Tag Archives: Marsala

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

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Terrina di Gorgonzola, Fichi, Noci e Marsala (Gorgonzola Cheese, Figs, Nuts and Marsala Wine Terrine)

27 Jan

Gorgonzola terrine is an elegant recipe that you can serve at a buffet or as an appetizer, either with crackers or Italian ciabatta bread, and accompanied by nice glass of fruity white wine or an aged Port wine.  This delight is also suitable as a cheese course in an important dinner.  The pungent and distinct Gorgonzola flavor blends well with the sweetness and tenderness of the figs and the crunchy flavor of the nuts.  This is a rich recipe, but there also a healthy side to it, of course!!!!.  In fact figs are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals while walnuts, in addition to vitamins and minerals, also pack high amounts of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which as we know is beneficial to keeping your heart healthy and your cholesterol low.  (At least this is something to balance out the gorgonzola!)  With Italy’s reputation as the country of love and passion, it’s no wonder that a popular legend ascribes the origin of Gorgonzola cheese to a love story.  One evening a young boy working as an apprentice in a dairy factory neglected his job, because he was “distracted” by a visit from his girlfriend and forgot to tend to his daily task.  The next morning he found the milk curds covered by mold!  He tried to cover his negligence mixing the curd from the day before with a new batch.  He didn’t get rid of the mold, but the result was a new cheese never produced before and that now enjoys a solid and devoted following.  This is, of course, only a legend to lend a little extra passion to this delicious cheese, which is made by adding a species of mold to fresh curd from whole pasteurized cow’s milk.  It was already being produced in the Middle Ages, and its name comes from the town of origin, Gorgonzola, to the east of Milan.  Nowadays several cities in Lombardy and a few in Piedmont are the main centers of Gorgonzola production.  During these cold winter days I would also suggest enjoying sweet Gorgonzola spread on warm polenta. (for more on polenta, see the Brasato al Barolo con Polenta recipe https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/brasato-al-barolo-con-polenta-breased-beef-in-barolo-wine-with-polenta/ ).

TERRINA DI GORGONZOLA, FICHI E NOCI (GORGONZOLA CHEESE, FIGS AND NUTS TERRINE)
Preparation time: 40 minutes + 3-4 hours refrigeration                         Servings: 6-8

Tortina zola small

INGREDIENTS
10-12 dried figs
½ cup dry Marsala wine
400 g (14 ounces) sweet Gorgonzola (dolce) cheese
280 g (10 ounces) goat ricotta cheese
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) + 4-5 nuts to garnish
80 g (3 ounces) mascarpone cheese

DIRECTIONS
1.Finely slice the figs and soak in the Marsala in a small bowl for at least 30 minutes
2.Line the inside of a loaf pan with baking paper, allowing it to extend amply beyond the edge of the pan.  Divide the gorgonzola into 3 equal parts, remove the crust and place a gorgonzola cheese layer (about 1 cm, ½ inch thick) into the pan.  (I use a regular loaf pan as a form, filling only one end of the pan.)  Cover the gorgonzola with half of the figs, then place half of the ricotta cheese on top (about 1 cm, ½ inch thick).  Add half of the nuts on top of the ricotta
3.Repeat the same procedure, and finish with the third Gorgonzola cheese layer
4.Cover the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours
5. Remove the plastic wrap and lift the terrine carefully from the pan holding the baking paper.  Place the terrine on a serving plate and remove the baking paper.  Cover the top and sides with a thin layer of mascarpone and garnish with some nuts
6. Let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature, then serve in slices. 

Note: You can store the left over terrine (if there is any!!!) in the refrigerator for one day in plastic wrap.  (Fresh ricotta does not keep very well once opened)  Anyway this recipe is tastier when it is eaten the same day it’s prepared.  There are two types of Gorgonzola: sweet Gorgonzola (dolce) and aged Gorgonzola (piccante, or zesty).  The first one has a distinct but mild flavor and a creamy texture, while the second one has a stronger taste and a hard, crumbly consistency.  You can freeze sweet Gorgonzola cheese, wrapped well in plastic wrap, for a few weeks.  -Paola

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