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We started our trip in Treviso and stayed at “Col Delle Rane” in Caetano, S. Marco (Treviso) Italy. Cajeran was the old name of the town and it means “Hole of Frogs” There once were two small ponds in front of the villa where frogs made their home. After World War II one of the ponds was filled with war debris and covered. The frogs moved on to the second pond. “Col Delle Rane” means hill of frogs in remembrance of the pond and the frogs that lived there.
The original house was built 300 years ago with the original villa in the center. It was originally for the workers of this hill (vineyards). The farmhouse was reconstructed between 1988-1989 and the Agriturismo originally opened with 6 rooms. It was the first Agriturismo in the Treviso Province with rooms. The swimming pool constructed of stone was built 3 years ago in remembrance of the pond and its frog inhabitants. Today the hotel has 14 rooms and 4 apartments. In Treviso, Agriturismi are only allowed to have facilities for 30 people. The law may change in September and the hotel, which has another building, can be expanded and add additional rooms and a restaurant. Today there is a beautiful building with large windows overlooking the vineyards and the pool where breakfast is served. The farm has vineyards and orchards where they grow apricots, kiwi and the vineyard production is about 60% Procescco grapes. The breakfast included fruits and apple juice produced at the farm, homemade jams, homemade pound cake, meats, cheeses, breads and honey. The Agriturismo had bikes and in the evening we rode through the vineyards where we met many locals walking, riding horses or jogging.
We stopped at a market and purchased “Sopressa Vincentia” (an aged salami produced in the region), Asiago cheese, melon with Prosciutto (Berico-Euganeo) and being that is was cherry season, we feasted on fresh picked cherries for both breakfast and dessert. The hotel had several tables outdoors where we enjoyed our local specialties. The entire Gallina family were perfect hosts and took a great deal of time to help each guest plan their day and gave me this story about the farm.
We choose “Col Delle Rane” because the areas we wanted to visit were easily reachable from Treviso in about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Padova (UNESCO site), Bassano del Grappa, Asolo, Marostica (famous for cherries) Treviso (famous for Radicchio rosso di Treviso), Asiago (famous for Asiago cheese) and Venice. Also the “Strada del Prosecco” and the wine regions of Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella were on our itinerary. Other wines of this region are: Recioto, Amarone, Torcolate, Tocai Rosso, Garganega, Verduzzo, Raboso, Moscato, Cabernet Franc, Pino Nero, Pino Grigio and Merlot. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the style of Champagne. It is a light dry wine mainly served as aperitif, but partners well with fish and light first dishes. The region is also famous for its grappa production. We made it a point to do a little grappa tasting in Bassano del Grappa at the Poli Distillery where we tasted chocolate, coffee and strawberry grappa. I found them a little sweet and preferred the Mascato, Cabernet and Merlot Grappa. There is a museum with the history of distillation of Grappa.
Other areas close by are Lake Garda (a very popular summer resort), Vicenza (UNESCO site) and Verona (UNESCO site). Castles and aristocratic houses dot the countryside and villages with thermal spas attract visitors who enjoy these wellness spas in an environment of past times. The climate is suited to viniculture and orchards are grown along side the vineyards producing peaches, kiwi, plums, apples, cherries and aprocots. The villages we visited were very small and at least 3 can be visited with a good travel plan in a day. There is a canal that runs through Traviso and some shopping, but the small village of Asolo is considered the “Pearl of the Province”.
The guests at the hotel were very friendly and some either had once lived in the area at one time or had visited the hotel many times in the past. One guest recommended the Locanda Sandi vineyard and restaurant in Valdobbladene. The Locanda Sandi is one of the largest vineyards with Prosecco being about 80% of the grapes produced. They have a lovely wine tasting building with chairs outdoors overlooking the vineyards. Late in the evening we sat outdoors in the terrace lit with soft lights surrounded with flowers and ate snails in an herb sauce and veal with porcini mushrooms. A large table was arranged with many different vegetables such as roasted eggplant, zucchini, roasted red peppers, rosemary potatoes and a variety of salads. Porcini mushrooms are picked in woods around Asaigo and are an important part of the local cuisine. A basket full of blankets rolled up and tied with ribbons were available so that if you got cold in the evening you could put one over your shoulders. It did get a little chilly and we took advantage of the blankets.
In Asiago we enjoyed pasta prepared with a white asparagus (grown in the area of Bassano) made with Asiago cheese and a sauce of Asiago cheese with Speck and one with zucchini flowers were specialties and surprising light.
One evening we had dinner at a small Agritursimo next door to the Col Delle Rane. The restaurant is opened only on the weekends and we feasted on roast duck, homemade pasta and of course Prosecco as we ate among the chickens, goats and families enjoying an evening out.
A music and beer festival was being held in Montebelluna and we ate at a recommended pizzeria and listened to jazz being played in the Piazza. Several groups were stationed throughout the town and café’s were crowded with locals enjoying beer and Prosecco. We watched demonstrations of karate, fencing and local dancing and felt like we were part of the local crowd. A guest recommended the pizzeria but said that since it was also a restaurant so they didn’t have as many varieties as another located just at the entrance of town. There must have been 50 selections of pizza on the menu and the pizzeria we didn’t go to had a very long line waiting to get in. I can’t even imagine how many were on the menu as we were told that they had a much larger selection. The crust was thin and crispy and very light but very large.
The region is considered one of the biggest producers of sports equipment, sports clothes and shoes in Italy and the world (www.factoryoutletsitaly.com/regions.htm). There are many factory outlets through out the region. Geox, Nordica, Diadora, Benneton, Asolo, Prince, Kastle, Rollerblade, Killer Loop and Tecnica for example are just a few and prices are about 35% less. This hotel is in a great location for business people who are on buying trips to these factories and many of them came and went during the week of our stay.
The train station in Montebelluna was easy to get to and taking the train is the easiest way of getting to Venice. It took about 1 hour and 10 minutes with one change in Traviso. As usual there were many people in Venice but it is still such a beautiful place and like no other in the world.
Fresh artichokes start showing up in the market usually in May and in September. From September through Christmas I prepare many different artichoke dishes, but stuffing them is one of my favorite preparations.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: 6 servings
6 large globe artichokes
1 lemon, cut in half
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 stick pepperoni, half chopped finely, the other half in thick slices
5 cups loosely packed white bread crumbs, chopped very fine
4 tablespoons flat leaf Italian parsley
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 large egg
1/2 cup pine nuts
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Cut the pointed tops of the artichokes with a scissor and rub the entirely with the lemon. This prevents the leaves from turning brown. Remove the smaller lower leaves, and cut the bottom stem so the artichokes are flat.
Combine the breadcrumbs, finely chopped pepperoni, garlic, grated cheese, parsley, pine nuts and salt and pepper together. Taste the mixture to make sure you have enough salt. Add the egg and some olive oil to the mixture and mix until the mixture holds together in you hand when you squeeze it.
Stuff between each leave. If you chose to just stuff the middle, you must clean out the leaves and hay in the middle of the choke and fill the cavity. In our family we always stuff each leave.
Place them in a very large pan of water reaching up to just below the first set of leaves. Add the chunks of pepperoni, salt and pepper.
They will take at least 45 minutes to 1 hour cooking time on medium heat. They are done when you can easily pull a leaf out of the coke. Be sure they are completely cooked, as the bottom of the leaves will be hard if undercooked.
While living in Cully, (Lavaux) Switzerland, I shopped at the farmers market in Vevey. There I noticed bottles of dark syrup for sale. A vendor explained that this deep brown/purple syrup was made from grapes and is used in the preparation of fruit tarts. This is a wine-growing region with many small vintners. During the vendange (harvest) I would see mounds of grape skins stacked along the side of the wineries. I thought they were to be discarded. Not so, with such an important product every last part of the grape is made into wonderful surprises, such as Grappa or Raisinée au Vincuit. The mystery of this syrup is of course dependant on the type of grapes used. You will find a different flavor in each wine-growing region, so it is worth it to buy a bottle wherever you find it. The syrup can be sprinkled over cakes or ice cream, or mix it with fruit to be baked in tarts and glazes for meats or fish.
In the French part of Switzerland it is called Raisinée au Vincuit.
It is also made from very ripe fruits when the sugar is most concentrated. It is a reduction of fruit juices and pulp or skins until the liquid becomes thick and syrupy, the consistency of honey. It can also be made from pears or apples or as in Italy figs and raisins.
In Italy it is called mosto cotto or vino cotto, and it is also called sabe. Sugar was so expensive and grapes grow all over Italy, that they made the syrup and used it to replace sugar. It is used in the preparation of desserts, or whenever a sweetener is needed. As in Switzerland, it is sprinkled over cheese, breads and cakes or ricotta, yogurt or cookies. Mosto cotto not only adds sweetness but an exotic flavor.
You will not find grape syrup on your grocery store shelves, but if you happen to find it on a visit to a vineyard region, buy a bottle and keep it in a cool place. A supplier in the US of Vino Cotto is http://www.vinocotto.us/
I have experimented with Raisinée au Vincuit in fruit tarts and love it especially mixed with plums in the tart recipe below. Serve it with a little sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 410ºF oven for 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1/4 cup ice cold water or less
2 pounds plums cut in half, stones removed
1/4 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
1 1/2 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 tablespoon Grappa
Prepare the piecrust by mixing the butter, flour and salt in a food processor. Add in the egg yolk and a tablespoon of Raisinée au Vincuit. Add about 1/4th cup or less of ice water and form a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Remove it from the refrigerator and roll out the piecrust and put it into a false bottom tart pan or tart-baking dish.
Wash the plums and cut them in half removing the stones. Prepare the filling mixture in a bowl. Place the plumbs in the filling mixture and toss them gently. Layer the plumbs overlapping them in the baked tart shell.
Place it in a pre-heated oven at 410ºF for 20 – 30 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and brush the plums with the glaze while it is hot.
Allow the tart to cool and serve it with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or Crème fraîche on the side.
NOTE: The dough can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
NOTE: Fruit tarts should be eaten the day they are made, as they don’t store well.
NOTE: You can substitute Raisinée au Vincuit with Current Jelly.
My grandparents came from Vieste (FG) Italy. In my quest to learn more about my heritage I went to Vieste and took a cooking program. My husband and I had 4 chefs at a five star hotel to ourselves for a week and learned many traditional dishes made in the village and Gargano. I’ve had many people ask me how to make pizza dough at home. The recipe below was given to me by Chef Marco at the Pizzo Munno Vieste Palace Hotel.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: N/A
Yield: 1 large pizza, 2 medium size pizzas
3 1/2 cups flour 00, reserve 1/2 cup for working the dough
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water, tepid
PREPARATION IN A FOOD PROCESSOR
Put the water in a bowl and mix in the yeast and sugar. Place it in a warm place such as the oven and allow it to activate for about 15-20 minutes or until it doubles in size.
Put 3 cups of flour and salt in a mixer with the dough element and pour in the yeast mixture. Process it until it forms a ball. If working it by hand, place it in a bowl and mix the flour and yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or your hands.
Knead the dough lightly and place it in a bowl brushed with the olive oil and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place and allow it to rise for at least 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and let it raise for another 1/2 hour covered. You can use as much of the dough as you might need and freeze the rest. When defrosting it, allow the dough to raise again.
Roll out the dough using the reserved flour and you are ready to prepare your pizza, calzone, cheese bread, stromboli etc.
When spreading the dough out, use your hands if you don’t want any air bubbles, use a rolling pin if for a flat crusty crust. I prefer stretching the dough with my thumb and the back of your hand. Use you finger tips to then rotate it on a board stretching it and turning it over a few times.
Most of us don’t have wood burning pizza ovens however; a pizza stone is the best solution for a home oven. You can also use terra cotta tiles, which can be bought in a home supply store. If you do this, purchasse 2 or 3 layers, they will keep the heat in really well and do the trick without spending a lot of money for a pizza stone. It is very important that you buy tiles that have not been made with chemicals.
Spread a medium grind semolina flour on the bottom of the pizza pallet, place the rolled out dough on the board and prepare your pizza. This will allow you to slide it off the board easily onto the tile or stone. flour will also do, but the dough slides off the wood palette more easily with semolina. You can also put parchment paper on the board and slide it onto the stone.
Cook the pizza in a very hot oven at least 500º F or as high as it will go. Put your pizza stone in the oven at least 1 hour until it is hot. If you are grilling it in a fireplace or on a grill, I have found that a metal grate works very well and makes it easy to turn it on the grill. I like this method because it also allows the heat to brown the bottom making it very crispy and gives it a smokey flavor. The coals should be red hot. The cooking time is about 15 to 20 minutes, but this depends on how high the heat is, so keep checking the bottom, it should be brown and crispy.
Don’t be afraid to use whatever you like. Goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Fete cheeses are great as are olives, most vegetables, meats and seafood. Be creative!
You can use fresh tomatoes, or Passate di Pomador0 or just pureed can tomatoes. An Italian home is not complete without a bottle of Passate de Pomadoro in the refrigerator. It is great for flavoring soups and vegetables as well. Some people like to use prepared tomato sauce that has already been flavored, but I really prefer the fresh taste of tomatoes adding the herbs that you prefer. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, oregano or basil, salt and pepper; add whatever you like on the top. Mozzarella is traditionally used layered on the top. Whatever cheese you use, add it a few minutes before the pizza is done. Just long enough so that it melts. This allows everything to cook on top without the crust getting soggy or the cheese overcooking.
When visiting a restaurant this time of the year in Italy, I always know exactly what I will order as an antipasto because zucca fritti is on the menu. The editable flowers of squash are stuffed with various ingredients such as mozzarella, anchovy or ricotta. They are fried in very hot oil and usually eaten as appetizers, although in my family it isn’t unusual to have them for a main course. Large platters of golden, crisp batter coated flowers are served and eaten with your hands. Accompanied with a glass of Prosecco or cold white wine, this dish is a delicacy. My grandparents grew zucchini in their garden and my grandmother made these all through the summer.
The US is a large producer of pumpkins (any type of squash flowers can be used), however it is difficult to find flowers for sale anywhere. I once approached a pumpkin grower and asked if I could buy the flowers and he looked at me very confused. Needless to say, he didn’t sell me the flowers. Since the female bloom produces the squash, the male bloom is sold for cooking in Italy. They are also used in stuffing for ravioli, and made into a delicious sauce for pasta.
Squash are grown all over the world and the flowers can also be purchased off-season, but are very expensive. Prices are lowest in season. If you are lucky enough to find them, choose only large fresh good quality flowers with stems. The flower is very delicate and must be handled with great care not to break the petals. You must first gently spread the petals and remove stamina. Gently place the stuffing into the middle and roll the petals at the top. Rolling the tops closes the opening and holds the stuffing inside.
The flowers must be completely dry before dipping them into the batter. I like to drip off some of the batter making sure that they are not to heavily coated. The oil must be very hot and dip only a few at a time.
The recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste, Foggia (Puglia, Italy).
Fried Zucchini Flowers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 3-4 minutes each
Yield: 14 flowers
14 large zucchini flowers with stems, cleaned
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white wine, beer or water with gas, cold
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of salt
14 cubes mozzarella, small
Sea salt for sprinkling over the fried flowers
Mix the flour, paprika and salt. Pour in the cold beer or carbonated water and blend until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
Remove the stamina in each flower and set it aside. Open the flower very gently and put a piece of mozzarella in each flower and twist the top closed.
Heat the oil until it is very hot. Dip a few flowers into the batter. Let the batter drip off the flour a little. You don’t want the flower to be to have a thick coating. Drop the flower a few at a time into the hot oil and let it fry turning it several times until it is golden and crisp. Remove them to a rack or paper towels and lightly sprinkle salt over them. Continue a few at a time until you have fried all the flowers.
Serve them warm as part of an antipasti (appetizer).
NOTE: A small piece of anchovy can be substituted or added. Other fillings such as ricotta can be used.
Putting confiscated Mafia property to good use, the Italian government is re-allocating property once owned by the Mafia in Palermo Italy into use by producing pasta, olive oil, wine, honey and other products, which are sold at the Coop supermarkets. The country villa of a the once feared “Riina” is turned into a an agriturisom and apartments are turned into a police headquarters. Making something that was drawing the breath out of the public into productive and civic service is being done by the Impastato Association. Italy has been trying to tackle and eliminate the crime group and is having some success.
RIINA VILLA TO GO TO IMPASTATO ASSOCIATION
(ANSA) – Palermo, May 7 –
“A Palermo villa that once belonged to Italy’s bloodiest Mafia boss is to be re-assigned to a group carrying on the fight of an anti-Mafia hero. The villa in downtown Palermo, believed to be Toto’ ‘the Beast’ Riina’s last hide-out, will be turned over to the Peppino Impastato Association, named after a young DJ and anti-Mob campaigner murdered in 1978. The property is among 150 properties seized from the Mob that are set to be handed over to associations, police and other state bodies. Since the start of 2008, more than 1,000 pieces of former Mafia real estate in Palermo have been put to civic use. Italian authorities have for years been re-allocating property once owned by Riina, who was arrested in 1993 and convicted of the 1992 murders of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
They have also started re-assigning property confiscated from Riina’s co-boss and successor Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006 after 43 years on the run. Youth cooperatives have moved into the rural crime triangle between the fiefs of Corleone, Monreale and San Giuseppe Jato and have started making pasta, olive oil, wine, honey and other produce on the ex-Mafia lands.
Thanks to an agreement with the Coop supermarket chain, the products are now sold all over Italy. Many of the products are made by the cooperative Placido Rizzotto – Libera Terra, named after the first land reform campaigner murdered by the Mafia, in 1948. Last year one of Riina’s old country villas reopened as an agriturismo near Corleone. Corleone, a big-screen byword for the Mafia, was Riina’s power base in the hills near Palermo where he bred a fierce new breed of Mafioso in the ’70s and ’80s. Italian authorities have made a point of putting confiscated Mafia property to good use, preferably something involving public institutions, so as to symbolise the return of the State’s control. A set of luxury apartments in Corleone belonging to Riina, for example, has been turned into the local headquarters of the tax police. Another town near Palermo, Cinisi, was the home of Impastato, a left-wing activist and radio DJ murdered on May 9, 1978 – the same day that the Red Brigades assassinated Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in Rome. Impastato had spent years campaigning against the Mafia and lampooning local boss Tano Badalamenti. Impastato’s story was told in the critically acclaimed 2000 film I Cento Passi (The Hundred Steps) by Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana. The movie’s title referred to the distance between Impastato’s house and that of Badalamenti.”
Zuccotto is light as a feather yet full of fruit and soaked with rum. Fill it with fresh fruit such as, strawberries, raspberries or peaches. You can prepare it as shown here in this recipe or serve it in a pretty bowl, maybe one with a pedestal, top it off with the whipped cream and scoop it out.
Pane di Spagna is a light sponge cake found in most markets in Italy. It is often layered with mascarpone, pastry cream and fruit. Biscotti are also crushed and layered in the same manner. These are common everyday desserts in Italy and are very easy to prepare. There are no rules, just use the fruits that are in season.
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: Follow a recipe for pastry cream
Yield: 1-10”x5” Cake, 12 servings
3- 9” x 2” plain sponge cakes or cut in half 2 Pane di Spagna
6 large, fresh peaches or 1 large container fresh strawberries
2 pastry cream recipes
1/2 cup dark Rum
2 cups Confectionary sugar
1 cup water
1 16 oz. container whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 pound almond slices, toasted
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
Bowl 10” x 5”
PANE di SPAGNA
Chef Franco, Pasticceria Monte S. Angelo, (Foggia) Italia
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes @ 375ºF
Yield: 1 10” sponge cake
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup confectionary sugar
6 large egg yolks, beaten
6 large egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
2 teaspoons lemon or vanilla extract
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
10” round layer cake pan
Separate the egg yolks and egg whites. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Beat the egg yolks, add the confectionary sugar and extract and blend well until the batter is smooth. Add in the sifted flour a little at a time and blend well. The batter will be a little thick at this point. Fold 1/4th of the egg whites into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently.
Pour it into a greased baking pan. Bake for about 30 minutes. Prick it with a cake tester until it come out dry.
If you are using fresh peaches, peel them and cut them into slices. Put 2 cups of granulated sugar and 1 cup of water in a pan and dissolve the sugar until you have syrup. Place the peaches in the syrup and cook them until they are soft, but still have a slight stiffness. Remove them and allow them to cool, and reduce the syrup to about 1 cup. You can add a little peach brandy or rum to the syrup. Sprinkle the syrup over the cake instead of the rum as you would if you were using fresh strawberries. You can also use canned peaches. If using strawberries they should be washed, shucked and sliced.
Make the pastry cream according to the recipe directions and let it cool.
Cover a 10” x 5” bowl or form with plastic wrap so that it completely covers the bowl. It should come down the outside of the bowl enough to fold over the cake at the end.
Cut the cakes in half and cover the bottom and sides of the bowl with the cake. Sprinkle a little rum or syrup over the entire cake. Spread a layer of pastry cream over the bottom of the cake. Place another layer of cake over the cream and sprinkle it with a little rum or sryup. Slice the strawberries or peaches and place them over the cake. Cover the fruit with another layer of cake again sprinkling the syrup or rum. Put another layer of fruit over the cake and another layer of pastry cream and cover the cream with the last layer of cake. This should take you to the top of your bowl. Bring the plastic wrap over the top of the bowl covering the entire top of the cake. Place a plate on the top with a weight, such as a can of tomatoes and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
Place almonds on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown. Watch them carefully as they will brown quickly.
Whip the cream in a cold bowl until the cream starts to stiffen. Add the vanilla and confectionary sugar and beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
Cover the entire cake with the whipped cream and pat the toasted almonds over the cake. Return it to the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
Planning starts early for an Italian wedding with grandparents, aunts, cousins all allocated different jobs, including the preparation of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”. This is by far one of the most important jobs of all. Italian weddings tend to be large and huge amounts of biscotti are made by all the members of the future bride’s family. Imagine what the kitchen looks like with everyone having a specific task to perform and making dozens of biscotti for weeks before the wedding!
The bride takes the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” and offers them to the wedding guests who fill their napkins and handbags. Everyone including each child gets their share of biscotti to take home. Then of course the critique begins as to which biscotti are the best. OURS are always the best as our family truly are experts in the preparation of this most enjoyable and important tradition.
“Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” is a biscotti wedding cake. It is layers of different biscotti arranged in a pyramid decorated with icing covered almonds called “Confetti” and ribbons. It takes center stage at Italian weddings. Members of the family bring the biscotti together the day before the wedding and arranged and wrape the torta with great fan fair, this is an event in itself. Of course, it is hard not to taste them as you are constructing the torta.
The layers can be placed such as described below, or you can randomly place them making sure that the bottom layers are sturdy cookies that can take the weight of the ones placed on top.
Placing doilies in between the layers helps to stabilize the cookies. If making larger trays another way of doing this is to dip the bottom of each biscotto into confectionary sugar frosting and attach it to your torta construction. This will keep the biscotti from moving or falling. In this case you would not use the doilies except to cover the bottom of the tray.
“Confetti”; candy covered almonds in colors symbolic of life’s events are randomly placed throughout the torta. Confetti arrangements placed on top of the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” are saved as mementoes. The nuns of Santa Chiara in the region of Abruzzi are famous for their confetti confections. The colors are traditional and represent the following:
Pink or blue-Children, girl or boy
Silver and Gold-Wedding and Anniversaries.
Bottom layer: 2 varieties of firm biscotti such as a sliced biscotti and sesame seed cookie.
Middle layer: 1 variety placed on a dolly
Top layer: 1 variety of lighter weight biscotti
And so on.
Biscotti can be frozen for up to 2 months. The cookies are prepared in advance; frosted and assembled the day before the wedding. Once the biscotti are baked and completely cooled they are placed in freezer bags or plastic containers and frozen. When you are ready to use them you must completely defrosted them before applying the frosting. Place the cookies in boxes in order to transport to the location where the torta will be constructed.
The tray is then placed on large sheets of cello wrap. It is important to place the cello wrap in both directions so that the cookies are completely covered with the wrap. The cello wrap is then brought up over the biscotti and tied with colorful ribbons.
Bomboniera or small decorative boxes or packets are often filled with the “Confetti” and given as gifts at Italian weddings. Today we often prepare Bomboniere filled with biscotti rather then passing them out.
The local markets are the center of life in Italian towns and villages. Usually the markets are located in the heart of the centre of the village.
A multi-sensorial experience that you cannot miss as it offers the opportunity to enjoy the local taste and the exclusive food specialties of the cuisine of the area. The most fascinating atmosphere with vendors yelling out their daily produce, “carciofi, melanzane, pomodori” and locals closely inspecting every fruit, vegetable and herb stacked perfectly on the stands. The peppers, eggplants, melons and flowers create a patchwork of color and spark your senses to want to partake in all the activity. It is where the real people are and the specific tastes and gastronomic traditions can be found.
While studying Italian in Bologna I spent everyday visiting the market and little local restaurants located within the market district. Most markets have a coffee bar where you can just sit and enjoy an espresso and people watch. Having rented an apartment, I found myself in the midst of what seems to be a lot of confusion and activity. The hustle of Italians and vendors can be intimidating and I could never seem to purchase the right thing. But one day having an espresso at a bar in the district, I met a woman who told me that the key is to let the vendor advise you on what is the best product for the dish you plan to prepare. They are proud to help you to select just the right tomato for a sauce or tell you how to prepare a vegetable or fish. I tried this and Surprise! Surprise! I never bought the wrong thing again. I have since gotten recipes and advise on restaurants from market vendors who are more then happy to help. In fact you probably will have several vendors all giving you their view and recipes at the same time.
One market that I go to about every 4 weeks is in Como.The city is famous for its charismatic street cafes and wine bars that serve antipasti, snacks and aperitifs. The lake promenade and views are what attract most visitors to Como. But I go to the market. Here I find the most beautiful artichokes, Porcini mushrooms, huge red peppers and produce from all over Italy. Here is where you will see the real people of Como. You can purchase and sample prepared foods, select fish from a large array fish from Italy and other parts of Europe. Vegetable, fruit, herbs, nuts, cheese and meats are stacked in perfectly arranged stands in 3 different halls. A large area of flowers and plants fill another hall with color and scents.
Next time you visit an Italian town, don’t miss the experience of the local atmosphere. Visit the local “Mercato”.
My father’s family came from the town of Vieste, Foggia Italy. The Region is Puglia (Apulia, Apulien) in the southeast of Italy. It is located on the tip or spur of the boot-shaped peninsula called Gargano.
It is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, a unique landscape of naturalistic beauty and known as a melting pot of foreign populations. The characteristic Apulian architecture of the 11th–13th centuries reflects Greek, Arab, Norman, and Pisan influences.
Olives, olive oil and both mountain and sea typical food products are mainly produced in this region. As you can imagine fish is an important part of their diet and a large variety of recipes using fish, vegetables and also cheese can be enjoyed in many of the small restaurants throughout the region. The myth that cheese and fish are never prepared together is exactly that, a myth. Italy produces cheese such as ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella di bufala, which are very light in flavor and are easily combined with fish.
I have visited Vieste many times learning a little about my heritage and the recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste at a private cooking program we took on one of our visits. I have translated it and hope you enjoy it.
Ricotta, Zucchini, Eggplant & Scampi
Ricotta, zucchini, melanzane & salsa di scampi
Chef Marco, Vieste (Foggia), Italy
Prep Time: 20 (part of which is done during the cooking of the pasta)
Cook Time: About 15 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a pan)
2 cloves sliced garlic
1 small zucchini, deseeded
1 small eggplant, deseeded
4 oz. arugula
9 leaves of sage
1 jigger of brandy
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups of cream
8 oz. ricotta
20 medium shrimp, cleaned (the original recipe calls for scampi, which have harder shells, but are difficult to find in the US).
Salt to taste
1 lb. pasta fresh or store bought, such as rigatoni
Remove the shells and vein of the shrimp and set them aside.
Cube the unpeeled zucchini and eggplant and sauté them until they are just cooked but not too soft, about 4-6 minutes.
In a saucepan sauté the oil and garlic for a minute. Add the shrimp, sage and cook for a minute, then add the brandy and flambé it until all the alcohol has evaporated. The flames will burn out when that happens. Be sure to remove the bottle away from the stove when you are doing this step. Add in the arugula, wine and sage at this point and allow the arugula to cook for a few minutes until it is limp. Put in the ricotta until it is well mixed into the sauce and add in the cream. Taste for salt.
If the sauce seems to be too thick, add in some of the pasta water and mix. You may have to do this again, if the sauce is ready before the pasta is cooked.
Boil salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Add the sautéed zucchini and eggplant to the sauce. Drain and mix the pasta into the sauce, allowing it to finish cooking. Toss it thoroughly coating each piece of pasta.
In Italy, sorbetto is served as a dessert but it is wonderful on a beautiful summer afternoon served as a cool flavorful drink. It can be made with many different kinds of liquor and sorbet. I first had this in Milan and in traveling around Italy, found it in many other restaurants. This is a light dessert drink that is wonderful after a meal of heavy flavors or fish.
Sorbetto Al Limone
Prep time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
1 cup lemon sorbet (homemade or store bought)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 short glass Vodka
1 slice lemon
Whip the cream to light peaks. Put the sorbet in a blender with the Vodka. Blend and remove to a bowl. Hand mix the whipped cream and sorbet mixture until it is smooth, but foamy and pour into a burgundy wine glass. Place a slice of lemon on the edge of the glass, and just before drinking it squeeze the lemon over the top.
NOTE: Use complementing liquor with a fruit sorbet. This can be done with other fruits such as pears sorbet with Père Williams, green apple sorbet with Calvados, or strawberry sorbet with Fraises.
Everything in Italy has a story and this is no different. Chiacchiere means to chat in Italian. Because I never stopped talking as a kid, my grandmother would always say to me “chiacchiere, chiacchiere, chiacchiere” – meaning chatter, chatter, chatter. When you eat ciacchiere they crackle and crunch as you bite into the fragile, crispy fried pastry making a lot of noise, spreading crumbs all over the place and sprinkling you with confectionary sugar. They are eaten once a year, preceding Lent. Chiacchiere encourages chain eating.
The Venice Carnevale takes place at the end of February and is the most famous in Europe. Carnevale is celebrated with colorful festivals all over Italy. Masquerade balls, entertainment, music, spectacular papier–mâché floats and of course “dolci traditionali di Carnevale”. This deleciate cookie is referred to as ”Fritelle de Carnevale”.
I have found about 17 names so far for this cookie. Chiacchiere is the name used in the region of Lombardy, Cenci in Campania, Frappe in Emilia Romana, Crostoli in Venezia. They are also called Bugle, Strappole, Lattughe to name but a few regional variations. So what is in a name? It is as important as the recipe and those of us who adore this cookie can easily get into a heated discussion about its origins and its name. But the fun part is resolving it with a glass of white wine and a bowl full of Cenci. Like every Italian family, our recipe came from my grandmother, who was born in Avellino, (Campania, Italy). She called them Cenci.
Our version of this cookie preparation is made of strips of sweet dough cut into various shapes and fried in hot oil. They are dusted with powdered sugar once they are cool. They can be formed in a bow, or tied in a knot, or flat pieces of dough fried crispy. Every region, village and family tends to have its own recipe. Some recipes call for Marsala, Grappa or white wine mixed into dough. Some are made with yeast-others not.
Chiacchiere is a tradition at Christmas time in our family and the kids plead to be allowed to help with cutting and creating the bows. I find rolling out the dough with a pasta machine works very well. The dough should be very thin and cut into strips with a pastry cutter. I make a small cut in the middle, take one end and pull it through the hole creating a bow.
Many countries have their version of a fried sweet cookie. In Switzerland they are eaten from December to February and are called “Fasnachtchüechli” or “Chnöiblätz” (dough stretched over the knee). Fasnacht is also carnival in Switzerland.
Enjoy my family recipe, but be careful they are addictive.
Prep Time: 1 hour 12 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes each or until golden
Yield: 6 Dozen
4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 cup confectionary sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound butter
2 tablespoon of Whiskey, Brandy, Sherry or Sweet Marsala wine
4 medium eggs, beaten
1 quart oil for frying (Canola oil or peanut oil)
Cream the eggs and butter together. Add the alcohol of your choice and blend. Sift the flour, sugar and salt and slowly add it into the egg mixture. Form the dough and knead until it is smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Thinly roll out the dough. With a cookie cutter, cut the strips about 3” x 5” long. Make another cut in the center of the strip, about 1”, and pull one end of the dough through the cut forming a bow.
In a deep fryer, place a few cookies at a time in hot oil and fry until they puff up and become golden brown. Place them on paper towels to drain or on a cake rack placed over a cookie sheet with a rim. This allows any additional oil to drain out of the cookie.
Once completely cooled, place a few cookies in a bag filled with confectionary sugar and gently toss them, coating them with the sugar.
Store in a paper bag. They will get soggy if they are stored in a sealed container.
During WWII while my father was fighting in Europe, my mother supported us by working at the Table Talk Pies Inc. Located in Worcester, Massachusetts and established in 1924. Like many other business of that time, they started as a very small neighborhood business and sold their pies in horse drawn carriages around town. Table Talk still exists today with distribution and production all around the country.
My mother perfected her pie baking and was the expert among our family and friends. She sold her pies in our family business “Turo’s Market” on Shrewsbury Street, Worcester MA. (no longer exists). We moved to the country in a house my parents built in the middle of an apple orchard. Every Sunday she would baked all sorts of pies of the season and family and friends filled our house for coffee and pie. When the fruit was first in season she would make us all our own pie and set it down in front of us for one big start of the season pie feast. She made a large assortment of pies but two were always the most popular and that was blueberry and apple pies (apples picked in our backyard).
To this day everyone in our family remembers these Sunday afternoons with such fond memories. Besides always having a huge crowd around our house on the weekends, the sent of fresh baked pies in her country kitchen still lingers with me today. Everyone in our family tries to create the very same flavor that she perfected. Somehow we never are able to recreate the same taste, but that is probably because we just can’t duplicate those wonderful times that went with friends, coffee and a piece of pie with ice cream. Pies are still a large part of our family get-togethers and she still fills our discussions as we compete for the title of best family pie baker.
Fruit pies are very simple and only require the minimum amount of ingredients. Sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest, butter, a little flour or cornstarch and that is it. If you try to complicate it, you will affect the fresh flavors of the fruit. Fresh fruit pies are not about being creative, but about the clean flavors and the juices of ripe fruit -and there is the key, ripe fruit.
Make sure when you are buying blueberries that they are firm, plump, fragrant, and dark blue. Remove stems and any berries that are green or not ripe. Most of us today use cultivated berries and they can also be bought frozen. We always went blueberry picking at farms and collected large quantities that we froze and had blueberry pies all winter. They freeze beautifully and are great just to pop a few in your mouth as a snack frozen. You can put them into your pie frozen and you wouldn’t know that they had been picked months before.
Blueberries are also well known for their health benefits. Enjoy my Moms recipe!
Basic Pie Crust
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cold solid vegetable shortening (one cup of shortening if you eliminate the butter)
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (the butter makes the crust flaky)
2/3 cup ice-cold water (as needed)
Other Items needed
Mixer or rolling pin
9” pie plate
DOUGH USING A MIXER OR PROCESSOR
Mix the flour, shortening, and salt until it looks like a crumb mixture. Add the butter to the crumb mixture. The mixer or processor does a good job of crumbing the mixture. The butter should only be pulsated a few times to assure it isn’t over processed. The original recipe calls for a total of 1 cup of shortening; you can use a mixture of butter and shortening. Remove it from the mixer or processor and mix 2/3 cup of ice-cold water a little at a time until the dough forms. You may not need the entire amount of water. DO NOT OVER PROCESS OR KNEAD THE DOUGH. Once you have brought all the ingredients together, cut it in half and form a disk shape by patting it with your hands and put it in plastic storage bags. Refrigerate them for at least 1/2 hour.
If you are mixing the dough by hand, place the flour in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Cut the shortening into small pieces and crumble it either with you hands or with a fork. Cut in the butter, in larger chunks. Add the ice-cold water and bring it together into a ball, the same as the directions above.
NOTE: You can add a little cinnamon, lemon zest or sugar if you like into the flour mixture.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 52 minutes, 12 minutes at 420º F, 40 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 8 servings
6 cups fresh blueberries, enough to fill a 9” pie plate
3/ 4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 lemon (zest only)
1/8 pound butter, cut into cubes
Other Things Needed
3 ziti pasta
Roll out one half of the dough and place it into a 9” pie plate. Refrigerate the other half for the top.
Put the blueberries into a bowl and add the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and zest and toss the berries until they are completely covered with the ingredients. Pour them into the uncooked piecrust and dot the top with butter. Roll out the second piece of dough and cover the top of the pie. Even out the dough around the rim and crimp the edges. With a knife, puncture at 3 holes and stick in a piece of ziti pasta in each hole. The ziti will act as little chimneys and let out the steam.
Bake in the middle of the oven at 420º F for 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350º F and cook for another 40 minutes. Remove the pie when it is brown on the top and put it on a rack to cool. Once at room temperature, put it in the refrigerator.
Serve cold with vanilla ice cream.
NOTE: You can brush the top of the piecrust with an egg wash or cream to give it a more golden color or sprinkle a little sugar on the top.
La Chitarra (pronounced key-tahr-rah) is a pasta maker believed to have been invented in Chieti, Abruzzi Italy around the 1800’s. No one seems to know who invented it and until recently pasta made with the chitarra was mainly found in the Apulia and Abruzzi regions.
Since I’ve never been able to find a story behind this unique simple pasta maker, I made up one.
A long time ago, a young boy by the name of Michele, watched his mother making pasta every day, toiling over kneading the dough, rolling out it out into huge thin sheets and cutting it with a knife into thin stands. This is how Michele’s mother earned a living. Michele loved music and often sat on the steps of his simple stone home located along a narrow street of the village playing his beloved chitarra. He played for his mother while she worked – it seemed to make her life a little easier. As he was playing, he had an inspiration that the musical strings of his instrument would be perfect for cutting the dough. He removed the strings and placed them over a simple oblong box – he was going to miss his chitarra. He brought it to his mother and together they cut the pasta on his invention. To their amazement, as they rolled the dough over the musical strings, the pasta fell below the box in perfectly cut strands. The musical strings not only worked perfectly for cutting the pasta, but the beautiful sounds of the chitarra filled the small kitchen as they ran their fingers across the strings. From this point on they called her pasta “pasta chitarra”. Well of course this is my story, but every time I use my chitarra, I think of Michele and his mother.
There are two sides of the chitarra; one side cuts thin strands the size of spaghetti and the other Taglatelle and Fettuccini. The dough should be rolled out a little thicker to make troccoli, which is famous in Apulia. There are screws at one end, which are tightened to make them taut when rolling the spaghetti and loosened when it is not being used. Roll the dough the width and length of the chitarra and place the dough on the strings. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough over the strings. Run you fingers along the metal strings to loosen the cut strands and the cut pasta will fall into the box below.
During a trip to Vieste, Foggia, I visited a little restaurant in the old village called “Enotecca di Vieste”. Here I met the owner who brought me into the kitchen to show me how to make her mothers recipe for troccoli with chickpeas, eggplants and zucchini. After we enjoyed this hearty pasta dish with these lovely people, she handed me a bag filled with all the ingredients to make the dish at home myself. In Vieste restaurants have large balls of dough on a table covered with a kitchen towel. When you order troccoli, they cut off a piece of the pasta dough and roll it over the chitarra. You can’t get pasta any fresher then this.
La Chitarra is possible to find in some specialty kitchen supply stores.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 minutes
Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 8 as accompaniment
4 cups all purpose flour
2 pinches salt
4 medium eggs
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tepid water (if necessary)
Place the flour mixture on a pastry board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, olive oil, salt and a small amount of water (you can always add more water if the dough is too dry). Begin to stir the flour from the outside part of the well into the wet ingredients. Continue this process until the dough holds together in a ball. The dough should seem as if it is too dry, but once it is rolled out in a pasta machine it will hold together. If the dough is too wet, rub a little flour on it, as it will be difficult to handle and too sticky to roll through the pasta machine.
Knead the dough for at least 10-15 minutes, and allow it to stand covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
ROLLING THE PASTA DOUGH
Start with a wider slot when rolling it out on your pasta machine. Roll it out a few times on each level until you have reached the second thinnest level. You will have to develop a feel of the thickness of the dough.
Once the dough is rolled out, cut it the length and with of the Chitarra. The dough should be a little thicker then if you were cutting it for fettuccini or spaghetti.
Pressing down with a rolling pin, roll the pin over dough. Run you fingers across the exposed strings at the end of the Chitarra and the pasta will fall to the bottom of the box.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
10 sprigs fresh basil
3 ripe large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup dry chick peas (soaked overnight)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cube beef bouillon, dissolved in water (1 cup per cube)
1 small eggplant, cut into 1” chunks
1 small zucchini, cut into 1” chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
10 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped
1 pepperoncino, soaked in olive oil
1 green pepper, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If you are using dried beans, place 1/2 cup beans in water overnight, they will double in size. Put them into the sauce for the last 15 minutes of cooking. If you are using canned beans, add them at the end only for a few minutes.
Place the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped pepper, zucchini, pepperoncino and eggplant and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, basil, and bouillon in the pan and cook for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. You can add a little wine, more bullion or a little pasta water if required. In separate pan cook the troccoli in salted water for 3 to 5 minutes until al dente.
Mix the sauce with the troccoli and sprinkle parsley over the top of the pasta before serving. Put a nice piece of Parmesan cheese on the table for people to grate over the dish.
There are many articles written about the health benefits of almonds. Low in saturated fat and containing calcium and magnesium, vitamin E and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Jordan almonds are considered the best and are sweet almonds coming from Malaga. Bitter almonds are grown in the south of France, Sicily and North Africa. See the web sites at the end of this article for more information on the benefits of almonds and their origins.
Almond oil is extracted from both bitter and sweet almonds but the seed of the bitter almonds are used to make almond oil and almond flavoring are used in confections. Pure almond extract can be purchased at any market, but the intense flavor of almond oil makes a very big difference in baked goods. When using oil vs. extracts, you use just a few drops. Most Italian markets sell these oils and a little goes a long way.
In Italy desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The biscotti originated in the Tuscany and it is thought that they were flavored with almonds from Prato. The cookies are known as “cantucci” and they can be found in every pasticceria in the Tuscany. Cantucci are mostly eaten with a glass of “Vin Santo” a sweet wine. Many restaurants serve small almond biscotti with coffee and some will have a bowl of them on the table at all times. It is probably the most well-known and popular biscotti. Almonds are used in many different varieties of biscotti and also mixed with fruits and chocolate.
Other desserts made with almonds in Italy are a rich bread or flat cake known as “panforte”. A cookie called “Cartellate” is made in Apuglia. It is fried dough in the shape of a cartwheel (cartellate means cartwheel in Italian) and filled with toasted almonds, honey, chocolate and spices. Amaretto is a liqueur with an almond flavor. The base of the liqueur is primarily made from apricot pits. Apricot and peach pits have similar oils and taste like almonds. The original version of Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy and is also used to flavor many Italian desserts and coffee. Marzipan, which is a mixture of sugar and almonds is used in confections. One of my favorites is a candy called “Brocante con mandorle”, (Italian almond brittle). It is very hard and you must to be careful of your teeth when you eat it. Unlike most brittle, this is thick and hard made with toasted almonds, sugar, honey, corn syrup and almond oil or almond flavoring. Colorful sugar candied almonds known as “confetti” are arranged in exquisite decorations for wedding cakes and mixed with trays of biscotti.
Cantucci are use in all of our biscotti trays, they are one of our most asked for biscotti. Cantucci are hard so they make a good base for our “Torta Festiva” or “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze”.
Make a full recipe and stored in a metal container, they will last a few weeks. They can be frozen up to two months – they defrost very quickly. You will always have biscotti to serve with coffee when friends drop by.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 2 1/2 Dozen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups roasted almonds, cut in half
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ROASTING THE NUTS
Place the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in a 400ºF oven for 15 minutes. Shake the pan several times to turn the nuts so they cook evenly. Let the almonds cool. Cut the almonds in half.
In large mixing bowl, place the dry ingredients and toasted almonds. Make a well in the center and combine the remaining wet ingredients (water, oil and eggs). Oil your hands to mix the dough. Place the dough onto a floured board and work until completely combined. The dough will be sticky to work with. Refrigerate for one hour.
Make loaves about 14” long and 2” wide, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and place them in a 350ºF oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and slice on a diagonal 1” apart.
To freeze, do not slice but wrap the whole logs tightly in plastic wrap. Slice the logs when you are ready to serve them. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Cantucci can be double backed a few minutes on each side for a drier harder result.