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

Spaghetti con pesce spada e pistacchi – Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio

For seafood lovers like ourselves, our recent trip to Sicily was culinary nirvana.  At Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi we feasted on one amazing meal after another, each authentically with passione and orgoglio by hosts Cico and Lola.

We devoured:

  • Spaghetti al nero de seppia (Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink)
  • Spaghetti alle vongole (Spaghetti with Clams)
  • Pasta ai gamberi rossi (Pasta with Shrimp)
  • Cozze al pomodoro (Mussels in tomato broth)
  • Ostriche gratinate al forno (Baked oysters with breadcrumbs)
  • Spigola arrosto (Grilled Sea Bass)
  • Grigliata di pesce (Seafood on the Grill)
  • Gamberi rossi al pomodoro (Shrimp in tomato sauce)

One of our favorite dishes, Spaghetti al pesce spada con pistacchi (Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio), captured the essence of Sicily, with the uniting of freshly caught swordfish with ground Sicilian Bronte pistachios.

Cico served the pasta with a Sicialian white wine, Inzolia della vineria Principe di Corleone.  He generously shared his recipe with us to pass along to our Due Spaghetti readers.

Spaghetti pesce spada e pistacchi

Ingredients
one package of spaghetti
2 fillets of swordfish, preferably fresh caught
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
One large cherry tomato, or several smaller ones
One bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Ground black pepper
Sea salt
Crushed red pepper
Dry white wine
Toasted bread crumbs*
Ground Bronte pistachios**

*Quickly toasted plain, unseasoned breadcrumbs on the stove top in a small amount of olive oil, minced garlic, and grated tuna roe.  Remove from heat, let cool, and store in an air-tight container.  (Tuna roe, also called bottarga di tonno, is expensive and difficult to locate in the U.S..  Bottarga di muggine can be substituted, or it can be omitted entirely.)

**Bronte pistachios are a high quality Sicilian pistachio grown in the region of Bronte. If needed, regular pistachios can be used and ground at home in a food processor.

Directions
Dice the swordfish into small cubes.  Set aside.

Mince the garlic and the parsley.  Add each to a large skillet (big enough to accommodate the cooked spaghetti), along with a few tablespoons olive oil, a half-cup of water, a few dashes of ground black pepper, a few dashes of salt, and crushed red pepper to taste.  Sauté over medium-low heat for several minutes. Add the cubed swordfish and the white wine and simmer for about 5 minutes, adding more white wine only if needed.

Remove the swordfish and set aside.  Slice the cherry tomato(es) and add them to the skillet.  If you have dry grated tuna roe, add a pinch or two.  Let cook for 5-10 more minutes, pressing on the tomato until it deconstructs.  Add more white wine and simmer to make a sort of reduction sauce.  Add a tablespoon or two of crushed pistachios and another tablespoon or two of toasted bread crumbs, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Return the swordfish to the skillet, mix everything well, and turn off heat.

Cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water according to the directions on the package.  When al dente, remove immediately and drain well, saving one cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti to the skillet, turn the heat to high, and toss the pasta with the swordfish mixture, adding the cooking water gradually if needed to provide moisture.

Serve immediately with a dusting of bread crumbs and ground pistachio.

Spaghetti pesce spada con pistacchiSpaghetti pesce spada con pistacchi

Buon appetito da mammaliturchi!

~Cico e Lola

La Sicilia! A Photo-Essay

The fall colors are at their peak, and local newspaper headlines warn, Some Minnesotans Could Wake Up Saturday to a Blanket of Snow. Our Sicilian vacation is a distant memory.  With the fire place radiating warmth and and a glass of Nero d’Avola unearthing memories, we capture the sights and the flavors of our July 2014 tour of the western coast of Sicily.

Our tour of Western SicilyThe Sicilian countryside

Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi
Cico and Lola’s B&B Mammaliturchi on the southern Sicilian coast was so spectacular, so perfect, that it merited its own blog post.  A short walk up the beach to the dazzling white  Scala dei Turchi and a 15 minute drive to Agrigento and the magnificent Valley of the Temples, B&B Mammaliturchi is nothing short of paradise.

Scala dei Turchi

Sciacca
Sciacca is a small, medieval fisherman’s village built steeply into the rock that descends down to the sea.  At sea level, fishing boats dot the waterfront and fisheries line the streets.  Climb a steep set of stone steps, some which take you right past the doorways of local residents, and you will reach the heart of the town of Sciacca.  Souvenir shops line the main street which leads to a piazza that looks dramatically out over the Mediterranean.  Stop by the local pastry shop and try out some of the local bitter almond and ricotta-based treats.

Stefano and Luca sample local pastries in the back end of a Fiat 500-turned street art.

Stefano and Luca sample local pastries in the back end of a Fiat 500-turned street art.

 

Sean, Nonna Maria, Luca and Stefano pose for a photo in Sciacca's main piazza.

Sean, Nonna Maria, Luca and Stefano pose for a photo in Sciacca’s main piazza.

Luca and Sean descend Sciacca's city steps.

Luca and Sean descend Sciacca’s city steps.

Mazara del Vallo
Founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, Mazara del Vallo was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines among others, before finally coming under Arab control in 827 AD.   During the Arab period Mazara del Vallo was an important commercial harbour and the main gateway between Sicily and Northern Africa.  The historical center of Mazara del Vallo is  known as the Kasbah, and it boasts distinct Arab architectural influences.  It is also the best place in Italy to eat cous cous, a Northern African dish that Sicilians have adopted as their own.

Mazara del Vallo

Arab-influenced architecture in the Kasbah neighborhood of Mazara del Vallo.

Mazara del Vallo

The Kasbah, Mazara del Vallo.

Mazara del Vallo

We had delicious cous cous at Trattoria alla Kasbah in Mazara del Vallo.  (Luca is in his “cross-eyed photo-bomber” stage.)

Trapani and Erice
Trapani is known for its salt marshes, and picturesque windmills used to drain the water during the long process of drawing salt out.  It’s also where you can catch a ferry to the heralded Egadi islands, which we didn’t have time for on this trip but fully intend to return to do.  We made a quick stop to see the salt flats, gave in to curiosity and tasted it (yes, it really was salty), and then continued up, and up, and up and winding mountain to the town of Erice.

Image from http://customitalytours.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/segesta-erice-marsala/

Image from http://customitalytours.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/segesta-erice-marsala/

Erice is a medieval village that sits at the peak of a mountain, 750 metres (2,460 ft) above sea level.  On a clear day, you can see Tunisia and Africa’s Northern coast.  The day we visited it was anything but clear.  It felt like we’d  stepped right into a scene from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  In foggy, damp, cold weather we diligently trekked up the main street to Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which we’d read on the internet had the most amazing pastries.  It is a humble pasticceria, as far as Italian pasticceria’s go, but their cannoli, genovesi and cassate were truly amazing.

San Vito lo Capo
When you live in place as cold as ours, some beach time is a must.  San Vito lo Capo is among the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy.  Located on the northwestern tip of Sicily, the winding drive through the mountains offers spectacular views of the sea below.

San Vito lo Capo

A spectacular view from above on the road to San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo’s beach is a long stretch of soft sand that leads to a mountain in the distance.  The bright aquamarine sea is calm, warm and amazingly clear.  You could lose your wedding ring in waist deep water, look down and see it sparkling on the sea floor below.  The bright beach umbrella made for a splendid scene.

San Vito lo Capo

The beach at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

The clear, calm water at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Bright umbrella dot the beach at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Sun, sand and sea at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Drammatic views at San Vito lo Capo.

Enjoying a frittata di pesce on the beach.

Enjoying a frittata di pesce on the beach at San Vito lo Capo.

Palermo
While the charm and slower pace of Sicily’s small towns offer the greatest appeal, a stop in the chaotic, complicated Palermo is worth it.  The tour of the historical city is quick, and worth the cost of one of the open-air tour buses.  A walk through the markets and the old Arab quarters is overwhelms by sight, sound and smell.  We were most drawn by Palermo’s unique foods: panelle (fritters made of chickpeas and flour), sandwiches with milza (gall bladder), and breakfast with granita al caffè and large gelato-filled brioche.

Milza

Milza – a Palermitano delicacy.

brioche con gelato

Breakfast in style in Palermo – brioche con gelato.

Cefalù
Cefalù is a charming, small town on the northern coast of Sicily.  Full of tourists in the summer months, it is delightful nonetheless with a convenient beach and lots of modern shops, Italian bars and eateries, many with lovely sea views.  We dined at Il Covo del Pirata, and loved it.  It’s location was amazing, with tables that looked right out over the water, yet it had a casual, family feel.  We ate seafood to our heart’s content.  Stop by early in the day and reserve a table with a view for dinner.

Cefalù

The town of Cefalù, seen from the beach.

DSC_0080

Cefalù

Il Covo del Pirata

The view from the restaurant Il Covo del Pirata, in Cefalù.

Bed and Breakfast Mammaliturchi

the-terrace-at-b-b-mammaliturc

Minneapolis to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Rome. A loud and crazy birthday party in Rome for three splendid 5-year-olds, and then off the next morning to Catania.

With Etna in the distance rising above the hilly landscape, we drove through the Sicilian inland to the Southern coast. Finally, after two or three laps around impossibly narrow roads in the tiny town of Realmonte, we arrived at our destination: Bed and Breakfast Mammaliturchi. Within 5 minutes of our arrival we knew that it was worth every minute and every mile of that long journey.

Francesco met us as the gate, showed us our parking spot, and led us around to the vast terrace on the beach-side of the home, where the view of the sparkling blue sea is breathtaking.  The sound of the waves crashing against the shore washed our tiredness and tension away.  It only got better when Francesco and his wife Loredana (affectionately known as Cico and Lola) showed us our rooms – large and breezy with a wall of windows that overlook the Mediterranean.

In a matter of minutes we shed our travel attire, donned our beachwear, and descended the stairs back to that marvelous terrace and the broad and quiet beach below to begin our vacation.

The Trip Advisor reviews of B&B Mammaliturchi were good and the photos alluring.  One never knows for sure, though, if a place rented over the internet will truly be what it claims to be.  B&B Mammalituchi did not disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded our every expectation.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

The Home

Cico and Lola’s dazzling white stucco seaside home is trimmed in brilliant blue, a color scheme that mirrors the sand, sea and sky and that is reflected in the tasteful, modern and playful decor throughout.  Every convenience is available – parking, laundry, wi-fi, and even air conditioning, although despite visiting in July, we never needed it due to the comfortable sea breeze that gently blew through the windows at night.  The home offers direct, private access to the beach, a shower to rinse off in, and breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the beautiful patio.

B&B MammaliturchiThe Trip Advisor reviews of B&B Mammaliturchi were good and the photos alluring.  One never knows for sure, though, if a place rented over the internet will truly be what it claims to be.  B&B Mammalituchi did not disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded our every expectation.

The Location

B&B Mammaliturchi is located on a quiet stretch of the Southern Sicilian coast.  It is a 5 minute walk along the beach to Scala dei Turchi, a fascinating geological formation of chalky white limestone cliffs, shaped in like a staircase.  Scala dei Turchi translates in English to Staircase of the Turks, and it is from here that B&B Mammaliturchi gets it’s name.  Legend has it that during the 16th century when the Ottomans expanded westward into Europe, the Turks arrived in their ships, and found it convenient to anchor up against these cliff, which served as a “staircase” for them as they debarked their ships.  When the locals saw the Turks arrive, they exclaimed in fear, Mamma li Turchi (Oh Mother, the Turks are here!)

B&B MammaliturchiB&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

B&B Mammaliturchi

 

The bed and breakfast is also located a mere 15 minutes by car from the city of Agrigento and the archeological site Valle dei Templi, one of the most outstanding examples of Greek architecture anywhere in the world, and one of Sicily’s main attractions.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

Finally, it you can bear to pull yourself away from the slice of paradise that B&B Mammaliturchi offers, the charming towns of Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Marsala, Trapani, and Erice are a short drive away.

The Hospitality

Without question, the amazing amenities and location of B&B Mammaliturchi are matched and even surpassed by Cico and Lola’s warm and generous hospitality.  Exacting yet friendly, they offer an exceptional level of service while making guests feel like old friends.  They gave us tips and recommendations on local attractions and sites (like La Sosta, home of the most amazing pistacchio gelato ever), and they attended to our every need.

Each morning we awoke to an Italian breakfast of cappuccino, espresso, juice, toast, jam, Nutella and fresh-fron-the oven croissants are served on the terrace, where we watched the morning joggers and early beach-goers in the cool, sea-side breeze. Guests are free to explore off-site restaurants and bars for lunch and dinner, but quite frankly there is no reason to.  Cico and Lola’s generous, authentic Sicilian meals served open air on the terrace were a high point of our stay.  Featuring seafood that Lola bought fresh off of the fisherman’s boats each day, these were genuinely among the most memorable meals we’ve ever enjoyed.

B&B Mammaliturchi

A better Sicilian vacation we could not have found.  Cico and Lola are the perfect hosts in an absolutely spectacular destination.  As one Trip Advisor commentor wrote, everyone should treat themselves at least once to a B&B Mammaliturchi vacation.  We’re already contemplating when we can return.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

 

 

 

Pasta alla norma

We’ve been trip planning. This July we will return to Italy, stopping in Rome to visit family and then proceeding on to Sicily.

SiciliaSicilia

The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has been at the crossroads of Western civilization for over 2,500 years, due to its strategic location in the middle of Mediterranean trade routes.

Ruled at different times in history by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Germans, Spanish, and finally Italians, Sicily boats a spectacular cultural heritage evident today in its architecture, music, and of course, its cuisine.

Image from http://www.corriere.it/cronache/foto/08-2013/spiagge-piu-belle/legambiente/perle-mare-ecco-spiagge-piu-belle-d-italia_5f768a10-ff74-11e2-a99f-83b0f6990348.shtml#8

Image from http://www.corriere.it/cronache/foto/08-2013/spiagge-piu-belle/legambiente/perle-mare-ecco-spiagge-piu-belle-d-italia_5f768a10-ff74-11e2-a99f-83b0f6990348.shtml#8

Sicily has a stunning variety of landscapes to match its cultural richness: inland mountain ranges, desert-like expanses reminiscent of the Middle East, the lava-spewing volcano Mount Etna, and pristine white sand beaches with merging with the sparkling green-blue sea.

EtnaFrom Catania to Palemo, and the cities and villages in between: Syracusa, Ragusa, Agrigento, Sciacca, Marsala, Trapani, San Vito lo Capo.  We’ll soak in the sun on some of the world’s most amazing beaches, visit stunning ancient ruins such as the Valle dei Templi and the Tempio di Segesta, and (of course) sample Sicilia’s unique culinary splendors.

http://www.inognidove.it/sicilia/travel/sicilia_valle_dei_templi_tempio_della_concordia3.shtml

http://www.inognidove.it/sicilia/travel/sicilia_valle_dei_templi_tempio_della_concordia3.shtml

Among the delicacies on our list are arancini, panelle, cous cous, insalata d’arance, caponata, ‘mpanata, pasta con le sarde, granite, paste di mandorle, cannoli, and cassata.  And obviously, seafood.  Tons and tons of it.

We capped off our afternoon of vacation planning with a Sicilian classic, pasta alla norma.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Ingredients
Two medium eggplant
1 large (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons diced onion
Dry white wine
Ricotta salata (approx 200g)
Olive oil
Flour
Salt

Directions
Slice the eggplant about 3 to 4 mm, or  1/8th inch thick.  Place them in a strainer one layer at a time, sprinkling a dusting of salt over each layer.  Place a dinner plate on top or something similar that adds weight to help press the bitter liquids.  Let them degorge for about an hour.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

While the eggplant is resting, prepare the sauce.  Dice the onion and garlic, and sauté it in olive oil.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to render them smooth.  If you do not have a food mill, you can blend the tomatoes.  Let simmer for 45 minutes, salting to taste.  After about 30 minutes, add a dash of dry white wine.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Return to the eggplant.  Rinse and pat the slices dry.  Dust them with flour, and then gently fry them in hot olive oil, just until golden brown.  Let them cool on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Cut the eggplant into thin strips about 1 to 2 cm, or  1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Set aside a handful of eggplant, and add the rest to the sauce, along with a about 1/4 cup of grated ricotta salata.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Pasta alla Norma

 

Pasta alla Norma

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Toss your short pasta of choice – penne or rigatoni perhaps – into the water, along with a generous handful of salt.  Cook until al dente.  Transfer the pasta to a large pan.  Add the sauce (saving just little), and grate a little more ricotta salata over it all.  Stir over medium heat until the cheese melts.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaServe in pasta bowls adorned with a few strips of eggplant, another grating of ricotta salata, and a dollop of sauce.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

photo from www.roma.repubblica.it

photo from www.roma.repubblica.it

Photo from www.roma.repubblica.it

Photo from www.roma.repubblica.it

photo from www.bigodino.it

photo from www.bigodino.it

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
Milk
Sugar
Cocoa (optional)
Espresso (optional)

Directions
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.

Riomaggiore delle Cinque Terre: Un fotoracconto

What an August it has been!  When we wrote our most recent post, The Wineries of Northern Italy – Piedmont and Le Langhe, we had just moved back into our house and were floor to ceiling with boxes.  It’s gotten a little better, thanks to lots of help from Cara’s mom and dad who took turns coming down and helping Stefano unpack while Cara was putting in long hours at work.  After two or three days trying to get the kitchen in order, they both concurred that we have far too many kitchen utensils!

Fall is here, school has started, and while we are far from settled in, things are calmer and we’re glad to begin giving some attention to Due Spaghetti again.  And cooking again!  We’ll be sharing new recipes with you again soon, but first we need to tell you how our Italian vacation ended.

After touring the beautiful countryside and visiting the most amazing wineries in Trentino Alto-Adige, la Valpolicella, and Piedmont and le Langhe, we ended our road trip across Northern Italy with a stay in Riomaggiore, one of the five fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre.  You’ve probably heard of the Cinque Terre, as it has become a popular travel destination in recent years.  Located in the Italian region of Liguria, near the  town of La Spezia in the Gulf of Genoa on the Mediterranean coast, Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the villages.  Like another of our favorite Italian destinations, the Amalfi Coast, in the Cinque Terre, the mountains meet the sea creating spectacular, dramatic landscapes dotted by colorful, pastel-colored villages that seem sculpted right out of the stone.

We will let the photos speak for themselves, but here are a few tips about travel to the Cinque Terre:

  • Hotels book out very fast.  Instead of a hotel, we opted to rent an apartment from Signora Edi, who oversees the rental of several apartments in Riomaggiore.  We communicated with her and her staff via email, and booked from the U.S. after seeing photos of the apartment she had available.  Her website is here.  Our apartment was Il Pescatore.  It was very simple but clean, and we loved the view overlooking the Marina and the sea from the kitchen and master bedroom windows.  We fell asleep at night to the roar of the waves.  An added plus is that Edi offers private parking for a small fee.
  • Speaking of parking, it’s a challenge in the Cinque Terre.  The villages are not accessible by car.  In Riomaggiore, you need to park off of the main road that leads up to the village, and walk several blocks downhill into the village.  Of course, that means you have to walk back up the hill to get back to your car.  Pack light.  If you have a lot of luggage, consider bringing only what you need in a smaller bag, and leaving other things in your car.  When you are booking a room or an apartment, ask them about parking arrangements.
  • The Via dell’Amore is one stretch of the walking path that connects all 5 villages.  Via dell’Amore connects Riomaggiore to the neighboring village of Manarolo, and is just over 1 kilometer long.  When we were there, Via dell’Amore was open, but other parts of the path were closed due to the torrential rains and resulting mudslides that hit the area in fall 2011.  You have to pay to access the path, but it the spectacular sights are worth it.  You can also take the train from village to village.  There is free internet access during daytime hours in and around the train stations.
  • Unfortunately, the Cinque Terre seem to have been discovered by young Americans looking for a good time.  In Riomaggiore, on Friday and Saturday evening we were greeted by youth walking in the streets with beer bottles and even entire wine bottles in hand, and making a lot of noise in the marina, late into the evening, disregarding not only those tourists looking for a quieter stay, but also the many Riomaggiore residents whose apartments look out onto the marina.  Stefano in particular was baffled by this, noting that there are plenty of sea-side spots in Italy that cater specifically to young party go-ers.  Why did these travelers choose Riomaggiore?  It was not so bad that we would recommend not visiting the Cinque Terre, but it is a factor to consider if you visit on summer weekends.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Riomaggiore.  This is the view from our apartment window overlooking the marina.

The outdoor restaurant with the umbrellas is called La Lanterna.  It served the most delicious seafood.  Reservations are not taken at lunch, but if you are willing to wait you can find a table.  At dinner, you will definitely need reservations.  We highly recommend it!

After a stormy night in which the wind blew and the sea roared right outside our window, we awoke at dawn and captured some photos of the sleepy village just beginning to stir.

Riomaggiore, looking like a patchwork quilt.

The sea was too rough for the boats to go out, so they were docked in the marina the entire time we were there.

Our apartment, Il Pescatore, was right in the marina, overlooking the sea, in Via Giacomo, 107 right next to the gelateria.

Luca looking out the kitchen window at the activity below.

The mountains meet the sea.

Some of the amazing seafood we ate at La Lanterna.

The Wineries of Northern Italy: Piedmont and the Langhe

Summer moves steadily along.  It’s mid-August already, and the weather is turning cooler.  We moved back into our house just over a week ago, and we’re still digging out from under boxes of possessions that we haven’t seen since the fire.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but we’re making progress.  The silver lining to it all is that our 1920s south Minneapolis house is all new.  We have a little more closet space and a bigger bathroom.  The kitchen, though, is what we’re most excited about!  It’s spacious and open with lots of counter space and a fabulous gas range.  Soon we’ll get back to cooking and we’ll post a few photos on Due Spaghetti.  In the meanwhile, let’s finish our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.

We started in Trentino-Alto Adige along the Strada del Vino, and then worked our way through Veneto and La Valpolicella before traveling west to Piedmont and the Langhe.  Our first stop was in a tiny village high in the hills called Castiglione Tinella, home to the Paolo Saracco Vineyards.  Stefano met Paolo this past winter when he was in Minneapolis recently to present his wines, and was impressed not only with his Moscato d’Asti, his trademark wine, but also with the Pinot Nero he produces.

Paolo Saracco Vineyards owns a hotel called Albergo Castiglione, just minutes away from the winery.  The hotel pool is located near the Saracco vineyards, on a hilltop overlooking the vines below.  We stayed at the hotel and while nonna Maria and the boys enjoyed the pool, Stefano and Cara toured the winery.

The entire experience was delightful; the village was charming, the hotel staff were attentive to our needs and recommended two very good local spots to eat, and the winery itself and the wines we tasted were splendid.

Seemingly the setting could not become more idyllic,  until we traveled 40 kilometers southwest to the Azienda Agricola Cogno, storied Barolo producers, and found ourselves immersed in some of the region’s most beautiful scenery.  The winery was founded by Elvio Cogno in his hometown of Novello, where his family had been producing wine for several generations prior.  Under his daughter Nadia and her husband Valter Fissore’s attention, the winery produces highly acclaimed Barolo as well as a Barbaresco, a Dolcetto d’Alba and two Langhe.  The Elvio Cogno representative for the American market, Daniele, was in Minneapolis last winter and came to the Butcher Block to present his wines to Stefano and Filippo.

We arrived at the winery complex in mid-afternoon, under a scorching sun.  The winery is housed in a perfectly restored 18th century manor.  The family lives in on part of the facility, adjacent to the actual winery.  A spectacular outdoor kitchen sits alongside an infinity pool that looks over the rows of vineyards that run up and down the hills of the Langhe.  Once again, Sean and Luca put their swimsuits back on and spent a few hours in the pool under nonna’s supervision while Stefano and Cara toured the winery and tasted the outstanding Barolo and other Elvio Cogno wines.

Stefano and Valter Fissore of Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno

It was a fitting end to our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.  With an extra several bottles in tow, we packed up Marco’s Toyota RAV 4 and headed to the sea and the Cinque Terre.