
300 g (1 ½ cup) granulated sugar
juice of one lemon

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash the figs in plain cold water
  2. Cut off the stems, peel and dice the figs
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the diced figs, sugar, and lemon juice.  Bring to a simmer over medium low heat, stirring constantly.  Cover and simmer over low heat for  40-45 min, stirring frequently.  Remove the cover and continue simmering, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens. When the mixture gets quite thick, begin to stir constantly to keep from scorching.  This recipe makes 640 g of jam.

Good jam should cook until the temperature reaches 220-222°F/104-105°C on a candy thermometer.  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, use this test: Place a small amount of jam on a spoon and pour back sideways into the pan.  At first it will be liquid, then later two separate drops will form on the spoon. The jam is ready to be removed from the heat when it falls off the spoon as a single drop.  You can preserve your jam using your preferred canning recipe (refer to my post on strawberry jam for my canning method).  -Paola

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