Tag Archives: Almonds

Torta di Riso (Rice Cake)

31 May

A light and delicious cake, perfect for a gluten-free diet.
The rice cake is an Italian classic, prepared with some variations in the different regions of Italy The recipe that I am proposing is typical of Emilia Romagna; in the past it used to be prepared only at Easter, but nowadays we eat it all year long. It is too tasty for just one occasion! Actually I like it as a summer dessert because of its fresh lemon taste. The simple recipe with milk and rice can feature a variety of different other ingredients, according to your personal tastes (see note). The rice I use is the Arborio or Carnaroli rice, rich in starch, that gives a smooth texture to this dessert. The traditional recipe calls for some butter (about 3 tablespoons); I omit it to make the recipe lighter. You can serve it as a dessert after dinner, or I also like it as an afternoon snack with a good cup of coffee.

TORTA DI RISO (RICE CAKE)
Preparation time: 1 hour      Cooking time: 45 min.     Servings: 6

Torta riso fetta

INGREDIENTS
950 ml (4 cups) whole milk
200 g (7 oz) Arborio rice
1 vanilla bean
70 g (½ cup) blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
100 g (2/3 cup) raisins
1 lemon, grated rind
130 g (1/3 cup) sugar
3 medium eggs
1 pinch of salt
Rum
Powdered sugar for decoration

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 160 °C.
1. In a small bowl soften the raisins in the rum for about 10-15 min. The amount of rum should be enough to fully cover the raisins
2. Bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla bean. Then remove the vanilla and add the rice. Cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes or more, until the mixture is similar to a “risotto” (pretty dense mixture). Stir often with a wooden spoon. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl and allow to cool
3. As soon as the “risotto ” is cold, add the raisins and rum, almonds, salt and lemon zest
4. In a bowl beat the eggs with the sugar using an electric mixer until creamy. Add the rice mixture and stir. The batter should be pretty liquid
5. Coat the bottom of a spring form pan (diameter 18 cm, 7 inch) with a disc of baking paper and pour in the mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the surface is golden and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack. As soon as the cake is cool, loosen the cake from the pan by running the blade of a knife around the edges, and then release it. Remove the baking paper. Place on a serving plate and enjoy!

Note: The almonds can be replaced with an equal amount of pine nuts. You can also add 50 g of dried apricots, cut into small pieces. Vanilla can be replaced with a pinch of ground cinnamon. Some recipes use fresh fruit such as pitted cherries. Paola

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Cantucci

29 Sep

I bet that many of you have eaten Tuscan cantucci, the hard and crunchy, twice-baked cookies, at least once. They are often served as an after-dinner dessert to dunk in Vin Santo, a fortified sweet wine made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. Cantucci are also called Prato cookies and are a masterpiece of traditional Tuscan confectionery. Cookies are made by cutting a roll of freshly baked dough diagonally, which is then put back in the oven for a few minutes to brown. The dough is simple and requires eggs, sugar, flour and almonds. My recipe also includes the addition of a tiny amount of butter and baking powder; these ingredients make the dough softer, so your cookies will be less dry and more crumbly. In my opinion the lack of fat in the traditional recipe makes the cookies too hard. The name cantucci derives from canto in Italian (corner) or cantellus, a Latin word meaning a slice of bread that the Roman soldiers consumed as part of their meal. But the real sweet cookies first appeared in the second half of the sixteenth century at the Medici court in Florence, though the recipe did not contain almonds. Some centuries later almonds were added, and then at the beginning of the 1900s production started on a large scale. Nowadays cantucci are enjoyed all over the world and are the emblem of Italian cuisine. They have only one defect: they are too good – one leads to another, and when you start it is hard to stop! They are a real temptation, resistance will be futile!

CANTUCCI
Preparation time: 30 minutes  Cooking time: 20 minutes Yield: 36 cookies

Cantucci
INGREDIENTS
220 g (1 ⅓ cups) blanched almonds
210 g (1 cup) sugar
2 eggs
50 g (about 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
300 g (scarce 2 cups) all-purpose flour
3 g (½ teaspoon) baking powder
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 180 ° C
1. Roast almonds for a few minutes in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cool, divide in half and set aside
2. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients such as flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside .
3. In a large bowl whisk together the sugar and eggs, then add butter. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough should be homogeneous. Add almonds. Knead the dough on a floured work surface until you get a ball
4. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and shape each one into a 18 cm (7 inch) roll about 6 cm (2.5 inch) wide and 3 cm (1.5 inch) high. Transfer each roll, using a spatula, onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Leave enough space to spread while cooking. Cook for 15 minutes
5. At this time, remove from the oven and cut diagonally into about 1-1.5 cm (½  inch) wide cookies. Bake again for about 5 min. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack . Eat when they are completely cold.

Note: Almonds can be replaced with equal amount of hazelnuts, pistachios, dried fruit such as figs (cut in small pieces) or chocolate chunks. Cantucci store well for several days in a cookie container . 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

Arista di Maiale Ripiena al Forno (Stuffed Roast Pork Tenderloin)

2 Apr

Roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with dried fruits soaked in Marsala wine, ham and almonds: an elegant and delicious recipe for a family get-together or a special occasion … something to impress your family and guests! You will love how beautiful the colors of the ingredients look when you slice it – we all know that we eat first with our eyes!!! The mingling of dried fruit, almonds and Marsala is mouth watering and recalls Sicilian flavors. In fact, Sicily is one of the most important producers of almonds in the world. Almonds, the symbol of good fortune, were first cultivated in the Middle East, then introduced in Sicily before 1000 BC. Further, Marsala, a fortified sweet wine similar to Port and Sherry, is produced in the region surrounding the city of Marsala in Sicily. This wine is a perfect complement to sharp cheeses, nuts, desserts or cooked meat (chicken Marsala is one of the most common dishes). The sweetness of Marsala gives this pork dish a fabulous and unexpected flavor.

ARISTA DI MAIALE RIPIENA AL FORNO (STUFFED ROAST PORK TENDERLOIN)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours    Baking time: 50 min.        Servings: 4

Arista Fette small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (approx. 2 pounds) boneless pork tenderloin
50 g (3 thin slices) ham
110 ml (½ cup) Marsala wine
8 dried apricots
6 pitted prunes
30 g (2 tablespoons) toasted almonds
70 g (5 tablespoons) butter
5 blood orange slices
1 sprig of rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 205 °C (400°C)
Before cooking the roast, let stand unrefrigerated until it reaches room temperature.
1. Prick holes in the dried fruit and soak in Marsala for 30 min.  Keep the Marsala for cooking the meat
2. Toast the almonds 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
3. Cut a lengthwise slit down the center of the loin, stopping at about 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the other side. Open the loin so it lies almost flat
4. Completely cover the inner (cut) surface of the loin with the ham. Arrange the soaked dried fruits and the almonds in a line down the center. Wrap the loin around the fruit and place the orange slices and the rosemary sprig on top. Tie the roast at 5 cm (2 inch) intervals with kitchen string
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place it in a roasting pan with butter and Marsala
6. Bake uncovered at 205 °C (400°C) for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 180 °C (350 °F), cover with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 40 min. Use a meat thermometer to determine when it reaches your preferred level of doneness (70°C/160°F for medium). Uncover and place under broiler to brown the top for about 5 min.
7. Transfer to a cutting board. Let it stand for about 10-15 min. Remove the strings and slice it. You can serve with baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables.

Note: You can substitute apricots with dried figs to make this recipe even more Mediterranean. -Paola

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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