La Colomba – Buona Pasqua a Tutti

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

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

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

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

La Colomba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let cool, and enjoy.

Caldarroste

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

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

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

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

Here’s what weather.com predicts for tonight:

Temperatures 1.5.14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caldarroste

Directions

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

Preheat the oven to 205°C/400°F.

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

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

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

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

Il torrone

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

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

Torrone

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

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

Festa-del-torrone

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

An few important notes before we begin:

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

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

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

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

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

Directions

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

il torrone

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

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

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

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

il torrone

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

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

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

Buon Natale!

il torrone

Torta Pasqualina

Pasqua con i tuoi, Pasquetta con chi vuoi.

Torta Pasqualina

Easter, the saying goes, should be spent with family.  Traditions abound at Easter time in Italy, and of course many of them revolve around food.  Easter breakfast at Stefano’s house is always pizza dolce with hard-boiled eggs and salami.  Abbacchio, young suckling lamb, is a Roman classic that is never missing at Easter lunch, and someone will likely bring a homemade Neopolitan Easter tart, pastiera.  The meal ends with a slice of dove-shaped Easter cake called a Colomba  and a few pieces of Uova di Pasqua, a giant chocolate Easter egg.

Torta Pasqualina

Easter Monday though, according to the saying, can be spent with friends.  It is a public holiday, and tradition calls for a picnic in the countryside.  In many parts of Italy, torte salate are common picnic fare, and torta pasqualina has become a quintessential Easter time shepherd’s pie.  Originally from Liguria, torta pasqualina is now made all over Italy.  It is characterized by its multiple layers of crust, swiss chard or spinach and ricotta filling, and by the eggs which are cooked whole inside the pie.  Recipes vary, and some traditionalists mourn the loss of authenticity that the dish’s popularity has brought.

It was our first time trying torta pasqualina, and it will definitely make a return to our Easter Monday picnic basket.

Torta Pasqualina

Ingredients
For the crust
600 grams (4 and 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
350 ml (1 and 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
35 g (1/4 cup) olive oil

For the filling
1 kilo (2 and 1/4 pounds) fresh spinach or swiss chard
500 grams (one 16 oz. tub will suffice) whole milk ricotta
150 grams (2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
12 eggs
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg
Olive oil

You will bake your tart in a 25-30 cm, or 10-12 in. tart pan, such as this one.

Directions
Prepare the dough
Measure the flour and place it into a bowl.  Dissolve the salt into the water, and add it to the flour.  Add the olive oil, and stir with a wooden spoon until it the dough unites into a rough ball.  Turn the dough onto a smooth, lightly floured surface and knead it for 5-7 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.  Cut the dough into four pieces – two of them approximately 300 grams (10 and 1/2 oz.) each, and two of them approximately 180 grams (6 and 1/2 oz) each.  Cover them with a cloth and set aside.

Torta Pasqualina

Prepare the filling
Wilt the spinach or swiss chard in a few tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Only fill the pan with as much spinach or swiss chard as fits.  When that is wilted, remove to a separate bowl and place more fresh spinach or swiss chard to the pan, adding more olive oil if needed.  Set the wilted greens aside to cool.

Torta Pasqualina

In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1/3 of the Pecorino Romano, 3 eggs, and a generous pinch of salt, a dash of pepper and another of nutmeg. Mix well and set aside.

Return to the greens, which by now should be cool.  Place them in a strainer and press all of the liquid out of them.  Turn them over onto a cutting board, and chop them coarsely.  Return them to the bowl and add half of the remaining Pecorino Romano, 2 eggs, salt and pepper to taste.   Set aside.

Torta Pasqualina

Preheat the oven to 180° C, 350° F, and return to your dough.  Take one of the two larger pieces, and roll it out so that it is quite thin and larger than the tart pan.  Brush the bottom and sides of the tart dish with olive oil, and place the dough in it, pressing it tight to the edges of the tart dish.  You want the dough to wrap over the sides of the dish.  Brush this layer of dough with olive oil.  Roll out the second large piece of dough, and place it on top of the first piece.

Torta PasqualinaTorta Pasqualina

Return to the spinach or swiss chard.  If it has released more liquid, drain that off and then spoon the spinach into the tart dish, pressing it down and toward the edges.  Add the ricotta mixture on top of the greens.

Torta PasqualinaTorta Pasqualina

Using a soup spoon, make 7 deep indentations into the filling – one in the center, and three on each side to form a circle.   Crack each of the remaining 7 eggs, one at a time, separating the whites from the yolk.  Preserve the whites, and carefully drop each yolk into an indentation in the filling.  Carefully spoon some of the egg whites on top of the ricotta mixture.

Roll out each of the remaining small pieces of dough and place them one after another on top of the tart, brushing the first piece of dough with olive oil before adding the second.  Carefully lift the excess bottom dough up around the top of the tart, pressing the bottom and top pieces together.  Brush the remaining egg yolk over the dough, with particular attention to sealing the edges.

Torta Pasqualina

Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into it.

Torta PasqualinaTorta Pasqualina

Panpepato

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.

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.

Panpepato

Ingredients
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

Directions
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.

PanpepatoPanpepato

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.

La pastiera napoletana, an Italian Easter Tart

In his classic cookbook Made In Italy: Food and Stories, renowned Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli writes of the pastiera napoletana:

The combination of ingredients may seem strange, but they are associated with ancient Roman celebrations of the rite of spring: flowers, eggs for new life, ricotta from the sheep, wheat and flour from the land…One of the many legends associated with the dish involves a mermaid called Partenope. She lived in the Gulf of Napoli and to celebrate the arrival of spring each year she would come and sing to the inhabitants.  One year, to say thank you for her songs, they offered her local gifts: ricotta, flour, eggs, wheat, perfumed orange flowers and spices. She was so delighted she took them to her kingdom under the sea, where the gods mixed them together into a cake.  
 

More recent legend, according to Locatelli and others, attributes the origins of the pastiera to a Neapolitan nun who wanted to make a pie that symbolized the resurrection.  She added cooked wheat to fresh sheep’s milk, added eggs as a symbol of new life, and water aromatized with the fragrant orange blossoms from the trees growing in the convent’s gardens.

It’s said of the pastiera, “Non puo mancare sulla tavola di Pasqua” (It cannot be absent from Easter table), and all true Napoletani know to make it a few days in ahead of time so that the flavors develop and harmonize.  We prepared ours on Good Friday and let it rest until Easter Sunday.

Napoli
Naples, (Napoli in Italian or Napule in local dialect) is a city known, among other things, for its rich and decadent pastries.  Eggs, ricotta and candied citrus peel are frequently found in the pasticceria napoletana, but cream-filled and liquor-laced pastries are equally common.  One of our favorite bloggers, Kathy from A Food Lover’s Odyssey, captured all of the delicious details in a post called Journey through the Pastries of Naples.

Napoli is also known, of course, for its pizza.  An authentic pizza is made with  San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala, both from the Campania region of Italy where Naples is located.  The crust is a  made from a high protein flour and baked for 60 to 90 seconds at extremely high heat (485 °C, 905 °F) in a wood-burning stone fire.  The classic Pizza Margherita, with its red sauce, white mozzarella and green basil was made in Naples in 1890 as a tribute to the visiting Queen Margarita – the pizza’s colors inspired by the green, white and red of the Italian flag.

Image from http://eticoesolidale.evolutiontravel.it

Naples, without doubt, has an underbelly.  The city’s challenges with organized crime have been well-publicized in recent years: from the garbage crisis, to olive oil and mozzarella fraudulently labeled ‘Made in Italy, to its thriving black market.  Traffic is chaotic, some northern European and western visitors find the city dirty, and unsuspecting tourists are easy targets for pick-pockets and swindlers.

Despite all of this, Napoli exudes an undeniable charm and is well-worth a visit.  Its location, with Mount Vesuvius to its back, looking out over the Gulf of Naples, it is one of the Mediterranean’s most prominent cities.  With a population of over 4 million inhabitants in the broad Naples metropolitan area, it is the third largest city in Italy and one of its most historical.

Image from http://eticoesolidale.evolutiontravel.it

It’s narrow streets are vibrant with activity and energy.  Storefronts line ground floors of Renaissance and Baroque buildings, the vendors’ goods spilling out onto crates and stands lining the palazzo walls.  Drying laundry drape across clotheslines strung from  balcony to balcony, creating a colorful, pagent-like display.

Image from http://eticoesolidale.evolutiontravel.it

The cities residents seem to all be out on the streets at any given time, talking, laughing, and playfully arguing in the distinctive and sometimes undecipherable Neapolitan dialect.  Those who aren’t outdoors are just as likely to join in the cacophony on the street from their windows above.

Image from http://doveviaggi.corriere.it/dove-rcs/home/weekend/arte-e-cultura/2011/agosto/napoli-teatro.html

La pastiera napoletana
Our recipe was inspired by Giorgio Locatelli’s pastiera recipe in his cookbook Made in Italy: Food and Stories, as well as by a few other versions.  The pasteria begins with a crust of pasta frolla, which is found in several other Italian cakes and tarts, such as crostata and crostatine di frutta, and torta della nonna.

It calls for cooked wheat, an Italian specialty product. We happily found that it can be ordered online from Marchese Italian Market; purchase the product called Valgri’ Grano Cotto Pastiera Napoletana.  It also calls for candied citron, orange and/or lemon peel, which we found online through Barry Farms.  You will also need a tart pan with a 10-13 inch diameter and sides at least 2 inches high.  We found a lovely but inexpensive white porcelain one at Sur la Table.  A round cake pan or spring form pan will work, too.

Ingredients
for a 10-13 inch tart

For the pasta frolla
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

For the filling
300 grams (1 and 1/2 cup) grano cotto, or cooked wheat**
250 grams (1 cup) whole milk
250 grams fresh ricotta***
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated.  Preserve 2 of the 3 whites.
115 grams (1/2 cup) super-fine sugar
60 grams (1/3 cup) candied citron, lemon and orange peel****
Zest of one lemon
4 tsp. orange extract
Pinch of salt

*You can substitute pane degli angeli with 2 tsp. baking powder.  So many Italian baked goods call for pane degli angeli, however, that we do encourage you to pick up a package of it.

**You can prepare your own grano cotto by cooking wheat berries and then letting them cool in their own water.  You can also substitute pearl barley, cooked according to instructions.

*** Sheep’s milk ricotta is preferred.  Sadly, we are no longer able to find it locally, and we substituted with cow’s milk ricotta, which works just fine.  Make the effort to find fresh ricotta, not the supermarket tubs of ricotta.

****Candied citron, lemon and/or orange peel will work fine.  It can be left out if needed, but it is worth the effort to find it.  If you want to make your own, see fellow blogger Paola’s recipe here.

Directions
Prepare the pasta frolla by placing the flour onto a firm, smooth work surface.  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.

Place the grano cotto, milk and 15 grams (1 Tbsp) of the sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-low heat.  Set aside to cool.  In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg yolks (set aside 2 of the 3 whites), the rest of the sugar, candied peel, lemon zest, orange extract and a pinch of salt.  When the grano cotto mixture is cool, stir it into the ricotta mixture.  Beat 2 of the 3 egg whites until stiff.  Fold the egg white mixture into the rest of the filling, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180° C, 355° F.  Brush your tart pan with melted butter.

Remove the pasta frolla from the refrigerator, and separate it into two pieces – one piece made up of about 2/3 of the dough, and the second piece made up of the remaining 1/3.  Sprinkle flour onto a smooth surface and roll out the larger piece of dough until it is big enough to fill the base and sides of your tart pan.  Line the tart pan with the rolled out dough, pressing it in so that it is equal thickness on the bottom and on the sides.  Trim any excess dough around the rim of the pan.  Roll out the second piece of dough and cut 6-8 strips for the tart’s lattice, using a pastry cutter to make a pretty fluted edge if you have one.

Pour the filling into the shell, and arrange the strips of dough in a lattice pattern across the top of the tart, taking care to seal the edges of the lattice with the crust.

Bake for 1 hour, and then turn the oven down to 120° C, 250° F and let it bake for 20 more minutes.  Turn the oven off, open the oven door a crack, and let the pastiera rest in the oven until cool.

Happy Easter!

Download a pdf of La pastiera napoletana

La pizza dolce (Rustic Olive Oil Cake)

“Olive oil,” Stefano’s dad Andrea used to tell us, “is good for you.”  He didn’t qualify his claim, or finish his proclamation with …in moderation.  It was simply, unconditionally, good for us.

This was a lucky thing, since we never wanted for olive oil.  The olive trees on the family’s two different plots of land were prolific producers of olives, and in turn, the nuts of that fruit yielded enough oil for Andrea and Maria’s household, our household, and Stefano’s brother Marco’s household, with more left over for the friends and relatives that had helped with the olive harvest.

I don’t think I ever saw Stefano’s mom, Maria, cook with any oil other than olive oil.  Her salads and vegetables glistened in it, her sauces simmered in it, and her meats nearly bathed in it.  She sometimes fried in it.  She even baked with it.

It was perhaps Maria’s olive oil cake that Stefano missed the most when we moved to the U.S.  There simply weren’t other breakfast options here that worked for him.  Yes, olive oil cake is a breakfast food.  It’s not only a breakfast food – it works very well with afternoon coffee – but it is very special as a breakfast food.  So, after a few weeks of trying out boxed cereals, muffins and other pastries, we called Maria and asked her to give us the recipe for la pizza dolce, or sweet pizza, as it is called in Italy.

There are hundreds of variations of la pizza dolce, which is sometimes also called la pizza dolce di Pasqua or la pizza di Pasqua, reflecting its association with Easter.  This recipe is simple and pure.  Flour, sugar, eggs, and olive oil.  Something to help it rise.  Stir it all together by hand, gently.  Before you know it, the kitchen is filled with the sweet, earthy aroma of this golden-hued, humble cake.

Maria used to serve it in the morning before school to Stefano and his siblings, together with latte and just a splash of caffè.  On Easter morning, as a special treat, they enjoyed it with uova sode (hard-boiled eggs) and salame corallina.

Epilogue: As we write this, our oldest son, Sean, comes in from outdoors.  Seeing the pizza dolce cooling on the cupboard, he says, “Hey mom, can we have that for breakfast tomorrow?” 

Ingredients
3 eggs, the best you can find.
300 g (approx. 2 and 1/2 cup) flour
300 g (1 and 1/2 cup) sugar
250 ml (1 cup) milk
100 ml (approx. 1/3 cup) olive oil*
1 pouch of Pane degli Angeli, or substitute with 1 Tbsp. baking powder

*you can reduce the oil to 1/4 cup for a lighter version of this cake.

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) and butter and flour a 9 in. (20-25 cm) round cake pan.  Crack the eggs into a medium mixing bowl and beat by hand.  Add the milk and the olive oil, and whisk together until well mixed.

Add the sugar, and stir well.  If you are using Pane degli Angeli, pass it first through a small hand strainer to remove any lumps, and add it to the flour.  If you are using baking soda, add it directly to the flour.  Mix the flour into the batter, stirring gently with a wire whisk.

Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan, and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan.  Be careful, because if you take it out too early it will sink in the center.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu, and Holiday Wine Guide

It’s snowing today, just in time for Christmas.

Christmas is white in our corner of the Earth, so the rare lack of snow leading up to the holidays has been welcomed, but is also just slightly disconcerting.  Winter simply never skips Minnesota, though; sooner or later it will come.  So, as far as we are concerned it might as well snow now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, before we are all out on the roads traveling to the homes of family and friends.  A layer of pretty white snow will brighten the landscape and bring holiday cheer.

Plus, we’ve finished wrapping our gifts, bought the groceries for Christmas Eve dinner, and selected enough wine to carry us through the New Year.  Today we will start a fire, read a book or watch a movie and wait for Christmas to come.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
We smiled today as we read the many articles about the classic Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fish on Christmas Eve.  This tradition, sacred to many Italian Americans, is unheard of in Italy.  Seafood, however, is commonly the focus of the Christmas Eve meal in Italy, in accordance with the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays and on certain holy days.

We are preparing the following seafood-based Christmas Eve meal for our family:

Antipasto
Insalata di polpo
Octopus Salad
Crostini con salmone e arugula
Smoked Salmon and Arugula Crostini
(Prosecco Rustico, Nino Franco)

Primo Piatto
Spaghetti del pescatore
Spaghetti with Seafood
(Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, 2010 Luchetti)

Secondo Piatto
Pesce al cartoccio
Red Snapper, baked ‘al cartoccio’
(Fiano di  Avellino, 2008 Jovis)

Contorno
Insalata di arance
Orange and Fennel Salad
Patate al forno

Oven Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Dessert
Parfait di panettone e zabaglione
Panettone and Zabaglione Parfait
(Moscato, Bartenura 2010)

Due Spaghetti’s Holiday Wine Guide
If you are wondering about wines to pair with your own Christmas Eve and Christmas meal, if you’d like to gift a nice bottle or two, or if you simply want to have some good wine on hand over the holidays, here are a few of Due Spaghetti’s favorites:

Sparkling Wines

Pass on the Champagne and toast to happiness and good health with an Italian Prosecco.  Produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, Prosecco is light, crisp, aromatic and dry – a more uplifting sparkling wine than its French cousin.  One favorite is Col Vetoraz Prosecco.  

Another Italian sparkling wine we enjoy is Moscato d’Asti. Sweet and light, it is a traditional Christmas dessert wine.

Finally, for a sparkling sweet red also light with overtures of strawberry, try a Brachetto or Brachetto d’Acqui.

Whites

Sure, there are plenty of good bottles of Italian Pinot Grigio.  But there are even more exciting whites, many from from central and southern Italy.  A few of our favorites are:

Verdicchio – A wine from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast; its name is derived from the wine’s slightly green hue.

Falanghina – Produced from grapes that grow in the hills surrounding Mount Vesuvius, this wine was unheard of until recently, but is quickly becoming a hit.

Fiano di Avellino – This is another favorite wine that originates, like Falanghina, from the Campania region of southern Italy.  The Fiano grape also grows in volcanic soils, and Fiano di Avellino has a very slight sparkling quality.

Insolia – This Sicilian white is also lightly sparkling, and has a fresh citrus scent.

Arneis – This white is a stand-out from the Piedmont region, where reds rule.  It’s a full-bodied but refreshing and unique Italian white wine.

Reds

Distinguished Italian Reds recognized for their elegance and quality are Amarone, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.  They will make a powerful impression on any table or as any gift.

Super Tuscans are also guaranteed to impress.  Super Tuscans are wines that are created when producers intentionally deviate from the standard blending requirements for DOC. and DOCG wines.  Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia and Ornellaia are excellent Super Tuscan wines.

Other lesser known Italian reds that we like are:

AglianicoAglianico is the name of a black grape from the south of Italy that produces a deeply hued and intensely flavored red wine.  Two to look for are Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi. These wines have yet to attract widespread attention, but it is only a matter of time.

Primitivo – The Primitivo is a parent grape to Zinfandel, and comparisons between Primitivo and Zinfandel abound.  This is an economical, pleasant and out-of-the-ordinary Italian red.

Lagrein – Made from grapes grown at the foot of the Swiss Alps, this powerful red from Italy’s Alto Adige region is making a come back.

Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and good drink to give them!

The Due Spaghetti Holiday Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks

Ah, there is nothing like the holiday season to bring joy, cheer and elevated cortisol levels due to the tension and stress of battling traffic and crowds while trying to complete your Christmas shopping.

As bad as it is here in the States, nothing compared to trying to move around Rome during the days before Christmas.  During le feste, as the holidays are called in Italian, people and automobiles fill the roads and sidewalks of the Eternal City, and even making your way through an intersection takes skill and determination.

We used to manage it, maneuvering our little Nissan Micra through the crowds, getting in and out of parking spots so small that only inches separated you from the cars in front and behind you.  Typically, we’d no more finish all of our shopping and Stefano’s father would slip us a 100 mila lire bill and ask us to go and pick out something nice for Stefano’s mom on his behalf!

To help you finish your holiday shopping without needing to venture outdoors at all, we’ve assembled the Due Spaghetti Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks. All of the items have met our standard for authenticity and usefulness, and most can be purchased online at our Due Spaghetti aStore.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and have a look. 

Must Have Italian Cookbooks

The Silver Spoon
Called Il Cucchiaio D’Argento in Italian, The Silver Spoon is the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of recipes from all regions of Italy.

Often referred to as the “bible” of Italian cooking, It is a must-have for all Italian kitchens.

First published in 1950, it has been updated several times.  Be sure to buy the new edition, with a red cover.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Author Marcella Hazan is to Italian cooking what Julia Child is to French cooking.  She provides not just recipes, but also detailed information about the ingredients, techniques and traditions of Italian cooking.

And, Hazan is attentive to ensuring that dishes can be prepared in an American kitchen with locally available ingredients.

Made in Italy: Food and Stories
Michellen-starred chef Giogio Locatelli, of London’s Locanda Locatelli, writes about the food of his native Italy with passion and intelligence.

The sophisticated but re-creatable recipes are interspersed with Locatelli’s endearing tales of local traditions and childhood memories, making this a pleasant read as well as an invaluable culinary resource.

Useful Kitchen Tools

Microplane Graters

Inspired by woodworking tools, these amazinggraters outperform all others.  Grating hard cheeses like Parmigiano and zesting lemons becomes simple.  Our favorites are the Classic Zester/Grater and the Coarse grater with attachment.

Imperia Pasta Maker
Stefano’s mom rolls out her homemade pasta and cuts it by hand, just like his Nonna did.  Most of us would never get around to making pasta at home if we held to this standard, though.  With the Imperia homemade pasta maker, lasagne, fettuccine and tagliatelle turn out perfectly, and with an attachment or two you can even make ravioli.

Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Maker

Skip the expensive espresso makers, and join the millions of Italians who use the stovetop Bialetti Moka Express to make espresso at home.  They come in many different sizes, but at Due Spaghetti we recommend the 3-serving version.  We begin each day with espresso from ours.

Tasty Edible Gifts

Pocket Coffee
Despite its English name, this delightful confection surprisingly has not taken hold stateside.  A dark chocolate candy filled with rich liquid espresso makes for a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.  A great stocking stuffer for chocolate and coffee lovers!

Panettone
This classic Italian Christmas cake originated in Milan, but is now a hallmark of the holidays across all of Italy.  Candied lemon, citrus and orange zest and raisins give the light, airy cake a fragrant citrus quality.  At our house, we enjoy it for breakfast as well as for dessert.  Some Italian delis in the U.S. have begun selling artisan panettoni, but if you cannot find one, they can be ordered online from Italian producers such as Bauli.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Called Aceto Balsamico in Italian, good-quality balsamic vinegar is a staple in Italian kitchens.  It’s not worth skimping on quality – look for balsamic vinegar from Modena, aged at least 12 years, but better yet 25.  It’s delicious with olive oil over salad, or drizzled on fresh strawberries in summertime.

Or…An Iconic Italian Car

The Fiat 500
Originally produced as a post-WWII economy car, the Fiat 500 became enormously popular in Italy and throughout Europe, and is now an icon of Italian 20th century design and culture.  Fiat brought the 500 back in 2007, exactly 50 years after the debut of the original version, and it launched in the U.S. market in 2010.  The sporty Abarth model, already on European roads, will be available to order here in the U.S. in February 2012.  Due Spaghetti officially test drove the new 500c convertible recently.  Expect a post on this sometime soon, but in the meanwhile let it suffice to say that this little car is a gem of Italian style design and a joy to drive.

Tozzetti

It’s December, and weekends are dedicated to holiday baking.  We keep things simple – just the 3 or 4 special Italian holiday treats from Stefano’s childhood that now have become part of our family traditions.  There are precisely the right number of weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything in: salame di cioccolatopanpepato, mostaccioli, and tozzetti.  This year, before Luigi returns to Italy for good, we may try to add panettone to our repertoire.

Tozzetti

This weekend it’s tozzetti, which are sometimes called cantucci in Italy, and are incorrectly called biscotti here in the States.  As recipients of the Cannolo Award for Authentic Italian Food, we have the responsibility to educate our audience and correct misconceptions, so let’s take a moment to talk about biscotti.

This discussion is very similar to a previous post about bruschette and crostini.  The word biscotto (singular) can be broken into two parts: bis, the Latin suffix indicating two; and cotto, which means cooked.  Biscotto, therefore, means “twice cooked.”  This is actually an accurate description of tozzetti, which we are writing about today, because they are baked twice.  However, in Italian biscotto is a broad term, corresponding to “cookie” in American English or “biscuit” in British English.  There are lots of different types of biscotti (plural), just like there are many types of cookies.

The biscotti sold in coffee shops in America would not be called biscotti in Italy.  They’d be called tozzetti or cantucci.  However, in Italy they are smaller and more delicately flavored.  Like so many things in America, our biscotti have become over-sized and over-elaborated.  There is no-such thing as “chocolate-dipped biscotti” or “caramel macchiato biscotti” in Italy; those are Starbucks inventions.  And, that “o” in the second syllable is pronounced “oh” not “ah,” like this.The difference between tozzetti and cantucci is a bit more elusive, and like so many Italian recipes it is mostly a regional difference.  Cantucci, also called cantuccini or biscotti del Prato, are typical of Tuscany.  They are usually made with almonds, and are often paired with Vin Santo, an amber-colored Tuscan dessert wine.  Tozzetti are more common to the Umbria and Lazio regions of central Italy.  They are sometimes made with almonds, but more commonly contain hazelnuts, pine nuts or bits of chocolate.

Tozzetti

Stefano’s mom, Maria, makes tozzetti with hazelnuts in very traditional fashion.  Over the years, we’ve experimented with different flavors and ingredients, but we eventually returned to a recipe much like Maria’s, typical of the Castelli Romani, the hilltowns outside of Rome.  We call them tozzetti. Another may call them differently. Regardless of what they are called, they are delicious.

Ingredients
for 4-5 dozen tozzetti

3 eggs
225 grams (1 cup) sugar
500 grams (4 cups) flour
50 grams (3 & 1/2 Tbsp) butter
300 grams (approx. 3 cups) crushed hazelnuts or sliced almonds
1 pouch of lievito Pane degli Angeli
1 shot glass of amaretto or brandy

Directions
Spread the nuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Toast them in an oven preheated to 350°F (180°C) for around 10 minutes or until they have taken a golden brown color and a nutty smell, and set them aside.

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and the liqueur.  Add the flour and lievito Pane degli Angeli, and mix gently until the dry ingredients are absorbed.  Mix in the nuts.

Using your hands, divide the dough in quarters.  Work work each section of dough into a long, uniform log and place two logs onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F (180°C).  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Leave the oven on.

Tozzetti

Tozzetti

Carefully transfer the baked logs to a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 1/2 inch wide tozzetti.  They will be crumbly, so take care to not break them.  Return the tozzetti to the baking sheet, lay them on their sides, and place them back into the oven for 10 more minutes without turning them.  Let them cool completely (if you can resist).

Tozzetti

Tozzetti

Enjoy your tozzetti with coffee, milk or tea at breakfast, or with a dessert wine such as Vin Santo or Passito after dinner.

Readers, did you grow up eating tozzetti or cantucci during the Christmas holidays?  What is your understanding of the difference between the two?