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Gelato alla Fragola (Strawberry Ice Cream)

12 Jul

Some say that strawberry ice cream is the most popular of fruit-flavored ice creams: fresh, flavorful and a perfect food to make desserts delicious and colorful. The main ingredient can be fresh cream only,  or a blend of cream and yogurt, which is certainly lighter. The use of fresh strawberries makes your gelato tastier and more fragrant, but if fresh strawberries are not available, you can use frozen ones. Strawberry ice cream usually attracts children’s attention because of its intense color and aroma. Homemade strawberry ice cream is a nutritious snack, rich in vitamins, to serve to your children.

STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
Preparation time: 18 min.      Cooling time: 4 hours     Servings: 4

Gelato alle Fragole
INGREDIENTS
60 g (scant ⅓ cup) granulated sugar
6 tablespoons water
280 g (10 oz) strawberries
300 ml (1 ¼ cups) fresh cream
70 g (scant 1 cup) powdered sugar

PROCEDURE
1. In a saucepan over low heat dissolve granulated sugar in water.  Cook for a few minutes until sugar is dissolved and syrup prepared. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely
2. In a food processor, blend the strawberries and pass through a sieve to remove seeds
3. Mix the strawberry puree to obtain a syrup. Set aside
4. If you have an ice cream maker, pour in the strawberry puree, cream and powdered sugar, and follow the instructions. Otherwise, whip the cream with powdered sugar.
Fold together strawberry puree with the whipped cream, stirring gently with a spatula
6. Place in a suitable container and freeze for at least four hours.

Note:  You can substitute half of the amount of cream with whole milk yogurt. This  recipe makes your ice cream lighter and of course with fewer calories. – Paola

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Focaccia Dolce con Crema di Cioccolato (Sweet Focaccia Filled with Chocolate Cream)

23 Apr

Sweet focaccia : a childhood memory! Something that my mom used to prepare for me as an afternoon snack after school, something da leccarsi le dita (literally to lick your fingers, to make your mouth water)! It is popular in some Northern regions, made simply like a regular focaccia (see post http://passionandcooking.com/2013/01/29/focaccia/ ) but with sugar in the dough and sprinkled with sugar, raisins, honey or almonds.  It is even tastier if you fill it with chocolate cream, a rich and creamy spread made mainly of dark chocolate and roasted Piedmont hazelnuts. Piedmont is very famous for its hazelnuts that are used in many chocolate confections, including spreadable creams, the ultimate chocolate ecstasy. The chocolate spread is something favored by kids but it also ranks high amongst adults as comfort food. It is delicious on toasts, crackers and bananas. Have you ever tried an Italian-American banana sandwich? Take two slices of banana and top one with chocolate cream and the other with peanut butter; put them together and pop the whole thing into your mouth. It’s something to die for!!!!

FOCACCIA DOLCE CON CREMA DI CIOCCOLATO (SWEET FOCACCIA FILLED WITH CHOCOLATE CREAM)
Preparation time: 2 ½ hours           Baking time: 15-20 minutes     Servings: 6-8

Focaccia con Nutella Fetta

INGREDIENTS
Basic recipe
500 g (3 cups) high-gluten flour (Manitoba)
250 ml water (1 cup + 5 tablespoons) + 100 ml (7 tablespoons) skimmed milk at 45°C, 110 °F
130 ml (9 tablespoons) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
5 g (1 teaspoon) salt
80 g (6 tablespoons) sugar
1 package (7 g ;1 heaping teaspoon) dried yeast or 1 cube (25 g; about 1 ounce) fresh yeast
Granulated sugar

Filling
Chocolate cream

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small pitcher mix water and milk. Stir in salt until dissolved, then add 40 ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil.  Mix well, then dissolve sugar in it.  Sugar is the so called “nourishment” for yeast 
2. Pour the liquid in a large glass bowl and combine with half of the flour.  Stir well until you have a smooth batter
3. Add yeast to the batter, stirring well.  Remember never add yeast directly to salt, because it  prevents the yeast from rising
4. Add the remaining flour to the batter.  Mix well until you have a smooth and even dough, but still a little bit sticky
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly for about 1-2 minutesDo not add too much flour otherwise the dough will get tough
6. Lightly oil (with about 3 tablespoons) a 25×35 cm (10×14 in.) baking sheet; place the dough in center of the pan and cover with a cotton towel.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 30°C, 86°F) for about 60-90 minutes until doubled in size
7. Preheat oven to 220 °C (425°F)
8. Pat the dough into the baking sheet, filling it completely.  Brush the dough with oil.  Let it rise for about 30 minutes at 30°C until increases its volume
9. Press some deep holes into the dough with your finger tips, covering the entire surface
10. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons oil olive (cover all areas of the dough) and wet the top with some water, using a spray-bottle, to keep focaccia soft.  Sprinkle with some granulated sugar (2-3 tablespoons)
11. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden
12. Remove from oven and cool on a grid. When it is cool fill it with the chocolate spread. I would recommend to fill only the piece you are going to eat. It is especially tasty if you eat it warm.

Note: The type of water is very important; the pH should be around 6.  I usually use bottled drinking water to avoid having too much chlorine in the dough. The rising temperature is critical too, therefore place the dough in a warm draft-free place and do not open the oven during baking.  Another important piece of information is to never mix salt and yeast directly, because salt inhibits the action of the yeast.  Focaccia can keep for about two days wrapped in plastic wrap without filling, but I suggest eating it fresh, just out of the oven, to fully enjoy its fragrance.  -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

Focaccia

29 Jan

Focaccia (pronunced foe-CA-cha) is a soft, flat oven-baked Italian bread, so popular that most people could very well have had their first taste of it in an Italian bakery or restaurant somewhere other than on Italian soil.  It is made of simple ingredients such as flour, yeast, water, olive oil and salt.  It is seasoned with olive oil and herbs and is often topped with different vegetables (tomatoes, onions, potatoes, eggplants, zucchini or whatever else you like), cheese or meat.  It’s something enjoyable any time of the day as an appetizer, a sandwich bread, with a meal instead of traditional bread, or even “come rompi digiuno” – as a snack (this is a common kids’ snack to take to school; they love it!!!).  Focaccia traces its origins to the ancient Roman pan focacious, a flat bread baked on the hearth.  In Latin, in fact, focus means hearth, a place for baking.  Nowadays focaccia is widely spread all over the country, and it seems that each region has its own focaccia recipe.  The most common and wide-spread ones are focaccia Ligure (from Ligury) and focaccia Pugliese (from the region of Puglia).  Focaccia Genovese from the city of Genoa is very simple, prepared with only salt and oil olive on top, but the flavorful and fruity olive oil from this region adds a unique taste to the bread dough and makes this ancient food one of the most appreciated snacks.  The Genovesi (people from Genoa) are very proud of their focaccia, and they even enjoy it for breakfast soaked in cappuccino or latte macchiato.  Not too far away, focaccia di Recco (near Genoa) is richer version with a cheese filling between two thin layers of dough, making it a nice choice for a light lunch.  Focaccia Pugliese is usually prepared with vegetables on top such as fresh tomatoes and olives, finely sliced potatoes or other vegetables such as onions.  You might have also tried Focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia), popular in some Northern regions, made simply from regular sweet focaccia dough sprinkled with sugar, raisins, honey and almonds. 

Preparation time: 2 ½ hours                                  Baking time: 15 minutes                Servings: 6-8 

Focaccia con olive 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Basic recipe
500 g (3 cups) high-gluten flour (Manitoba)
350 ml water (1 cups + 5 tablespoons) at 45°C, 110 °F
130 ml (9 tablespoons) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
10 g (2 teaspoons) salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package (7 g ;1 heaping teaspoon) dried yeast or 1 cube (25 g; about 1 ounce) fresh yeast
Coarse salt

Topping
Focaccia with rosemary/oregano
The leaves only from 2 fresh rosemary sprigs or 2 tablespoon dried oregano

Focaccia with olives
150 g (1 cups) green olives

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small pitcher dissolve salt in warm water, then add 40 ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil.  Mix well then dissolve sugar in it.  Sugar is the so called “nourishment” for yeast  
2. Pour the liquid in a large glass bowl and combine with half of the flour.  Stir well until you have a smooth batter
3. Add yeast to the batter stirring well.  Remember never add yeast directly to salt because it will prevent the yeast from rising
4. Add the remaining flour to the batter.  Mix well until you have a smooth and even dough, but still a little bit sticky
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly for about 1-2 minutesDo not add too much flour otherwise the dough will get tough
6. Lightly oil (with about 3 tablespoons) a 25×35 cm (10×14 in.) baking sheet; place the dough in center of the pan and cover with a cotton towel.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 30°C, 86°F) for about 60-90 minutes until doubled in size
7. Preheat oven to 220 °C (425°F)
8. Pat the dough into the baking sheet, filling it completely.  Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with some coarse salt.  Let it rise for about 30 minutes at 30°C until increases its volume
9. Press some deep holes into the dough with your finger tips, covering the entire surface
10. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons oil olive (cover all areas of the dough) and wet the top with some water, using a spray-bottle, to keep focaccia soft.  Add your favorite topping
11.Bake for 15-20 minutes
12. Remove from oven and cool on a grid.

Note: You can add two tablespoons of semolina to the flour, this will makes the crust crunchier. The type of water is very important; the pH should be around 6.  I usually use bottled drinking water to avoid having too much chlorine in the dough. The rising temperature is critical too, therefore place the dough in a warm draft-free place and do not open the oven during baking.  Another important information is to never mix salt and yeast directly, because salt inhibits the action of the yeast.  Focaccia can keep for about two days wrapped in plastic wrap, but I suggest eating it fresh, just out of the oven, to fully enjoy its fragrance.  -Paola

Pasta allo Zafferano (Pasta with Saffron)

17 Jan

We probably all recognize that pasta is a highly versatile ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and can be served at both simple and elegant dinners.  The addition of saffron, the king of spices (the most expensive spice in the world by weight!!!), makes your pasta dish something you will remember and want to make again and again.  It is an easy and fast first course that brings a smile to my children’s faces.  Saffron adds an inviting intense golden-yellow color (don’t forget that we first eat with our eyes!!!) and a special honey-like taste to your recipe.  In fact, the word saffron originates from the Latin safranum, which in Arabic signifies yellow.  Saffron comes from the stigmas of the flower Crocus sativus (commonly known as Saffron Crocus), cultivated in Asia Minor even before the birth of Christ, then later brought into many Mediterranean countries.  Egyptian physicians already cultivated this plant as early as 1600 BC.  Today the largest crops in Italy are located in Abruzzo, Sardinia, Tuscany and Umbria.  The Aquila saffron or zafferano d’Aquila (Abruzzo), cultivated exclusively in the Navelli Valley, is one of the best saffron in the world for its distinctive thread shape, unusual pungent aroma and intense color.  Saffron can be used in many recipes such as rice, pasta, meat, soups and sweets as well.  Last, but not least, it is a MUST for a superb Risotto alla Milanese!!!! In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has also many therapeutic properties such as anti aging, anti depressant, anti cancer and cardiovascular effects (contributing, of course, to an increase of sexual vitality).  Add saffron to your recipe and put some extra sunshine on your table and into your life!

PASTA ALLO ZAFFERANO (PASTA WITH SAFFRON)
Preparation Time: 20 min.                           Servings: 4

Pasta con zafferano small

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) penne or bow-tie pasta (artisanal pasta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200 ml (¾ cup)  heavy cream
¼ teaspoon saffron threads or 1 package of saffron powder
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1.In a non-stick skillet melt the butter on low heat and then add the cream.  Mix well and add the saffron powder or threads (see note for preparation)
2.Bring to boil a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta for about 10-11 minutes al dente (read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, toss gently.  Before serving sprinkle with ground pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Note: The quality of ingredients used is very important for the outcome of any recipe.  With regards to pasta in particular, I would suggest artisanal pasta such as Faella or Martelli versus a more industrial brand.  In fact, artisanal pasta has rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer).  If you can’t find artisanal pasta, then I would recommend buying commercially available durum wheat semolina pasta – rigorously made in Italy, though!  Saffron threads versus saffron powder:  Saffron exists in two forms: threads and powder. The threads are the whole stigma while the powder consists of ground stigma.  The threads are tastier and more genuine while the saffron powder loses its flavor rapidly and is very easy to contaminate with other, less-expensive powders of similar color such as turmeric.  If you prefer to use the powder, you have to trust the brand you are buying.  In case you are using threads, soak the saffron threads for 15 minutes in 5 teaspoons of liquid (hot –not boiling–  water, broth or your cooking liquid) for every teaspoon of saffron.  Then add the solution to the your dish.  Generally speaking ½ teaspoon of saffron threads = ¼ teaspoon of saffron powder, so as a rule use one half the amount of powder as you would threads…-Paola

Gnocchi di Patate al Pomodoro (Potato Dumplings with Tomato Sauce)

7 Jan

Gnocchi di patate (potato dumplings) is an Italian classic. These dumplings are small pieces of potato dough, usually round or oblong in shape, which are boiled in water and then served with various toppings such as tomato sauce and fresh basil, oil olive and grated Parmesan cheese, Bolognese sauce or even Brasato al Barolo sauce. I personally like gnocchi (pronounced gnawk-KEY) with tomato sauce because the fresh taste of the tomato and basil blends well with the starchiness of the potatoes. The texture is soft, and the simple ingredients are just potatoes, flour and egg. The taste, though, is delicate and inviting. Gnocchi is an easy, fast and light recipe to prepare, although you do need to take care in minimizing the amount of flour used. You can enjoy this dish as first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish, if you prefer. It is an excellent vegetarian dish (it does contain eggs and dairy products, though). I grew up making gnocchi al cucchiaio (a typical Lombard recipe) with my mom, especially on Friday. It was part of our Friday meal, as it is in Verona, especially during the Carnival. In fact, gnocchi is considered a weekday dish; in Rome it is frequently served on Thursday. In Naples, though, it is known as a festive dish on Sunday. At the time the Americas – and potatoes – were discovered by the Europeans, some varieties of dumplings were already present in the Old World, especially in Lombardy. They were prepared by mixing bread crumbs, milk and almonds and were called Zanzarelli. In the seventeenth century, however, the original recipe underwent some changes in both the composition of ingredients and in its name: it took the name of malfatti and flour, water and eggs were used instead of almonds and bread. With the introduction of potatoes from the Americas, the popularity of potato gnocchi spread and slowly some of the previous varieties disappeared.


GNOCCH DI PATATE AL POMODORO (POTATO DUMPLINGS WITH TOMATO SAUCE)

Preparation time: 1 h tomato sauce + 20 min. gnocchi           Serving: 4

Gnocchi small

INGREDIENTS
Tomato sauce
900 g (2 pounds) ripe S.Marzano or Roma tomatoes peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stock, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
5-6 basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Gnocchi
900 g (2 pounds) unpeeled potatoes (Patate a pasta gialla di Avezzano, Yukon Gold potatoes)
240 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste
Greated Parmesan cheese to serve

DIRECTIONS
Tomato sauce
1. In a large, heavy sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the all vegetables except the tomatoes for about 2-3 minutes
2. Add the tomatoes and the basil
3. Cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes; remove the lid and cook for additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally
4. Puree the sauce with a blender. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Gnocchi al cucchiaio (Gnocchi using the spoon method)
1. Cook the potatoes until just tender either by boiling or baking. The potato flesh for gnocchi should be dry, therefore it is better to boil the potato in the skin to prevent water absorption. Drain well and set aside until just cool enough to remove the skin. The potatoes should be warm, otherwise the flour and the potato puree will not bind with the egg
2. Put the warm potatoes through a potato ricer (never a mixer) into a bowl, season to taste with salt. Add the egg and olive oil, incorporate the flour and mix just enough until the dough is formed. Be careful not to overwork it; the dough will be lighter and the texture softer if you are able to minimize the flour used)
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a slow boil. Drop teaspoon-sized balls of dough in the boil water
4. The gnocchi are done as soon as they float to the top, after only about 10-15 seconds (no longer or they will fall apart in the water!!). Remove with a slotted or spider spoon and place on a preheated serving dish. Repeat with the remaining dough and toss gently with the tomato sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Before cooking the whole batch, I recommend making a couple of test gnocchi to see if the dough holds together. The cooked gnocchi should be firm but not tough and should not fall apart in the water. If they fall apart, you should add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. If they are tough, then you’ve used too much flour! I find that the spoon method is easier and requires less flour in comparison to the rolling method, thereby allowing you to make very tender gnocchi.

Note: The type of potatoes is crucial (I strongly recommend to use patate farinose, rich in starch), as well as the use of a potato ricer, which lets the steamy moisture out of the hot potatoes. In case fresh tomatoes are not available, try using S. Marzano canned tomatoes. One final note of caution … make sure you don’t mispell or mix up the term gnocco (singular of gnocchi) with gnocca, which means a “hot woman”!!!! 😉  -Paola

Ciambella allo Yogurt (Ring Cake with Yogurt)

26 Nov

The ciambella is a typical cake with a circular shape and a hole in the middle.  The classic one with coarse sugar on top is from Bologna (the Emilia-Romagna region’s capital city) and is linked to the traditions of the local farmers.  There is no village feast or banquet that does not end with a slice of ciambella dunked in wine.  Nowadays each region has a different variation of this classic version, for example with a chocolate icing or chopped hazelnuts on top.  For many years my mother prepared this delicious ring-shape cake for our breakfast. My kids love it too!  It is wonderful dipped into warm milk (the way we Italians drink milk, never COLD!) or caffè latte.  I love it with my morning cappuccino.  The addition of yogurt and lemon zest provides a lighter taste and an inviting flavor.  Ciambella is a must-have for any lover of gourmet sweets.  You may have heard the word ciambella in a sentence that has nothing to do with food: “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono con il buco” – Literally: Not all ciambelle come out with a hole in the middle!  This may be referred to the fact that in the past the ciambella shape was not perfectly regular, therefore we should not get depressed if something does not work as planned.  A similar English idiom might be “win some, lose some.”

CIAMBELLA ALLO YOGURT (RING CAKE WITH YOGURT)

Preparation Time: 1 ½ hrs                  Baking time: 50-60 min.

INGREDIENTS
170 g (¾ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
210 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
400 g (2 ¼cups) 00 flour
15 g (3 teaspoons) baking powder
250 g (1 cup) plain yogurt
Grated zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 pinch salt
Coarse sugar to decorate

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

  1. Sift together the flour, the baking powder and the salt.  Set aside
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter.  Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one by one mixing thoroughly to incorporate
  3. Add the yogurt and lemon zest
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter cream, then add the milk
  5. Butter and flour a 24 cm (10 in) spring-form ciambella or Bundt pan.  Pour the cake mixture into the pan, and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top, covering the entire surface
  6. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is done.  Test by inserting a wooden stick into the cake.  It should come out dry
  7. Let it rest for 10 minutes on a wire rack
  8. Unclip the side band and remove the cake from the pan turning it over twice so the sugar is on top.  Serve cool.

Note: You can store the ciambella in a cake container for about two days … if there is any left! In my household it barely lasts a day.  -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

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.

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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

Rose del Deserto (Desert Roses)

23 Sep

Kids need between-meal pick-me-ups.  Why not make this Italian variation of yummy chocolate chip cookies? “Desert roses” are delicious, perfect for a tasty and healthy snack to enjoy with a glass of milk.  Even adults love them with a nice cup of tea or, even better, with an Italian espresso or cappuccino.  These cookies get their name from the rosette-shaped formations of  ocher-colored minerals found in desert areas.  

ROSE DEL DESERTO (DESERT ROSES)

Preparation time: 20 min.               Baking time: 10-12 min.      

INGREDIENTS
130 g (⅔ cup) granulated sugar
120 g (½ cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
240 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
5 g (1 teaspoon) baking powder
Pinch of salt
180 g (1 cup) chocolate chips
200 g (7 oz) approx., cornflakes (like Special K) or similar
Powdered sugar

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

  1. Cream the butter and sugar in a medium-sized bowl with an electric mixer
  2. Add the eggs and the vanilla extract
  3. Mix the flour and the baking powder in a small bowl
  4. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips
  6. Roll teaspoon-sized balls of dough in a bowl of cornflakes
  7. Place the cookies, well-spaced (about 3-4 cm), on a greased cookie sheet
  8. Bake about 10-12 minutes
  9. Remove from pan and cool on a rack
  10. Cover with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, just before serving

Note: This recipe makes about 50 cookies.  If the dough is too sticky, add one or two spoons of flour. You can substitute chocolate chips with other ingredients such as raisins, for an even healthier snack.  Store in a airtight container.   You can also store the baked cookies in the freezer; before serving, let them thaw at room temperature and then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.  -Paola

My friend Chiyo kindly wrote a note about this recipe.  As Paola notes, this name apparently derives from its likeness to a mineral in the desert, but I’m still waiting for someone to tell me whose wild imagination tied the Saharan desert to an Italian cookie.  While American type chocolate chip cookies vie for excellence on its soft chewiness, the Italian version is half cake/half cookie that has a firm bite and an additional crunch that comes from the corn flakes.  Paola says the best thing about these cookies is that it is fun to make with her kids who love to eat the corn flakes while they shape the dough.  My kids are much more greedy, they delight in eating the cookies which they say are their favorite biscotti.   -Chiyo

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