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Pizza Rustica (Rustic Pizza)

17 Apr

This pizza is a little bit a different from what you imagine about pizza, but it’s still delicious! Pizza rustica is a typical recipe for Easter, especially for the Easter Monday picnic, Pasquetta, but I prepare it as an aperitif or appetizer for a casual dinner with friends throughout the year too. To tell the truth it is not a real pizza but a pie with a buttery crust, filled with eggs, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan and spicy pepperoni, a very appetizing mix. Ricotta is a fresh cheese with a delicate flavor that blends perfectly with the peperoni. There are several variations of pizza rustica with different crusts depending on the region where it is prepared. Some people use a yeast dough as a crust, others add different types of cheese. This recipe is the one I love the most, one that my children especially enjoy.

PIZZA RUSTICA (RUSTIC PIZZA)
Preparation time: 60 min . Cooking time: 40 min. Servings: 6

Pizza rustica

INGREDIENTS
Pie dough
350 g (2 ¼ cups ) flour 00
5 g (1 teaspoon) salt
5 (1 teaspoon) sugar
5 g (1 teaspoon) baking powder for pizza or focaccia
170 g (6 oz) butter, cold, cut into pieces
70 ml (heaping ¼ cup) cold water
Filling
350 g (12.5 oz) ricotta cheese
3 eggs
75 g (¾ cups) grated Parmesan cheese
250 g (9 oz) mozzarella cheese (see note below), cut into cubes
100 g (3.6 oz) pepperoni
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. For the pie dough. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar and baking powder). Add butter and work with a pie cutter until the mixture is sandy. Add water, working first with a spoon and then with floured hands to form a ball. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
2. Prepare the filling. In a medium bowl mix the ricotta with a fork and then add the eggs. Beat with a spoon to obtain a creamy mixture. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, mozzarella and pepperoni. Add salt and pepper to taste
3. Preheat oven to 180 ° C
4. Remove the dough from the fridge. Spread 2/3 of dough with a rolling pin on a floured surface with 2-3 mm thickness. Transfer the dough into a ceramic pan (25 cm, 10 inch) in diameter, puncture the bottom with the tines of a fork, pour in the filling and level. Roll out the remaining third of the dough. Cut into 6 mm wide strips with a knife and form a latticework over the filling
5. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let it cool on a rack for about 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: I would suggest using a pizza mozzarella because fresh mozzarella has too much liquid in it. If you can’t find it, Caciocavallo cheese and Provolone cheese are good substitutes for pizza mozzarella. Paola

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Mini Cassata Siciliana (Mini Sicilian Cassata)

13 Apr

This year I will celebrate Easter with cassata, a delicious, tempting and colorful cake. Cassata is a typical dessert of the Sicilian pastry, in particular of Palermo. In the past it was enjoyed exclusively to celebrate Easter after the long period of Lent: a well-deserved award! Today it is enjoyed throughout the year.

The preparation is not particularly difficult as far as the cake it is concerned, whereas the decoration can be sumptuous and baroque, requiring some ability. The version that I propose is quite easy, also good for less experienced cooks. The ingredients are simple: ricotta cheese, dark chocolate and candied fruit. All these ingredients are mixed with sugar and used as a filling between two discs of sponge cake covered with colored marzipan and decorated to taste.

This recipe, like other Sicilian ones, was influenced by the Arabic domination. The name, in fact, derives from the Arabic “Quas’at”, which means round bowl. In fact, the shape looks like a bowl. The mini cassata is an alternative to cassata, elegant to serve and tasty to eat. Happy Easter all my beloved readers! Buona Pasqua a tutti!

MINI SICILIAN CASSATA
Preparation time: 2 hrs                        Servings: 6 people

Cassatta fetta

INGREDIENTS
450 g (16 oz) sponge cake, sliced 1 cm (½ inch) thick and cut into 12 discs 8 cm (3 inch) diameter with a cookie cutter
600 g (21 oz) ricotta cheese
160 g (2 cups) powdered sugar
150 g (5 oz) dark chocolate, cut into small cubes
150 g (5 oz) candied fruit, cut into small cubes
28 g (1 oz) peeled pistachios, cut into pieces
White Marsala wine
450 g (16 oz) almond paste
Green food coloring
White icing
Candied fruits for decoration

DIRECTIONS
1. In a large bowl whisk sugar with ricotta. Add chocolate, candied fruits and pistachios
2. Line the base and the sides of 8 cm (3 inch) diameter and about 10 cm (4 inch) height bowl with parchment paper. This process will help remove the cassata from the bowl. Place a disc of sponge cake sprinkled with Marsala wine, pour in some of the filling (almost to the top) and cover with another disc of sponge cake sprinkled with Marsala. Cover the surface of the cake with some parchment paper and store in the fridge for about one and a half hours
3. Knead the almond paste on a working surface sprinkled with powdered sugar, mixing in the dye until you get the your favorite shade of Easter green. Roll out a disc of marzipan to cover the entire mini cassata, including the sides, to a thickness of 4-5 mm.
4. Take out from the the refrigerator, remove from the bowl and flip over onto a serving plate
5. Place almond paste on top to cover the entire surface. Decorate as desired. I decorated it very simply with some white icing and candied fruits. You can use your creativity to make it fancy.

Note: You can use this recipe to prepare just one cassata with a disc (25 cm, 10 inch) diameter. The amount of almond paste is 280 g (10 oz). Paola

Tortelli di Carnevale (Carnival Fritters)

24 Feb

Let’s party! It is Carnival! Carnival, well-known in the USA for the Mardi Gras celebrations, is one of the most joyous holiday of the year. We cannot refrain from masked balls, parades and street parties. This festive event is also celebrated with special treats prepared only during this season, for example tortelli (or castagnole, bugie, zeppe… whatever you like to call them). There are a lot of names for the same delicious fritters, loved by children and adults. I remember my grandmother preparing tortelli as well as chiacchiere, another Carneval treat! This event was part of our annual Carnival celebration. Toertelli are typically of Lombardy (my region) and can be enjoyed plain or, if you want to make them even more delicious, with chocolate cream or custard. The dough is smooth but not liquid and, when dropped in hot oil, swells to form lovely little puffs.

TORTELLI DI CARNEVALE (CARNIVAL FRITTERS)
Preparation time : 20 min. Cooking time: 20 min. Servings: 30 tortelli

Frittelle di Carnevale

INGREDIENTS
250 ml ( about 1 cup) milk
60 g (2.15 oz) butter, cut into cubes
50 g (¼ cup) granulated sugar
1 lemon, grated zest
1 pinch of salt
160 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
7 g (½ teaspoon ) baking powder
4 eggs
Peanut Oil
Chocolate cream (like Nutella)
Cocoa powder

DIRECTIONS
1. Sift the flour with the baking powder. Set aside
2. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and add the butter, sugar, lemon zest and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat after 1 minute
3. Add the flour and baking powder, stirring energetically until the mixture is compact. Put on heat (medium-low) and cook for about 2 minutes. The dough should be a compact ball
4. Pour it in a bowl and let cool
5. Add the eggs one at a time with an electric whisk until the batter is smooth but not liquid
6. In a pan heat the frying oil to 170°C-340°F. If you do not have a thermometer, use this simple method. Place a cube of bread in the oil (approximately 2.5 cm). If it turns brown after 60 seconds, the oil is ready for frying. Slide a spoonful of batter (size of walnut) in the oil with the aid of another spoon. Wait until it is puffy and golden brown, then turn it over. It will take 4-5 minutes to cook tortelli perfectly
7. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Allow to cool. Fill with chocolate cream using a patisserie syringe. Roll in granulated sugar and sprinkle with cocoa powder.

Note: Frying is a dry heat cooking method …read more in the Chiacchiere post. Paola

Torta Gianduia con Ciliege (Gianduia Cake with Cherries)

10 Feb

Love and sweetness together? Yes it is possible with my gianduia cake prepared with chocolate and hazelnuts and then covered with a cherry topping. Chocolate is seductive and slightly mysterious; it has been called the food of the devil. Chocolate and love result in the same good feelings and sensations in the brain. Therefore, this delicious and tasty cake is perfect to serve as dessert for the most intimate dinner of the year, Valentine’s Day! Gianduia is a specialty of Piedmont, and it is made with ground hazelnuts and chocolate. The combination of these flavors makes an irresistible treat. I also recommend gianduiotti, the pralines made with the same mixture. The colorful and fruity addition of cherry topping gives a moist texture to this cake. You can certainly impress your partner on such a special day, an experience for all senses! Happy Valentine’s Day to all of my beloved readers.

TORTA GIANDUIA CON CILIEGE GIANDUIA CAKE WITH CHERRIES)
Preparation time: 1 h Cooking time: 50 min. Servings: 8

Torta Gianduia fetta

INGREDIENTS
Cake
260 g (1 ¼ cups) granulated sugar
3 whole eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150 g (5 oz) melted butter
140 g (1 ¼ cups) ground hazelnut
240 g (1 2/4 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
15 g (3 teaspoons) baking powder
150 g (5 oz) dark chocolate (70%)
170 ml (¾ cup) buttermilk at room temperature
2 tablespoons rum
1 pinch salt

Topping
450 g (1 pound) canned, pitted cherries
1 lemon (juice)
6 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ tablespoon potato starch
300 ml (1 ¼ cups) cherry juice

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)
2. Put the hazelnuts in a food processor and process until finely ground. Set aside
3. In a large bowl mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cacao powder, ground hazelnuts
4.Beat the eggs and the sugar with an electric whisk for at least 5 min. until pale and creamy. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined
5. In a double boiler melt chocolate. Cool for about 2 minutes stirring continously and slowly add buttermilk
6. Combine the egg mixture with the flour mixture, then add the chocolate mix and rum. Mix with an electric whisk until creamy
7. Generously butter a 25 cm (10 inch) spring-form cake pan. Sprinkle with flour to cover the entire surface, removing any excess flour
8. Bake for 40-45 min. or until done. Test by inserting a wooden toothpick into the middle of the cake. If it is done, it should come out dry
9. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 min. Remove from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack
10. In the meantime prepare the topping. In a saucepan dissolve sugar and potato starch into the cherry juice. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice and the cherries. Over a medium low heat bring to boil. Cook for 4- 5 min. stirring slowly until thick. Let cool and spread over the cake. -Paola

 

Cotechino in Crosta con Lenticchie (Cotechino in Puff Pastry with Lentils)

31 Dec

Happy New Year all my beloved readers. Buon Anno! Tonight I am going to serve cotechino in crostra with lenticchie. Cotechino (the Italian fresh pork sausage) in puff pastry is a tasty and appetizing idea to enjoy the traditional cotechino and lentils during the Christmas holidays, and particularly at New Year’s Eve. According to the tradition, it seems that this dish is a good omen for the new year, lentils are, in fact, symbol of abundance and fortune.

The preparation is simple, but requires a little patience. First cotechino is cooked in water, then covered with a delicious lentil puree, wrapped in a sheet of puff pastry and baked in the oven. The result is a crunchy topping with a tasty filling, full of flavor. The pork sausage with lentils is a simple dish that dates back to the farmers’ tradition. Cotechino owes its name to the pork rind and is prepared by filling the gut with pork rind, meat, fat, all flavored with salt and spices. It is a type of sausage that is eaten cooked. It originated from Modena, but nowadays it is spread all over the country with some variations in spices. It is commonly sliced thick and laid on a bed of lentils.  You can also enjoy it with mushed potatoes,  sautéed spinach or polenta.

COTECHINO IN CROSTA CON LENTICCHIE (COTECHINO IN PUFF PASTRY AND LENTILS)
Preparation time: 60 min . Cooking time: 45 min. Servings: 4

Cotechino fetta
INGREDIENTS
500 g  (about 1 pound) fresh or pre-cooked cotechino
Aluminum foil
1 roll puff pastry (240 g, about 8 oz)Cooked lentils (see Lentil Stew)

DIECTIONS
1 . The cooking time of fresh cotechino is longer than pre-cooked.For fresh cotechino. Pierce the sausage skin with a toothpick in a few places, wrap with aluminum foil making sure it is well sealed. Place in a large pot, cover with cold water. Bring to boil over medium heat, reduce to medium-low, cover and simmer for about an hour. After this time, change the water  completely (replacing it with hot water so the sausage will be less salty) and continue cooking for about an hour and half. Remove from water and aluminum foil. Allow to cool
For pre-cooked cotechino, dip the foil package in plenty of cold water and cook according to the cooking time, usually 20-25 minutes
2 . For lentils see post Lentil Stew
3 . Preheat oven to 180 ° C
4 . Take 2 tablespoons of lentils and reduce in puree by blending in a mixer. Cover the sausage with lentil puree all around (top layer about 7-8 mm). Transfer the sausage on the puff pastry, cut in the shape of a rectangle. Close cropping the edges of excess dough. It is important to seal well. Bake on a baking sheet covered with some baking paper for about 20-25 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Wait 5 minutes, cut into thick slices and serve with the lentils. -Paola

Pandoro con Crema di Limoncello (Pandoro with Limoncello Cream)

22 Dec

This year Passion and Cooking will celebrate Christmas with Pandoro, the “golden cake”! Pandoro and panettone are the most popular sweets during the winter holidays. While panettone is a native of Milan, pandoro is from Verona. It is traditionally shaped like a frustum with an 8 pointed-star section and is served dusted with powdered sugar (my kids like to be the ones to put on the sugar). The dough is very soft and the taste is delicate and refined. Pandoro can be traced back to the 18th century to the rich Venetian aristocracy. Although some people recognize the similarity with the French brioche or with the ” Pan di Vienna”, pandoro seems to have been first produced on October 14, 1894, when Mr. Melegatti obtained the patent for a procedure to be applied in producing pandoro industrially. From this moment on, and considering the similarity with the Nadalin (a typical sweet from Verona), Verona is now universally recognized as the home of the original pandoro.The preparation technique is quite complex, so I suggest buying a good pandoro and enjoying it with a delicious homemade cream. I love the combination of citrus and soft sweets such as panettone and pandoro, so I propose this fresh and aromatic Limoncello cream, made with the legendary Limoncello of Sorrento, milk, cream, sugar and mascarpone cheese, the king of cream cheese!  In a few minutes you will have a delicious and rich cream to garnish your slice of pandoro. A helpful tip is to gently heat the cake for about 15-20 min. (for example on a steam radiator) and to sprinkle with powdered sugar to get the snow effect before serving. Wishing you all a delicious Christmas!

PANDORO WITH CREAM LIMONCELLO
Preparation time: 10 minutes            Servings:  10

Pandoro con crema

INGREDIENTS
500 g  (about 1 pound) fresh mascarpone
80 ml (1/3 cup) Limoncello liquor
40 ml  (1/8 cup + 2 tsp) milk
40 ml fresh  (1/8 cup + 2 tsp) cream
50 g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

DIRECTIONS
1. In a medium saucepan heat milk, cream and sugar for 1-2 minutes until sugar dissolves. Cool completely, add Limocello and lemon zest. Set aside the Limoncello cream .

2. In a medium bowl with an electric mixer whip the mascarpone, incorporate approximately 100-120 ml of Limoncello cream, adding one spoon at the times. Whisk for a few seconds until the mixture is creamy. -Paola

Torta di Fragole (Strawberry Tart)

4 May

This delicious and fresh strawberry tart is prepared with an almond-flavored dough (pasta frolla), filled with custard and then decorated with fresh strawberries for a tasty and colorful touch. It is a water-mouthing dessert to serve on a special occasion such as the Mother’s Day! But this is a classic for any other occasion too, such as a birthday party or a dinner with friends. The preparation of this tart is not difficult, but it requires a bit of patience and some creativity in decorating. The look and the taste are worth it! May  12th will be Mother’s Day in most countries, and we like to celebrate this special day by preparing something special. Mother’s Day actually has pagan origins and dates back to ancient times. Even the Greeks and the Romans dedicated one day each year to their parent. In Italy the first celebration was in Assisi in 1957, and since then it has been in our calendar on the second Sunday of May. This day is a very special day, all mothers should be surrounded by love, attention and gratitude, and of course delicious food!

TORTA DI FRAGOLE (STRAWBERRY TART)
Preparation time: 90 minutes           Crust cooking time: 40 minutes       Servings: 8

Torta fragole fetta

INGREDIENTS
Pasta Frolla
250 g flour (200 g 1 ¼  cups all purpose flour  + 50 g ⅓ cup potato starch)
100 g (⅔ cup) roasted almonds
8 g  (1 heaping teaspoon) baking powder
130 g  (⅔ cup) sugar
140 g (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
The grated rind of half a lemon
dried beans or other dried legumes (about 1 ½ cups)

Custard
500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
1 whole vanilla bean
6 egg yolks `
150 g (¾ cup) sugar
50 g (⅓ cup) potato starch
500 g (18 oz) fresh strawberries

Gelatin
230 ml (1 cup) water
20 ml (1 heaping tablespoon) lemon
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 packet of cake gelatin (like Tortagel)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170 °C – 180 °C (350 °F)
1. Toast the almonds for a few minutes in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cool them and pulverize them in a food processor until you reach the consistence of flour
2. To prepare the pasta frolla (pie dough), mix the flour, almond flour, baking powder, sugar and lemon zest a medium size bowl. Cream the butter with an electric mixer in a separate bowl. Stir into the butter, the eggs and all dry ingredients. Knead the dough by hand until it forms a homogeneous ball. Remember to manipulate the dough as little as possible. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes
3. While the dough is resting in a refrigerator, prepare the custard. In a large saucepan, place the vanilla bean in the milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes; remove the vanilla pod from the milk. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk or an electric mixer until frothy. Mix in the starch a little bit at a time. Add 160 ml (⅔ cup) of the cooled milk stirring continuously with a whisk. Pour the egg mixture and the milk back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Bring to boil, cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Lower the heat (medium-low) and continue to beat with a whisk for 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Pour the cream into a glass bowl. To avoid formation of a “film” while the cream is cooling, lay a disk of plastic wrap directly on the surface
4. Once the dough has rested, on a lightly floured board, roll (or gently pat the pastry dough directly into the pan) the pastry dough to 6 mm (about ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides of a 24-25 cm (10 in) spring form pan.  The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom.  Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient). Cover with a disk of baking paper of diameter slightly larger than the tart, fill with dried beans and cook for approx. 25 minutes. Then remove the beans by lifting the edges of the paper. Continue cooking for  about 15 minutes so that the dough dries out. Cool on a wire rack
5. While the crust cools, clean the strawberries by removing the green leaves and washing them quickly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and cut them in halves or into slices of about 2-3 mm (⅛ in). Transfer the crust onto a serving plate, fill it with custard and decorate with strawberries
6. For the gelatin, place 230 ml (about 1 cup) water in a sauce pan, add the filtered lemon juice,  the gelatin powder and sugar. Mix together all the ingredients with a whisk, bring to  boil and cook for 2 minutes. Allow the gelatin to cool, stirring a few times for about 2 minutes, then pour it over the entire cake
7. Put the strawberry tart to cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Note: Traditionally the pasta frolla 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 the dough’s lighter texture. -Paola

Colomba con Crema al Limoncello (Easter Cake with Limoncello Cream)

28 Mar

If you have ever celebrated Easter in Italy, you may have tasted our Colomba di Pasqua (Easter Dove). This is an Italian dessert only available at Easter, something in between a cake and a sweet bread loaf. The particularity of this cake is that it is shaped like a dove, the symbol of peace and rebirth. In the Catholic tradition it also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The cake is very soft and the ingredients are simple, flour, eggs, natural yeast, butter, sugar and candied orange. The dough is shaped into a dove, glazed with a shiny coat of sugar syrup, coarse sugar and sprinkled with almonds before baking. This is the traditional recipe, but nowadays many variations are available, such as glazed with chocolate or filled with creams, and without candied fruit. Colomba traces its origins to the middle of the sixth century. According to a legend, King Alboin conquered Pavia the day before Easter, and a dove-shaped cake was offered to him as a sign of peace. A more realistic story, though, is that at the beginning of the twentieth century the Milanese company Motta started producing an Easter version of Panettone (Christmas cake). You can enjoy it with sparkling sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti or sweet Passito wine from Sicily. Just like Panettone, it can be served plain or with mascarpone cheese cream flavored with different fruity liqueurs. One of my favorites to use is Limoncello, a delicious after dinner digestivo, frequently served in Italy and Italian restaurants, you might have tasted this delicious liqueur (served chilled) made from Sorrento lemon zest. This liqueur has a very fresh lemon citrus flavor that blends extremely well with the creamy taste of mascarpone and the sweetness of Colomba. Enjoy it and Happy Easter!  Buona Pasqua!

COLOMBA CON CREMA AL LIMONCELLO (EASTER CAKE WITH LIMONCELLO CREAM)
Preparation time: 10 minutes

Colomba smallINGREDIENTS
Mascarpone cheese cream
250 g (9 oz) fresh mascarpone cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
110 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
6-7 tablespoons Limoncello

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small bowl mix the cream and Limoncello
2. Place the mascarpone and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Use electric mixer to whisk for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Then add the cream-liqueur mix. You can serve the mascarpone either on top of the Colomba slice or aside.

Note: Colomba is a simple cake but the preparation is laborious because the raising time occurs in different stages and the temperature of the room is critical. There are so many good brands available on the market, and many pastry shops produce their own Colomba Artigianale or Artisan Colomba. -Paola

Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie)

23 Mar

Torta Pasqualina is a rustic savory pie typical of Liguria, filled with spinach, ricotta cheese and eggs. You can serve it as an appetizer with a nice sparkling wine (I love it with my Prosecco) or as an antipasto (starter) anytime of the year, but this dish is really part of the traditional Easter (Pasqua) dinner or served at the Easter Monday (little Easter, “Pasquetta”) picnic with family and friends. In fact you can prepare it a day in advance and enjoy it cold the next day. Torta Pasqualina traces its origins back to 1400 when it was prepared to celebrate Easter Sunday after Lent, a period of time marked by fasting. Catholics during Lent historically gave up more than just meat dishes – eggs, milk, and even fat were abandoned. According to the ancient tradition, 33 pastry layers were used (like Jesus’ age at his passing), while the eggs represented life, fertility and renewal. The ingredients (spinach, cheese, eggs and pastry) were something special, a celebration of the Easter feast. Nowadays the recipe calls for a fewer layers of pastry, and artichokes sometimes substitute spinach. Torta Pasqualina is an absolute hit for everybody who eats it – even kids like it! The perfect combination of spinach, sautéed onions and creamy ricotta cheese is its secret while the hidden eggs add a special surprise.

TORTA PASQUALINA (EASTER PIE)
Preparation time: 1 h           Baking time: 40 min.       Servings: 6

Torta Pasqualina small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (about 2 pounds) fresh spinach leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 medium onions, finely sliced
1 sprig fresh marjoram
500 g (2 cups) ricotta cheese
1 egg + 6 hard boiled eggs
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan
460 g – 2 sheets (1 pound) puff pastry
Salt , nutmeg and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C -180 °C (350 °F)
1.Boil 6 eggs and shell them. Set aside
2. Wash the spinach several times to remove all the soil. Drain well then steam for 3-4 minutes. Cool, drain and squeeze dry
3. In a large skillet on medium-low heat sauté the onion with olive oil until onion is soft and translucent. Add the spinach and mix well with the onion. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and marjoram
4. In a large bowl cream one fresh egg with the ricotta cheese and Parmesan. Add the vegetable mix and season with freshly ground pepper and nutmeg. Set aside
5. Place one puff pastry sheet in a 25 cm (10 in) baking dish and prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient). Fill with half of the vegetable mix. Hollow out 6 depressions in the filling with the back of moist spoon. Place the boiled eggs in them and pour in the rest of the vegetable mix. Cover with the second sheet
6. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes. It is delicious when eaten freshly baked and a little bit warm, but it is also a treat to enjoy cold the next day.

Note: You can substitute spinach with new Swiss chard. You can store the pie in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can also freeze it after cooking. I would suggest to cut into slices and freeze each single slice. Before serving, defrost in the fridge and heat it in the oven.  -Paola

Torta al Cioccolato e Barolo Chinato (Barolo Chinato Chocolate Cake)

10 Feb

This delicious dark chocolate cake flavored with Barolo Chinato and served with whipped cream and raspberries is a truly romantic treat for an amorous occasion such as Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate, the so called natural “love drug” and one of the top ten aphrodisiac foods, is definitely an excellent choice when celebrating this holiday.  The feeling eating chocolate produces is the same you feel as when falling in love so … let’s eat more chocolate!!!  In fact, several compounds present in chocolate have been linked to one’s mood and pleasure, such as phenyl-ethylamine which has amphetamine-like stimulating properties and tryptophan, related to serotonin, a substance associated with ecstasy and happiness.  In addition to its “love effects”, dark chocolate – rich in antioxidants – provides other beneficial properties such as reducing your levels of free radicals, which are responsible for cellular damage, aging and cancer.  This delicious food is obtained from the tropical tree Theobroma Cacao, which has been cultivated in central and south America for at least three millennia.  The Aztecs thought it gave strength and power to their warriors. In the past chocolate has been considered more medicinal, rather than the delicious treat it is today.  In this recipe, the chocolate’s aroma blends well with the distinct flavor of Barolo Chinato, a Barolo wine flavored with a variety of herbs and spices, including quinine bark (china in Italian, pronounced KEY-na), and sweetened with a touch of sugar.  As a dessert wine Barolo Chinato is a perfect match for rich sweets, especially those with chocolate like this superb cake.  So when making the cake, save a glass (better yet, save 2!) to enjoy with your cake.  And now, food meets art!  Chocolate is not only a delicious treat; some artists use it as an expressive material in their work.  If you like video performances please take a look at my dear friend and great artist, Ciriaca Erre’s video “Can I have another question?” A passionate and emotional modern Medea.  Enjoy it!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORCWRiQ7_tM&feature=player_embedded  
www.ciriacaerre.com

TORTA AL CIOCCOLATO E BAROLO CHINATO (BAROLO CHINATO CHOCOLATE CAKE)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                              Baking time: 45-50 minutes

Torta al cioccolato fetta small

INGREDIENTS
250 g (1 cup +2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
260 g (1 ¼ cups) granulated sugar
30 g (8 tablespoons) cocoa powder
250 g (1 ½ cups) flour, type 00
15 g (1 tablespoon) baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs separated
150 g (5 ounces) dark chocolate (70%)
240 ml (1 cup) Barolo Chinato
250 g (2 cups) raspberries
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 165°C (325°F)
1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.  Set aside
2. In a large bowl cream the butter with sugar and cocoa using an electric mixer.  Beat in egg yolks one at the time
3. In a double boiler, heat wine slowly and melt chocolate.  Cool for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the wine-chocolate mixture to the butter and mix well with a spoon
5. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth batter
6. In a medium bowl, using clean beaters, beat egg whites until firm and glossy
7. Gently fold whites into the batter using a spatula until there are no more white streaks
8.Grease and flour a 24 cm (10 in) spring-form pan
9. Pour in the batter and bake for about 45-50 minutes until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean
10. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack
11. Wash raspberries under running water.  Gently dry them with paper towels.  Set aside
12. In a medium bowl combine cream and powdered sugar, and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Decorate the cake with whipped cream and raspberries.

Note: You can substitute Barolo Chinato with another sweet or fortified red wine such as Marsala, Port or Sherry.  -Paola

 

 

Chiacchiere (Sweet Carnival Fritters)

3 Feb

Carnevale, Carnival or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), is a huge Catholic festival celebrated forty days before Easter, before Ash Wednesday, with masquerade balls, parades and public street parties.  Masks, or maschere, are one of the most important parts of Carnival, and cities all over Italy celebrate this festival in one way or another, although Venice is certainly the most well-known Italian city for its traditional Carnival masks and parties.  The streets are full of people dressed in costumes, and all over town artists and singers entertain with performances and songs.  It is a unique adventure worthy of the experience!  This festive event is also celebrated by eating special treats prepared only during this season.  Chiacchiere (literally “chit-chat” or “small talk”, pronounced key-AH-ker-ay) are crispy fritters made with flour, sugar, butter, eggs and liquor, although this last ingredient may be eliminated during Lent.  Chiacchiere are known by different names depending on the region from which they originate.  For example chiacchiere and lattughe (because they recall the appearance of lettuce leaves) are found in Lombardy, cenci (meaning rags) and donzelle in Tuscany, frappe in Emilia Romagna and bugie (meaning “lies”) in Piedmont.  Whatever you call them, they are delicious, delicate pastries that both adults and kids love.  I remember making this special snack with my grandmother; this was part of our annual carnival celebration.  We had a lot of fun making them, and I delighted in eating them – it is still a very memorable occasion.  I now make chiacchiere each Carnival season with my kids too, part of our family cooking tradition!!  Chiacchiere trace their origins from ancient Roman times when they were called frictilia, tasty sweet dough fried in lard, the most common frying fat available at the time.

CHIACCHIERE (SWEET CARNIVAL FRITTERS)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                                      Servings: 6-8

Chiacchere sigla 4 small

INGREDIENTS
500 g (3 cups) flour 00
70 g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
7 g (1 heaping teaspoon) baking powder
1 pinch salt
60 g (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature and diced
3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
30 ml (2 tablespoons) dry Marsala (grappa, brandy)
Oil for deep frying
Powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS
1. In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt)
2. Add the butter and mix with a pastry cutter.  In a small bowl beat the eggs, then add the eggs, vanilla extract and Marsala to the dry ingredients, mixing well.  Blend the dough well with floured hands until it is smooth and elastic
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it for about 10 minutes on a floured surface.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in a cool place
4. Divide the dough in four equal parts and roll out one part at the time (keeping the rest in the plastic wrap until ready to work).  Rolling out chiacchiere is just like rolling out pasta dough.

ROLLING OUT BY HAND.  To roll out your dough you need a wooden pin – mattarello – (about 80 cm long and 4 cm diameter, 37 x 2 in).  Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness, about 2 mm.  Cut the dough into rectangular strips using a table knife or a serrated pastry wheel (10 x 5 cm; 4 x 2 in) and let them rest for about 5 minutes on a cotton dish towel.  Make two parallel cuts down in the middle of each strip about 5 cm (2 in) long, taking care to leave the ends of the strips intact.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE.  A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use.  Kids especially love this part, so I usually have some help!  Start out using the widest setting.  Run the dough through for about 5-6 times until the dough is smooth.  If the sheet tears dust it with flour.  Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness. I use setting number 5.  The dough should be very smooth.  Once you reach the desired thickness, follow the same procedure as above for cutting the dough.

5. In a heavy skillet gradually heat some frying fat to the required temperature of about 180°C (350 °F).  If you do not have a thermometer use this easy test.  Drop in one cube of bread (about 2.5 cm, 1 in).  If the cube browns after 60 seconds, the fat will be ready for frying.  Fry the strips for about one minute until golden on both sides, turning them once
6. Remove them from the skillet and let rest on a grid covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil
7.Sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar when they are cool. 

Note: Deep frying is a dry heat cooking method.  Choose your cooking fat carefully.  Fats with high “smoke points” are the best.  Peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and canola oil are good choice.  Lard is very good frying fat too, because it withstands very high temperatures.  It was commonly used in the past in many cuisines, but it is used less now because it has a strong, distinct taste that can cover the food’s flavor.  -Paola

Risotto allo Champagne (Champagne Risotto)

29 Dec

Are you ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve with an exceptional recipe?  Risotto allo champagne is a classic first course, easy and quick to prepare, very elegant and tasty, perfect for an important occasion such as New Year’s Eve or a special romantic encounter.  The simplicity of the ingredients is enhanced by the champagne aromas that give a touch of romanticism and an aphrodiasiac effect to this dish.  Champagne sparkling wine can only be called so if produced in the region of France bearing the same name.  In Italy however, we also produce excellent sparkling wines such as those from Franciacorta, Trento, Oltrepo’ Pavese and Asti. In an interesting study researchers pointed out that the effect of the scents present in certain dry champagnes, particulary blanc de blancs, replicate the female pherormones! Intriguing! Champagne’s delicate bubbles allow the alcohol to reach the blood stream more rapidly than still wine, contributing to quickly reducing one’s inhibition, so it’s no wonder that it is considered the ultimate symbol of celebration (no champagne, no party!!!).  Further, in small quantities, alcohol produces a stimulating effect, which is due to the high content of minerals such as potassium, zinc and magnesium, essential for both male and female sex hormone production.  Regardless of its aphrodisiac properties, champagne risotto is a exceptional dish to enjoy in the company of a special person or on a special occasion.  I suggest complementing this risotto recipe at the table with a nice flute of champagne.  I hope this coming year you will find happiness while cooking delicious meals and hosting joyful gatherings.  Cheers and Happy New Year!  Buon Anno!

RISOTTO ALLO CHAMPAGNE (CHAMPAGNE RISOTTO)
Preparation time: 15 minutes   Servings: 4

Risotto champagne small

INGREDIENTS
500 ml (approx. 2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
500 ml (2 cups) champagne, at room temperature
25 g (¼ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) of 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 250 ml (1 cup) champagne and stir until 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 9 minutes. Add the rest of champagne about 250 ml (1 cup). Cook for 5-6 minutes until the champagne is completely absorbed. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.

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 still 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, keep stirring the risotto 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. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: My favorite champagne is Cristal, but I prefer to drink it rather than put it in my rice!  Actually for this recipe, you can also use any good Dry Sparkling wine, Italian, French or otherwise.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe.  -Paola

Panettone con Crema di Mascarpone (Panettone with Mascarpone Cheese Cream)

24 Dec

Panettone is Italy’s cake for the Holidays, a delicious dessert somewhere between a cake and a loaf of sweet bread. It’s this cake’s dome shape that makes it uniquely identifiable. The dough is very soft and the ingredients very simple: flour, eggs, yeast, butter, sugar, candied orange and lime, raisins … but the taste is mouth-watering. Panettone was first made in Milan but now is eaten all over Italy to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Some legends say that panettone was a creation of love: A 15th-century legend attributes the invention to the nobleman Messer Ughetto degli Atellani, who was in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. He disguised himself as a baker and prepared this sweet bread to conquer the lovely maiden. Instead, another, somewhat less-romantic legend says that during a Christmas lunch at the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan (15th century), the cook burned the Christmas cake he was supposed to serve. Seeing the cook’s despair, a scullion named Toni proposed to serve the sweet and simple bread loaf that he had prepared that morning. The dessert was enthusiastically received by all the guests present. The cook congratulated Toni and name the cake after him, Pan di Toni, Toni’s Bread. Since then panettone became the Christmas cake par-exellance, and nowadays many variations are available, such as with chocolate, flavored cream or dried berries. Panettone is served with sparkling sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti and Passito of Sicily. You can enjoyed it with a cream of mascarpone cheese flavored with any one of a variety of liqueurs: fruity ones such as limoncello (lemon liqueur), mandarinetto (mandarin liqueur) and Gran Marnier, or perhaps Amaretto or rum. My favorite is Mandarinetto made of juicy Sicilian mandarins, exceptionally flavorful and refreshing.

PANETTONE CON CREMA DI MASCARPONE (PANETTONE WITH MASCARPONE CREAM CHEESE)
Preparation time: 10 minutes

Crema mascarpone small

INGREDIENTS
Mascarpone cheese cream
225 g (½ pound) fresh mascarpone cheese
55 g (⅓ cup) powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons Mandarinetto or other liqueur

DIRECTIONS

1. Place the mascarpone and sugar in a medium mixing bowl
2. Use an electric mixer to beat for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Stir in the liqueur. Depending on the type of mascarpone cheese, you might have to add 2-3 tablespoon of cream to make the mascarpone cream smoother. You can serve the mascarpone either on top of the Panettone slice or aside, decorating with some mandarin or orange zest.

Note: Panettone should be served warm. In Italy it is customary to set it on the radiator for half an hour or so before serving. Panettone is a simple cake but the preparation is laborious because the raising time occurs in different stages and the temperature of the room is very critical. It is very common and easier to buy the Panottone rather than make it at home, unless you are a pastry chef!!! Unfortunately I am not! There are so many good brands available on the market and each bakery produces its own panettone, called “Panettone Artigianale”, Artisan Panettone. -Paola

Lasagne alla Bolognese (Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce)

17 Dec

Lasagna has a long history (see the Lasagne al pesto post) but the Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe, typical from Emilia Romagna, traces its origins no further than the start 19th century when some restaurants in Bologna (Emilia Romagna) began serving this dish to their clients. It was an instant hit! Since then this recipe has been one of the symbols of Italian cuisine and is very popular all over the world, and in my family it is always on the table at Christmas. To prepare good lasagna alla Bolognese the most important thing is the choice of the ingredients: first of all the Bolognese sauce (ragù) should be made using half beef and half pork meat, the tomatoes should be very juicy and tasty, and homemade pasta certainly gives this dish a special flavor and texture that you will not experience using pre-packed pasta. Making fresh, homemade pasta is not too difficult; it’s fast and lots of fun!!! I remember that I loved to make fresh pasta as a kid with my mom, my aunts and my grandmother. It was so much fun kneading the dough; it’s something creative, productive and educational to do with your kids on rainy days and to keep them away from video games and tv reruns. You can enjoy this recipe either as a first course or a main course, and it is also a perfect party dish to serve at family gatherings.

LASAGNE ALLA BOLOGNESE (LASAGNE WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE)
Preparation time: 1 hr+30 min. baking time                          Servings: 4

Lasagne ragù 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Bolognese Sauce (“Ragù“)
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
80 g (½ cup) cured pancetta bacon (not smoked)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped or diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
225 g (½ pound) ground beef chuck
225 g (½ pound) ground pork
120 ml (½ cup) red wine
240 ml (1 cup) beef stock
1 can (about 250 ml) peeled whole tomatoes
5 tablespoons cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Homemade Pasta
330 g (2 cups) Italian Grade 00 flour
3 large eggs

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
Bolognese Sauce
1. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the butter and the pancetta for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, and when it begins to soften add the other vegetables. Sauté over low heat for 8 minutes until golden, stirring constantly
2. Add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes
3. Add the wine and increase the heat to high to evaporate the alcohol
4. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour stirring occasionally until thick
5. Remove from heat and add the cream
6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Homemade Pasta
Place the flour in a volcano-shaped pile on a work surface (wood is the traditional material) making sure that the “crater” provides a large enough well in the center to receive the eggs. Wash the eggs under running water and crack them into the well. Beat the eggs with a fork for 1-2 minutes, then gradually blend the flour into the eggs, starting from the inner wall of the well and continuing until all the flour and the eggs are completely combined. You have to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky (you may have to use extra flour depending on the absorption characteristics of the flour and on the temperature of the room). Knead the dough for about 15 minutes to form a smooth and elastic ball. This procedure helps develop the gluten in the flour, so your pasta will be springy and al dente when it is cooked. Place the dough in a clean cotton dish towel to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Divide your pasta in 4 equal parts and roll out one part at a time (keeping the rest in the dish towel until ready to work).

ROLLING OUT BY HAND. To roll out your pasta you need a wooden pin – mattarello – (about 80 cm long and 4 cm diameter, 37 x 2 in). Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness; you should be able to see your hand through it. Work fast because the pasta dries much quicker than you might think. Cut the pasta into rectangular sheets (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in) and let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cotton dish towel.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE. A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use. Kids especially love this part. Start out using the widest setting. Run the pasta through for about 6-7 times until the dough is smooth. If the sheet tears dust it with flour. Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness and you can see your hand through it. At this point follow the same procedure as for rolling out by hand.

Besciamella Sauce
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt
2. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
3. 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). Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn.
4. Add butter and stir until melted

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

Note: I recommend starting this whole process by preparing the ragù first. While it is cooking you can make the pasta and then the besciamella sauce. If, instead, you use dry pre-packed lasagna, just refer to the baking time suggested on the package.

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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