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.

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.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts and Baked Goods, Holiday Recipes, Recipes and Wine Pairings, When You Visit Italy | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Il torrone

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

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

Torrone

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

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

Festa-del-torrone

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

An few important notes before we begin:

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

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

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

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

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

Directions

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

il torrone

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

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

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

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

il torrone

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

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

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

Buon Natale!

il torrone

Posted in Desserts and Baked Goods, Holiday Recipes, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Gnocchi al sugo di fagiano

We are, undisputedly, children of the ’80s.  3 decades ago, here in the States Cara wore leg warmers, jelly bracelets and Swatch watches, while a continent away in Rome Stefano sported Levi 501 jeans, Doc Martins, and a pried Charro button-down shirts with pearl buttons.  On opposite sides of the Pacific, we both listed to Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and practiced the moonwalk across the living room floor with our younger siblings.

Stefano 80sIgnoring the fact that the 80s have made a fashion comeback and today’s teenagers are styling in big, round-rimmed glasses and high-tops, we recently joined the 40+ crowd at a Depeche Mode concert and spent more money than is reasonable to see Minneapolis native Prince live, in a small hometown venue.  It’s no surprise, then, that the 80s station is the official satellite radio station in Cara and Stefano’s Fiat 500.

Family in Fiat copyLuckily, Luca is still too young to complain about having to listen to mom’s music, so he and Cara were rocking out to Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus on the way to school last week.  Hilariously though, Luca was convinced that, instead of Amadeus, the lyrics were actually “hot potatoes.”

Try it: listen to the song, and insert “hot potatoes” whenever they say Amadeus.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…hot POTATOES.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…hot POTATOES.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…oh oh, hot potatoes!

It was fitting, since hot potatoes have been a topic of discussion around our household recently.  We’ve been making gnocchi, for which the cooking method and temperature of potatoes is key.

Gnocchi al sugo di faggiano

Some argue that it is best to bake the potatoes, in order to keep the moisture level low.  We boil the potatoes whole, skin on, and then place them into a warm oven to dry out any water they may have absorbed.  If the potatoes are too wet, you will need to add extra flour to keep them from being too sticky, but the extra flour will overpower the delicate texture and flavor of the potato gnocchi.  Keeping them in the oven has the added benefit of keeping the potatoes hot, and as Giorgio Locatelli, restauranteur and author of one of our favorite English language Italian cookbooks, Made in Italy, maintains, if the potatoes become cold, your gnocchi will turn out gummy and chewy.

Unlike fashion trends, gnocchi are timeless.  In Rome back in the 80s, gnocchi-making was a special treat for Stefano, his brother Marco and his sister Debora.  After rolling out the dough and cutting it into small pieces, their mamma solicited the siblings’ help by asking them to push their index finger into each gnocco, thus creating the gnocchi’s characteristic indent.  Stefano, Marco and Debora raced each other to poke their finger into the soft cushions of potato dough, and later when it was time to eat the gnocchi they did so with gusto, drawing satisfaction from having participated in their production.

Before we begin, a word on pronunciation.  The “gn” sound in gnocchi can be difficult for anglophones to pronounce.  It is most similar to the [ɲ] sound in canyon, or the Spanish ñ in señor.  Let’s try it:  gnocchi.  For a more in-depth study of the pronunciation of the “gn” sound in Italian, check out Lucrezia’s YouTube audio/video lesson.

Ingredients
For the gnocchi
1.1 kilos (2.5 lbs) potatoes.*
2 eggs
250 grams (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, use more or less as needed
Pinch of salt
*Use a high starch potato such as Russett, and choose potatoes that are uniform in size so they cook evenly.

For the sugo al fagiano (pheasant sauce)
The meat of one or two pheasants, cleaned, deboned and cut into pieces
Mirepoix (minced carrots, celery and onion
Dash of red pepper flakes
One large can (1 kg or 12 oz) of whole red tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

Directions
Wash your potatoes and leave them whole with the skin on.  Place them in a pot and cover them with cold water.  Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat down and allow the potatoes to simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, until soft.  While the potatoes are boiling, preheat your oven to 110 °C/225°F.

When cooked, drain the potatoes, arrange them onto a baking sheet, and place into warm oven.  One potato at a time, remove from oven, peel it, and pass it through a food mill or a sieve.  If you have neither kitchen tool, you can mash the potato with a potato masher.

Gnocchi

You can place your potatoes into a large bowl, or directly onto a clean work surface.  Make a well in the middle of the potatoes, and add about 3/4 of the flour, the eggs, and a pinch of salt.

GnocchiGnocchi

Mix gently by hand just until the dough comes together, adding more flour only if you need to to keep it from being too sticky.  The dough will be very soft.

Gnocchi

Dust a clean work surface with flour.  Cut the dough into uniformed sized discs, and with your hands dusted with flour, roll it out into a long, cylindrical shape about the width of a cigar.  Using a sharp knife, cut the strip of dough into gnocchi sized to your preference.  Our gnocchi were about 2 cm (3/4 inch) long.

Gnocchiuniform GnocchiGnocchiGnocchi

If you have a gnocchi paddle, roll each gnocco onto it to create the characteristic ridges, or create the same effect gently a fork over each piece of dough, causing it to curl around itself.  Alternatively, you can use the finger-poke method that Stefano and his siblings used, and that our two boys now have fun with.

Gnocchi

Transfer the gnocchi onto a baking sheet dusted with flour, and repeat the above process with the rest of the dough.  Shake the gnocchi around on the baking tray from time to time and add more flour to keep them from sticking.

Gnocchi

Cook your gnocchi right away, or freeze them for future use.  If you choose to freeze them, place the entire baking tray of gnocchi in the freezer.  Once frozen, transfer the gnocchi into freezer bags.  Spread them back onto a baking tray or other smooth surface to thaw before cooking them.

We served our gnocchi with sugo al fagiano, a homemade red sauce with pheasant meat.  Sauté a mince of carrots, celery, onion and a dash of red pepper flakes in olive oil.  Add the pheasant meat, cleaned, deboned and cut into small pieces.  Brown the meat, then add a splash of dry white wine and allow it to cook off.  Add whole canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  Simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the sauce was dense and a deep red color and the pheasant meat is tender.

Sugo al faggianoSugo al faggiano

To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Toss in a handful of sea salt, and add the gnocchi.  The gnocchi are done when they rise to the surface of the water, which only takes a minute or so.  Lift them carefully out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and into a serving bowl, dress with sauce, and serve hot with a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Gnocchi al sugo di faggianoGnocchi al sugo di faggiano

Posted in Pasta, Rice and Grains, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Risotto alla zucca (butternut squash risotto)

It’s that time of year again.  The leaves have turned to brilliant hues of red, orange and gold, and the succulent late summer vegetable harvest has given way to Minnesota’s own Honeycrisp apples and earth-toned, odd-shaped squash.

Those of you who’ve followed Due Spaghetti for some time know that we are not big squash fans.  We are traditionalists, and prefer a clean distinction between savory and sweet dishes.  We tolerate limited sweetness in recipes outside of desserts, and squash is just a bit too sweet for our palate.

The exception, though, is butternut squash.  Once a year, we slice one open, roast its bright orange flesh, and incorporate it into a splendid autumn dish.  Last year it was butternut squash gnocchi with a creamy taleggio sauce.  This year it was butternut squash risotto, or risotto alla zucca.  Comfort food, stile italiano.

Risotto alla zucca

Risotto alla zucca

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash
400 grams (2 cups) Arborio or Vialone Nano rice.
1/2 of a medium onion
1 liter vegetable broth
100 g (3 1/2 ounces, or slightly more than 1 cup, grated) Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup dry white wine
50 g (approx. 4 Tablespoons) butter
Olive oil
Salt

Other
Parchment paper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.  Using a strong, heavy knife, slice the bottom and the top off of the squash, and then slice the squash in half lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and innards.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place the squash flesh side up onto the baking tray, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.

Risotti alla zuccaRisotto alla zucca

Turn the squash upside down so that the flesh is down and the skin is up, and place into hot oven.  Roast for 45 minutes or longer, until the skin is blistered and browned, and the flesh is tender, dark orange and caramelized around the edges.  When cool enough, remove the skin and set the roasted squash aside.

Risotto alla zuccaRisotto alla zucca

Dice the onion finely and saute it in a few tablespoons olive oil inside large, heavy skillet.  When the onion is golden brown and translucent, add the rice and stir so that all grains are coated in the onions and oil.  Add the roasted squash and continue to saute over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add the white wine and allow it to cook away, increasing heat if needed.

Risotto alla zucca

Now, begin adding the broth, one ladle at a time.  The key to a good risotto is to add the liquid slowly, stirring gently and allowing the rice to fully absorb that liquid before adding more.  Proceeding in this manner, it will take 20 minutes or more for the rice to absorb the full liter of broth.

Risotto alla zucca

Toward the end of the cooking time, taste the rice for doneness.  Like pasta, rice is cooked al dente – the grain of rice should be tender with just a slight firmness in its center.  2 or 3 minutes before the rice is done, stir in the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Risotto alla zucca

Serve hot with grated Parmigiano on top.

Risotto alla zucca

Posted in Pasta, Rice and Grains, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged | 5 Comments

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.

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

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

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

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

Strudel di mele

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

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

Other
Parchment paper

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

Strudel di mele

Strudel di mele

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

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

Torta di meleTorta di mele

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

Torta di meleTorta di mele

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

Torta di mele

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

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

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

 

Posted in Desserts and Baked Goods, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Pollo alle olive

This weekend in July has been unusual on two fronts.  First, we’re home with almost nothing on our schedules.  Second, the weather has turned unseasonably cool and crisp – jeans and sweaters weather, reminiscent of fall.  This combination of factors put us into a cooking mood.  As if meant to be, we turned on the radio to listen to a weekly food and cooking program to find the host interviewing a Rome-based food historian and journalist about where to find authentic dishes despite a changing Roman food culture.

Pollo alle olive

Inspired, we began to page through our Italian cookbooks, particularly one called Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli, pondering what to prepare for Sunday lunch.  We flagged several recipes to make in the coming weeks and months: a pesto from Frascati made with potatoes, tomatoes, almonds and ricotta; oven-baked ricotta with zucchini flowers; ciambelle al vino to dip into a chilled glass of white wine; and pizza, prosciutto e fichi, if fresh ripe figs find their way to Minneapolis in late summer.  We also came across a tried and true recipe -  pollo alla romana, or Roman-style chicken, whereby pieces of free-range chicken are stewed in tomatoes and red bell peppers until the meat separates from the bone.

pollo alle olive

There was a chicken in our freezer waiting to be put to use.  We didn’t have red peppers, but there were black olives in the refrigerator.  A few online searches later we came across several recipes for pollo alle olive.  Similar to pollo alla romana, the chicken is cooked slowly in a tomato sauce rendered tangy and flavorful by good black olives, white wine and and Italian herbs.  It made for a  succulent Sunday pranzo enjoyed outdoors on cool but sunny Sunday afternoon in July.

Pollo alle olive

Ingredients
1 free-range chicken
Olive oil
Three cloves garlic
One 28 oz. (800 g) can of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Approximately 20-30 quality black olives, pitted
One tablespoon capers, rinsed
A dash of dry white wine
Sage
Thyme
Oregano
Salt

Pollo alle olive

Directions
Prepare the chicken by removing the skin and cutting the breasts and thighs into small pieces.  We had an extra package of drumsticks (legs), so we added them for good measure.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a large fry pan.  Slice the garlic into halves or quarters and add it to the oil along with the capers and herbs.  Gently brown the chicken in the oil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all sides cook.  Salt the chicken to taste as it is browning, remembering that the olives will contribute to the saltiness of the dish, as well.  Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate.  Finally, add the tomatoes (ideally pressing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce), and then the olives.

Pollo alle olive

Allow the chicken to simmer uncovered slowly for 45 minutes or more.  It is ready when the sauce thickens and the meat pulls away from the bone.  We served pollo alle olive in piatti fondi (pasta dishes) due to its sauciness.

Pollo alle olive

Posted in Meat, Fish and Legumes, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Crostata alla Nutella

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

Crostata alla Nutella

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

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

Crostata alla Nutella

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

Crostata alla Nutella

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

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

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

Crostata alla Nutella

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

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

Crostata alla Nutella

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

Bake for approximately 45 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

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