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.

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

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

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




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, 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.

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

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

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.


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 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.

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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.



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.

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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.


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.


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.

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

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


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

Credit: CBS Minnesota

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

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

Parchment paper

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

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)

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!

La zuppa della strega e la festa della Befana

When Stefano was young, there were no packaged cookies, biscuits or other breakfast treats in his home.  His mamma, Maria, prepared everything homemade.  Breakfast was crostata, or rustic olive oil cake called pizza dolce, with a small glass of warmed whole milk darkened with a splash of caffè.

Some mornings, Maria would prepare la zuppa della strega for Stefano, his brother Marco and his sister Debora. Crusty bread was soaked in warm milk, with a bit of espresso, sugar and sometimes cocoa to sweeten it a bit.  Frugality was behind this breakfast creation; it was a way to consume day-old bread.  But Maria made it fun by giving it a mysterious and peculiar name – zuppa della strega, witch’s soup.

Zuppa della Strega

Stefano has carried this tradition forth in the States.  On weekend mornings he’ll prepare a bowl of zuppa della strega for 8-year-old Luca, who devours it with the same delight that Stefano did when he was that same age.

Zuppa della Strega

January is the season of witches in Italy.  La Befana is a folklorish, witch-like old woman.  On the eve of January 6th, the holiday la festa della Befana, she rides on a broomstick from house to house and leaves treats inside stockings left out by Italian children   As the date suggests, this holiday has its origins in the Christian Epiphany, and it marks the end of the Christmas holiday.  Con l’Epifania, tutte le feste si porta via.

La festa della Befana is even more eagerly anticipated than Christmas by young Italian children.  When Stefano was young, the Befana would leave him and his brother and sister home baked treats, clementines, sugar candy that resembled black coal, and sometimes a little bit of chocolate.  The Befana was a universal symbol for motherhood, and so after waking up and finding their treats in the stocking, Stefano and his siblings would give auguri to their mother, much like one would on mother’s day.  There was plenty of teasing about the Befana‘s homely appearance, too.

As has happened to so many holidays, la festa della Befana has become more commercial since Stefano was young.  Stores theme-based stockings stuffed with chocolates and toys have largely replaced the homemade treats of Stefano’s youth.

Unchanged, though, is the large open air market celebrating la festa della Befana in Rome’s Piazza Navona.  During the weeks between Christmas and la festa della Befana, the piazza is filled with stalls selling candy, toys, miniature Befana dolls and more.  There are amusement park rides, live street artists and more to delight young and old alike.  Whenever we are in Rome over the holidays we make sure to bring the kids for a day of fun.

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Here, the Italian cousins enjoy ciambelle in front of Piazza Navona’s Fontana del Moro on la festa della Befana in 2010.

Piazza Navona Festa della Befana

Ingredients for zuppa della strega
Day old bread
Cocoa (optional)
Espresso (optional)

Break the bread into small pieces, and place them into a small saucepan.  Cover then with milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Once the milk comes to a boil, remove from heat and transfer into a bowl.  Add sugar to taste, and espresso or cocoa, or both.  Stir, and enjoy warm.


We almost skipped our holiday baking this year.  Work and kids’ activities have filled our evenings, and we’ve kept so busy on weekends in December that there simply hasn’t been time.  We thought about just taking a year off – after all, there will be no shortage of sweets and desserts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we are together with Cara’s family.  However, tradition prevailed, and this weekend we made small batches of our standby Italian Christmas baked goods: mostaccioli, tozzetti, salame al cioccolato, and panpepato.


We’re glad we did.  There is nothing better than once a year filling the house with the warm and delicious smells of Christmas in Italy.  Nuts, chocolate and dried fruit take center stage in recipes that have deep regional roots.  Our tozzetti, for example, are made in the traditional method of the Castelli Romani, with hazelnuts, almonds and brandy or Amaretto di Saronno.  As you move north towards Umbria, you may find fennel added, and as you approach Tuscany their name changes to cantucci.

Likewise, we make our panpepato the way Stefano’s mom does, with nuts, chocolate, candied orange peel, black pepper to give it some heat, and honey and flour to hold it all together.  This is how it is made in the region of Lazio, where Rome is located.  Interestingly, each of Stefano’s aunts prepares it slightly differently, perhaps because they all come from neighboring, but different, small towns in the Roman countryside. Some add rehydrated sultanas or raisins, others include other candied fruits, and some even add cinnamon.  They are all delicious, though.

Christmas would not be the same without the richness of nuts and chocolate, faint aroma of citrus from the orange peel, sweetness from the honey, and the surprising bite of black pepper in panpepato.


You will need a food scale

150 grams of hazelnuts
150 grams of sliced almonds
150 grams of walnuts
150 grams of pine nuts
150 grams of candied orange peel
150-200 grams (one bag) high quality dark chocolate chips
350 grams of honey
350 grams of flour
Black pepper to taste (we use about 1 dozen turns of freshly ground pepper)
Olive oil for handling

Grind the walnuts and hazelnuts roughly in a food processor.  Spread all of the nuts onto baking trays lined with parchment paper, and toast in the oven at 350° F (180° C) for about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown.  They will smell delicious when they are ready, so let your sense of scent guide you.  Let them cool slightly.

Mix all of the ingredients together inside a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon until the flour is absorbed and the mixture is sticky.  Apply a small amount of olive oil on your hands to help with handling the mixture. Using your hands, form 4 or 5 small panpepato mounds, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.


Bake at 350° F (180° C) for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until the outsides are toasted.  You may wish to lower the baking rack to prevent the tops from browning too quickly.  Allow to cool completely, before slicing and serving.  You can wrap a cooled, whole panpepato and store in the refrigerator or even freeze, if you wish.