A sunny dish for this rainy day: Zucchini alla scapece

zucchini alla scapece 1

Oh my . . . how long has it been! So long that I almost feel as intimidated as I was when I wrote my first post. In fact, one of the reason why I haven’t been writing is because I did not know how to come back. I kept thinking: “Am I supposed to explain my absence or just pretend I never left ? “. I felt like a child cheating in school, trying to find a good excuse to explain why I had not completed my homework. I have been debating about the right story or topic to return to my blogging, but nothing felt adequate.

Last month, on my FaceBook page, I posted a photo of a dish I had prepared for dinner, ” zucchini alla scapece“. The kind comments that I received and my subsequent promise to post my recipe gave me  the push I needed to come back. I finally realized that I didn’t need to justify my absence and certainly I did not need a big ‘scoop’ to make a come back. So here I am!

The heat wave of last month reminded me a lot of my summer days in Italy, especially when I was a child. The house would get very warm in the afternoon, my mom would open all the windows to facilitate air circulation which really didn’t help much. Despite the heat, my beautiful mother, wearing her sleeveless dress, her hair gathered into a fancy chignon, and tiny sweat beads trickling down her forehead, would spend many afternoon ” ai fornelli” ( by the stove). While thinking of her and those hot days, the one dish that came to mind were the “zucchini alla scapece“, I could almost smell the oil frying.

I am keeping my promise and here it is is my mother’s recipe of  ‘Zucchini alla scapece’, which is simply fried zucchini, marinated in wine vinegar.

The ‘zucchini alla scapece’ are usually served as ‘antipasto’ (appetizer), however, they are also delicious layered on top of some fresh mozzarella in a sandwich made with focaccia or ciabatta bread. In my family we also like to eat them as side dish.

I must admit that my mother’s original recipe includes an additional step which I have omitted. My mother used to slice the zucchini into roundsnot to thick and not too thin, but just right. She would laid the slices on a large tray covered with a kitchen towel and then she set the tray on a chair on the balcony in the sunshine. The slices of zucchini would dry in the sun and a slight curly edge would form. As a child I really didn’t know why she would do that; Only many years later – when I started to show some interest in cooking – I realized that drying the zucchini prior to frying would prevent them from absorbing too much oil; it would also make them slightly crispy.

My decision to make the zucchini alla scapece came suddenly and in the early evening. I had not time to dry the zucchini in the sunshine, however, I lined a tray with paper towels and I arranged the sliced zucchini on top.  I also sprinkled them with salt to facilitate the releasing of water.  I let the zucchini rest for 30 minutes then patted dry with a kitchen towel.

Zucchini alla scapece2

I hope the result would have satisfied my mom. It sure satisfied my husband!

Zucchini alla scapece

Cosa serve (What you need):

6 small zucchini sliced  into 1/4 inch thick rounds

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

A small bunch of fresh mint leaves minced plus few whole leaves to garnish

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

Cosa fare (What to do):

  • The first step is the prep of the zucchini as explained above. Prior to slicing the zucchini, remember to rinse them thoroughly under clod running water, rubbing with your hands to remove any grit.Zucchini alla scapece 3
  • Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. The oil should be enough to come 1/4 inch up the pan’s sides.
  • When the oil is quite hot, fry the zucchini in one layer, without crowing the pan. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle in contact with the zucchini.

zucchini alla scapece 4

  • Watch the zucchini and turn them over when they become golden on one side. When they are golden brown on both sides, with a slotted spoon transfer them into a serving bowl.

zucchini alla scapece 5

  • Drizzle with the vinegar, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, finally add the minced leaves of mint. Gently toss and set aside to cool down at room temperature.
  • Before serving garnish with few leaves of mint.

zucchini alla scapece 6

It’s a rainy and gloomy day here in Frederick today, I hope this dish will brighten your day.

Which dish reminds you of the summer hot days of your childhood?

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If it’s Friday. . . it’s Pesce!

My Risotto ai Gamberi!

Last week I had tweeted this picture and I promised that I would have followed up with a post, so here I am, as promised.

Risotto ai gamberi (Risotto with shrimp) is one of my favorite dish to prepare. It is comforting and fresh at the same time, perfect for Spring.  To me it represents the fusion of Northern and Southern Italy, a good example of Mediterranean diet and just simple goodness.

Risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe. The archetype of risotto is “Risotto alla Milanese“, you know. . .  that wonderful yellow risotto – with zafferano (saffron) – that is always married to the “Ossobuco“.

Although the Northern Regions of Lombardia and Piemonte are the capitals of rice, the use of the rice in cooking started in Naples (yes, I know I am biased!) where it was brought by the Spaniards in the fourteenth century. The Neapolitan, however, rapidly became “mangiamaccheroni” (pasta eater) and the rice soon travelled North. In Northern Italy, in particular in the wet Valle del Po (Po Valley), the cultivation of rice found the perfect environment. The immage of the flooded risaie (rice field) are quite impressive.

In 1949, the Italian movie Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice), nominated for the 1950 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story, was shot in the countryside and rice-fields of the Po Valley. The story deals with the vicissitudes of the mondine (rice-weeders).

Yet, how can we forget the Sartù? It is one of the richest and elaborated piatti (dish), based on rice, of the traditional Neapolitan cuisine. In the ‘700, Naples was ruled by the French Royal House of Bourbons. The chefs of the Royal French Court developed this recipe; its original French name was Sur-Tout which then became Sartù.

 The Sartù is a sort of rice dome stuffed with meatballs, sausage, peas, mushrooms, boiled eggs, mozzarella and more. . . my husband’s grandmother – nonna Lucia –  used to make it and my husband still rave about it. I am not ready yet for this elaborated preparation but I promised myself that one day I shall try. I will keep you posted.

Back to the rice, there are different varieties of rice: riso tondo or comune (round rice or common), riso fino (fine-rice or rice up), riso semifino (semi-fine rice), riso ultrafino (grain rice, super fine).

The variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. Arborio and Carnaroli, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

Carnaroli and Arborio

The Vialone Nano has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risotto. The Arborio and Carnaroli have large and long grain and release less starch.

Once you master the art of preparing the basic risotto, you can let your imagination fly and create any combination you like. I am from Southern Italy and yet, Risotto is one my favorite dish. I make risotto with anything I fancy and anything that it is in season: asparagus, radicchio, lemon, beans, zucchini, potatoes, peas, artichokes, mushroom, butternut squash, safron, gorgonzola cheese, cuttlefish ink, seafood. . . and of course with shrimp!

In my recipe, Risotto, the most typical preparation of Northern Italy, meets the flavor of the Mediterranean Sea and the culture of fish of Southern Italy . . .what better combination!

So here it is, for yet another meatless Friday (or meatless Monday), I give you My Risotto ai Gamberi. This recipe is my own, I have experimented through the years and although it is not the canonic recipe, it is my family’s favorite. To me, that’s all that matters. I hope you will give it a try, I am sure you will love it!

Ricetta Risotto ai Gamberi

Risotto with shrimp

Ingredients for 4 people

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio (Carnaroli is what I had on hand)

20 medium/large shrimp

1/2 cup dry white wine (I also like to use Marsala wine which will make the dish slightly sweeter)

1/4 cup heavy cream

fresh parsley (or few sage leaves)

For the broth

4 -1/2 cups of cold water

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

shrimp skin and heads (also tails if you decide to remove them)

1/2 medium onion roughly chopped

1 leek sliced

2 tsp tomato paste

few black pepper grain

salt

Directions

Start with the broth.

Peel the shrimp and remove the head. I like to leave the tail but you can remove it if you want. In a sauce pan heat 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil and add the skins and heads (and tails) of the shrimp. Add the onion and leek, stir to coat with oil. Add the cold water, the black pepper grains, and the 2 teaspoons of tomato paste.  Stir to dissolve the tomato paste, this will give the risotto a pretty pink color. Bring to boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, add salt to taste and keep it warm.

Meanwhile devein the shrimp.

In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter with the onion. Once the onion has softened add the shrimp and and cook on both side until they had taken on color. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set them aside keeping them warm.

Take eight (8) of the shrimp and transfer into the bowl of a food processor, add 1/4 cup of broth and purée the shrimp. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and blend together. Set aside.

Add a 1 tbsp of butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of shrimp. Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the oil/butter. When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates.

Strain the broth and start adding 1/2 cup at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

After about 15 minutes, add the shrimp purée and the whole shrimp. Stir to combine and continue cooking and stirring for additional 2-3 minutes while keeping adding the broth as necessary.

Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.

When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the remaining butter, this last step is called mantecare, which I cannot really translate but it makes the risotto perfetto (perfect), so don’t skip it!

Spoon your risotto into serving bowl, sprinkle with freshly grounded pepper and top it with fresh prezzemolo (parsley) – which is typical –  or, as I did, just decorate with a fresh, small foglia di salvia (sage leaf).

Isn't pretty?

Eat it right away!

Carnevale di Venezia – Venetian Carnival

Carnevale di Venezia

Many of you may already know that Venice is not only known as one of the most unique and romantic cities in Italy, but also for its Carnevale.

The Carnevale (carnival) is a holiday that is celebrated in countries of Christian tradition, especially Catholic. The word Carnevale comes from the Latin “carnem levare” (remove the meat), as it originally indicated the banquet that was held immediately before the period of Lent, during which, according to tradition, Catholics must abstain from eating meat for forty days as they prepare for the fasting before Easter.

The official date that opens the festivity of Carnevale is the 3rd Sunday before the First Sunday of Quaresima (Lent). Therefore this year, the period of Carnevale started on February 5th. The last day of Carnevale is the so-called Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras). This year, Martedi Grasso  falls on Tuesday February 21, the day before Mercoledi delle Ceneri (Ash Wednesday), which is precisely the 40th day before Pasqua (Easter). When you count the 40 days you don ‘t have to count the Sundays which are not considered days of fasting.

Although a Christian tradition, the peculiarity of the celebration of the Carnevale originates in more ancient times. Carnevale is the Christian adaptation of ancient Pagan customs such as the Bacchanalia, in honor of Bacchus, and the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn. These festivities took place along the streets of the city and included the use of maschere (masks). During the celebrations the servile barriers were set aside; social slaves became masters and vice versa and the Re della festa (king of the party), elected by the people, organized games in public places.

In the late Middle Ages the disguise became widespread in the Carnevale of the cities. The masks allowed the exchange of roles and allowed  making fun of hierarchical figures. In the Rinascimento (Renaissance) the festivities during Carnevale were also introduced in the European courts and took on more sophisticated forms, linked also to the theater, dance and music.

The Ballo in maschera (masquerade ball), introduced by Pope Paul II, gained popularity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries through the influence of the Commedia dell’Arte (Comedy of craft). With the actors of the Commedia dell’Arte, at the end of ‘500, some of the traditional maschere (characters) of the Carnevale took shape: PulcinellaArlecchino, Colombina, Pantalone, Dottore Balanzone, Brighella.

These have become the very symbols of Carnevale.

The tradition of Carnevale has been preserved so that each Italian region has its own originality. Although the Venetian Carnival and the Viareggio Carnival are well known, other deserve to be mentioned, such as the Carnevale di Ivrea (Piemonte), Putignano (Puglia), and Cento (Emilia Romagna)

The Carnevale di Venezia has ancient origins. The Senate of the Serenissima Republic officially confirmed the existence of Carnevale in 1296, with an edict declaring a national holiday the day before Lent. Since then, the festivity has accompanied the life of the city. During the Venetian Republic the festivities lasted nearly six weeks, from December 26th until Ash Wednesday.

In the eighteenth century, Venice officially earned the reputation of  “Citta` del Carnevale” (City of the Carnival). Its festivals, events, masks, theaters, and public gaming house, make the city a tourist attraction throughout Europe, welcoming thousands of visitors.

The Carnevale saw a time of stasis after the fall of the Republic of Venice, because of the temporary occupation by Austria and France.

The tradition was, however, preserved in the islands, Burano and Murano, where they continued to celebrate.

The Carnevale di Venezia was officially reinstated in 1979 and since then, every year for two weeks, among the calle (narrow streets) of this wonderful city, all in masks, it is a celebration of a world of dance, theater, concerts and exclusive galas.

This year the theme of the Carnevale di Venezia is “La vita e` teatro. Tutti in maschera” (Life is theater. All in mask).

The celebrations include,  performing arts, music, masquerede parades, and the traditional volo dell’angelo (flying angel).

It is not surprising that Carnevale is also associated with some traditional culinary delicacies. From the North to the South of Italy every region has its own specialty. They all have different names, Cicerchiata (Abruzzo), Castagnole (Lazio), Fritole veneziane (Veneto), Cenci (Toscana), Friciò (Piemonte), Bugie (Liguria), Cattas (Sardegna), Chiacchiere (Campania) but, they all have one thing in common: they are deep fried! Oh. . .I forgot, they all are buonissime!!!

Now, be patient and come back to my blog on Monday morning. You will be rewarded with the recipe of my Chiacchiere napoletane, the way my mom used to make them.  In the meantime I hope you will enjoy some of my pictures of Venice.

National Pie Day. . . My Pear Pie

Just a few days ago, browsing a newspaper, I learned that today, January 23 is National Pie Day.

I don’t consider the pie as one of the most typical Italian dessert; Fruit crostata (tart) and jam tart are more common. Once, however, I read about this National Pie Day I decided to investigate a little further.

Through the American Pie Council, I learned that the first pies were made by early Romans who, also, published the first pie recipe.The early pies were mostly meat pies.

I shall always remember the first meat pies I was invited to taste on my first visit to London. I was my uncle and aunt’s guest. My aunt is English; She is a great cook, in fact , she shared with me her recipe of the best cauliflower dish I have ever had. Her roast beef is out of this world, still, the meat pie was hard to swallow. Sorry aunt Margharet!

Back to history, it  appears that fruit pies or tarts were probably first made in the 1500s. The credit for the first cherry pies goes to the English who made it for Queen Elizabeth I. Indeed, the English settlers were the first to bring the pie to America where, over the years, it has become the most traditional dessert.

How lucky am I! Being Italian and living in the USA, I celebrate Italian holidays and traditions, but I also embrace American celebrations, although always in Italian style. The National Pie Day has given me the opportunity to pay homage to yet another American tradition, and at the same time, to discover a new Italian recipe.

When I cook, my goal is always to use seasonal ingredients, so, to celebrate National Pie Day, I have baked a Charlotte di pere (Pear Pie), a traditional recipe of the Italian region of Piemonte. The name Charlotte, derives from  French. The region of Piemonte, prior to the unification of Italy, has been in the orbit of the French House of Savoy for more than 800 years; The long French domination certainly had a great influence on the regional gastronomy, which indeed, borrows many traditions and terms from the nearby Country.

The recipe I used is  from  “La Cucina, the regional cooking of Italy”, by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. I am very passionate about Italian regional cuisine and I find this cookbook a great resource.

The uniqueness of this pie is that the fruit is cooked in wine. I started my pie while my son was perplexedly observing what I was doing. He is always very concerned when I use  wine in my recipes; once, however, the aroma of the fruit and the cooking wine started to diffuse throughout the kitchen, the concerns and doubts dissipated. The final result was certainly proof that wine can do wonders!

Being this a recipe from Piemonte, it is not surprising that Barolo is the suggested wine to use. Barolo is actually one of my favorite Italian wine. It is, however, a pricey wine, especially in USA . A great alternative for this recipe is the Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape is used for the production of Barolo), still a hearty, high quality wine, but more affordable. Nebbiolo is what I used. Of course, you can substitute with a hearty wine of your choice and liking.

Happy Pie Day!!!

Ricetta Charlotte di Pere

Pear Pie Recipe

For the short pastry:

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/4 cup sugar

7 oz (14 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

4 extralarge egg yolks

1/4 cup chilled Marsala wine(sweet)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pinch of salt

For the filling:

2 lbs. pears (possibly Seckel), cored but not peeled and cut in half lengthwise. If using larger pear cut into quarters.

1 and 1/4 cup pitted prunes (original recipe is 1 and 3/4 cups. I thought was too much)

1 rhubarb stalk (this is my personal addition to the recipe), washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups of Nebbiolo (original recipe uses Barolo. Other hearty red wine will do)

5 tablespoon sugar

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch ground cloves

1 pinch of salt

Directions:

Prepare the short pastry: cold ingredients are essential to making a pie crust. Sift together the flour, the sugar and the salt. Transfer into the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and process without overworking the dough.

Stir in the eggs, Marsala and lemon zest until the dough comes together.

Transfer to a surface dusted with flour and quickly knead the dough for 1 minute, form a ball and then flatten it.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the filling: In a large pan, combine the pears, prunes, rhubarb, wine, lemon zest, sugar, spices and salt. Cook on medium heat until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup and the pears are tender (you don’t want the pear to fall apart).

Preheat the oven at 350 degree. Butter a deep pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line the pie dish. Trim the dough to 1 inch over hang. The dough might break while you transfer to the pie dish. It is, however, easy to patch with extra dough (from the picture you can see that my dough broke in several pieces).

Fill the pie crust with the cooked fruit and liquid.

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the fruit. Seal the edges with your fingers. With the index finger on one hand, press the dough against the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand; continue around the perimeter of the crust and dish. ( I am still perfecting this skill!)

Lastly cut slits in the center of the crust to vent steam.

Position your pie dish in the lower third of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. You may have to cover the edges with foil to avoid overbrowning the edges ( I cover mine during last 15 minute, a little earlier however, would have been better).

Cool the pie and serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream!

Recipe: Calzoni e Panzerotti. . . Yum-Yum!!!

This past Monday, after 4 weeks of winter break, my youngest son, Mattia, went back to school. I already miss him!

To ensure that he would not forget his mom, I went on a three-day cooking marathon: Baked rigatoni with tomatoes/béchamel sauce on Friday, baked Calzoni and fried Panzerotti on Saturday and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese on Sunday!

Oh. . . he will remember me!

Even if you are not trying to impress your son, you can still treat yourself to this bontà (delicacy).

I will share with you the recipes of the calzoni and panzerotti.

The Calzone al forno (baked calzone) is a specialty of the Neapolitan cuisine, yet widespread through Central, and Southern Italy.

The dough is the same as the pizza and the filling is traditionally composed of mozzarella or provola, grated cheese, ricotta and salame.

In Naples, you can taste delightful calzoni in every Pizzeria, where they are baked in traditional forni a legna (wood fire ovens).

The Panzerotto, typical of the Italian region of Puglia, is simply a variation of the calzone. The same pizza dough is used; however, the traditional filling is a mix of tomatoes and mozzarella. The Panzerotto can be baked or fried.

Although, a specialty of Puglia, the panzerotti, just like the calzoni, are found everywhere in Italy, and particularly in the Southern regions.

The panzerotto is sometime also called calzone fritto (fried calzone).

Fried panzerotti were one of my favorite treats during my college’s years in Napoli. Friggitorie (local shop selling fried food) selling hot panzerotti, crocchè di papate (potatoes croquettes) and pastacresciuta (fried dough) are still in many corner of Naples; My favorite friggitoria was the Friggitoria Vomero, outside the stop of the Funicolare Centrale (funicular railway).

The recipes below are the typical version of calzoni and panzerotti however, you can create your own filling, based on your own likes. Get creative!

Ricetta Calzoni e Panzerotti

(NOTE: The pictures below show two batches of dough and fillings and double the amount of  calzoni and panzerotti)

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups flour type 00 (you can substitute with all-purpose flour – see next line)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (if you don’t have type 00 flour, increase the quantity of all-purpose flour to a total of 3 -1/2 cups)

1-1/2 cups of lukewarm filtered water (100 degree)

1 teaspoon yeast

¼ teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Dissolve the yeast in a 1/4 cup of water with ¼ teaspoon of sugar. Let the yeast foam (5-10 minutes).

In a separate small bowl dissolve the sea salt into a 1/4 cup of water and set aside.

Sift the two types of flour and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment.

Add the yeast and start mixing at low-speed.

Once the yeast has blended into the flour, increase the speed and slowly start adding the water.

Once you have added approximately 3/4 cups of water, you can add the salted water. If it appears that the dough is still not coming together, add the remaining ¼ cup of water.

Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and the sides of the bowl are completely clean.

Transfer the dough on a slightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until smooth.

Form a ball and transfer to a bowl that you had previously brushed with a little bit of oil. Brush also the dough with oil to prevent it from drying, and cover with plastic film and with a kitchen towel. Keep the bowl in a dry place and let raise for 2 hours (during winter, sometime I keep the dough in the oven with the lights on, the warmth of the lights helps the raising process).

You can now start to assemble your filling.

I personally like to use both types of ripieno (filling) for both the calzoni and the panzerotti. I then bake, and fry some of each.

Ripieno di Ricotta 

Ingredients:

1 cup of good quality ricotta cheese (hand dipped is the best)

1 extra-large egg

4 oz. mozzarella cheese

3 oz. sopressata salami  or  Genova salami cut 1/4 inches thick

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup tomato purée

2-3 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Peanut Oil (Peanut oil has a high smoke point and neutral taste which makes it perfect for frying foods. Extra virgin olive oil also has a high smoke point however, you will definitely taste its flavor).

Directions:

Chop the mozzarella and the salame into pieces (I use a food processor. Using the pulse option I easily obtain small pieces).

In a bowl combine the ricotta with the egg, the Parmigiano, the pecorino, salt and pepper.

Add the mozzarella and the salame and mix well to combine.

Ripieno di Pomodoro e Mozzarella 

Ingredients:

4 oz mozzarella cheese, chopped

2 cups of canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

¼ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil to fry

Directions:

Pour the chopped pomodori (tomatoes) into a strainer sitting over a bowl and let drain the water until ready to use.

When you are ready to stuff the calzone and panzerotti, transfer the tomatoes into a dry bowl, add the mozzarella, the oil, the salt and, the oregano and mix together.

How to assemble and cook the calzoni and panzerotti

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead for 1 minute. Roll out the dough, and with a cookie cutter or a glass, form 5 inches diameter disks; Placed the disks on a floured surface. Cover with plastic film and a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven at 450 degree.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with corn meal.

With your hand and the aid of a rolling-pin, roll out each disk until very thin (less than ¼ inch thick). Put some of the filling in the center of each disk.

Brush the edge of each disk with water and close each one by folding the dough over and pressing down along the edges with your finger first and then with the tines of a fork.

Place half of the calzoni and panzerotti in the baking sheet and brush the top with tomato puree.

Bake for 10-15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes then enjoy!

Buonissimi!!!

The other batch of canzoni and panzerotti will be fried.

In a large pan, heat 2-3 inches of olive oil or peanut oil to 170 degree. If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a piece of bread without crust into the oil, if the bread reach the bottom of the pan and quickly return to surface, the oil is ready.

When the oil is ready, fry the panzerotti and calzoni, few at the time, turning them on both sides until golden.

Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and serve hot.

Sitting on top of the fried calzoni and panzerotti is something that my mom used to make. It’s the pizzetta fritta (fried little piazza), simply a thicker disk of dough with a slight well in the center. First you fry the side with the well then, flip over, and while it is frying, fill the well with a spoonful of tomatoes purée and a sprinkle of Parmigiano cheese. I loved it then, and I love it now!

I hope you will enjoy these recipes. Let me know how creative you will be with your fillings!

My New Year’s Eve . . . Friends, Lentils, Cotechino, Tombola and “Something” red!

Festa di San Silvestro, named after Pope Sylvester I, is how in Italy we refer to New Year’s Eve.

Did you know that were the ancient Romans that in 153 B.C. moved the start of the year from the Spring equinox to January 1?

In Italy, traditionally the Veglione di Capodanno (New Year’s Party) lasts all night and typically starts with the Cenone (big supper) which is then followed by a big party with music, dancing and games.

When I was a child, after the Cenone friends would often come over for desserts and to wait for the Mezzanotte (Midnight). The table was cleared to make room to play Tombola (Italian version of Bingo), Mercante in Fiera (“Merchant at the Fair”, a traditional family game played with 2 identical decks of illustrated cards which are auctioned for final prize) and Sette e mezzo (“Seven and a half”, a game played with Neapolitan cards and that is similar to blackjack).


A Mezzanotte (at Midnight) the bottles of champagne were popped open for the brindisi (toast) while everyone was cheering on the new year with the “Buon Anno!” wishes.  We would then run by the windows to watch the display of fireworks, firecrackers and flares.

The best botti di Capodanno (New Year’s fireworks and firecrackers) I have witnessed were on the water of the Amalfi Coast, from the terrace of the Hotel Saraceno where I spent a beautiful night with my husband and my brother and sister-in-law; It was December 31, 1987.

Whether at the fanciest venue or at home with friends and family, no New Year’s Eve celebration in Italy would be complete without the lenticchie e cotechino (lentils and cotechino – a type of cooked sausage).

Because of their resemblance to coins the lentils are a symbol of prosperity and to ensure the good fortune they must be eaten within one hour of Midnight.

The  most valuable Italian lentils are grown in the high plane of Castelluccio di Norcia, in the region of Umbria, at 4,500 ft above sea level. The climate and soil contribute to the high quality of the legume. In 1997 the lenticchie di Castelluccio have received the IPG (Protected Geographic Indication) recognition.

The lentils are typically served with pork, symbol of the richness in life, therefore Cotechino and/or Zampone are the perfect complements to the lentils.

The cotechino, is a big sausage  made with a mixture of ground pork, pork rinds, and spices.
An alternative to the cotechino is the zampone where the same mixture is stuffed into a boned pig’s foreleg.

Both products are typical of Modena, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. The zampone originated around the 1500 thanks to the ingenuity of the Modenesi who, being under siege, had to find a way to preserve what it was available.

Tonight, I am celebrating the New Year’s Eve with a potluck dinner with some Italian amici (friends). I am preparing the lenticchie and cotechino, we will play Tombola and Mercante in Fiera and we will toast the New Year with My favorite Italian Spumante (sparkling wine), “Ferrari“!

Cotechino is not easy to find in my area. However, I was able to buy a pre-cooked one at an Italian grocery store in Wheaton, MD. The advantage of buying a pre-cooked cotechino is that it only requires to simmer in warm water for 20-25 minutes. This will ensure  the melting of the fat which will give this special sausage a very earthy flavor. You need to keep the cotechino warm until you are ready to eat.


I was in NYC two weeks ago at the Italian market EATALY, where I did find the lenticchie di Castelluccio. However, even if I love chefs Batali and Lidia, I was not going to drop $15 for 1/2 pound of lentils. That would have defied the purpose of the lentils . . . to bring you fortune and prosperity! My organic green lentils would do just fine!

RICETTA (Recipe)

MY LENTICCHIE STUFATE E COTECHINO (braised lentils and cotechino)

1 pound dry green lentils
1/2 onion thinly sliced
1 large carrot chopped into large pieces
1 celery stalk
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
1 slice of pancetta 1/2 inch tick finely minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Before you start sort and rinse the lentils.

In a large pot warm the oil and sautéed the onion, the carrot, the celery and the pancetta.

Add the tomato paste and a little bit of warm water and stir to dissolve the tomato paste.

After 3-4 minutes add the lentils and let them coat with the condiment for 4-5 minutes.

Add enough water to cover the lentils, add salt, cover with a lid and cook on medium heat for 1-1/2 hours.

Check frequently to make sure that the water doesn’t dry out completely. Add warm water if necessary.

When the lentils are just about done, remove the carrots and celery.

Also, at this time, remove the cotechino from the warm water and place on an oval serving dish.

Slice the cotechino into 1/4 inch thick slices. The juice from the cotechino will accumulate in the bottom of the dish and will serve as additional condiment for the lentils.

Spoon the lentils around the cotechino and serve immediately after Midnight!

I almost forgot about the “something” red!

Typically Italian is the tradition, on New Year’s Eve, to wear something rosso (red), particularly lingerie.

It appears that already in ancient Rome, under Octavian Augustus, during the Roman New Year, women and men used to wear something red because this color represented power, love, health and fertility.

So, don’t waste any time, cook your lentils, get yourself something red and party your night away into the New Year!

FELICE ANNO NUOVO! 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Struffoli and Mostaccioli My favorite Christmas desserts

Yesterday was December 21, the shortest day of the year. That means brighter days are ahead and Christmas is only 4 days away.

Time to start My holiday desserts and to share two of My favorite Christmas recipes .

You probably all know about the Panettone from Milano and the Pandoro from Verona, both delicious holiday cakes and today easily available in many gourmet grocery stores.

But, how many of you know about two delicious specialties of the Neapolitan region, the Struffoli and the Mostaccioli?

The Struffoli and the Mostaccioli are nowhere to be found in the States (or at least around my area) so I had no choice that to make My own.

The Struffoli are a true Neapolitan dolce (dessert). It appears that the Greeks brought this specialty to Naples. From there it has widespread throughout Central and Southern Italy; however, with some variations from region to region.

The Struffoli are little balls of dough fried and then coated in honey. Their flavor improves after a couple of days. That’s why it is important to prepare them a few days before the event.  I use a traditional recipe without baking powder because I like My Struffoli a little crunchy. If you prefer a softer consistency add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and let the dough rest for 60 minutes. Also, the original recipe includes the Italian liqueur Strega or Anisette but, since just few weeks ago I bottled My Limoncello (you should know this if you have been following My blog!), I am using that in my recipe.

The Mostaccioli, also called Mustaccioli are sort of large biscotti (cookies) shaped like a diamond and covered with a chocolate glaze or ganache. The name Mostaccioli comes from the peasant’s habit to use the wine must in order to develop a more  intense and sweet flavor. 

The list of traditional Christmas desserts from the Neapolitan area also include other delicacies like the Susamielli, honey based biscotti shaped like the letter S. The Roccoco`, very hard biscotti, shaped like donuts with an intense flavor of almond and citrus. The Divinoamore, prepared for the first time by the nuns of the convent Divino Amore. The almonds and lemons along with the light pink glaze give these small bites a unique Mediterranean flavor.

I have yet to experiment with these recipes, may be next Christmas I will but for now, I hope you will enjoy My Struffloli and Mostaccioli.

My Mostaccioli

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nut meg

2 finely crushed cloves

the zest from 1 orange and 1 tangerine

juice from 1 orange and 1 tangerine

2 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)

1 pinch of salt

Warm water as necessary

For the glaze

1/4 pound semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cram

Directions

In a bowl of a food processor sift together the flower, the salt, the baking powder, the baking soda and the cocoa powder. Add the sugar and combine the ingredients at slow speed.

Add the orange and tangerine zest and the spices and process until combined.

In a measuring cup pour the required amount of  honey , add the orange juice and tangerine juice and then add to the dry ingredients (do not rinse the cup, add  ¼ cup of warm water and keep it aside).  Mix the dough at medium speed allowing all the ingredients to come together.

Add the Grand Marnier and keep processing the dough. Add the warm water as necessary to obtain a compact dough.

Mix the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl. It should be smooth with no lumps.

Damp the dough on a surface slightly dusted with flour and shape into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven at 360 degree F.

Remove the dough form the refrigerator and on a surface well dusted with flour roll out the dough to a ½ inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath to make sure it is not sticking.

Cut the dough into diamond shape, large and/or small and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then transfer on wire rack to completely cool.

Prepare the chocolate ganache.

In a pan combine chocolate chips and the heavy cram in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts.

With a brush cover the bottom of the Mostaccioli with a thin layer of chocolate and let them dry completely. Once they are dry, flip the Mostaccioli and pour the chocolate over the top. Work on a wire rack with a pan underneath because you will have to allow the chocolate to drizzle down the sides. The Mostaccioli need several hours to dry completely.

My Struffoli

Ingredients

4 – ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

4 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk

5- 2/3 tablespoon unsalted butter

zest from ½ lemon

1 pinch of salt

2 tablespoon of Limoncello (options are Strega liqueur or Anisette or Rum)

Vegetable oil for frying (I use Peanut oil)

1 cup of honey

Multicolor nonpareils

Mixed candied fruit chopped into small pieces.

Directions

In a bowl of a food processor sift the flower, add the salt, the sugar, the lemon zest and the butter and combine the ingredients at slow speed.

Slowly add the eggs and lastly the liqueur and process the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl (add a little bit of cold water if necessary).

The dough should be smooth.

Damp the dough on a surface slightly dusted with flour and shape into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

On a surface well dusted with flour knead the dough for few minutes and then divide into small balls, the size of oranges.

Working with one ball of dough at the time, roll the dough into ½ inch diameter dowels and cut dowels into ½ inch long pieces. As you cut the pieces placed them on a surface dusted with flour.

Right before frying transfer  the pieces of dough (one batch at the time) into a sieve and shake to remove excess flour.

In a deep frying pan, heat the oil to 175 degree and fry the pieces of dough in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan.

As soon as they became light gold, remove from the oil, drain and transfer into a plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper.

Place a large pan on top of a pot with simmering water. Pour the honey in the pan and let melt. Remove from heat and add the fried Struffoli, add the candied fruit and stir until all the Struffoli are completely coated with honey.

To plate the Struffoli, place a glass or a round jar in the center of a serving plate and then place the Struffoli all around to form a ring. Sprinkle with nonpareils and let sit few hours before removing the glass/jar.

You still have time to make these two wonderful desserts, follow the recipes and remember I will be around if you have questions.

Don’t forget to check My blog tomorrow for My Christmas Eve Menu`!