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!

Limoncello

This post is for one of our readers, Jene, whose prolific lemon tree has produced more lemons that she knows what to do with.  What a wonderful problem to have!

Image from http://d10watch.blogspot.com/2012/01/just-one-tree-campaign-in-sf-lemon.html

Several months back Jene asked about making limoncello, that tart and sweet liquor that originates in the southern coastal and island regions of Italy.  At the time, we had intended to make limoncello over the summer months and post the recipe on Due Spaghetti for our readers.  However, as Jene suspected, between our trip back to Italy and our move back into our house, we didn’t manage to do so.

The thought of all those lemons on Jene’s tree is compelling, however, and therefore we are going to post our limoncello recipe anyway.  First, a quick note on pronunciation: vowels take on the long-vowel sound in Italian, so it’s LEE-mone-cello.   Limon- rhymes with the name Simone, and -cello is pronounced just like the string instrument.  It’s not “lemon” cello.  The correct pronunciation makes it taste all the better.

We placed a call to Stefano’s mom Maria this morning to double-check ingredient quantities and methods.  She called Stefano’s aunt Elena over from the apartment next door, and we had the two of them on speakerphone discussing their recipes.  Not surprisingly, each differed slightly.  Depending on taste, you can adjust the amount of lemon peel and sugar to find the right balance of tartness and sweetness.  The recipe we are sharing is one that Stefano’s father Andrea was given by a gentleman from the Italian island of Ponza, located just off of the coast in the Tyrrhenian sea, between Rome and Naples.

Image from http://www.sabaudia3947.org/airviews/ponza.html

Stefano’s grandma, Nonna Pierina, had a lemon tree in her little city garden that, like Jene’s, produced an unbelievable number of lemons.  Andrea routinely made limoncello from those lemons, and we enjoyed it all year long.  Once, on the last evening of one of our first trips back to Rome after we’d moved to the States, Andrea came into our room where we were repacking our suitcases.  He had several plastic ziplock bags with something wrapped carefully in paper towel inside.

As it turns out, in complete disregard for FDA regulations, he’d carefully peeled a bunch of Nonna Pierina’s lemons and was sending the peel back to American with us inside those plastic bags so that once home, we could make limoncello.  We chanced it through customs and immediately upon return Stefano got busy making our limoncello.  Although limoncello can now be found readily in liquor stores, there is something special about having your own to share with friends and family.

Ingredients
250 grams, or 8 ounces, lemon peel (approximately 10-12 lemons)
700 grams, or 1.5 lbs of sugar*
1 liter pure grain alcohol, such as Everclear 95% (190 proof)
1 liter water
*You can use up to 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) of sugar for a sweeter drink.

Directions
Scrub your lemons, and then use a vegetable peeler to remove the yellow rind, avoiding the bitter white pith beneath.

Image from http://erincooks.com/the-limoncello-trilogy-part-1/

Place the lemon peel and the alcohol in a container with a lid, and let it sit for 10-15 days.  Upon return, strain the lemon peel from the alcohol mixture.  Place the water into a pot, add the sugar, and bring to a low boil.  Boil for approximately 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved.  Let cool, and add the sugar-water to the lemon-infused alcohol.  Seal it again with a lid, place it in the freezer and let sit for 2 weeks (it will not freeze due to the alcohol content), after which time the limoncello will be ready.  Store in air-tight bottles in the freezer and serve chilled in small liquor glasses.

Image from http://www.sijhi.com/sorrento-limoncello-lemon-flavored/

Limoncello is typically served at the end of a meal, but can be enjoyed anytime.  For something different, check out Due Spaghetti’s recipe for tiramisù al limoncello.
Good luck, Jene, and let us know how it turns out!

 

 

Cioccolata calda

There’s hot chocolate, and then there’s Italian hot chocolate.

The first time you taste an Italian hot chocolate, or cioccolata calda, you will be amazed by its dense, creamy texture and its deep, rich chocolate flavor.  Far from the watery, pale hot chocolate of many parts of the world, the Italian version is rich, velvety and creamy.  It’s the Maserati to our Chevrolet.  The Ferragamo to our Eddie Bauer.  The Caffe Illy to our Folgers.

It all starts with high quality ingredients – real dark chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, whole milk.  A touch of cornstarch renders it thick and creamy.  The version below is intentionally light on sugar, to let the deep chocolate flavors resonate.  With a dollop of whipped cream, we think it is perfect.   But if you prefer it more sweet, add up to double the sugar.  You can also add a dash or two of cinnamon, or red hot chili powder for heat.  For an adult version of cioccolata calda, try it with a shot of dark rum.

It’s a perfect treat to make for your loved ones, on Valentine’s Day or any other day.

Ingredients
for two mugs

50 g (approx. 2 oz or 4 Tbsp) dark chocolate*
25 g (approx. 1 oz or 2 Tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder
25 g (approx. 1 oz or 2 Tbsp) sugar**
10 g (approx. 1/3 oz or 2 1/4 tsp) cornstarch
500g (2 cups) whole milk

*We used Ghirardelli Intense Dark Midnight Reverie, with 86% Cacao.  Any dark chocolate of your choice will work, however.

**Add up to 50 g (2 oz. or 4 Tbsp) of sugar for a sweeter beverage.

Directions
Unwrap the dark chocolate and place it into a food processor.  Pulse the chocolate repeatedly until it is finely ground.  Set aside.

Add all of the dry ingredients to a small mixing bowl and stir together.  Warm half of the milk in the microwave.  Add the warm milk one tablespoon at a time to the cocoa-sugar-cornstarch mixture, stirring well so as to prevent lumps from forming.  Slowly incorporate all of the warmed milk into the dry ingredients.

Pour the remaining milk into a saucepan and place it on the stove over medium heat.  Add the milk and cocoa mixture, and then the ground dark chocolate.  Stir continuously with a wire whisk until it thickens and boils.  Let it boil for 1 minute, and then remove from heat.

Serve hot with a dollop of whipped cream.

Download a pdf copy of Cioccolata calda

Un brindisi all’Anno Nuovo!

Felice Anno Nuovo!  Happy New Year!

photo from www.divertimentitalia.com

New Year’s Eve is ripe with tradition in Italy.  It’s all about biding good riddance to the bad luck and regrets of the old year, and welcoming good fortune and well-being in the new one.

In some parts of Italy, people take this quite seriously – tossing their old ceramic plates and dishes right off of their apartment balconies to crash and break on the street below.  It’s “getting rid of the old” in the most literal sense.  Fortunately for the safety of those strolling below, this tradition is practiced less and less frequently.

Shooting fireworks, or sometimes guns, from the rooftops is common in some cities, and one particularly playful tradition is to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve.  This time of year, the window displays of Italian lingerie shops are filled with red intimi for the occasion.

Perhaps the most common tradition on New Year’s Eve is to eat a meal of lenticchie e cotechino, or lentils and sausage, at midnight.  The lentils represent coins, an indication of the wealth to come, while the cotechino, a particularly rich and uniquely prepared fresh sausage, symbolizes abundance.

Of course, the Anno Nuovo is toasted with good drink  and good fellowship.

For your New Year’s celebration, or for any celebration large or small throughout the year, we’ve presented three classic Italian cocktails: the Bellini, the Negroni and the Americano.

The Bellini
The Bellini was invented in the 1930s at Harry’s Bar in Venice by barman and owner Giuseppe Cipriani.  It wasn’t until 1948, though, that Cipriani named the drink after the 15th century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini.  Before and after World War II, European cities were home to high profile American artists and writers, and Venice was no exception.  Orson Welles, Truman Capote and  Peggy Guggenheim frequented Harry’s Bar, but it was Ernest Hemingway who made it famous.  Harry’s Bar still exists in Venice, and there is a New York location, as well.

An authentic Bellini is made with 2 parts Prosecco and 1 part white peach puree.  The website for Harry’s Bar states that the peach should be grated or crushed but not blended, that a little sugar can be added if the drink is too tart, and that all ingredients should be as cold as possible when mixing.

Because white peaches are not in season all year long, yellow peaches can be used, or even peach puree if needed.  A raspberry or two can be added to give it its characteristic pink hue.  Serve it in a flute, with a peach or raspberry garnish.

The Negroni
The Negroni is named after Count Camillo Negroni of Florence, who one day decided to ask his bartender at Caffè Casoni to add gin rather than soda to his Campari and Vermouth cocktail.  This gorgeous deep red drink is made with 1 part Campari, 1 part sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso) and 1 part gin.  Pour over ice in an old-fashioned tumbler, and garnish with an orange slice and a curl of lemon peel.

The Americano
The Americano used to be referred to as the Milano-Torino, because its first principal ingredient, Campari, comes from Milan, and its second principal ingredient, sweet vermouth, comes from Turin.  An Americano is made with Campari, sweet vermouth and soda in equal parts.  It is poured over ice in an old-fashioned glass, and garnished with an orange slice.

Un saluto a tutti voi per un Felice Anno Nuovo!

Caffè Freddo, and other related ideas

We confess.  Stefano and I sometimes find amusement in people’s coffee choices.

Inspired by the simple Italian espresso, American coffee shops have created a bewildering array of espresso-based drinks with italiano-sounding names and exorbitant prices.  These are truly inspired creations, topped high with whipped cream, drizzled with syrups, covered with sprinkles.  And people go for them.

But like most things Italian, less is more.  So when Stefano and I order a caffè from a coffee shop we opt for something more basic, often to the chagrin of the barista.

No, thank you, I don’t care for a shot of toffee nut syrup in my caffe latte.  Yes, I am sure that I don’t want to try the Caramel Macchiato.  No, I really will pass on the new Cinnamon Dolce Latte.  Really.  

So most of the time we don’t go to coffee shops. We make our own caffè here at home.  Nothing fancy – we don’t own one of those expensive espresso machines (that often take those expensive espresso pods).  With our collection of stovetop Bialetti Mokas, and our Illy espresso grounds, we are content and caffeinated.

In summertime in Rome, when the sun is already scorching at 9:00 in the morning and you want a coffee but cannot bear the thought of anything hot, you ask your barista for a caffè freddo, or chilled coffee.  Poured into tall, thin glasses, the espresso is dense, sweet and intensely flavored.  Or, if it is still morning, you might order a cappuccino freddo – a caffè freddo with milk.  The color of Bailey’s, cappuccino freddo is rich and creamy with a more mild coffee flavor.

Two things to note about caffè and cappuccino freddo:

First, no ice.  Italians don’t put ice in their sodas, much less in their coffee.  It dilutes the coffee and ruins everything.  No ice.

Second, in cappuccino freddo, use whole milk.  Yes, whole milk.  There are basically only two types of milk in Italy – whole milk, and partially skim milk. They began selling skim milk in the late 1990s, but it only came in pint-sized (half-liter) containers, like the milk cartons served at school lunches.  Stefano’s mom buys the partially skim milk only we come to visit.  Otherwise, she uses whole.  I am quite certain she has never bought skim milk.

Italians don’t drink a lot of milk; it’s for breakfast only.  And if you only drink a little milk at breakfast, you might as well drink whole milk.

You may choose to make your cappuccino freddo with 2%, or 1%, or even skim milk, but it is not the same at all as making it with whole milk.  Try it, you’ll see.  Don’t worry about the fat content.  Just avoid fats another way.

Caffè Freddo and Cappuccino Freddo
Ingredients
Espresso
Sugar
If desired, milk

Make a large pot of espresso.  Pour coffee into a glass container.  While the espresso is still hot, add one heaping teaspoon of sugar for each espresso serving made.  Stir well, until the sugar has dissolved.  Let it sit at room temperature to cool.  When cool, cover and transfer to refrigerator.  Leave the coffee in the refrigerator until well-chilled.  Pour and enjoy.  If you wish, add whole milk to the chilled coffee to make a cappuccino freddo.