Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Desserts

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Mainland Sicilia is the largest island in the Mediterranean and Italy’s southernmost region. Famous for its blue skies and mild winter climate, Sicilia is also home to Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. This fertile land was settled by the Siculi, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Spaniards and Bourbons among others and the remnants of these cultures cover the entire island, from the temples of Agrigento to the priceless mosaics of Piazza Armerina and the ancient capital of Siracusa. Smaller islands, such as the Aeolian, Aegadian and Pelagian chains, as well as Pantelleria, just 90 miles off of the African coast, are also part of Sicilia, offering superb beaches.

Sicily has long been noted for its fertile soil due to the volcanic eruptions. The local agriculture is also helped by the island’s pleasant climate. The main agricultural products are wheat, citron, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, artichokes, almonds, grapes, pistachios and wine. Cattle and sheep are raised. Cheese production includes the Ragusano DOP and the Pecorino Siciliano DOP. The area of Ragusa is known for its honey and chocolate productions.

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Sicily is the third largest wine producer in Italy after Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. The region is known mainly for fortified Marsala wines. In recent decades the wine industry has improved. New winemakers are experimenting with less-known native varietals and Sicilian wines have become better known. The best known local varietal is Nero d’Avola, named for a small town not far from Syracuse. The best wines made with these grapes come from Noto, a famous old city close to Avola. Other important native varietals are Nerello Mascalese used to make the Etna Rosso DOC wine, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wine, the Moscato di Pantelleria used to make Pantelleria wines, Malvasia di Lipari used for the Malvasia di Lipari DOC wine and Catarratto mostly used to make the white wine Alcamo DOC. In Sicily, high quality wines are also produced using non-native varietals like Syrah, Chardonnay and Merlot.

Sicily is also known for its liqueurs, such as the Amaro Averna produced in Caltanissetta and the local limoncello.

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Improvements in Sicily’s road system have helped to promote industrial development. The region has three important industrial districts:

  • Catania Industrial District, where there are several food industries and one of the best European electronic’s center called Etna Valley.
  • Syracuse Petrochemical District with chemical industries, oil refineries and important power stations, such as the innovative Archimede solar power plant.
  • Enna Industrial District in which there are food industries.

In Palermo there are shipyards, mechanical factories, publishing and textile industries. Chemical industries are also in the Province of Messina and in the Province of Caltanissetta. There are petroleum, natural gas and asphalt fields in the Southeast (mostly near Ragusa) and massive deposits of halite in Central Sicily. The Province of Trapani is one of the largest sea salt producers. Fishing is a fundamental resource for Sicily with tuna, sardine, swordfish and anchovy fisheries located there.

Trapani Salt Fields

Trapani Salt Fields

Although Sicily’s cuisine has a lot in common with Italian cuisine, Sicilian food also has Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences. The use of apricots, sugar, citrus, melon, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, pine nuts, cinnamon and fried preparations are a sign of Arab influences from the Arab domination of Sicily in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Norman and Hohenstaufen influences are found in meat preparations. The Spanish introduced numerous items from the New World, including cocoa, maize, peppers, turkey and tomatoes. In Catania, initially settled by Greek colonists, fish, olives, broad beans, pistachio and fresh vegetables are preferred. Much of the island’s cuisine encourages the use of fresh vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes along with fish, such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish and swordfish. In Trapani, in the extreme western corner of the island, North African influences are clear in the use of couscous.

Caponata is a salad made with eggplant (aubergines), olives, capers and celery that makes a great appetizer or a side to grilled meats. There is also an artichoke-based version of this traditional dish, though you’re less likely to find it in most restaurants.

Sfincione

Sfincione

Sfincione is a local form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and anchovies. Prepared on thick bread and more likely found in a bakery than in a pizzeria, sfincione is good as a snack or appetizer. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and then fried .

Panella

Panella

Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same ceci bean. Crocché (croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Arancine are fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese.

Grilled swordfish is popular. Smaller fish, especially snapper, are sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finnochio con sarde (fennel with sardines). Many meat dishes are traditionally made with lamb or goat. Chicken “alla marsala” is popular.

Cassata Cake

Cassata Cake

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Sicilian desserts are world-famous. Cannoli are tubular crusts with creamy ricotta and sugar filling and may taste a little different from the ones you’ve had outside Italy because the ricotta is made from sheep’s milk. Cassata is a rich, sugary cake filled with the same cannoli filling. Frutta di Martorana (or pasta reale) are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit.

Sicilian gelato (ice cream) flavors range from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese). Granita is sweetened crushed ice made in summer and flavored with lemons or oranges.

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Spicy Clams with Tomatoes

The clams used in Sicily for this dish are tiny vongole veraci.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes,peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 pounds small clams or cockles, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and cook over moderately high heat until they begin to break down, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil and let reduce by half.

Add the clams and cook over high heat, stirring, until they open, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic.

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Pasta alla Siciliana

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces dried pasta, cooked and drained
  • 3/4 cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)

Directions

In a large skillet, cook eggplant, onion and garlic in hot oil over medium heat about 10 minutes or until the eggplant and onion are tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in tomatoes, wine, oregano, salt, rosemary and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve eggplant mixture over hot cooked pasta. Sprinkle with cheese.

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Steak Palermo Style (“Carne alla Palermitana”)

This is a traditional Palermo dish, consisting of breaded, thinly sliced beef, which is first marinated and then quickly broiled, grilled or cooked in a very hot uncovered heavy pan.

In Sicily, calves live in the open field, building meat and strength, at times they are used to work the fields and are butchered when they are well over a year old, resulting in a tough and muscular meat, mostly eaten boiled or chopped; hence the reason that Sicilian meat cuisine usually consists of meatloaf, meatballs and stews. The preparation of this dish makes the meat tender.

A very important part of this preparation is to soak the meat for a few hours in a marinade not only to compliment the taste of the meat with the flavor of the marinade but most importantly to tenderize the meat by breaking down its fibers.

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients

  • 6 boneless sirloin steaks (about 3 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup wine, white or red
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Pinch of oregano
  • Other preferred herbs (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sprigs of fresh parsley and lemon quarters for garnish
  • Wide container with 1 lb. of fine Italian breadcrumbs

Marinade:

In a plastic or stainless steel  bowl that will fit in your refrigerator, whisk the olive oil and wine; add the crushed garlic cloves, bay leaves, lemon, chopped parsley, oregano, any other herb(s) and a little salt and pepper.

Steaks:

Trim off any fat and place each piece of meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and flatten the meat to an even thickness with a mallet . Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place steaks in the marinade and turn to coat. Make sure that the marinade covers the meat; if needed add some more wine.

Seal the container or cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least two hours and up to 12 hours or more, turning steaks occasionally to absorb the flavors.

Prepare and heat a grill or a heavy frying  pan. Drain steaks and place one at a time in the container with the breadcrumbs. Press the breadcrumbs into the steaks, pushing heavily with your hands.

Set the breaded steaks onto a pan or dish until they have all been breaded. Place them on to the grill or in the dry heated pan. Cook for 7 minutes on one side and 5 minutes on the other side for rare or to the degree of desired doneness. Turn steaks only once.

Place in a serving dish and garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon quarters.

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Orange Salad (Insalata d’Arance)

This Sicilian salad is usually served as a side dish or as a separate course leading into dessert.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

  • 4 large navel oranges
  • 1 large fresh fennel bulb
  • 1 small lemon
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 head of lettuce 
  • Fresh peppermint leaves

Directions

Separate the mint leaves from their stalks. Clean the fennel well and remove the core, stalks and leaves. Peel the oranges and lemon.

Cut the fennel, oranges and lemon into thin slices. Toss together with almonds and mint leaves in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar, olive oil and Marsala wine and toss again.

Chill for a few hours. Toss again before serving on a bed of lettuce leaves.

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Authentic Sicilian Cannoli

The cannoli should be filled right before serving. If they are filled several hours before serving, they tend to become soft and lose the crunchiness which is the main feature of this dessert’s attraction.

Makes 10 cannoli

Ingredients

For the Shells

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 1 oz sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 oz butter, melted
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Marsala wine
  • Lard or olive oil for frying

For the Filling

  • 2 lb ricotta cheese, (preferably from sheep)
  • 1 lb sugar (2 cups)
  • Milk to taste
  • Vanilla to taste
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 3 ½ oz mixed candied fruit (citron), diced
  • 3 ½ oz dark chocolate, chopped

For the Garnish

  • Pistachio nuts, finely ground
  • Confectioners sugar

Directions

To make the shells

Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, melted butter and eggs in a bowl. Then add the Marsala.. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth, then wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for half an hour.

Roll out the cannoli dough and cut it into squares, about 4 inches per side. Then wrap the squares around the metal tubes to shape the cannoli.

Fry the dough, still wrapped around the tubes, in a large pot of boiling lard or olive oil. Let the cannoli cool on paper towels. Once cool, slide out the metal tubes.

To make the ricotta filling:

With a fork mix the ricotta and sugar, adding a little milk and a dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon. Pass the mixture through a sieve and blend in diced candied fruit and bits of dark chocolate.

Fill the crispy shells with the ricotta filling and sprinkle the crushed pistachio nuts over the ends. Sprinkle the outside with powdered sugar.

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veggiebakingcover

Fruits and vegetables can be added to bread to enhance the flavor and create a moister texture. You will find breads and desserts baked with onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets, tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach and even avocados. Vegetables can be added raw, canned, dried or freshly cooked to produce delicious baked goods. Vegetable breads are richer than basic breads because the vegetables contribute flavor and texture to the loaves. You can also use potatoes, corn, rutabagas, parsnips and other starchy vegetables to sweeten and bring a soft texture to the bread.

Some vegetables, like zucchini, are 80% to 90% water so you have to remove some of that water before adding it to the dough.  You can do that by mixing the shredded vegetable with a little salt, letting it drain in a colander and squeezing it dry in a paper towel.

Any time that you add vegetables to your bread, be prepared to adjust the amount of flour that you use. Vegetables will add moisture to your bread and if they are grated or pureed (along with the type of vegetables) will determine the moisture added. The kneading process will also extract some water from the vegetables. It’s easy to add a little more flour if the dough feels too watery.  Because it is easier to add more flour than water, start your dough a bit on the wet side and add flour as needed.

Make sure the bread is completely baked.  It should register 195 to 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. If it’s not thoroughly baked, the water in the vegetables will make the bread soggy.

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Corn and Bacon Spoon Bread

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces bacon, diced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
  • 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen/defrosted
  • 4 large eggs, separated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Heat a 9″ square or round cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until it’s starting to crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Discard the drippings, but don’t clean the pan.

You can also make the spoon bread in a 9″ square or round cake pan. Cook the bacon in a regular skillet and grease the 9″ pan with some of the bacon drippings.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat it to simmering. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring to prevent lumps from forming.

Add the sugar, salt, pepper, cooked bacon and corn. Stir over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the egg yolks one at a time until incorporated. Allow to cool slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold a small amount of the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture to lighten it a little, then fold all of the cornmeal mixture into the egg whites. Transfer the batter to the bacon-seasoned pan.

Bake the spoon bread for 50 to 60 minutes, until it’s set in the middle and golden brown around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and serve it hot, right out of the pan.

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Sweet Potato Biscuits

One large sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cooked, will yield about 1 cup mashed. I cut my biscuits into squares instead of rounds because it saves time and there is no waste.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked sweet potato
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups flour (you can also substitute 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour in place of 1 cup of all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Mash or puree cooked sweet potatoes with milk and honey until smooth. Set aside; cool to room temperature.

Mix dry ingredients together  in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Make a well with dry ingredients and add the mashed sweet potatoes. Mix just until moistened.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat dough into a rectangle about to 1-inch thick. With a sharp knife cut biscuit dough into 3-inch squares.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until biscuits are lightly browned on top. Serve warm with butter and jam.

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Orange Carrot Quick Bread

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup, firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened orange juice
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream butter and gradually add the sugar, beating well. Beat in milk, orange juice, egg, vanilla and orange zest. Stir in carrots and walnuts. Add reserved dry ingredients. Mix well.

Spoon batter into a 4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Since gluten-free batter is thinner than standard batter, the chips and nuts tend to sink to the bottom of the loaf; that’s why it’s important to let the batter rest and thicken for 15 to 20 minutes, then stir to redistribute the add-ins before pouring it into the pan and baking. Another technique you can try is leaving the chips and nuts out of the batter initially, then stirring them into the top third of the batter once it’s been poured into the pan.

Yield: 9″ x 5″ loaf

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup molasses or honey
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Gluten-Free Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for the zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

Place shredded zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with a little salt and let it drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze the zucchini dry.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, molasses or honey, oil, sugar and vanilla until smooth.

Add the flour, salt, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon, mixing until well combined.

Stir in the zucchini, chocolate chips and nuts. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes, then stir to redistribute the chips and nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the bread for 65 to 70 minutes or until the loaf tests done (a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean).

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes before turning it out of the pan onto a rack.

Cool completely before slicing; store well-wrapped, at room temperature.

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Pizza-Style Dinner Rolls

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup seeded and chopped tomato
  • 1/3 cup  shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil or Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough, at room temperature, See recipe homemade below.
  • Milk
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl combine tomato, mozzarella cheese, garlic and basil; set aside.

Divide dough into 12 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each dough portion into a 3-inch round.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the tomato mixture into the center of each dough round; shape the dough around the tomato mixture into a ball, pinching the dough together to seal.

Place rolls, seam sides down, in the prepared baking pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (30 to 45 minutes).

Lightly the brush tops of the rolls with milk and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the rolls for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Easy Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Makes 1 pound of pizza dough

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water, (105-115°F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast, (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour, plus additional for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

Directions

Stir water, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl; let stand until the yeast has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in whole-wheat flour, bread flour and cornmeal until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, mix the dough in a food processor. Process until it forms a ball, then process for 1 minute to knead.)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.


SICILY — SPRING MORNING by Leonid Afremov

SICILY — SPRING MORNING by Leonid Afremov

Make some healthy, delicious spring desserts with in-season ingredients like lemon, berries, rhubarb, cherries and herbs. A great way to celebrate spring.

These desserts can fit any occasion, whether you are entertaining guests or as a delicious ending to a family dinner.

Olive Oil Cornmeal Cake with Strawberry Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar or sparkling sugar
  • Strawberry Sauce, (recipe below)
  • Fresh basil leaves and/or fresh strawberries

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 x 1-1/2-inch round cake pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, milk and olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture and snipped basil until combined.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Remove cake from the pan. Turn cake, sugar side up. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To serve, cut cake into wedges. Serve with Strawberry Sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves and/or fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar

Directions

In a blender or food processor, combine strawberries, sugar and 1 tablespoon of the white balsamic vinegar. Cover and blend or process until smooth.

If desired, stir in additional white balsamic vinegar to taste. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours. Stir before serving.

Rosemary and Lemon Cupcakes

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Lemon Glaze (recipe below)

Directions

Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Line fifteen 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper bake cups; set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cake flour, rosemary, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, lemon extract and vanilla. Beat on medium-high for 2 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping bowl.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture; beat on low after each addition, just until combined. Stir in the lemon peel and lemon juice.

Spoon batter into prepared cups to three-fourths full.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean.

(Bake 36 mini cakes 15 to 18 minutes; 6 jumbo cakes 25 to 30 minutes.) Cool in the muffin pan on a rack 5 minutes. Remove muffins from the pan; cool completely.

Spoon Lemon Glaze on cupcakes. Let stand 10 minutes. Makes 15 (2-1/2-inch) cupcakes.

Lemon Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • 5 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of finely shredded lemon peel

Directions

In a small bowl combine powdered sugar and enough of the lemon juice to reach spreading consistency. Stir in lemon peel.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups red wine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1-by-3-inch strip orange zest
  • 2 pounds sweet cherries, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons honey

Directions

In a medium stainless-steel saucepan, combine the wine, sugar and orange zest. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Add the cherries and bring back to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the cherries are just tender, about 5 minutes. Pour into a glass or stainless-steel serving bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone with the honey. Remove the strip of orange zest from the cherries. Serve the warm cherries and syrup in bowls or stemmed glasses, topped with a large dollop of the mascarpone cream.

Blueberry-Lemon Shortcakes

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut up
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons fat-free milk
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 recipe Honey-Yogurt Cream (below)
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl stir together flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In a small bowl beat egg lightly with a fork. Stir in milk, 2 tablespoons of the honey, 2 tablespoons yogurt and the lemon peel. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened.

Using a large spoon, drop dough into 8 mounds onto a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer shortcakes to a wire rack; let cool.

To serve, split the shortcakes in half horizontally. Place bottom halves on serving plates. Evenly top bottom halves with the Honey-Yogurt Cream and blueberries.

Top with shortcake tops and drizzle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon honey. Serve immediately.

Honey-Yogurt Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce of plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 cup of whipped cream

Directions

In a medium bowl stir together yogurt and honey. Fold in whipped cream.

Rhubarb Buckle

Buckle Is a type of cake made in a single layer with fresh fruit added to the batter. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance.

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For the cake

  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray, for cake pans
  • 1 pound plus 10 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

For the crumb topping

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the oven rack in the center position.

Coat two 9-inch square cake pans with cooking spray and line them with parchment, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.

Stir together rhubarb and 1 cup sugar; set aside to macerate.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat together butter, remaining 1 cup of sugar and the lemon zest until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Make the crumb topping:

Stir together flour, brown sugar and salt. Add melted butter; stir to combine.

Divide batter between the pans. Top with rhubarb mixture and sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake until golden on top and cooked through, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks, then lift cakes from the pans using the parchment overhangs.

Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.


AN ITALIAN MAJOLICA PASSOVER PLATE The center with the Kiddush and the order of the Seder, surrounded by wide molded rim with scenes of Joseph Greeting his Brothers and the Passover Meal in Egypt, four heroes (Moses, Aaron, Solomon, David), and two floral plaques in molded borders, late 19th century.

AN ITALIAN MAJOLICA PASSOVER PLATE
The center with the Kiddush and the order of the Seder, surrounded by wide molded rim with scenes of Joseph Greeting his Brothers and the Passover Meal in Egypt, four heroes (Moses, Aaron, Solomon, David), and two floral plaques in molded borders, late 19th century.

The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation over 3,300 years ago from slavery in ancient Egypt. When the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise. For the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten and that is why Passover is also called “The Festival of the Unleavened Bread”. Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is a symbol of the holiday. Other scholars teach that in the time of the Exodus, matzo was commonly baked for the purpose of traveling because it did not spoil and was light to carry, suggesting that matzo was baked intentionally for the long journey ahead.

It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover for a special dinner called a seder. The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. The Passover seder is one of the great traditions of the Jewish faith. Following the pre-meal chants, the charoset is passed around. “With unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it,” is recited while biting into the Passover matzo, horseradish and charoset. One of the most revered of Jewish dishes, it closes the ceremony and begins the feast. Charoset is a dense fruit paste that represents the mortar used by the ancient Hebrew slaves in Egypt to make bricks.

S.A.Hart, Festa della Legge in Livorno's Antica Sinagoga, 1850

S.A.Hart, Festa della Legge in Livorno’s Antica Sinagoga, 1850

People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, probably because Rome has hosted the seat of the Catholic Church for close to 2000 years. Jews arrived long before the Christians, however. Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues in Ostia Antica (an area just outside of present day Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and swelled and historians have calculated that by the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD), there were more than 50,000 Jews living in Rome and dozens of Jewish communities scattered throughout the Roman territory.

Telemaco Signorini, Il Ghetto di Firenze, 1882

Telemaco Signorini, Il Ghetto di Firenze, 1882

Like their fellow countrymen, Italian Jews suffered through thousands of years of invasions that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, but they managed to live fairly peacefully in Italy almost everywhere — from Venice, where the Isola della Giudecca (across the canal from Piazza San Marco) is so named because it was the home of many Jews, to the Arab lands of southern Italy. At least until 1492, when the Spaniards drove the Arabs back across the Mediterranean Sea into Africa and turned the liberated territories of Sicily and Southern Italy over to the Inquisition. Southern Italian Jews fled north to more tolerant regions, where they were joined by Jews from other parts of Europe as well. Florence, Torino, Mantova and Bologna all had strong Jewish communities during the renaissance.

Because Passover celebrates freedom, a small amount of charoset is placed on the seder plate as a reminder to Jews that they were once slaves and they should not take their freedom for granted.

passover2

Italian Charoset

(adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden)

In Italy there are various regional versions of haroset. The haroset of Padua has prunes, raisins, dates, walnuts, apples and chestnuts. In Milan they make it with apples, pears, dates, almonds, bananas and orange juice. Other possible additions include: chopped lemon or candied orange peel, walnuts, pistachios, dried figs, orange or lemon juice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Ingredients

  • 3 apples, sweet or tart
  • 2 pears
  • 2 cups sweet wine
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1/2 lb. dates, pitted and chopped
  • 3/4 cup yellow raisins or sultanas
  • 4 oz. prunes, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup honey or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions

Peel and core the apple and pears and cut them in small pieces. Put all the ingredients into a pan together and cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, until the fruits are very soft, adding a little water, if it becomes too thick.

passover3

Sweet-And-Sour Celery (Sephardic Passover Apio)

Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons mild honey
  • 4 lbs celery, cut into 2-inch pieces, reserving about 1 cup of celery leaves (2 to 3 bunches)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Directions

Cut a round of parchment paper to fit just inside a wide heavy 6-to 8-quart pan, then set the paper round aside.

Simmer water, lemon juice, oil, honey, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in the pan, stirring, until the honey has dissolved.

Stir in celery (but not leaves) and cover with the parchment round. Simmer until tender and liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 35 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop reserved leaves. Serve celery sprinkled with celery leaves and parsley.

passover4

Chicken with Lemon and Olives

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds), skin removed
  • 4 thighs (about 1 pound), skin removed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup pitted whole green olives
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Directions

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add onion and garlic to the pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add browned chicken, broth, olives, cinnamon, ginger and coriander; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Turn chicken over; cook, uncovered for 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan with a slotted spoon; place 1 chicken piece on each of 4 plates. Add lemon zest, juice, and parsley to the pan; cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Spoon sauce over chicken.

passover5

Vegetable Farfel Kugel

Farfel is small pellet or flake shaped pasta used in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. It is made from an egg noodle dough and is frequently toasted before being cooked. It can be served in soups or as a side dish. In the United States, it can also be found pre-packaged as egg barley. During the Jewish holiday of Passover, when dietary laws pertaining to grains are observed, “matzah farfel” takes the place of the egg noodle version. Matzah farfel is simply matzah broken into small pieces

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 10 ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 6 ounces matzah farfel
  • 7 large eggs, whites only
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Dash paprika

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 9 x 13 inch oven proof dish.

In a large, nonstick skillet, sauté the fresh vegetables in oil 3-5 minutes. Add drained spinach. Pour boiling water over farfel (in a strainer) to moisten. Add farfel, vegetables, salt, pepper and nuts. Cool.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the farfel mixture. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake 45 minutes or longer until browned.

passover1

Passover Honey Nut Cake

(adapted from A TREASURY OF JEWISH HOLIDAY BAKING By Marcy Goldman)

Cake

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup matzoh cake meal
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Soaking Syrup

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 7-inch round layer cake pan. (If you do not have one that size, you can use a round foil pan of the same or similar size available in the supermarket baking aisle).

Cake:

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, beat the granulated and brown sugars with the oil and eggs until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Stir in the remaining batter ingredients. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is light brown and set. Cool for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the Soaking Syrup.

Soaking Syrup:

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Heat to dissolve the sugar and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes syrupy. Cool well.

Pour the cooled syrup over the cooled cake, poking holes in the cake with a fork, to permit the syrup to penetrate. Allow it to stand for 2 to 4 hours to absorb the syrup.

Refrigerating this cake while it is absorbing the liquid helps the cake to firm up, which makes it easier to cut.


springproducecover
Soft, woodsy flavors and aromas are the hallmarks of spring’s earliest produce that include an assortment of mushrooms, bright green asparagus and artichokes.

Savor the peak of asparagus season by roasting fresh, green spears to enhance their flavor and provide for a more tender texture.

Step away from the strong flavors of winter, like garlic and onions, and explore some milder flavoring ingredients, such as shallots and green onions (spring onions).

Leafy herbs become widely available in spring and are great on everything.

Radishes are root vegetables with a distinctive flavor that range from mild to sharp, depending on the variety. To choose the best, pick radishes that are deep in color with solid roots.

All types of leafy greens and lettuces begin to bloom in the spring. With temperatures warming, it is time to replace stews and casseroles with salads at the dinner table.

Although rhubarb is often used as a fruit in sweet pies and jams, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. You can find rhubarb in a range of colors, from green to bright pink and everything in between (color doesn’t indicate ripeness) in the market until June.

Strawberries are at their peak in the spring. Be sure to purchase firm red berries with no soft or mushy spots. Store in the refrigerator, but keep them dry. Don’t wash until ready to eat and serve at room temperature.

springproduce3

Grilled Artichokes with Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce or chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1  teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Cut 1/2 inch off the top of each artichoke. Cut each in half vertically and, using scissors, trim the pointy ends off the leaves. Carefully cut out the fuzzy choke in the center and discard.

Rub the artichokes all over with lemon. Fill a large pot with water and fit with a steaming rack. Place the artichokes on a rack and steam until they are tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor or indoor grill to high heat.

For the sauce: In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, hot sauce and  honey. Sir well. Set aside.

Brush the cut side of each artichoke with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill artichokes, cut side down, until evenly charred, 4 to 5 minutes.

Serve hot with the dipping sauce.

springproduce5

Vegetable and Fruit Spring Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 8 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 8 ounces fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 4 ounces radishes, sliced in thin rounds (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup sliced or quartered strawberries

Directions

For the dressing: Combine vinegar, oil, chopped strawberries, sugar, tarragon, salt and pepper in a screw top jar. Cover; shake until combined. Set aside.

In a large pot cook green beans and peas in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water. In a large bowl toss cooked beans and peas with dressing. Cover; chill for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Stir in radishes and sliced strawberries before serving.

springproduce2

Roasted Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, oyster, chanterelles, morels, stemmed shiitakes), sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium thick asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 475°F.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic, sauté until mushrooms are brown and just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add lemon juice and parsley, toss to coat. Set aside.

Arrange asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast asparagus until just tender, about 10 minutes. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter and top with mushrooms.

springproduce1

Penne Primavera with Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces salmon, cut into 2 portions
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 12 ounces whole wheat penne
  • 1 bunch thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush both sides of the salmon with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down on a small baking sheet and roast until salmon is just lightly pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook until al dente, about 13 minutes, adding asparagus and peas in the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta and vegetables and return them to the pot. Place over low heat and stir in tomatoes, crème fraîche, Parmesan and shallot. Remove and discard salmon skin; flake salmon into chunks with a fork and toss into pasta along with dill.

springproduce4

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

For the filling:

  • 6 to 8 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups sliced strawberries

For the topping:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

To make filling: 

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the rhubarb, sugar and orange zest until the rhubarb begins to soften and exude juices, about 2 minutes. Add the butter and flour and bring to a boil while stirring. Cook for about 1 minute. Add the sliced strawberries. Remove from heat and pour the fruit mixture into a deep 10-inch pie dish.

To make topping: 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces. With a fork or pastry cutter, cut the chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and blend. Slowly add the half-and-half with a fork. Spoon the dough over the fruit mixture in the pie dish. Mix together the 2 tablespoons sugar and the orange zest, and sprinkle it over the top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly and serve with or without whipped cream. Serves 6.


Rizzo’s Malabar Inn Crabtree, PA

Italian Easter Specialties at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn  Crabtree, PA

Most regions in Italy have their favorite sweet breads, pies and cookies that are served at Easter time. Dolci (dessert) is an important part of the Easter feast. Chocolate eggs are, of course, among the favorite. The Pastiera Napoletana is another authentic Easter tradition; originating in Naples, this cake is made with cooked wheat, ricotta cheese, candied fruit and orange-blossom water. The Pizza Pasqualina, a dessert made with cinnamon and chocolate, is a specialty of northern Lazio. In Sicily, cassata and cannoli are the traditional dessert; and in Sardinia, casadina (made with a thin puff pastry and stuffed with ricotta and raisins)  is usually served. Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread) is a famous Easter treat made all over Italy.

It you are on a gluten-free diet, you do not have to miss out on these traditional Easter treats. If your favorite dessert calls for a large amount of flour in the recipe, purchasing a gluten-free all-purpose flour mixture will be the key to preparing these treats. These mixes are often made up of a mixture of gluten-free binding and rising agents like xanthum gum, baking powder, baking soda and a variety of gluten-free flours, such as: brown rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, buckwheat flour, coconut flour, almond flour, teff flour and sorghum flour.

I am sharing recipes below for traditional Easter treats and their gluten-free counterparts. eastertreats2

Easter Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana di Grano)

Filling

  • 1 ¼ cups cooked (4 oz uncooked) soft wheat or bulgur or Basmati rice
  • 1 ¾ cups of sugar
  • 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
  • 1 ½ cups of ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Grated zest of one organic lemon
  • Just under a cup of whole milk (about 7/8 ths)

Pastry

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 8 oz (one stick) very cold butter
  • 1/4 cup of sugar,
  • 1 egg plus one yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Egg Wash

Directions

One day ahead prepare the wheat or rice for the filling: Rinse hulled wheat or rice with water and place in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and let soak overnight in the refrigerator. The next day drain the wheat and place in a saucepan with enough milk to cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Cool completely for use in the recipe.

Prepare the pastry dough: Mix the ingredients together in a processor by hand, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for a half hour before using.

Prepare filling: In a saucepan place the milk, the cooked grain, the butter and the lemon zest. Simmer together on low heat for about 10 minute, mixing often, until all of the ingredients have formed a creamy mixture. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. In a food processor combine the ricotta, the sugar, the eggs, the vanilla, the cinnamon and the orange liqueur. Pour the ricotta into the wheat or rice mixture and mix together.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces, making 1 piece twice as large than the other. Using a lightly floured rolling-pin, roll out the larger dough piece to fit into and cover the sides of  a 10-inch springform pan (a springform pan makes it easier to remove the pie) or 2 inch deep pie dish. Roll the pastry dough out as thin as possible — less than 1/8th of an inch thick is about right. Butter and flour the baking dish.

Pour the filling for the pie into the baking pan. Roll the other piece of dough very thin. Cut this into strips and place across the top of the pie, in a criss-cross pattern. Press the dough edges together with a fork. Beat one egg with one tablespoon of water and brush the top of the pie.

Bake the pie for about an hour at 380 degrees F. The top of the pie should be golden and the pastry strips very shiny. Once it’s baked, let the pie to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

For The Gluten-Free Version

Use the same filling but use rice instead of wheat berries. Flour the pan with gluten-free flour. Make and use the following pastry instead of the one in the traditional recipe.

Gluten-Free Double Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour or homemade brown rice flour blend (recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold butter or trans fat-free vegetable shortening (such as Spectrum)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Cold water, if necessary

Directions

Whisk together the flour or flour blend, sugar, xanthan gum and salt. Cut the cold butter or shortening into pats, then work the pats into the flour mixture until crumbly. Whisk the eggs and lemon juice together until very foamy. Mix into the dry ingredients. Stir until the mixture holds together, adding 1 to 3 additional tablespoons cold water if necessary. Shape into a ball and chill for an hour or up to overnight.

Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.Divide the dough as described in the original recipe. Roll out on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper that’s been heavily sprinkled with gluten-free flour or flour blend. Follow the directions for filling and baking in the original recipe.

Homemade Brown Rice Blend Whisk together 6 cups (32 ounces) brown rice flour; 2 cups (10 3/4 ounces) potato starch; and 1 cup (4 ounces) tapioca flour or tapioca starch. Store airtight at room temperature. Note: You can substitute white rice flour for the brown rice flour if you like; it’ll make your baked goods grittier (unless you manage to find a finely ground version). Easter treats1

Ricotta Pie

This pie is gluten-free. Orange marmalade, heated briefly in the microwave to make it pourable, is a delicious topping for this pie. Yield: 9″ pie, 8 to 12 servings Crust

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal or flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon water

Filling

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep or use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan.

To make the crust: Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then add butter and water. Knead dough until well combined. Then press the dough into the pie plate, working the mixture up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you’ve added the filling.

To make the filling: Mix together all the filling ingredients in an electric mixer and beat slowly until well combined. Pour the filling into the crust; it will come nearly to the lip of the pan.

Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, until lightly brown around the very outside edge, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160°F. The pie will still look quite unset in the center. Remove the pie from the oven and cool it to room temperature. Once it’s cool, refrigerate until chilled. Serve pie plain or with the topping of your choice. eastertreats5

Sweet Italian Easter Bread

Makes 2 large braids Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 envelope of yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water, about 110 degrees
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 uncooked but colored eggs, optional
  • Frosting and Multi-Colored Sprinkles, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little bit of water to make an egg wash

Directions

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter together just until the butter melts, set aside to cool. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar to the warm water and stir to mix, then sprinkle the yeast over top of the warm sugar and water and set aside for about 5 minutes. In the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, mix together the eggs and sugar until combined, add the butter and milk mixture, the yeast and water mixture, the vanilla and orange zest and mix until all the wet ingredients are well combined.

Switch the attachment to a dough hook and add 4 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt, mix until a soft dough forms. Gradually add a little more flour, if needed (1/4 to 1/2 cup ) to make a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes or until the dough is very smooth. Shape dough into a ball. Lightly grease a large bowl with some vegetable oil, place the ball of dough in the oiled bowl and brush a tiny bit of oil over the top as well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for about 1-1/2 hours or until it has doubled in volume.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and brush them lightly with some melted butter, set aside. Once the dough has risen turn it onto a lightly floured surface, punch it down and cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 22 inches long. Lay 2 ropes at a time side by side in front of you and loosely braid them together. Lift the braid onto one of the prepared baking sheets and pinch the ends to seal so now you have a circle. Place 3 colored eggs in each circle lengthwise, tucking them between the ropes.

Do exactly the same process with the other 2 ropes. Cover with plastic wrap and place them somewhere warm for 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Brush the tops of the breads with the egg wash. Bake them for 30 minutes or until golden, making sure to rotate the baking sheets halfway through for even baking. Let them cool completely. Decorate with frosting and sprinkles, if desired and serve.

Gluten Free Easter Bread

Makes 4 small braids Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, such as King Arthur
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 4 tablespoons soft butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 uncooked but colored eggs, optional
  • Frosting and Multi-Colored Sprinkles, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little bit of water to make an egg wash

Directions

To make the dough: Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixer bowl. Add the soft butter, blending on low-speed until coarse crumbs form. Add the oil, milk, egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes; scrape the bowl down again. Cover the dough and let it rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until visibly puffy. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Once the dough has risen, preheat oven to 375°F. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Knead one piece on a surface floured with gluten-free flour; divide the dough into 3 equal pieces; roll into 12-inch long ropes and pinch the top portions together; braid; pinch the ends together; form into a circle and pinch circle closed. With a wide spatula, transfer to one side of the baking sheet; repeat with second piece of dough and place on the other side of the baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining dough and form two more braids and place them on the second baking sheet. Brush the tops of the braided breads egg wash; place a colored egg to the center; bake for about 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown. Reverse the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack to cool completely. Decorate with frosting and sprinkles, if desired and serve. eastertreats4

Anginettes (Italian Lemon Cookies)

Makes 36 cookies Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour

Frosting

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 3 tablespoons of milk

Directions Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, baking powder and extract then slowly add flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F Roll one rounded tablespoon of dough into a ball and place on parchment covered cookie sheets. Cookies do not spread, so you can place them close together. Bake for approx 8-10 minutes. Remove when the cookies are still light in color, but do not bounce back when touched. These cookies can dry out if you bake them too long. Cool on a rack.

For the Frosting Mix until the sugar-coating is of medium consistency, dip the top of the cookie in the icing, let the icing flow down along the sides of the cookies. Top with colored sprinkles.

Gluten-Free Anginettes

Makes 36 cookies

  • 2 ½ cups Gluten-Free Baking Flour, such as King Arthur’s or Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1/2  cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons trans-fat free shortening, cut in small pieces, such as Earth Balance or Spectrum
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and xanthan gum.  Cut in the shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.   Mix in eggs and vanilla. Pull off walnut-size pieces and roll into a ball.  Place on prepared cookie sheets.  Bake 10-12 minutes. Use the frosting ingredients and directions from the traditional recipe.


 

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Molise is a region of Southern Italy. Until 1963, it formed part of the region of Abruzzi. The split, which did not become effective until 1970, makes Molise the newest region in Italy. The region covers 4,438 square kilometres/1,714 sq mi making it the second smallest region in Italy with a population of about 300,000. The region is split into two provinces, named after their respective capitals, Isernia and Campobasso. Campobasso also serves as the regional capital.

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Molise is also one of Italy’s less developed and poorest areas. In Molise, one can see two different centuries existing side by side when, on one side of the street grandmothers all in black are purchasing produce in the market and on the other side of the street there are young girls dressed in Benetton carrying mobile phones. Outside the cities are underdeveloped villages that seem to have been forgotten in time, while in the big cities progress is pushing ahead. However, one does not travel to Molise to explore the big cities but to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, the unspoiled beaches and the archaeological excavations.

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More than 40% of Molise is covered by mountains. In the Matese area, located on the border of Campania, you will find magnificent mountain ranges. The region is also home to eagles, bears and wolves in the deep forests and it is one of the best locations to harvest mushrooms.

Though there is a large Fiat plant in Termoli, the industrial sector is dominated by the construction industry. With small and medium-sized farms spread widely throughout the region, food processing is another important industry. Pasta, meat, milk products, oil and wine are the traditional regional products. In the service sector the most important industries are distribution, hotels, catering, transport, communications, banking and insurance.

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After the earthquake of 2002, some of the communities in Molise adopted a policy which contributed state money to individuals willing to make their homes more resistant to seismic activity. Larino, near Termoli, was a particular beneficiary of this policy and the town, already one of the most beautiful in the province, was transformed. The policy included returning the houses to their historical colors and, based on careful research, the structures were painted in a range of soft pastel tones. As a result, Larino has become an important center for tourism and scores of expatriates from all over the world are returning to live in the revived center. Larino is also famous for the Festa di San Pardo (Larino’s patron saint) and you will witness more than one hundred cattle drawn carts completely covered in flowers made by local families during the three days of festivities.

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International tourism is becoming more prevalent as a result of the international flights from other European countries, Great Britain and North America which enter Pescara, not far to the north in Abruzzo. The tourists are attracted by large expanses of natural beaches, a relative lack of congestion and a gentle pace of life.

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The cuisine of Molise is similar to the cuisine of Abruzzo, though there are a few differences in the dishes and ingredients. The flavors of Molise are dominated by the many herbs that grow there. Some of Molise’s typical foods include spicy salami, locally produced cheeses, lamb or goat, pasta dishes with hearty sauces and regional vegetables. In addition to bruschetta, a typical antipasto will consist of several meat dishes, such as sausage, ham and smoked prosciutto.

Main dishes of the region include:

  • Calcioni di ricotta, a specialty of Campobasso, made of fried pasta stuffed with ricotta, provolone, prosciutto and parsley and usually served with fried artichokes, cauliflower, brains, sweetbreads, potato croquette and scamorza cheese
  • Cavatiegl e Patane, gnocchi served in a meat sauce of rabbit and pork
  • Pasta e fagioli, pasta-and-white-bean soup cooked with pig’s feet and pork rinds
  • Polenta d’iragn, a polenta-like dish made of wheat and potatoes, sauced with tomatoes and pecorino
  • Risotto alla marinara, a risotto with seafood
  • Spaghetti with diavolillo, a chili pepper sauce
  • Zuppa di cardi, a soup of cardoons, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil
  • Zuppa di ortiche, a soup of nettle stems, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil

Typical vegetable dishes may include:

  • Carciofi ripieni, artichokes stuffed with anchovies and capers
  • Peeled sweet peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, anchovies, parsley, basil and peperoncino, sautéed in a frying pan and cooked with chopped tomatoes
  • Cipollacci con pecorino, fried onions and pecorino cheese
  • Frittata con basilico e cipolle, omelette with basil and onions

Fish dishes include red mullet soup and spaghetti with cuttlefish. Trout from the Biferno river is notable for its flavor and is cooked with a simple sauce of aromatic herbs and olive oil. Zuppa di pesce, a fish stew,is  a specialty of Termoli.

The cheeses produced in Molise are not very different from those produced in Abruzzo. The more common ones are Burrino and Manteca – soft, buttery cow’s-milk cheeses, Pecorino – sheep’s-milk cheese, served young and soft or aged and hard, Scamorza – a bland cow’s-milk cheese, often served grilled and Caciocavallo – a sheep’s-milk cheese.

Sweets and desserts have an ancient tradition here and are linked to the history of the territory and to religious and family festivities. Most common are:

  • Calciumi (also called Caucioni or cauciuni), sweet ravioli filled with chestnuts, almonds, chocolate, vanilla, cooked wine musts and cinnamon and then fried
  • Ciambelline, ring-shaped cakes made with olive oil and red wine
  • Ferratelle all’anice, anise cakes made in metal molds and stamped with special patterns
  • Ricotta pizza, a cake pan filled with a blend of ricotta cheese, sugar, flour, butter, maraschino liqueur and chocolate chips

Traditional Molise Recipes

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Polpi in Purgatorio

Spicy Octopus, Molise Style

Serves 4

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons peperoncini, or more to taste
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds young octopus
  • Salt

Directions

Clean the octopus in salted water and rinse well.

Heat half the oil in a medium skillet with a cover over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, parsley and peperoncini and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the octopus to the onion mixture with the remaining oil. Season lightly with salt.

Cover the pan with a lid and cook over very low heat for 2 hours, stirring the octopus from time to time with a wooden spoon. Serve as an appetizer.

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Baked Fettuccine with Tomato and Mozzarella

Fettucine con salsa d’aromi

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1-15 oz can Italian tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 peperoncino or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, more or less to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or other pecorino)
  • 1/4 lb scamorza (you can substitute mozzarella)
  • 1 lb fettuccine

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté garlic until golden.

Add basil, parsley, mint and peperoncino. Sauté a minute or two more.

Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat (a fast bubble) stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile bring pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta al dente. Do not overcook.

Preheat oven (while pasta cooks) to 425 degrees F.

Drain the pasta very well and mix with the sauce in the pan.

Transfer all to a greased ovenproof dish.

Sprinkle on the cheese and lay the slices of scamorza or mozzarella on top.

Bake for a few minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles. Serve hot.

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Molise Style Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 6 medium green bell peppers
  • 5 cups day old bread, cut into small cubes
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small can anchovies, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the filling
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the peppers. Cut a hole around the stem. Remove the stem.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and ribs.

In a bowl, combine the bread, parsley, garlic and anchovies.  Mix together. Sprinkle with olive oil and toss to coat; do not saturate the bread with oil. Fill the peppers evenly with the stuffing.

Put 1/2 cup of olive oil in a baking pan.  Lay the peppers on their sides in the pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, turning occasionally to cook evenly.

Sprinkle each pepper fresh Parmigiano Reggiano at the end of the cooking time and allow it to melt over the pepper.

molise01

Isernian Calzones

Calzoni d’Isernia are named after the town of Isernia in Molise

Makes 12 Calzones

Ingredients

Dough

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water

Filling

  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated or diced into small cubes
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

Oil for frying

Marinara sauce for serving

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole eggs and mix into the flour. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water slowly until all the flour is incorporated. Don’t add too much water or the dough will become sticky. Once the dough is formed, knead for about 5 minutes.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut the dough into squares that are 4 inches by 4 inches. You should be able to get about 12 squares.

For the filling:

Cook the pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes until well browned. Cool.

Combine the ricotta, egg yolks, mozzarella, pancetta, parsley, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl.

Place some of the filling in the center of each square of dough.  Fold the dough over to form a triangle.  Use the tines of a fork to pinch together the seams of the dough.  Be careful not to over-stuff the dough or the filling will come out during frying.

Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with about 3 inches of oil.  Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Once the oil is hot, drop the calzones in (1 at a time if using a smaller pot, or just a few at a time using a larger pot).

Remove the calzones with a slotted spoon or spider when they have gotten a golden brown color on both sides.  Let them drain on a paper towel.

Serve warm with marinara sauce, if desired.

molise9

Calciuni del Molise

Chestnut Fritters

Adapted from Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, published 1969, Dutton (New York) (Note: this was the first cookbook I owned.)

Makes 15 fritters

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 1/4 pound fresh chestnuts

Filling

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Oil for frying

Powdered sugar for garnish

Cinnamon for garnish

Directions

Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, water, wine and olive oil. Mix the components slowly until a dough has formed. Once the dough is formed, put it on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.  Cover the dough and set aside. (You can also do this in an electric mixer.)

Using a paring knife make an X on one side of each chestnut. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chestnuts and let boil for about 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and remove the shell and  the skin from the chestnuts.

In a food processor, chop the toasted almonds until finely ground.  Add the chestnuts and continue to grind until no large pieces remain.

Put the ground chestnuts and almonds in a bowl. Grind the chocolate in the food processor until no large pieces remain. Add to the chestnuts and almonds.

Add the honey, Amaretto, cinnamon and vanilla to the nut/chocolate mixture.  Stir well.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-4 inch circle cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut out circles from the dough. You should be able to get 15 rounds.

Place about 1 tablespoon in the center of each circle. Do not overfill the pastries. Fold one end over and pinch tightly around the edges to close. Seal edges completely so the filling does not come out while frying.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Fry the fritters, a few at a time, until golden brown on each side.  Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and place on a paper towels to drain.

Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.



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