Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Desserts

Umbrian Olive Orchards

Umbrian Olive Orchards

The only landlocked region in Italy, Umbria is located in the center of the country. Wheat and spelt, pearl barley, grapes, olives, lentils, red potatoes, sunflowers and fruits and vegetables of all kinds grow well in the fertile lands of Umbria and provide the basis for hearty Umbrian cooking. Abundant, as well, are forest animals like deer, wild pigs and venison that provide hearty proteins for the Umbrian table.

Some of the best lentils come from Umbria, in particular from Castelluccio, therefore a hearty lentil soup is a typical regional dish served as a first course or for lunch. With such a strong meaty tradition where meats are often cooked whole on a spit, Umbrian second courses appeal to meat lovers.  Late summer is fig season in Umbria and they are often baked into sweet breads and pastries.

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The wines of Umbria include: Sagrantino di Montefalco (DOCG) and Montefalco Rosso (DOC), but the most prestigious Umbrian wine is Torgiano Rosso “riserva” (DOCG). Orvieto produces one of Italy’s best-selling DOC whites.

The dinner menu below is inspired by the cuisine and regional foods of Umbria, Italy

First Course

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Umbrian Vegetable and Sausage Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Italian sausage links, sliced thin and each slice cut in half
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large red potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. container finely chopped Italian tomatoes
  • Half of a 16 oz. package of frozen broccoli florets
  • 6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water

Directions

Heat the oil in a large Dutch Oven or soup pot. Add the sausage and brown; remove to a plate.

Add all the vegetables and garlic to the pot and saute until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the broth, water, tomato and seasonings. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook the vegetables for 15 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and bring back to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Serve with crusty Italian bread

Second Course

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Pork Scaloppine with Peppers and Onions

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless pork loin chops, about 1 lb.
  • 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced
  • 3-4 Italian frying peppers, depending on their size
  • 1/2 cup pureed Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Trim and cut the pork chops in half lengthwise to make 6 pieces. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the countertop. Put one pork piece on top of the plastic and cover with a second piece of plastic wrap.

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With a meat mallet (or heavy skillet), pound the meat into 1/4-inch thick scaloppine.

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Repeat with the other 5 pieces.

Dip the scaloppini in the egg and then coat in the bread crumbs. Place breaded meat on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

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Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the 3 scaloppini slices and brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining oil and breaded cutlets.

Add the garlic, peppers and onions to the skillet and cook until tender. Stir in the tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until heated through.

Serve the scaloppini with the pepper and onion sauce.

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Roasted Cauliflower Parmesan

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 whole cauliflower, broken into large florets
  • 3 eggs or 3/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour mixed with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Grease a large baking sheet with olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the flour and seasonings in a large plastic bag. add the cauliflower florets, close the bag and shake until the cauliflower pieces are covered in flour.

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In a deep bowl beat the eggs with a fork and add the Parmesan cheese.

Dip each piece of floured cauliflower into the egg and cheese mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

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Put them on the greased baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.

Dessert Course

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Fresh Fig and Almond Tart

Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated single 9 inch pie crust dough, at room temperature
  • 15 Mission figs, tips cut off and halved
  • 1/2 cup fig jam (or another jam)
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla granulated sugar or regular granulated sugar

Directions.

Unroll pastry and place in a buttered 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Flute edges.

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Spread the fig jam over the bottom of the crust. Arrange the figs in a decorative pattern on top.

Sprinkle with sliced almonds and sugar.

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Place the tart pan on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake at 375°F for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack until serving time.


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Packing lunches can be a rushed chore for parents and unhealthy items might get mixed in. Children have particular tastes and often balk at new, healthy foods, so the key is to keep the foods interesting and not too different from what they usually get. If your child returns home with half of their lunch uneaten because they don’t like something then use a few ”tricks” in creating their lunches.

Chips are crunchy and a fun snack, but lack nutritional value. The beginning of the school year is also the start of apple season, so substitute apple chips.

Use Greek yogurt that is full of protein and sweeten it lightly with honey to make a parfait. Layer fruit and granola with the yogurt to make something delicious that your children will love.

Unless your child is training for the Olympics, chances are they don’t need a sports drink every day. Curb their cravings for this sugary beverage with colorful flavored water.

Chocolate treats are very tempting for lunches. They’re individually wrapped and easy to throw in a backpack. Instead of the high sugar option, try healthy chocolate cookies. They pack the same great chocolate taste, but also have fiber and fewer calories.

Stop older kids from wanting to eat out by packing them a delicious wrap. They hold up well without refrigeration and you can tuck in some vegetables without them knowing. Drizzle Caesar dressing (or your child’s favorite dressing) over chicken inside a wrap for a tasty lunch that won’t have your children heading off for fast food.

If kids help pack their lunch, they’re more likely to eat it! On nights you have a bit more time, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of bread they want and let them assemble their lunch.

Here are some ideas for healthy lunchbox snacks that most children like:

  • Single portion-sized cups of unsweetened applesauce or fruit without added sugar.
  • Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins, and a few chocolate chips.
  • Reduced-fat cream cheese spread on whole wheat crackers.
  • Individual serving-sized packages of low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or yogurt smoothies.
  • Carrots and celery sticks with dips made from yogurt or low-fat sour cream.
  • Whole grain bagels topped with cream cheese-vegetable spread.
  • Air-popped popcorn flavored with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
  • Cheese cubes or sticks and seedless grapes make a delicious side dish for sandwiches or wraps.
  • Cold strips of grilled chicken with a honey mustard dip.
  • Dried cranberries or cherries are a sweet alternative for kids bored with raisins.

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Baked Apple Chips

Makes about 50 chips

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large apples or 3 small ones (such as gala, braeburn or fuji)
  • Cinnamon, optional

You will also need:

baking sheets lined with parchment paper

a saucepan to make the simple syrup in

a mandoline or a sharp knife and a cutting board

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the oven set to 250 degrees F

Directions

Make the simple syrup:

Pour the two cups of water and sugar into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Stir it once it comes to a boil to make sure there’s no sugar stuck to the bottom of the pan and it’s all dissolved.

Once the liquid is clear, turn off the heat and let it sit.

Set the oven to 250 degrees F.

Use a mandoline or a sharp knife. Start from the side of the apple and slice off the rounded side of the apple. Then cut the apples into 1/16 inch slices.

Keep going right through the center of the apple. At this stage don’t worry about coring them or the seeds.

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Use a paring knife or your fingernails to remove any seed fragments, stems or fuzzy bits from the apple. The core will soften in the warm syrup.

Place the apples in the simple syrup and soak for 10 minutes. Stir a few times during the soaking period.

Using tongs, lift the apples, one by one from the syrup, shake off the excess and place them on the parchment lined baking sheets.

Don’t overlap them, but try to get as many on the baking sheets as you can. Flatten them as you go  Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon is using.

Place one baking sheet in the middle of the oven and the other right below that.

Cook them for a half hour and then rotate the trays so the top one is on bottom. Cook for another half hour and check. Depending on your oven, both sheets might be done. If they’re done, they should be golden brown and crisp.

If they’re not, give them 10 or 15 more minutes and check again, continuing to do so until they’re done. Keep in mind that they will harden up a bit once you take them out of the oven.

Apple chips will last a few months, it they are around that long.

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Italian Focaccia Sandwiches

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 (8-ounce) round loaf of focaccia bread (6-8-inches in diameter)
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced turkey
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese
  • Thinly sliced tomato

Directions

Cook the bacon in a heavy large frying pan until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Cut the focaccia bread in half and spread the pesto over both sides of the bread.

Cover the bottom halves of the focaccia with turkey, provolone, tomatoes and bacon, spreading equally.

Cover with the top half of the focaccia, pesto side down.

Cut the sandwich into 3-4 inch squares. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

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Chicken-Broccoli Cups

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup light ranch salad dressing
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh broccoli
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Directions

In a small bowl combine yogurt and salad dressing.

In a medium bowl combine chicken, broccoli, carrot and, if desired, nuts. Pour yogurt mixture over the chicken mixture; toss to coat.

For individual lunches, divide chicken mixture among four plastic cups. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.

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Caprese Salad Pita Pockets

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cucumber
  • 3/4 cup mixed tender salad greens
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 large whole wheat pita bread rounds, halved crosswise

Directions

In a medium bowl toss together tomatoes, cheese cubes, cucumber, salad greens, basil, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.

Spoon tomato mixture into pitas. Wrap each pita half in plastic wrap and chill.

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Chocolate Cookie Thins

Makes about 48 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (about 6 ounces)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, American-style or Dutch-process
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped slivered almonds

Directions

Line 3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Grind chocolate in a food processor using on/off pulses until coarsely ground. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer and add cocoa, ½ cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt; stir until blended on a low setting.

Add eggs, honey, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined.

Beat in all-purpose and whole-wheat flours; then fold in cranberries and nuts until thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be stiff.

Divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a 9-inch-long “log.” Divide the log into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

Place on prepared cookie sheets and refrigerate until very cold, about 1 hour.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Place remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar on a small plate. One at a time, dip the top of each ball of dough into the sugar; place, sugar-side up, about 2 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Coat the bottom of a wide glass with cooking spray, then dip it into the sugar. Flatten the balls with the glass to make cookies about 2 1/4 inches in diameter, dipping the glass into the sugar between each cookie and spraying it as needed.

Bake the cookies on the center rack, one pan at a time, until just firm to the touch, 8 to 13 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. Repeat with remaining pans.

These cookies store well in the freezer.


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In my area of the world, it is often too hot at this time of year to spend a great deal of time baking when guests are coming for dinner. So during the cooler months, I like to make a few simple sponge cakes to keep in the freezer. That way I can make a refreshing dessert for company in the summer without a lot of fuss.

During the summer months, ice cream desserts can really “hit the spot”. It is easy to pull together a really great tasting dessert when it is hot with just a few simple ingredients. Here are a few ideas.

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Simple Sponge Cake

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cake flour

Directions

Cut parchment or wax paper to fit two 9″ round cake pans.

Separate eggs, putting whites in large mixer bowl and yolks in small mixer bowl.

Add 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch of salt to the whites and beat until very stiff.

Add 1/2 cup sugar to the yolks and beat until very thick and light yellow in color.

Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites.

Fold flour in using 1//3 cup each time until well mixed.

Do not over-mix.

Divide the cake batter and pour into the prepared pans.

Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Cool for a few minutes, remove from pan and remove paper.

Cool completely.

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Tiramisu Ice Cream Parfaits

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee, cooled
  • 4 cups (1-inch) cubed sponge cake (you could also use angel food cake or pound cake)
  • 2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened
  • 1 (3-ounce) dark chocolate bar, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half

Directions

In a bowl mix the cake cubes with 2/3 of the coffee until well soaked.

Stir ice cream in a second bowl until spoonable, then layer cake cubes and ice cream in parfait glasses. Top each with a drizzle of coffee, a generous amount of chocolate shavings and a few cherries. Serve immediately.

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Pineapple Ice Cream Sandwiches

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 (1/4-inch thick) fresh pineapple slices, cut in circles
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream, softened
  • Toasted flaked sweetened coconut

Directions

Grill pineapple slices over low to medium heat for 90 seconds on each side. Allow to cool briefly.

Sandwich the softened ice cream between the 2 grilled slices of pineapple. Coat sides in toasted coconut. Slice in half and serve immediately.

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Vanilla Affogato

Affogato is an Italian drink that makes a wonderful alternative to iced coffee on a hot summer day.  Affogato literally means “drowned”.  It generally consists of  gelato (Italian ice cream) that is topped with hot espresso or a liqueur. You can use freshly brewed espresso or instant or decaffeinated espresso, if you prefer. You may also top your drink with a liqueur such as Kahlua, Grand Marnier or Frangelico.  You can also add a little powdered chocolate milk mix to the coffee for a mocha flavor. Traditionally, affogato is served with a biscotti on the side.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 pint vanilla gelato or ice cream
  • Shaved chocolate

Directions

Beat the cream until stiff peaks form.

Cover and refrigerate.

Stir the espresso powder into the boiling water until dissolved.

Place one scoop of gelato into 4 tall glasses or large coffee mugs.

Pour 2 to 4 tablespoons hot espresso over each.

Top each with a dollop of whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Serve immediately.

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Sicilian Granita

Tip: If you don’t have an espresso maker, use instant espresso powder and water; store the powder in your freezer after opening. Instant coffee will also work in a pinch, it just won’t be as full-flavored.

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups freshly brewed espresso
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Directions

Stir hot espresso and sugar in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Place on a level surface in your freezer and freeze for 2 hours, stirring and scraping with a fork every 20 minutes to break up the ice crystals. Cover and freeze for at least 1 hour more.

Beat cream and powdered sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high-speed until medium peaks form, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Scrape the frozen granita into ice crystals using a sturdy fork.

To serve, layer the granita in dessert goblets and top each with a tablespoon of whipped cream.

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Italian Coconut-Coffee Bites

24 bites

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder or 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 ½ tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 ¼ cups finely crushed biscotti crumbs
  • 5 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Line twenty-four mini muffin cups with paper baking cups; set aside.

Dissolve espresso powder in the boiling water; set aside.

For the crust:

In a medium nonstick skillet melt butter over medium-low heat. When butter is bubbling, add coconut. Cook and stir until coconut is toasted and golden brown. Stir in finely crushed biscotti crumbs. Remove pan from heat.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of the crumb mixture into each prepared muffin cup; press firmly to pack down. Place the muffin cup pan in the freezer. Keep remaining crumb mixture at room temperature to use for topping.

For the filling:

In a medium bowl beat mascarpone cheese with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy, Beat in the sugar, cinnamon and salt until smooth and well mixed. Beat in vanilla and espresso.

Divide filling among the crumb-lined muffin cups. Top each cup with the reserved crumb mixture. With a fingertip, gently press topping into filling.

Freeze until firm, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.


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In Italian, the word “biscotto” means “biscuit” or “cookie.” More specifically, biscotti are named according to their original method of baking. The root words “bis” and “cotto” literally mean “twice” and “baked.” When Italians first created biscotti in the region of Tuscany many centuries ago, they were careful to bake the cookies twice, in order to allow the cookies to develop their signature crisp texture. Over the years, these methods became standard practice. Bakers shape the dough into a log, bake it, evenly slice it into cookies and then bake the cookies again.

The first biscotti were made as a portable and durable food for Roman soldiers and travelers. They were made with traditional almond flavoring during the Renaissance and, at the time, it was also popular to dip them in an Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo, a practice that remains common in Italy today. Many people outside of Italy prefer to dip biscotti in coffee or hot chocolate to soften them before eating them. The range of flavors that these cookies come in has also expanded hugely since their creation and can include walnuts, orange zest and anise. Some types are coated with icing or glazed with chocolate, but the most traditional ones do not have a frosting or coating.

It’s relatively easy to bake these cookies. The basic recipe includes flour, sugar, eggs and sometimes butter or olive oil, along with nuts, spices or fruits. There is no one perfect way to make biscotti. Some recipes call for eggs only, which is the traditional method, while others include butter or oil. The choice is yours; just keep in mind that those made with butter or oil will have both a softer texture and a shorter shelf life.

Here are my two favorite recipes.

Cherry Pistachio Biscotti

Makes about 36 biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the tops of the dough
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Reserve one baking sheet for later when you bake the biscotti slices.

Place pistachios in a single layer on a third baking sheet and toast the nuts in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix toasted pistachios, cherries, sugars, baking powder and flour.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and vanilla extract until well blended. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times.

Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be sticky, but persevere. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands, until a dough starts to form. Once the dough is firm, form a ball. Divide the ball into 2 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place one piece of dough and, using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. If it’s sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Place the two logs on one baking sheet. Brush the loaves all over with 1 lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, cut 1/2-inch-thick slices, either straight or on the diagonal. Use a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. If the cookie is crumbling, then let it cool a few more minutes. Don’t let it rest too long, however, or it could become too hard to slice.

Place slices on their sides on the baking sheets. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake the biscotti for 20 minutes, until toasted and crisp. Turn the biscotti slices over and rotate the pans after ten minutes.

If you desire, you can turn off the oven and let the biscotti stay for up to an hour. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove the pans from the oven and cool the biscotti completely before storing in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp. Stored properly, biscotti will last up to a month.

Toast the Nuts

Lightly Toast the Nuts

batter

Form the Batter

Shape into Loaves

Shape into Logs

Brush with Egg

Brush with Egg

Bake the Logs

Bake the Logs

Cool and Slice Logs

Cool and Slice Logs

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Bake Slices

Bake Slices

Cool Twice Baked Slices and Store

Cool Twice Baked Slices and Store

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Makes about 36 biscotti (3/4-inch-wide cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups toasted hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the tops of the dough
  • 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Directions

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Reserve one baking sheet for later when you bake the biscotti slices.

Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a third baking sheet and toast the nuts in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside to cool. Chop the nuts into large pieces.

In a large bowl, mix toasted hazelnuts, chocolate chips, sugars, baking powder, cocoa, flour, cinnamon and espresso powder.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and coffee liqueur. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times.

Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be sticky, but persevere. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands, until a dough starts to form. Once the dough is firm, form a ball. Divide the ball into 2 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place one piece of dough and, using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. If it’s sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Place the two logs on one baking sheet. Brush loaves all over with 1 lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, cut 1/2-inch-thick slices, either straight or on the diagonal. Use a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. If the cookie is crumbling, then let it cool a few more minutes. Don’t let it rest too long, however, or it could become too hard to slice.

Place slices on their sides on the baking sheets. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake the biscotti for 20 minutes, until toasted and crisp. Turn the biscotti slices over and rotate the pans after ten minutes.

If you desire, you can turn off the oven and let the biscotti stay for up to an hour. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove the pans from the oven and cool the biscotti completely before storing in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp. Stored properly, biscotti will last up to a month.

 


 

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This is definitely pie baking for those who are intimidated by making traditional pies. Think rustic tarts — they don’t even require a pie plate. First, you roll out just one sheet of dough (since there’s no top) as perfectly or imperfectly as you like. Then you add the fruit filling in the center and fold over the edges of the dough. There you are – ready to bake.

A crostata is an Italian baked tart or pie, also known as coppi in Naples and sfogliate in Lombardy. The earliest known use of crostata in its modern sense can be traced to the cookbooks Libro de Arte Coquinaria (Art of Cooking) by Martino da Como, published circa 1465, and Cuoco napoletano (Neapolitan recipes), published in the late 1400s containing a recipe (number 94) titled “Crostata de Caso, Pane,” etc. The French version is called a Galette.

A modern crostata is a “rustic free-form version of an open fruit tart that may also be baked in a pie plate. Crostatas have a status as being one of the premiere Italian pastries. A crostata can be made with just about any type of fruit filling, the pastry can be prepared with fruit that is in season, as well as any range of home canned preserves and even with canned fruits and jams that are purchased in the supermarket. The fact that the crostata may be prepared as an open-faced dessert or be covered with a top crust allow this Italian pastry to easily adapt to all sorts of occasions.

Since peaches looked absolutely beautiful this week, I bought some for eating and some for baking. So I am making a peach crostata for you here and recipes for other types of fruit fillings follow. Just follow the directions for the peach crostata for the other fruit fillings. Take your pick. Not only is this dessert easy to prepare but if you serve it to guests, they will think you are a pastry chef.

The traditional pastry in Italy is pasta frolla but you can also use 1 large sheet of defrosted puff pastry or 1 refrigerated round pie crust dough. The traditional pastry recipe is below, if you would like to use it. I keep it simple and use the refrigerated store-bought pastry crust. I don’t peel the peaches either.

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Peach Crostata

I like to brush the bottom of the crust with a little jam or marmalade to keep the crust from getting soggy and to add an additional layer of flavor. Traditional recipes do not call for this step.

Ingredients

  • One refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons apricot or peach preserves or orange marmalade
  • 3 large peaches, sliced ½ inch thick
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour, cornstarch or tapioca flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Water or cream
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Directions

Heat the oven to 425°F. Remove the pie crust dough from the paper pouch and place flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the crust with the preserves.

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In medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar and salt. Add the peaches and vanilla. Mix well.

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Rather than spooning the fruit mixture onto the center of the crust, I prefer to arrange the fruit in a decorative pattern to within 1 1/2 inches of the edge. Use tongs to arrange the fruit and pour any juice left in the bowl over the arranged fruit. If there are any slices that don’t fit just arrange them in the center on top of the first layer, as I did for this crostata. Dot with the butter.

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Fold the crust edge over the filling to form a border, pleating the crust as necessary. Refrigerate the tart until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Brush the crust edge with water or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender. Serve warm. This dessert is sometimes served with sweetened mascarpone cheese or whipped cream.

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Pasta Frolla (Italian Sweet Pastry Dough)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks

Directions

Put the flour, sugar, salt, lemon and orange zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine the ingredients. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolks and process until the dough just begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it together. Knead it briefly and shape it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled (overnight is fine). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes, or until it is just pliable enough to roll, but not too soft to work with. Roll out into an 11 inch circle.

Blueberry Crostata

  • 18 oz blueberries
  • 1 heaping tablespoon flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Blackberry Crostata

  • 12 ounces blackberries
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Plum Crostata

Note: For this recipe you want firm but slightly ripe plums, and preferably freestone, such as the Italian prune plums.

  • 2 pounds firm ripe Italian prune plums, cut into sixths or eighths
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or other flavored liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Fig Crostata

Use fig jam for the crust, if you can.

  • 1/2 lb of ripe figs
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Apricot Crostata

  • 1 1/2 lbs of fresh ripe apricots
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Coarse sugar

Cinnamon Apple Crostata

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups thinly sliced, peeled cooking apples or 3 large apples
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans or walnuts

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healthyfruitcover

Summer brings a wealth of deliciously ripe fruit our way. On top of drinking water, drinking fresh juices and smoothies and eating fresh fruit can also help your body stay energized and hydrated.

Berries can be enjoyed on salads, desserts and in cereal. They are low in calories and high in antioxidants.

Peaches have a sweet, almost tangy taste that blends well in smoothies and other beverages. They are good sources of vitamin A and potassium.

Pears are soft and sweet tasting and their mild flavor lets them blend well with a variety of recipes. They are good sources of vitamin C, copper and dietary fiber.

Apricots are smooth and faintly tart. They are good sources of beta-carotene and lycopene for heart health and vitamin A, an antioxidant that helps with vision and cellular growth.

Figs have a soft texture and are a favorite for baking. Roasting them in the oven makes a sweet, tender treat. They are good sources of dietary fiber, potassium and manganese.

Watermelon is the best natural thirst quencher on a hot summer day. Watermelon and other melons are an excellent source of antioxidants like vitamin C, beta carotene and lycopene.

Cherries are delicious out of hand but are also an excellent baking fruit. They’re also an excellent source of  fiber, vitamin C and flavonoids, which makes cherries super protective against cancer and inflammation in the body.

Plums are a low-calorie power food that won’t spike your blood sugar levels and they help increase the absorption of iron into the body.

Here are some ideas on how to enjoy eating fruit all summer long.

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Berry Parfaits

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh in season berries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
  • 8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, whipped
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 4 graham crackers, crushed
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint for garnish

Directions:

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine whipped cream cheese, honey and lemon juice. Fold the yogurt into the cream cheese mixture.

In four wide-mouth glasses, evenly layer cream cheese mixture, berries and crushed graham crackers. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint. Serve chilled.

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Cherry Crostata

A crostata is an Italian baked tart or pie, also known as coppi in Naples and sfogliate in Lombard.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out pastry
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 tablespoons ice water, more if needed
  • 1 pound fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

Directions

Place both flours, 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl or food processor and whisk to combine or pulse to blend.

Add cold butter and cut in using a pastry blender or pulse in a food processor. Add ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just begins to come together. Add a tablespoon or two of ice water if needed. Gather the dough and shape into a disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss cherries in a medium bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup powdered sugar, cornstarch, orange juice and orange zest.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Gently transfer dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Top the dough with the cherry mixture, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold edges of the dough up and over the fruit, leaving most of the fruit surface exposed in the center.

Bake until the crust is golden and the fruit juices bubble, about 45 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Grilled Peaches and Plums

Ingredients

  • 4 plums, pitted and thinly sliced
  • 24 red or purple plums—halved and pitted
  • 10 peaches, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 oz. Mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Directions

Light a grill and oil the grill grates.

In a medium saucepan, combine the 4 sliced plums with 3/4 cup of the sugar and the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat until the plums are very soft, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the plums to a food processor and puree until smooth. Scrape the plum sauce into a bowl, stir in the lemon juice and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir the melted butter with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.

Grill the halved plums and peaches over moderate heat, turning once, until the fruit is tender, about 6 minutes. Baste the plums and peaches with the sweetened butter and continue to grill, turning once and basting again, until caramelized and slightly charred, about 2 minutes longer.

Mix the mascarpone cheese with the amaretto.

Transfer the grilled fruit to serving plates and spoon the plum sauce on top. Place a tablespoon or two of the mascarpone cheese alongside the fruit and serve.

healthyfruit4

Grilled Gingered-Melon Kabobs

If using wooden skewers, soak the skewers in enough water to cover for at least 1 hour before grilling or broiling.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel
  • 1/3 cup lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups cantaloupe cut into 1-1/2- to 2-inch cubes, balls and/or triangles
  • 2 cups honeydew melon cut into 1-1/2- to 2-inch cubes, balls and/or triangles
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Directions

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine lime peel, lime juice and ginger. Add melon. Seal bag; turn to coat melon. Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes.

Drain melon, reserving any juices. On four long skewers alternately thread cantaloupe and honeydew.

Place kabobs on the rack of a preheated and oiled grill directly over medium coals or gas. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes or until grill marks are visible, turning occasionally to brown evenly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved juices and the honey until well blended. Drizzle this mixture over the warm kabobs.

Variation

Broiler method: Preheat the broiler. Place the kabobs on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 5 to 6 inches from the heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until heated through, turning once.

healthyfruit5

Fig Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (about 5 1/8 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh figs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Lightly spoon flours into measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours and the next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Make a well in center of the mixture.

Place buttermilk, oil, vanilla and egg in a medium bowl and whisk until well blended. Stir in chopped figs. Add the mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until combined.

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray.

Combine brown sugar, oats and melted butter in a small bowl; toss with a fork until combined. Sprinkle oat mixture evenly over muffins.

Bake for about 18 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes; remove muffins from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.


florentinecover

Florence’s hot temperatures, al fresco dining and a busy open-air arts and concert season make it one of Italy’s most vibrant cities in the summer.

The classic Italian dinner, or “cena”, has a very specific structure. Traditional dinners begin with “apertivo,” which is usually a drink with snacks to get ready for the large meal to come. “Antipasta,” the appetizer, comes next, followed by the “primo”, which can be a pasta, a soup, polenta or a rice dish. The “secondo” follows the primo, which is the major protein of the meal, consisting of meat, eggs or fish and often accompanied by “contorno,” or a side dish of vegetables. The meal is then topped off by “dolce,” dessert and a “café,” coffee.

At the heart of Florentine cuisine, you will find bread (plain, unsalted, well-baked with a crispy crust and light and airy inside); without any doubt the best extra-virgin olive oil, Florentine steaks of beef, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer and rabbit and wine.

There is a reason that Italians live long lives and everyone looks healthy and happy: they eat really, really well with a focus on seasonal vegetables, simple cooking techniques and lots of olive oil. The bean and chickpea salads we serve at backyard barbecues, marinated vegetable salads and the cooling end to a meal with panna cotta and gelato, all have their roots in Italian summer recipes. There is even a minestrone designated for summer and it is one of the best because of all the fresh tomatoes and squash available at this time of year.

Italian cocktails… are delicious year-round. But in summer, when the temperature rises and the humidity sets in, there’s nothing more refreshing than—a Bellini, spritz or limoncello.

Eat the Italian way: slowly and moderately, while enjoying the food and each other’s company.

florentinemarket

Florentine Market

Cocktails

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Classic Negroni

This classic was first created for Count Camillo Negroni in 1919 at Florence’s Café Casoni.

For each cocktail:

  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth

Directions

Stir Campari, gin and vermouth in an ice-filled tumbler; pour into a glass and garnish with an orange slice.

Appetizer

Caprese Salad with Red and Yellow Tomatoes and Buffalo Mozarella

Pesto Caprese Salad

Serve with Italian bread.

Serving 6

Ingredients

  • 6-8 fresh tomatoes, depending on their size
  • 8 ounces fresh Mozzarella cheese
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • High quality balsamic vinegar

Directions

Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and place on a serving platter. Slice the mozzarella cheese about 1/4 inch thick. Place cheese slices between the tomato slices. Tuck fresh basil leaves in between the tomatoes and the cheese.

For the dressing:

Stir together the basil pesto and olive oil to make a thin dressing.  Drizzle over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Splash a little balsamic vinegar over the salad. Serve.

First Course

florentine5

Pasta zucchine e ricotta

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 8 medium-sized zucchini
  • 20 leaves of basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 oz. short pasta, such as penne
  • Grated parmesan cheese for serving

Directions

Slice the zucchini into rounds and cut each round in half.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the zucchini on a high heat until they turn lightly brown.

Add the garlic, cook for 5 seconds and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so that the garlic infuses the zucchini but does not burn. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (a good minute or two less than the package instructions; until it is cooked but still firm to the bite).

Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

In a warmed bowl, combine the pasta with the ricotta, remaining olive oil and the pasta cooking water.

Tear the basil leaves into small pieces and stir into the pasta. Serve with grated cheese.

Second Course

florentine1

Tuscan Pork with Spinach and Chickpeas

Serves 6

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2″-thick slices
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low sodium chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 bags (10 ounces each; 15 ounces total) baby spinach leaves (15 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes until the onion softens. Push the onions to one side of the pan.

Add the pork. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning once, until well browned on both sides. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and salt. Stir. Adjust the heat so the sauce is at a moderate simmer. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the spinach, a large handful at a time, covering the pan between each addition. Cook until all the spinach wilts. Remove the pork to a serving plate.

Add the lemon juice to the pan. Stir to combine. Spoon the spinach mixture over the pork slices. Serve.

Dessert

florentine4

Zabaglione & Orange Liqueur

Use any fruit that is in season in this recipe.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 3 cups peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled amaretti cookies
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, cut into quarters
  • 7 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Fresh mint for garnish

Directions

In the top half of a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and sugar to a creamy consistency. Place the egg mixture over the hot water in the bottom of the double boiler, making sure that the pot containing the eggs doesn’t touch the water. Beat the mixture well with a whisk until it starts to thicken. It should take about 5 minutes. Be careful not to beat too long or you will cook the eggs.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the orange liqueur, whisking until it is well incorporated. Return the pan to the double boiler and whisk until the mixture is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Divide the strawberries and peaches among 6 wine glasses or dessert bowls, Sprinkle each with the amaretti crumbs and spoon 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur over each. Top with some of the custard and decorate each with a mint sprig, if you wish.

This dessert can be eaten warm or it can be refrigerated and eaten later.



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