Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: cake

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There are three categories of symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah and each has its own meaning. The first is sweet tasting foods, such as apple and honey, which are symbolic of the wish for a sweet year. The second, which includes pomegranates and fish, are foods that allude to abundance and to the wish to be fruitful and multiply. The third category, which includes foods such as carrots, beets, leeks and cabbage, allude to the destruction and eradication of sin. The combination of sweet and sour is also prominent in Jewish cooking because it correlates with times that are hopeful and happy while also remembering the challenges of Jewish history.

What makes these basic food categories particularly fascinating is how their preparations can vary as we move from country to country and culture to culture.

Since 1442, when the Kingdom of Naples came under Spanish rule, considerable numbers of Sephardi Jews came to live in Southern Italy. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1495 and from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, many moved to central and northern Italy. In addition to Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Italy has been host to many Sephardi Jews from the eastern Mediterranean, Dalmatia and many of the Greek islands, where there were large Jewish communities and for several centuries they were part of the Venetian Republic. As such, they have greatly influenced the cuisine of Italy.

Italian Jewish cuisine for Rosh Hashanah often includes chestnut turnovers, goose or veal, spinach or swiss chard, artichokes, caponata and fennel. The seder often begins with figs (fichi). Figs are in season in Italy in the fall and they represent renewal for a good and sweet year (Shanah Tovah Umetukah). It is also full of tiny seeds (like the pomegranate) representing abundance and rebirth.

First Course

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Fish in Tomato Garlic Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. fish fillets, such as halibut, grouper, cod or tilapia
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine, vegetable broth or water
  • 4 medium-size tomatoes, diced small
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons. chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil)

Directions

Check fish carefully and remove any bones. Rinse fish and thoroughly pat dry. Cut it in 8 pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick. Add fish, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and sauté over medium to medium-high heat 1 minute per side. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Added remaining oil to the pan and add the garlic. Sauté for about 30 seconds or until fragrant, then add the wine and bring to a boil, stirring. Add tomatoes and heat for about 1 minute. Returned fish to the pan, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 2 or 3 minutes or until its color has changed from translucent to opaque. Add pepper flakes and herbs. Serve fish in the sauce.

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Sephardic Challah

Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean favor their challah seasoned with caraway and anise. Many challahs are braided, but this one is twisted into a round, turban-shaped loaf.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  • 2 large egg yolks

Directions

In a skillet, toast the sesame, caraway and anise seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, 2 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the yeast with 2 tablespoons of the water and let stand until thoroughly moistened, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour with the olive oil, the honey and the remaining water and mix at low-speed until a very soft dough forms. Add the kosher salt, yeast mixture and all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds and mix at medium-low speed until the dough is supple and smooth, 10 minutes. Using oiled hands, transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free spot until the dough is risen, 1 hour.

Lightly oil 2 small cookie sheets and dust them with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate. Cut the dough in half and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope and let rest for 5 minutes longer, then roll each rope into a 32-inch rope. Beginning at the center and working outwards, form each rope into a coil and tuck the ends under the coils.

Transfer each coil to a baking sheet and cover each loaf with a large, inverted bowl. Let stand for 1 hour, until the loaves have nearly doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush with the egg wash once more and sprinkle with the reserved 1 tablespoon of seeds.

Bake the loaves side-by-side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until they’re golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the loaves to racks and let cool completely before slicing.

Second Coursejewishnewyear3

Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2/3 cup bottled pomegranate juice (100% pure juice)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • About ½ cup white flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • About ½ cup pomegranate seeds

Directions

Add the honey to the pomegranate juice and stir to combine; set aside.

If using chicken breasts cut each in half and remove any fat; pat dry with paper towels.

Pour the flour into a shallow bowl and lightly dust each piece of chicken with the flour.

Heat the olive oil over low heat in a large nonstick frying pan. When hot, add the chicken and sprinkle  with salt. Turn the heat up and let them cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden.

Add the pomegranate and honey mixture and reduce the flame. Let cook for another few minutes, adding more salt and turning each piece so it absorbs the sauce well.

Arrange on a large serving platter, pouring the sauce on top and sprinkling with the fresh pomegranate seeds to garnish.

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Saffron Rice

Ingredients

  • Pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or pistachios
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Stir the saffron into 2 tablespoons hot water in a bowl, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed ovenproof pan. Add the onion and nuts; cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the nuts are fragrant and beginning to change color.

Lower the heat, and stir in the rice. Add the saffron water, the bay leaf, the salt, freshly ground pepper to taste and 2 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork and  remove the bay leaf.

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Sephardic Spinach Patties

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, stemmed, cooked, chopped, and squeezed dry, or 20 ounces thawed frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry
  • About 1 cup matzo meal
  • About 3/4 teaspoon table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions

In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach, matzo meal, salt and cayenne. Stir in the eggs. If the mixture is too loose, add a little more matzo meal. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for a day.

Shape the spinach mixture into 3 inch patties. In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. In batches, saute the patties, turning, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, accompanied with lemon wedges.

Dessert Course

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Honey Cake

The cake can be made a day ahead; just wrap it tightly in plastic, store it at room temperature, and glaze it just before serving.

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

  • 2 3⁄4 cups flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup vegetable oil, plus for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Oil and flour a 4-qt. Bundt pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Beat 3⁄4 cup sugar and egg yolks in a bowl on medium-high speed of a mixer until tripled in volume, about 4 minutes. Stir in oil, honey, 2 tablespoons orange juice, zest and liqueur.

Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Beat egg whites in a bowl on high-speed of a mixer until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into batter.

Pour into the prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes.

Let cool and invert onto a serving plate. Whisk remaining juice with confectioners’ sugar; drizzle over cake.

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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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Take advantage of fresh, in-season produce to make healthy dessert recipes for your next barbecue, block party or casual summer dinner. These summer desserts are so satisfying that no one will notice that they’re lower in fat and calories.

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Berry-Lemon Shortcake

12 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Berry-Lemon Sauce

  • 3 cups fresh  raspberries, strawberries or blueberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 4 cups fresh raspberries, strawberries or blueberries

Directions

Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan. Line pan with waxed paper. Grease and flour the waxed paper; set pan aside.

In a small saucepan heat milk and butter until the butter melts.

In a small bowl stir together flour, baking powder and lemon peel; set aside.

In a medium bowl beat eggs with an electric mixer on high-speed about 4 minutes or until thick. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture; beat on low to medium speed just until combined.

Add the heated milk/butter to the batter and beat until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a wire rack lined with waxed paper; carefully peel off top waxed paper and cool completely.

Make sauce: Place the 3 cups of berries in a medium bowl and mash the berries with a potato masher.

In a small saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch and lemon peel. Add mashed berries. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Cool about 10 minutes. Stir in the 4 cups of berries. Makes about 3-1/2 cups.

Cut cake into 12 pieces. Split each cake piece in half horizontally. Place a cake bottom on an individual dessert plate. Spoon some sauce over the cake bottom. Cover with a cake top. Spoon sauce over the cake.

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Chocolate Sauce with Fruit Kabobs

Be sure to use good quality chocolate for the sauce.

16 servings

Ingredients

  • Strawberry halves, pineapple, apple, kiwi fruit chunks and raspberries
  • 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate baking bar, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate baking bar, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla and butter. Heat over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer.

Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate and coffee until completely melted and smooth. Keep warm or reheat just before serving.

Thread assorted fruit onto sixteen 6-inch wooden (bamboo) skewers.

To serve:

Place a few tablespoons of sauce on a serving plate and place a fruit skewer on top.

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Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Makes 24 bars

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • One 8 ounce package low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan; set pan aside.

For the blueberry sauce:

In a small saucepan stir together the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and the cornstarch. Stir in the blueberries and the orange juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the crust:

In a large mixing bowl stir together the 2 cups flour and the powdered sugar. Cut in the butter until fine crumbs form and mixture starts to cling together (mixture will still be crumbly). Pat mixture firmly into prepared pan and bake the crust for 20 minutes.

For the cake:

n a medium bowl beat cream cheese, the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the 1 tablespoon flour until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.

Pour over the hot baked crust, spreading evenly. Drop blueberry sauce in small mounds over the cheese layer. Use a thin metal spatula or table knife to marble the mixtures together.

Bake for 20 minutes more or until the center is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Remove uncut bars from the pan by lifting the foil out of the pan. Cut into bars.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Sift powdered sugar over bars just before serving.

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Chocolate-Hazelnut Cookies

28 cookies

Ingredients

  • 4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1/3 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt; stir with a whisk.

Place butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).

Add the egg yolks, espresso and vanilla to the butter; beat well. Add flour mixture and beat at low-speed just until combined. Stir in nuts.

Cover bowl and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Turn dough out onto a sheet of wax paper; knead several times or until smooth and shiny. Shape dough into 28 (1-inch) balls.

Arrange balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb deeply into the center of each cookie, leaving an indentation. Bake, 1 batch at a time for 10 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks. Spoon a scant 1/2 teaspoon hazelnut-chocolate spread into center of each cookie.

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Peach Custard Pie

10 servings

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (6 ounces)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups sliced fresh peeled peaches
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans

To prepare the crust:

Pulse pecans in a food processor until finely ground. Add flour, sugar and salt and pulse a few times. Turn into a mixing bowl and cut in butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add oil and stir with a fork to blend.

Mix 1/4 cup water, egg yolk and lemon juice (or vinegar) in a measuring cup. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add enough of the wet ingredients, stirring with a fork, until the dough clumps together. (Add a little more water if it seems too dry.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead several times. Form into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Position rack the in lower third of the oven; preheat to 400°F. Coat a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray.

To prepare filling & assemble pie:

Combine sugar, milk, yogurt, eggs, flour, cornstarch, vanilla (or almond) extract and salt in a medium bowl; whisk until smooth.

Roll out the dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper into a 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet and invert the dough into the prepared pie pan. Peel off the remaining paper.

Trim the dough so it overhangs evenly by about 1 inch. Fold the edges under to make a plump edge; flute or crimp the edge with your fingers or a fork. Place on a baking sheet.

Arrange peaches on the crust and pour the filling on top (some peaches will float but this won’t affect the final results). Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle chopped pecans over the top. Cover the edges with heavy-duty foil (or a double layer of regular foil) to help prevent over browning.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Return the pie to the oven and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 minutes to 1 hour more.

Let cool for 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm or refrigerate until cold.


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Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The coasts of Sardinia are generally high and rocky with long, relatively straight stretches of coastline that contain a few deep bays, many inlets and smaller islands off the coast. The Strait of Bonifacio is directly north of Sardinia and separates Sardinia from the French island of Corsica. The region’s capital is Cagliari.

Sardinia

The island has a Mediterranean climate along the coasts, plains and low hills and a continental climate on the interior plateaus, valleys and mountain ranges. During the year there are approximately 135 days of sunshine, with a major concentration of rainfall in the autumn and winter.

Traditional Dress

Traditional Dress

During the Second World War, Sardinia was an important air and naval base and was heavily bombed by the Allies. In the early 1960s, an industrialization effort was begun with the initiation of major infrastructure projects on the island. These included the construction of new dams and roads, reforestation, agricultural zones on reclaimed marshland and large industrial complexes (primarily oil refineries and related petrochemical operations). With the creation of these industries, thousands of ex-farmers became industrial workers.

The Sardinian economy is constrained due to the high cost of importing goods, transportation and generating electricity, which is twice that of the continental Italian regions and triple that of the EU average. The once prosperous mining industry is still active, though restricted to coal, gold, bauxite, lead and zinc. Granite extraction represents one of the most flourishing industries in the northern part of the island. Principal industries include chemicals, petrochemicals, metalworking, cement, pharmaceutical, shipbuilding, oil rig construction, rail and food.

Cork

Cork Trees

Agriculture has played a very important role in the economic history of the island, especially in the great plain of Campidano, where it is particularly suitable for wheat farming. Water scarcity was a major problem that was overcome with the construction of a great barrier system of dams. Now, the Campidano plain is a major Italian producer of oats, barley and durum wheat. Sardinian agriculture is linked to specific products: cheese, wine, olive oil, artichokes and tomatoes that contribute to a growing export business. Sardinia produces about 80% of Italian cork and ranks 5th among the Italian regions in rice production. The main paddy fields are located in the Arborea Plain.

Sardinia is home to one of the oldest forms of vocal music, generally known as cantu a tenore. The guttural sounds produced in this form make a remarkable sound, similar to Tuvan throat singing. Sardinia is home to professional soccer and basketball teams and auto racing. Cagliari hosted a Formula 3000 race in 2002 and 2003 around its Sant’Elia stadium.

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Sardinia boasts the highest consumption of beer per capita in Italy. The discovery of jars containing hops in some archaeological sites are evidence that beer was produced in the region since the Copper Age.

The Cuisine of Sardinia

Thousands of rare species of plants and animals grow and live on the island, some entirely unique to Sardinia. An excellent example of the longevity of Sardinia’s heirloom produce is the Grenache wine grape which dates back to about 1,200 BC. The Grenache grapes grown on the island today are genetically indistinguishable from their ancestors grown thousands of years ago in the same areas.

Wild boar, lamb, pork, eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes, lobsters, sea urchins, octopus, clams, mussels and squid are plentiful. Salty flavors are preferred by Sardinians, such as, bottarga (a pressed and salted mullet roe) and salt preserved sardines.

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Traditional hearty Italian pastas like culingiones (spinach and cheese ravioli) share center stage with Arabic-inspired couscous dishes. Many first-time visitors are surprised by the Sardinians’ liberal use of saffron, which grows well on the island. Saffron is a particular favorite in gnocchi dishes.

A wide variety of herbs, including myrtle (berries, flowers, leaves and stems), flourish on Sardinia and flavor the local dishes. Whether savory, sweet, used for wood smoking or instilled into digestive liqueurs, myrtle is a major part of the Sardinian palate.

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Cheeses are especially important and the island’s most exported food product. Pecorino sardo, Fiore sardo, ricotta, caprino, pecorino romano and the famous casu marzu are all made within the region. Casu marzu is illegal now in Italy due to its bizarre culturing and aging process involving the introduction of live cheese fly larvae into the process to bring about a poisonous stage akin to decomposition. Though obviously a risky gastronomic health adventure and definitely not for the timid, casu marzu is nonetheless a very popular black market commodity and is considered a distinctive delicacy by many locals.

For more traditional tastes, you will find local rock lobsters topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and roasted in the oven and cassòla, a flavorful seafood soup, that can have as many as a dozen types of seafood cooked with spices and tomatoes.

Fava beans are cooked with cardoons, wild fennel, tomatoes, salt pork and sausage to create the thick stew known as favata.  Farro, a locally grown grain, is simmered slowly in beef broth with cheese and mint to make su farro.

Chickens are marinated with myrtle leaves and berries, boiled and eaten chilled.  Other Sardinian recipes for meat are agnello con finocchietti, a stew of lamb with wild fennel, tomatoes and onion.  Not people to waste food, Sardinians stew lamb or kid intestines with peas, onions and tomatoes.

Sardinians love pasta in all forms and their cuisine features specialties found nowhere else.  Plump culingiones are shaped like ravioli and stuffed with chard and pecorino cheese and served with tomato sauce. The regional dish, malloreddus, are tiny semolina gnocchi topped with a garlic, basil, pecorino and saffron flavored sausage and tomato sauce.

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Every village has a unique shaped bread, either a round loaf, a long cylindrical loaf or a donut shaped loaf.  Sardinian recipes also include a sweet focaccia flavored with pecorino cheese and a local bitter honey. The entire island loves flatbread and crisp carta de musica or “sheet of music”,  a paper-thin crisp bread. One popular way to serve this cracker style bread is to soften it in warm water, then spread it with tomato sauce, grated cheese and poached eggs.

Sardinian cooking also offers a wide selection of cookies, pastries and cakes. These desserts are usually flavored with spices, almonds, raisins and ricotta cheese.  Pabassinas are pastries filled with a raisin walnut paste.

sardiniamyrtle

Mirto is a liqueur unique to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. It is made from the berries of the flowering Mirto (or Myrtle) plant, a distinctive plant that grows throughout the Mediterranean basin but is most prolific on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The berries are dark blue in color and look somewhat like blueberries but bear no relationship to blueberries in taste or other properties.

Sardinia’s wines have little in common with those produced in the rest of Italy. The Island’s remote Mediterranean location, as well as the historic influence from other cultures, gives the wines a unique character that might be considered to have more in common with Spanish wines rather than Italian wines. Production is extensive around the port of Cagliari in the Campidano area, where the little known Girò, Monica, Nasco and Nuragus varietals grow alongside Malvasia and Moscato, all bearing town names: Girò di Cagliari, Monica di Cagliari, Nasco di Cagliari, Nuragus di Cagliari, Malvasia di Cagliari and Moscato di Cagliari DOCs.

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Sardinian Minestrone

Traditionally, it is made with whatever is growing in the garden, but it always includes beans and fregula (or fregola) a toasted pebble-size semolina pasta that is popular in Sardinia.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dried peeled fava beans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans or cannellini beans
  • 1/3 cup dried chickpeas
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2⁄3 cup)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (about 3½ cups)
  • 3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1½ cups)
  • 1½ cups chopped fennel bulb
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2⁄3 cup of Sardinian fregula, Israeli couscous, or acini di pepe pasta
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano (about 2 ounces)

Directions

Soak the fava beans, cranberry beans and chickpeas in a large bowl of water for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander and rinse well.

Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery; cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 20 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, parsley and basil, as well as the drained beans and chickpeas. Add enough water (6 to 8 cups) so that everything is submerged by 1 inch.

Raise the heat to high and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the beans are tender, adding more water as necessary if the mixture gets too thick, about 1½ hours.

Stir in the fregula, salt and pepper. Add up to 2 cups water if necessary. Continue simmering, uncovered, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into each of four serving bowls. Divide the soup among them and top each with 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese.

Notes: You can vary the beans in the minestrone: pinto beans make a good substitute for cranberry beans; great northern or cannellini beans, for the favas. Use the stalks and fronds that come off a fennel bulb for the most intense flavor. Add other fresh vegetables from the garden or market, such as zucchini, cabbage, green beans, and cauliflower or broccoli florets.

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Cavatelli with Sardinian Sausage Sauce

Cavatelli pasta is shaped like a small hot dog bun with a long, rolled edge that is good for holding thick sauces.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large pinches saffron
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cavatelli pasta
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions

In a large deep frying pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a fork, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the remaining oil to the pan. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mint, parsley, water, salt and 1 pinch of the saffron. Simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cavatelli with the remaining pinch saffron until just done, 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the cavatelli and toss with the meat sauce, the basil, the reserved pasta water and the cheese. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano.

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Sardinian Lamb Kabobs over Couscous

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into small florets
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1 3/4 cups canned chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups couscous
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions
In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Light an outdoor grill or heat the broiler.

In a glass dish or stainless steel pan, combine the lamb, 6 tablespoons of the oil, the thyme and 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice.

In a large frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is golden, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron, 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, the tomatoes, broth and raisins.

Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the couscous and parsley. Bring back to a simmer. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Put the lamb on skewers. Sprinkle the kabobs with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Grill or broil the kabobs, turning and basting with the marinade, until the lamb is cooked to your taste, 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare. Serve the skewers on the couscous.

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“Torta de arrosu”  Saffron rice cake

Ingredients

  • 200 gr / 7 oz rice
  • 150 gr/ 5 oz  sugar
  • 750 ml /  1 ½ pints of milk
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100 gr/ 3 1/2 oz skinned almonds
  • Grated rind of a lemon
  • A pinch of saffron
  • A pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F (180 C).  Grease a 9 inch (24 cm) cake pan.

Put the milk, butter, saffron, sugar, salt and lemon rind in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until all the milk has been absorbed. Let cool and then add the eggs and the almonds.

Spoon mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for one hour.  Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Festival Days

 


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


The region of Abruzzo is hilly and mountainous and stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. In this part of the Adriatic, the long sandy beaches are replaced by steep and rocky coasts. L’Aquila is the regional capital. Pescara, Chieti and Teramo are other important cities.

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Abruzzo boasts the title of “Greenest Region in Europe” thanks to one third of its territory, the largest in Europe, being set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves. In the region there are three national parks, one regional park and 38 protected nature reserves. These ensure the survival of 75% of all of Europe’s living species and are also home to some rare species, such as the small wading dotterel, golden eagle, Abruzzo chamois, Apennine wolf and Marsican brown bear. Abruzzo is also home to Calderone, Europe’s southernmost glacier.

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The Abruzzo region has two types of climate: the first is strongly influenced by the presence of Abruzzo’s Apennines range. Coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild winters, rainy hills and a climate where temperatures progressively decrease with increasing altitude. Precipitation is also strongly affected by the presence of the Apennines mountain ridges with increased rain on the slopes of the mountains in the region.

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Until a few decades ago, Abruzzo was a region of poverty in Southern Italy. Since the 1950s, Abruzzo has had steady economic growth. In 1951, the Abruzzo per capita income or GDP was 53% of that of Northern Italy, the nation’s richest region. By 1971, Abruzzo was at 65% and, by 1994, the per capita income was at 76% of Northern Italy’s per capita income, giving Abruzzo the highest per capita GDP of Southern Italy and surpassing the growth of every other region in Italy. The construction of superhighways from Rome to Teramo (A24) and Rome to Pescara (A25) opened Abruzzo to easy access. Abruzzo also attained higher per capita education levels and greater productivity growth than the rest of the South.

The 2009 L’Aquila earthquake led to a sharp economic slowdown. However, according to statistics at the end of 2010, it seems that the economy of Abruzzo is recovering, despite the negative data regarding employment. At the end of 2010, Abruzzo’s growth was placed fourth among the Italian regions with the highest annual growth rates after Lazio, Lombardy and Calabria.

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Abruzzo’s industrial sector expanded rapidly, especially in mechanical engineering, transportation equipment and telecommunications. Both pure and applied research are carried out in the region where there are major institutes and factories involved in research, especially, in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, electronics, aerospace and nuclear physics. The industrial infrastructure is spread throughout the region in industrial zones, the most important of which are Val Pescara, Val Sangro, Val Trigno, Val Vibrata and Conca del Fucino.

A further activity worthy of note is seaside and mountain tourism, which is of considerable importance to the economy of the region. In the past decade, tourism has increased due to Abruzzo’s wealth of castles and medieval towns, especially around L’Aquila. Beach-goers also flock to places like Tortoreto, Giulianova, Silvi Marina, Roseto and, further south, Ortona, Vasto and San Salvo. Ski resorts are equally popular.

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Abruzzo Beach tourism destinations

Agriculture has succeeded in modernizing and offering higher-quality products. The mostly small, agricultural properties produce wine, cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, olives, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Traditional products are saffron and liquorice. Most famous in the wine world is Abruzzo’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has earned a reputation as being one of the most widely exported DOC classed wine in Italy.

Abruzzo has a rich culinary tradition, with various traditions attached to each province.

Battered and fried zucchini blooms, spit-roasted scamorza cheese, vinegar-poached lobster, salame di pecora (a rare sheep’s meat salami), crepes loaded with cheese and vegetables in a rich mutton broth, hearty ragus, ricotta cheese drizzled with honey and dusted with saffron powder .… are just a few of the complex and elegant flavors to be found on Abruzzi tables.

Ragus are a generalized term for any type of meat-based sauce. Ragus are heavily associated with the cooking of Southern Italy, as well, and seem to have begun their migration southward from the Abruzzi region.

This is a cheese-loving region and mozzarella and scamorza take center stage on the dairy scene. Both cow’s milk cheeses are young, mild, creamy and sweet with smooth textures and a stringiness that allows them to hold up equally well in baked dishes or on their own as table cheeses.

The maccheroni alla chitarra are highly renowned (homemade pasta cut on a machine with thin steel blades) and scrippelle are thin strips of pasta eaten in soup. On the coast, most first courses are fish-based, often made with tomato to enhance the taste of “poor man’s fish,” that are caught off the shores of ancient fishing villages.

As for second courses, a typical recipe is scapece, which is pickled fried fish. Guazzetto or fish broth is also popular in coastal towns. Other than sea fare, one will find plenty of lamb, kid and mutton on the dinner table, while pork is used for prosciutto, lonza, ventricina and other typical salamis that are produced locally. Abruzzi lamb, in general, is considered superior in flavor to other lamb found elsewhere because of the animals’ mountain-grazed diets rich in herbs.

Among the desserts, often made with almonds and honey, you will find nougat or torrone; confetti (typical sugared almonds) and cicerchiata, small balls of fried dough covered in honey.

Traditional Recipes from Abuzzo

abruzzosoup

Potato Soup with Saffron

Ingredients

6 servings

  • 1 ¼ lb potatoes
  • 10 oz cannarozzi – spaghetti cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 teaspoon Saffron threads
  • 2 ½ oz extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Celery leaves for garnish

Directions

Lightly sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil. As soon as the mixture has cooled, add the saffron, mix well and then let rest to dissolve the saffron.

Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.

Add 8 ¼ cups of water to the pot containing the saffron mixture and then salt to taste. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, add the potatoes. Heat and serve garnished with celery leaves.

abruzzocrepe

Timballo di Crespelle

This recipe is often served at wedding lunches, where it generally follows the soup course.

Ingredients

For the crespelle (crepes):

  • 50g [2 oz] all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil, for the pan
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons water

For the filling:

  • 125g [4 oz] ground meat
  • 100g [3 1/2 oz] spinach
  • 75g [2 1/2 oz] mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 20g [1 scant oz] butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 artichokes
  • 2 tablespoons grated Grana or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 chicken liver
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt

Directions

To make the filling.

Mince the chicken liver and combine it with the ground meat.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and gently brown the ingredients over moderate heat for 3 minutes. Set aside.

Clean the spinach, blanch in a little salted water for 5 minutes; drain, squeeze out any excess water and lightly cook it with the butter for 4 minutes. Set aside.

Clean and trim the artichokes, discard the tough outer leaves and trim off the tips; cut in half, discard the inner fuzz and slice them. Sprinkle with the parsley and a dash of salt and cook in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons olive oil for 20 minutes, moistening with a little water, if need be.  Set aside.

Break the egg into a mixing bowl, add the milk and egg yolk and whisk with a fork. Set aside

To make the crespelle.

Put the flour, eggs and 6 tablespoons water into a mixing bowl and beat with a fork. Take a small frying pan, the bottom should be as wide as the ovenproof dish to be used for the timballo, and heat a little olive oil in it over a moderate to low heat.

Place 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, tilting to make sure it spreads out to cover the bottom; let it set and then flip. When the crespelle is ready, remove it from the pan and continue until all the batter has been used, greasing the pan each time with a little oil.

To assemble the timballo.

Butter an ovenproof dish and lay a crespelle on the bottom.

Make separate layers of sliced mozzarella, meat, spinach and artichokes, separating each with a crepe, adding a sprinkling of Grana cheese each time and a couple of tablespoons of the egg and milk mixture.

Make sure there are at least 2 layers of each ingredient, cover with another crespelle and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and egg-milk mixture.

Place the dish in the oven and bake at 220°C/425°F for 30 minutes.

abruzzi-pasta.2

Penne with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Ragu

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut into very fine dice
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juices
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving

Directions

Put the oil and onion in a large skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft.

Add the lamb and cook until browned, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, cover and return to a boil.

Add the pasta to the pot and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Cover and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until it is al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the 1/3 cup of grated cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.

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Parrozzo

But among Abruzzo’s desserts, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome and baked it in a wood-fired oven. They called this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread eaten at the time only by higher classes. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented that recipe by using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the bread’s golden hue. He kept the dome shape and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups 70% dark chocolate  
  • 1/2 cup sugar  
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature  
  • 1/4 cup sweet almonds
  • 10 bitter almonds
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch  
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour  
  • 5 eggs, separated  

Directions

Blanch almonds in boiling water and peel off the husk, and grind them with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a processor. Work butter with a fork, add the remaining sugar and the egg yolks and whisk well. Fold in the ground almonds and then the flour and cornstarch. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until soft peaks form and then and fold into the almond mixture.

Pour mixture in a buttered Bundt pan or dome-shaped cake mold and bake at 450° F for 45 minutes.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and once the parrozzo has cooled, spread the chocolate sauce over the entire surface. Allow the chocolate to set before cutting.



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