Panna cotta all’arancia e pistacchio di Bronte

Panna cotta all'arancia e pistacchi di BronteSome days, I tell Stefano that I might just drop everything and become a pastry chef.  Specifically, an Italian pastry chef.  A pasticciere.

There’s truly nothing more spectacular, in our humble opinion, than Italian pastries and desserts.  Delicate, nuanced flavors; simple, natural ingredients; satisfying, but not decadent or overdone.

In Rome, pasticcerie (pastry shops or bakeries) are filled with cream filled pastarelle , or their smaller counterpart, the mignon.  Around breakfast time, you’ll find the classic Roman maritozzi alla panna.  In addition to cream-filled pastries, there is also a lovely assortment of fragrant and delicate choices in the pasticceria secca, like these.  However, on recent trips back to Italy, in Rome and across the country we noted a resurgence of dolci al cucchiaio in the pasticcerie that we visited.  Dolci al cucchiaio are that category of desserts that includes custards, puddings, mousse and so forth, which are enjoyed with a spoon, or cucchiaio.

Panna cotta is an Italian classic that belongs to this category.  It’s as simple as its name suggests: panna means cream, and cotta means cooked.  Cooked cream, a little sugar, a vanilla bean for flavor, and a bit of gelatin to hold it together.  Panna cotta originates from the Piedmont region of Italy, where rich cream is a staple.  It is traditionally served with a caramel, chocolate or mixed berry sauce.  However, many creative variations exist.  We were enticed by this version with an orange sauce and Sicilian Bronte pistachios, as the flavors evoked our recent trip to Sicily.

Ingredients
Makes 6 individual servings

For the Panna Cotta
500 grams (half a liter, 1 pint, or 16 oz) of heavy cream
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
1 vanilla bean
Zest of one orange
10 grams of gelatin sheets, like these.  For us, 10 grams was two sheets.  But, it’s best to weigh them to be sure.

For the Orange Sauce
Juice of one orange
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
1 Tablespoon water

For Decoration
A sprinkling of ground pistachios, ideally Sicilian Bronte pistachios

Also
You will need panna cotta molds of some sort.  We improvised with a silicone brioche mold, which we cut into individual molds.  However, any small dish or cup will work.

Panna cotta all'arancia con pistacchi di Bronte

Directions
Submerge the gelatin sheets in a pan of cold water, and let sit.  Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and add it, along with the cream and sugar, to a small pan.  Zest your orange and add the zest to the cream mixture.  Gently bring it to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.  When it boils, remove from heat.  Remove the gelatin sheets from water one by one, wring the excess water off of them, and add each sheet to the cream.  Stir until the gelatin dissolves completely into the cream mixture.

Carefully pour the cooked cream into your molds, and then refrigerate for at least two hours, or longer.

While the cooked cream is cooling in the refrigerator, prepare the orange sauce.  Place the sugar into a small saucepan, and then add water.  Without stirring, place over low heat.  While the sugar heats and dissolves into the water, juice your two oranges, ensuring that pulp and seeds are filtered out.  Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add the orange juice.  The addition of the orange juice will cause the sugar to crystallize.  Turn the heat to its lowest setting and stir until the sugar again dissolves.  Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.

When the panna cotta is ready, carefully turn it out of its mold onto a small serving plate.  This is the hardest part, as sometimes it doesn’t cooperate.  Some advise to run the bottom of the mold quickly under hot water, or to apply a hot, damp cloth to help it come out.  Ours came out of the silicon molds with little trouble, but if you run into difficulty turning out the panna cotta, you may wish to just serve it in its container.

A properly cooked panna cotta will jiggle a bit on its plate.  Drizzle the orange sauce over the top of each panna cotta, and finish with a dusting of pistachio.  If you wish, garnish with a thin orange slice.

Panna cotta all'arancia e pistacchi di BrontePanna cotta all'arancia e pistacchi di Bronte

 

 

 

Maritozzi con la panna

La brioche con la panna a cui nessun romano può rinunciare. 

The whipped cream-filled brioche that no Roman can renounce.

Maritozzo con la Panna

This bold declaration greeted us on a giant sign hung on the wall in the pasticceria, directly across from the enormous glass pastry case filled with delectable Italian pastries.  We were at Eataly Roma, the high-end, all-Italian food emporium located in the formerly abandoned, space-age looking Air Terminal building near the Ostiense train station.

eataly-front

Originally founded in Turin, Eataly now has 11 locations across Italy, including in Milan, Genova, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Bari.  The forthcoming opening of a second Rome location in Piazza della Repubblica was recently announced, appropriately taking over a McDonald’s space.  Internationally, Eataly is present in Dubai, Istanbul, and at three locations across Japan.  Here in the states, Eataly emporiums can be found in Chicago and New York.  The American branch of Eataly is owned by Italian-American food giants Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich.

Eataly combines the high quality and authenticity that small neighborhood Italian food shops and eateries are known for, with the convenience and scale of modern mega-stores.  Occupying tens of thousands of square meters over multiple floors, each Eataly boasts a wine store, a beer garden, a pastry shop, a gelateria and several restaurants along with fish, meat and vegetable markets and a grocery store with everything that one might need.

Since we were in Rome, Eataly’s pasticceria featured the traditional roman pastry maritozzo con la panna,  perfectly executed by guest pasticcere Luca Montersino, Italy’s most famous celebrity pastry chef.  Proving the proclamation true, Stefano did not hesitate to order a maritozzo con la panna and eat it right there.

Maritozzi con la pannaMaritozzi are fragrant, sweet-dough buns sliced in half and stuffed with smooth, fresh whipped cream.  They are a staple in Rome’s pasticcerie, and commonly found during the breakfast hours in coffee bars around the Eternal City.  When Stefano was a little boy, on special occasions his parents would bring maritozzi con la panna home from their favorite neighborhood pastry shop.  Sometimes, when Stefano joined his father Andrea for a morning caffè at the bar, Andrea would let him have a maritozzo.

Some traditional Roman maritozzi recipes call for sultans, pine nuts and candied orange peel.  We prefer a simple sweet dough recipe with only orange zest providing a mild citrus flavor, just like those that Stefano recalls from his childhood.

Maritozzi con la panna

Ingredients
For the brioche
Flour, 250 grams (1 and 3/4 cup) plus extra for kneading.
Sugar, 50 grams (1/4 cup)
Salt, 1 pinch
Water, 125 ml (1/2 cup) warm
Active Dry Yeast, 6 grams (2 tsp.)
Malted Milk, 1 heaping teaspoon (or substitute honey)
Butter, 40 grams (3 Tbsp), softened and cubed
Egg, 1, yolk separated from the white
Zest of one orange

For the sugar glaze
Water, 50 ml (1/2 cup)
Sugar, 75 grams (3/8 cup)

For the filling
Heavy Whipping Cream, 500 ml (2 cups)
Sugar, 5o grams (1/4 cup)

 

Directions
Stir the yeast in the warm (not hot) water until dissolved.  Add the malted milk and stir until dissolved.  Set aside.  Measure the flour, sugar and salt  into a medium bowl.  Stir together.  Form a well in the center and add the butter, egg yolk and orange zest.  Slowly add the liquid, mixing with a fork to gradually incorporate the flour mixture from the inside out.

Maritozzi con la pannaWhen all of the liquid has been added and the dry mixture incorporated, remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a smooth, lightly floured surface.  Knead gently for 5 minutes until it forms a smooth, round ball.

Maritozzi con la pannaSprinkle a bit of flour inside a smaller bowl, place the dough inside and cover it loosely with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise in a warm location for at least 2 hours.

Maritozzi con la pannaMaritozzi con la panna

After two hours, add a sprinkle of flour to your work surface and turn your dough back out onto it.  Divide your dough into 6 equal small, oval (or football shaped) buns.  We used our food scale to ensure that they were equal sized.  Place the buns onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.

Maritozzi con la panna

Beat the egg white lightly with a fork.  Uncover the buns and reshape into ovals if needed.  Use a pastry brush to Carefully brush the buns with egg white.  Cover once again with plastic wrap and let rise for one hour more.

Maritozzi con la panna

Bake at 180º C, 350º F for approximately 20 minutes, until the maritozzi are a deep golden brown on top.

While the maritozzi are baking, prepare the sugar glaze.  Heat water until almost a boil, and then turn off the heat.  Add the sugar and let dissolve, stirring just once or twice.  Let cool.

When the maritozzi are done, remove them from the oven and while still hot, brush them with the sugar glaze.  Let cool.

Maritozzi con la panna

While the maritozzi are cooling, whip the cream together with the sugar to firm peaks.

When the maritozzi are completely cool, slice into them diagonally without cutting all the way through.  If helpful, moisten your fingers and hold each maritozzo carefully at its base, to avoid the sugar glaze sticking to your fingers and pulling pieces of the brioche away.

Using a pastry spatula, open up the “mouth” of each maritozzo and fill it with whipped cream, using the spatula to create a smooth edge, and a moistened paper towel to wipe away any extra whipped cream.

Enjoy as a decadent, Roman-style breakfast or with your afternoon espresso as a special treat.

Maritozzi con la pannaMaritozzi con la panna

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani (Sicilian almond cookies)

Our infatuation with all things Sicilian lingers on, this weekend, it’s the delectable and fragrant almond cookie.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani

Native to the Middle East and Asia, the almond arrived in Sicily sometime around 1000 BC, and now the Italian island is one of the world’s major almond producers. Almond trees produce their fragrant, white and pale pink flowers in February, which is heralded in the southern seaside town of Agrigento by the Almond Blossom Festival. The tree nuts are harvested in the hot summer months of July and August. Across Italy, candied almonds, symbolizing love and fidelity, are given as wedding favors. In Sicily, almonds are often featured in baked goods and desserts.

Instead of calling for almond paste, these delicate cookies are made with finely ground blanched almonds, sugar, and egg whites, with a dash of vanilla flavor. The recipe was adapted from the Italian website Misya.info, where we’ve found a number of good recipes.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani

Plan ahead

  • The cookies need to be refrigerated for at least two hours before baking.
  • Superfine baker’s sugar will make a more delicate cookie.
  • A cookie press is helpful, or a pastry bag will work, as well.

Ingredients
200g (approx. 1 and 1/4 cup) blanched almonds, plus a few extra for decoration
200 g (approx. 1 cup less 1 Tbsp.) sugar, ideally superfine.
50g egg white (from 2 small eggs, or 1 and 1/2 large eggs)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Maraschino cherries

Directions
Rinse and drain the cherries, and set aside.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Place almonds and sugar into a food processor. Pulse until you attain a fine blend of almond meal and sugar.  Add the egg white and vanilla. Process until the mixture comes together in a smooth, shiny dough.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough into a cookie press with no tip or cookie plate, or into a pastry bag with the tip cut off about 2 cm (3/4 inch) from the bottom. Press dallops of dough about 4 cm (1 and 1/2 inch) onto the parchment paper-lined baking tray, leaving a few centimeters of space in between each. Press a cherry or a blanched almond into the center of each cookie.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani

Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours before baking. Bake at 180° C, 350 °F for approximately 15 minutes, or until the cookies show just a hint of golden coloring. Let cool completely before enjoying.

Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani Pasticcini alle mandorle siciliani For an elegant touch, serve your pasticcini alla mandorle with Passito di Pantelleria, a Sicilian dessert wine made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape. Pantelleria is a volcanic island located south of Sicily, just 70 km from Tunisia. Passito is an ancient sweet wine likely made for thousands of years. At summer’s end, the grapes are hand-picked and left to dry in the sun for 30-40 days, before soft pressing and fermentation. Passito di Pantelleria has fragrant apricot, ripe fig and raisin aromas and a long, sweet finish.

 

 

La Colomba – Buona Pasqua a Tutti

It’s Easter morning, and our social media is filled with pictures that our Italian family and friends have posted of their Pasqua spread: the sweet and savory Easter breakfast that Stefano’s mother makes, the delicious Neapolitan ricotta and cooked grain cake called la pastiera, lasagne, lamb, and egg-based savory dishes like torta pasqualina which is often served as picnic food on Easter Monday.

This year, we’ve added to our repertoire of Easter baking with the classic colomba, which means dove in Italian.  This fragrant, yeasty cake is like the panettone and pandoro served at Christmas, but is baked in the form of a dove.  With candied orange peel inside and a sweet, almond-sugar glaze on top, la colomba is a delicate Easter dessert.

La colombaThere are varying versions of recipes for la colomba.  Some follow the traditional method of multiple kneading and risings over a 24 hour window.  Others have found ways to expedite the process.  After a bit of research, we settled on this version from the Italian website Misya.  It takes an entire day from morning til evening, but the down time over the course of four cycles of kneading and rising allows plenty of time to prepare the rest of your Easter offerings.

Paper dove-shaped baking molds are used to achieve the traditional shape of la colomba.  Plan ahead, as these can be a bit tricky to find.  This recipe is enough for a 1 kilogram mold, or two molds of 500 grams each.  We found ours at Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop.

La Colomba

Ingredients
For the dough
500 g (4 cups) flour  *If you can find Italian 00 flour, use it.
100 ml water
20 g (approx. 7 tsp) active dry yeast
200 g (14 Tbsp) unsalted butter
170 g (3/4 cups) sugar
5 egg yolks
30 ml (approx. 2 Tbsp) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
The zest of one lemon
The zest of one orange
A pinch of salt
50 g (1/3 cup) candied orange peel (to make your own, see here)

For the glaze
2 egg whites
50 g (1/3 cup) sugar
Pearl sugar or decorators’ sugar
Raw almonds

La ColombaDirections
Stage One
Dissolve the yeast in 100 ml warm water. Stir until it becomes a thick paste.  Add 150 g (1 and 1/2 cups) of the flour, and stir together until the flour is absorbed.  Use your hands to shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place the dough into a bowl of warm water, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes.  Upon return, the dough will double in size and be floating.

Stage Two
While the dough is bathing in water, prepare for the second stage.  In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 350 g (3 and 1/2 cups) of flour, the sugar, egg yolks, 100 g (7 Tbsp) of the butter, salt, vanilla, and the lemon and orange zest.  Slowly add up to 30 ml (2 Tbsp) milk to bring the mixture together.  Take the ball of dough out of the tub of water, shake the excess water off, and add it to the mixture.  Mix the doughs together.  Turn the new dough over onto a floured work surface, and knead it gently until smooth.  The dough will be a bit sticky.  Return to a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Stage Three
Uncover the dough and add 50 g (3 and 1/2 Tbsp) soft butter.  Place the dough into a mixing bowl and mix on low speed with a dough attachment for 10 minutes.  Or, knead by hand.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 4 hours.

Stage Four
Uncover the dough, which will have doubled in size.  Add the remaining 50 g (3 and 1/2 Tbsp) of soft butter and the candied orange peel.  Mix for 15 minutes on low speed with the dough attachment, or knead by hand. Turn the dough out into the dove mold(s), using your hands to spread it to the borders of the mold.  Leave the dough in a warm place to rise for 2 to 3 hours more, until it reaches the top edges of the mold.

Stage Five
Preheat the oven to 190o C (375oF). Prepare the glaze by beating the egg whites with the regular sugar until it becomes a frothy mixture. Brush the glaze abundantly over the surface of the dough. Arrange almonds over the entire surface area, and finish with a generous sprinkling of pearl sugar.  Bake at 190o C (375oF) for 10 minutes.  Then, turn the oven down to 100o C (350oF) and bake for 30 more minutes.

Let cool, and enjoy.

Dolci di Carnevale; le castagnole e le frappe

It’s Carnevale!  This period of indulgence and carousal is one of the most festive and loved of Italian holidays.

The start and end of Carnevale varies from nation to nation, but in Italy, the birthplace of Carnevale, festivities begin in early February and culminate during the week between Martedì grasso (Mardi Gras in French, Fat Tuesday in English) and the Christian holiday of Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent.  Grasso, gras, Fat: all refer to the rich and plenteous foods eaten during those days leading up to Lent, when the gluttony and revelry of Carnevale must be replaced by penance and austerity.

In Italy, Carnevale is celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music, and parties.  Mischief and pranks are all part of the fun. As a child, Stefano remembers having great fun with sneezing powder, itching powder, and stink bombs, giving life to the saying A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale.  Children dress up in costumes and make the rounds to parties and the homes of friends and relatives, collecting sweets at each stop.

Our nephew, dressed up for Carnevale

Our nephew, dressed up for Carnevale

Carnevale is not just for children, though.  Celebrations are held across Italy, the most famous held in the Tuscan sea-side town of Viareggio with its promenade of paper-mache floats known as the Passeggiata a mare; in Ivrea, home to the annual battaglia delle arance (Battle of the Oranges); and of course, Venezia, where over three million visitors per year wander the city’s waterways, many sporting elegant and mysterious leather, glass and porcelain masks.

Venezia - Carnevale 2012In households across Italy, people indulge in frappe, castagnole, and other homemade treats unique to Carnevale.  Made of a simple dough, fried to a golden color in hot oil, and sprinkled with powdered sugar, these fritters are the epitome of Carnevale.

Castagnole
Castagnola means “chestnut,” and  in fact, castagnole bear resemblance to chestnuts, before the shed their shell.  They are also similar to what in American culture are known as donut holes.  They are usually dusted with powdered sugar, or alternatively with regular sugar, or covered in a sugar glaze.

CastagnoleIngredients
200 g (2 and 1/2 cups) flour
16g (1 Tbs.)  Pane degli Angeli, or use baking powder instead
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
pinch of salt
3 eggs
40g (1 and 1/2 Tbs.) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
zest of one lemon
Frying oil (peanut, canola, etc.)

Directions
Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixture.  Add the eggs one at a time, and mix well.  Stir in the lemon zest.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, Pane degli Angeli (or baking powder) and salt.  Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/mixture.  Mix until the dough comes together into a soft, sticky ball.  If you need to add more flour, do so, but take care to not overdo.

Sprinke flour onto a large cutting board or other smooth work surface.  Take a small section of dough and use your hands to roll it into a long cylindrical tube about 2 cm (just under an inch) thick.  Cut small nibs of dough and use your hands to roll them into small balls.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.  castagnole Heat the oil in a deep pan.  Test that it is hot enough by tossing a small piece of scrap dough into it.  The oil should sizzle and small bubbles should form around the edges of the dough.

Place as many balls of dough as fit into the hot oil.  They will float to the top, so once the underside is golden brown, use a utensil to turn them over.  When both sides are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them to cool onto paper towels.

castagnoleOnce all of the castagnole are cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate and using a metal strainer to achieve an even coating, dust with powdered sugar.  They are best enjoyed warm, but castagnole will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

Frappe
Frappe are light, thin strips of deep-fried dough.  Sometimes the dough is tied in a knot before frying, in which case they are called chiacchere.  In all cases, the fritters are enjoyed sprinkled with powdered sugar.

frappeIngredients
250 g (2 and 3/4 cups) flour
3 g (3/4 tsp.)  Pane degli Angeli, or use baking powder instead
35 g (1/8 cup, heaping) sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
15 g (1 and 1/2 Tbs.) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
12 ml (1 Tbs.) Grappa or other liquor such as brandy or rum
Frying oil (peanut, canola, etc.)

Directions
Mix together the flour, Pane degli Angeli (or baking powder, if you are using that instead), sugar and salt.  Cube the butter and add it to the dry ingredients, along with the two eggs and vanilla.  Mix by hand, or with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  The dough will be dry and will require approximately 10 minutes of kneading to come together.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in a cool place or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

If you have a pasta machine, you can use it to press the dough into thin strips.  If not, you can roll the dough out.  If you are using a pasta machine, cut off a small section of the dough, flatten it out between your hands, and pass it though the widest opening possible.  Then, close the gap a notch or two, and pass the dough through again.  Repeat this process until you have passed the dough through the machine’s smallest opening.

frappeIf you roll the dough out with a rolling pin, do so with a section of dough at a time, rolling until the dough is just a few millimeters (just under 1/6th inch) thick.  The thinner the dough, the lighter and flakier the frappe will be.

If you have one, use a fluted pastry wheel to cut the pressed dough into uniform strips.  They can be of any length and width you like.  We made ours about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide by 15 cm (6 inches) long.

Heat the oil in a deep pan.  Test that it is hot enough by tossing a small piece of scrap dough into it.  The oil should sizzle and small bubbles should form around the edges of the dough.

Place the strips of dough into the hot oil.  You can fry several at once, depending on the capacity of your pot.  Be ready to turn them over as soon as one side becomes brown, and remove them from the oil once the second side is done.  They cook very fast!  Remove from oil and place onto paper towels to cool.

Once all of the frappe are cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate and using a metal strainer to achieve an even coating, dust with powdered sugar.

We hope you enjoy castagnole and frappe as much as Luca does!

Caldarroste

Ridiculously cold temperatures, such as those that are descending upon Minneapolis in the coming days, call for foods that warm your bones and your soul.

It’s so cold that you can toss a glass of water outdoors and it will freeze before reaching the ground.

It is so cold that there is ice on the inside of some of our windows.

It is so cold that the governor ordered all public schools closed for the safety of the children.

Here’s what weather.com predicts for tonight:

Temperatures 1.5.14

The big bold number is the actual temperature, and the “feels like” number represents the windchill factor.  The poor Befana; she is going to freeze her wart-covered nose off tonight.

We, on the other hand, have stocked up on groceries, made a giant pot of minestrone, started the (gas) fireplace, and have no plans to leave the house for the next 36 hours or so.  After dinner, we’ll sit down in the living room and enjoy some piping hot caldarroste, roasted chestnuts, with a bottle of red wine.

Prized across the Mediterranean basin, caldarroste are cold-weather street food at its best.  During winter months, caldarroste stands line the major shopping streets of Italian cities, luring residents and tourists alike with the warm, toasty aroma of the roasting chestnuts.  For a few Euros, you can walk away with a piece of butcher paper fashioned into cone-shaped container of chestnuts to keep you warm as you finish your outdoor stroll.

Image from http://www.saporedicastagne.com/vendita-castagne-per-caldarrostai-e-grossisti

Image from http://www.saporedicastagne.com/vendita-castagne-per-caldarrostai-e-grossisti

It’s simple to make roasted chestnuts, which we also call castagne, at home, too.  In Italy, Stefano grew up going to the woods of Monte Scalambra to gather chestnuts with his family.  They would peel away the prickly, outside layer, which had split open by the time the chestnut had fallen to the ground, and toss the nut into a basket.  Ten or twenty kilos later, they would load up their harvest and drive back to Rome.  Traditionally, chestnuts are roasted over an open fire in a large pan with holes in the bottom of it.  However, they can also be roasted in the oven.

Cara remembers eating castagne at Stefano’s mother and father’s house in the winter months in Rome.  Much more skilled at peeling chestnuts, not to mention checking for the occasional unsavory larva, Stefano’s father, Andrea, used to peel one for her, and then one for himself, ensuring that she got her fair share.

We enjoyed our castagne with a bottle of Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto, a little brother to the powerful Sassicaia wine.  A blend of Cabernet Savignon and Merlot, this wine can be enjoyed in its early stage.

Caldarroste

Directions

Soak your chestnuts in water for 2-3 hours before preparing them.

Preheat the oven to 205°C/400°F.

Drain the chestnuts.  Using a sharp knife, make a horizontal cut through the outer shell, slicing from one side to another of the rounded side of the chestnut.  Cover a baking tray with parchment paper, and arrange the chestnuts on top.  Roast in the oven until the chestnuts swell and open up, and the meat of the nut is golden brown and slightly charred.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.  Peel the outer shell off with your fingers, and enjoy with a glass of red wine.

Image from http://saporiericette.blogosfere.it/galleria/2012/09/caldarroste-al-forno-ecco-come-prepararle.html/1

Image from http://saporiericette.blogosfere.it/galleria/2012/09/caldarroste-al-forno-ecco-come-prepararle.html/1

Il torrone

We added a new item to our repertoire of Italian holiday treats and baked good this year.  No, it’s not panettone.  We’re just not sure that we can do justice to that tall, leavened Milanese Christmas cake in our home kitchen.

This year, in addition to panpepato, salame al cioccolato and tozzetti, we made torrone, the classic ivory colored, honey flavored, nut filled bar of nougat that graces the Christmas candy and cookie trays of every Italian household this time of year.

Torrone

They say that torrone was first brought to Italy and the Mediterranean by Arab traders, but there are two versions of how it acquired it’s name.  Some maintain that torrone derives from the Latin torrere, which means to toast, in reference to the toasted nuts the candy contains.  Others cite the 1441 marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti, daughter of the Duke of Milan, to Francesco Sforza in the city of Cremona, Italy.  For that wedding, the city’s pastry chefs created a tower-like “torrone” to resemble Cremona’s bell tower.

In any case, today il torrone is synonymous to Christmas all across Italy.  It’s rarely made at home anymore, but artisanal torrone is still found in pastry shops and at holiday markets.  Torrone is also produced industrially by Italian companies like  Sperlari and Vergani,  both located in Cremona, home of the Festa di Torrone.  This year, the annual celebration of torrone drew 230,000 people to the town, where they purchased over 80 tons of torrone to bring home to their Christmas tables.

Festa-del-torrone

There are two varieties of torrone, morbido (soft) and friabile (hard).  We’re of two minds at the Due Spaghetti household; Stefano prefers crisp, hard-candy torrone, while Cara likes the soft type (who wants to loose a tooth, especially right at Christmas!).  The difference has to do with the amount of egg white you use and the temperature you to which you bring the sugar/water solution.  The recipe below is for torrone morbido.  We adapted it from a torrone recipe on one of our favorite Italian language bloggers, Anice & Cannella, who had in in her own right adapted it from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana.  That’s how recipes travel, right?

An few important notes before we begin:

  • Torrone requires edible wafer paper to keep the candy from sticking to everything it touches.  Wafer paper is not the same as sugar paper, which will not work for torrone.  Wafer paper can be found through online vendors, or at specialty cake-decorating stores.  For those of you following us locally, Lynn’s Cake and Candy Supplies in Fridley, MN carries it.
  • A candy thermometer is necessary.
  • A kitchen scale is useful, as it is the most precise way to measure ingredients.
  • You will need a double boiler (bain-marie) or two saucepans, one slightly larger than the other, which can improvise as one.

Ingredients
Nuts for Roasting
1 kg (2.2 lbs, about 7 cups) raw unsalted almonds
150 g (5 oz, just over 1 cup)  hazelnuts
150 g (5 oz, just over 1 cup) shelled pistachios*
*either raw unsalted or roasted, salted pistachios will work fine.

For the Sugar Syrup
100 g (3.5 oz or 5/12 cup) water
300 g (10.5 oz or 1 and 1/3 cup) sugar

For the Meringue
120 g (4 oz, or about 3 eggs’ worth) egg whites
300 g (10.5 oz or just over 3/4 cup) honey

Other
Zest of 3 oranges
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 sheets of wafer paper

Directions

Preheat your oven to 120° C, 250° F.  Line two baking trays with parchment paper, spread the nuts onto them, and toast for 15 minutes.  Allow the toasted nuts to cool.

il torrone

Measure the egg whites and honey, and set aside so that they are ready when you need them.  Prepare an electric hand-mixer so that it too is ready.

Place the sugar into a medium-sized saucepan.  Add the water without stirring, position the candy thermometer in the liquid, and place the saucepan on a burner over low heat.  Allow the sugar syrup to heat to 140° C, 285° F, still not stirring.

il torronePrepare the double boiler.  Add the egg whites and honey.  Place over medium  heat, and whip with the electric mixer until the mixture pulls away from the sides and forms a stiff meringue.  This will take approximately 30-35 minutes.  As you are whipping the egg whites, monitor the temperature of the sugar syrup.  It should reach temperature about about the same time that the egg whites firm up.  Don’t rush the sugar water by turning up the heat, and don’t let it rise above 140° C, 285° F.  Pull it off of the heat if you need to.

il torroneWhen each are ready, pour the sugar syrup to the meringue.  Add the vanilla, orange zest and roasted nuts, and mix together well with a wooden spoon to form a nougat.

il torrone

Cover a baking tray with wax paper or parchment paper, and place one sheet of wafer onto it.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the nougat onto the center of the wafer paper.  Spread the nougat evenly over the wafer paper, not quite reaching the edges.  Using your hands, pack the nougat together to create a smooth surface on the top and edges.  Clean and dry your hands.  Place the second sheet of wafer paper on top and carefully press down, taking care not to tear it.

Freeze the sheet of torrone for 30 minutes or longer so that it can more easily be cut into bars.  Using a very sharp, serrated knife, first cut away the edges all along the perimeter to create 4 smooth edges, and then cut into bars as long as wide as you desire.  We cut our sheet in half lengthwise, and then turned each half and again cut lengthwise into 5 cm.(2 inch) wide bars.

Keep your torrone refrigerated (we keep them in sealed freezer bags) until you are ready to serve.  Cut each bar into bite-sized pieces and enjoy.

Buon Natale!

il torrone

Strudel di mele

Last weekend our blogger friend Frank from Memorie di Angelina messaged us on the Due Spaghetti Facebook page asking whatever had become of us.  Had we quit blogging?  It’s been SO long since we’ve published a post!  July 28th, in fact.

We haven’t stopped cooking, of course.  But life became ridiculously busy for a few months, and the time simply was not there for photo taking, photo editing, and writing.  The arrival of autumn and the apple harvest changed that.

Strudel di MeleCara’s computer does a funny thing – every time she connects it to an LCD projector, which she does often at work, it changes the desktop image to a photo of a slice of torta di mele, apple cake, the subject of a blog post from autumns past.  Her computer executes this backdrop change entirely of its own will, with no human solicitation, as technology gadgets sometimes do.  This week, it served as a hint that it is time to do some baking.

Torta di mele

There is nothing better than baking with apples during the fall season.  Apples are native to our resident state of Minnesota, and people make weekend pilgrimages to local apple orchards for fruit to transform into apple pies, apple crisp and apple butter.

Credit: CBS Minnesota http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/top-lists/best-places-to-go-apple-picking-this-fall-near-the-twin-cities/

Credit: CBS Minnesota
http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/top-lists/best-places-to-go-apple-picking-this-fall-near-the-twin-cities/

In Italy, apples are cultivated in all regions but are particularly common to Valle d’Aosta, Piemonte, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige.  In fact, when we toured Northern Italy in summer of 2011, we were surprised to discover what looked like vineyards from a distance were actually row after row of apple trees.

Strudel di mele, a distant cousin to baklava, is a recipe with Byzantine origins.  The word strudel is borrowed from German, and it follows that the recipe is native to northern Italian regions which were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Strudel di meleGolden delicious apples are the preferred baking variety in Italy for their delicate flavor and ability to maintain structure during cooking.  However, feel free to experiment with your favorite apple.  Sultana raisins, pine nuts and a dash of rum give this baked dessert sophistication and an subtle Middle Eastern  quality.

We adapted this recipe from one we found in the Cooking section of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.  The crust was good, but not perfect.  In future versions we will experiment with a lighter and flakier crust.  If you have a favorite strudel crust recipe, please share it with us!

Strudel di mele

Ingredients
For the crust
300g (just over 2 cups) flour
50g (about 1/4 cup) sugar
100 ml (a little less than 1/2 cup) milk
1 egg
75 grams (just over 5 Tablespoons) butter, plus a few tablespoons for melting

For the filling
1 kg (2.2 lbs) apples.  We used 6 medium Golden Delicious apples
70 grams (about 5 Tablespoons) butter
2 dashes of rum
50 g (about 1/2 cup) bread crumbs.  We substituted with the soft, inside part of day-old crusty rustic bread.
100 g (about 1/2 cup) sugar
100g (just over 1/2 cup) sultana or golden raisins
50 grams (just under 1/2 cup) pine nuts
A dash of cinnamon

Other
Parchment paper

Directions
Prepare the dough for the crust by adding the sugar, 75 grams of butter, egg and milk to the flour, either in a small mixing bowl, or on a smooth counter top and forming a well in the mound of flour.  Mix vigorously until the dough is a smooth ball.  Cover with a dishcloth and set aside.

Strudel di mele

Strudel di mele

Peel and core the apples, halve them, and slice them thinly.  We used a mandolin slicer on the second-largest width setting for uniform slices.

Torta di melePlace the apples in a skillet with 70 grams of butter, and cook over medium heat until the butter is melted, stirring occasionally.  Add two generous dashes of rum, and allow the liquor to cook off.  Add the sugar, breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts, and cook together over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Torta di meleTorta di mele

Sprinkle flour onto a smooth work surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle of about .5 cm, (1/5 inch) thickness.  Place parchment paper onto the surface of a baking sheet, and brush a thin layer of melted butter on top of it.  Carefully transfer the sheet of dough onto the parchment paper.  The dough will extend over the edges of the baking sheet.

Torta di meleTorta di mele

Transfer the filling onto the dough and spread it lengthwise over the center of the dough.  Fold the shorter sides of the dough up over the filling, and then carefully wrap the longer sides over the filling.  Seal the dough with a bit of milk, brush melted butter over the top, and perforate the dough with a few air-holes to allow the steam out while cooking.

Torta di mele

Bake at 180° C (350 F°) for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Allow the strudel to cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

If you wish, accompany with an Italian Moscato such as Paolo Saracco’s Moscato d’Asti, which compliments the sweetness and tartness of the apples.

Torta di meleTorta di meleUna mela al giorno leva il medico di torno.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

 

Crostata alla Nutella

Today’s recipe is an tribute to Nutella, that delicious, chocolate-hazelnut spread meant for kids but secretly loved by adults, too.

Crostata alla Nutella

Nutella was originally a solid chocolate and hazelnut creation, and later a spread named Supercrema, created in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, founder of the Italian chocolate company Ferrero.  At that time, cocoa was difficult to obtain due to rationing during World War II.  Hazelnuts, however, were abundant in his hometown of Alba in the Langhe region of Italy, and in a case of necessity driving ingenuity Ferrero stretched his chocolate recipe by incorporating them.  Nutella as we know it was created in the 1964s by Ferrero’s son, Michele, who envisioned a product that could be sold worldwide.

Crostata alla NutellaIn the 1970s when Stefano, his brother Marco and his sister Debora were growing up, Nutella was a special treat.  Their mother, Maria, bought it every once in a while and spread a paper-thin layer onto fette biscottate or even better yet a piece of crusty bread as an after school snack, and when she wasn’t looking, they would sneak spoonfuls of Nutella straight from the jar.  At that time, Nutella was sold in glass containers with cartoon characters screen-printed onto them.  Once the Nutella was gone, the container could be washed and used as a drinking glass.  As children, Stefano, Marco and Debora each had their own designated Nutella glass in the cupboard.

Crostata alla Nutella

Over time, hundreds of desserts featuring Nutella have been created.  One of the most simple, and a favorite in our household, is crostata alla nutella.  This is a variation of the classic Italian jam crostata, or crostata alla frutta, and it uses the same short-bread style crust as torta della nonna.  We often make it as a children’s dessert to accompany a more sophisticated dessert for adults, and it never fails that the grown ups grab a slice, too.

Crostata alla Nutella

Torta alla Nutella
for a 9″-11″ tart pan

Ingredients
200 g (1 and 1/2 cup) flour
80 g (1/3 cup) sugar
80 g (5 and 1/2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 pouch of Pane Angeli lievito per i dolci, or 2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
Zest of 1 lemon
One small jar of Nutella (13 oz. or 400 g)

Directions
Prepare the pasta frolla short-bread crust by placing the flour onto a firm, smooth work surface, or into a large bowl.  Add the sugar and pane angeli or baking powder, and mix.  Gather the dry ingredients into a mound and form a well in the middle.  Add the egg, cubes of butter and lemon zest, and working quickly with your fingers, work the wet ingredients into the flour mixture.  Mix by hand until the dough forms a homogenous, smooth ball.  Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Crostata alla Nutella

Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C), and butter and flour a 9-11 inch or 26-28 cm. fluted-edge tart pan.  If you cannot find a tart pan, a round spring-form pan or a pie plate, will also work, although it is helpful to have a pan with a removable bottom.

Take 1/3 of the dough and set it aside.  You will use this later for the lattice on top.  Roll out the remaining 2/3 of the pasta frolla and lay it into the tart pan, pressing the bottom and sides tightly against the edges.  Spread the Nutella smoothly onto the crust.

Crostata alla Nutella

Roll out the remaining dough, and cut strips that are about 1/2″ or 1 cm. wide.  You can use a fluted pastry cutter to make pretty edges if you have one.  I was cooking in my mom’s kitchen and did not have mine with me, and as you can see straight edges work just fine, too.  Arrange the strips of dough on top of the crostata in a lattice pattern, and pinch the edges together.

Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Take care to not burn the Nutella.  Let cool, and enjoy.

Crostata alla NutellaCrostata alla NutellaCrostata alla Nutella

Caffè Corretto, Gelato Affogato

These are the dog days of winter.  Here in the northernmost tier of North America, as as we slog through the snow and measure the temperature by windchill factor, the simple pleasures are what carry us forward as we patiently await spring’s arrival.

Caffè correttoBefore leaving the house in the morning, consider ‘correcting’ your coffee.  Spiking it, that is, with a shot of liquor that will warm you up and give you the kick you need to brace the cold outdoors.  Caffè corretto is an Italian coffee tradition.  Any time of day, but most commonly in the morning, Italian gentlemen will ask their barista to ‘correct’ their espresso with their liquor of preference  – Grappa, Cognac, Sambuca, or bitters such as Fernet or Cynar.

It is a tradition that may have originated in Naples, among the working class, who were looking to begin the workday with just a bit of extra forza.  Like all good ideas, the practice spread and is now common in all parts of the Italian peninsula.

Caffè correttoSo, the next time you are in Italy and wish to try an espresso with some fortitude, stop in a bar and ask for a caffè corretto alla grappa, or a caffè corretto al cognac.  Don’t sugar it, either.  That will throw off the ‘correction.’

Here in the States, unfortunately we cannot go into our local coffee shop and and ask for a a little brandy in our single shot espresso.  You could ask for one at the end of your meal in a good Italian restaurant, however.  In fact, that would be an excellent measure of authenticity – ask for a caffè corretto, and if they know exactly what you mean, then you’re at a true Italian restaurant.

Some correct their coffee by putting a shot of liquor in the espresso cup and then adding the caffè.  Others drink the two side by side.  Either way, it will add a warm boost to the start of your day.

Caffè corretto al CognacCaffè corretto alla grappa

Since we are on the topic,  we should mention another Italian merging of flavors involving both coffee and liquor.  Gelato affogato, which means ‘drowned’ gelato is a simple and brilliant ice-cream dessert.  A bit of bitter espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream – gelato affogato al caffè – adds complexity of flavor and sophistication to an otherwise plain dessert.

Gelato affogato al caffè

Or, for an adult twist, try gelato affogato al Borsci, also a bitter, or gelato affogato al whiskey.  In Italy, you would use gelato alla crema, a plain, cream-based gelato.  If you are not so lucky to be able to find that, a nice natural vanilla ice cream will substitute just fine.

Gelato affogato al whiskey

So, until the sun shines hot again, stay home and stay warm!