A Recipe from Sicily . . . Pesto Trapanese.

When speaking of Pesto, the Italian region of Liguria naturally comes to mind. It is in fact in this region that one of the best known Italian recipes originated. In one of my previous posts I have already shared a variation of the traditional Pesto Ligure, the Trenette Avvantagiae The recipe however, was still one of the Italian Riviera.

Today I will share a new variation, this time from the region of Sicilia, specifically from the city of Trapani. You might be wondering about the connection between these two regions so far apart.

Genova, as you might know, between the 10th and 13th centuries, was one the four Repubbliche Marinare practicing extensive trading in the Mediterranean and partecipating in the Crusades. During their journeys, the Genoese ships, coming from the East, used to stop in Trapani, which was one of Sicily’s most important harbors. The Genoese sailors introduced the Ligurian pesto to the local sailors who in turn adapted the recipe to their traditions and local produces, such as mandorle (almonds) and pomodori (tomatoes).

A summer dish whose secrets lies in the quality and fresheness of its ingredients. Hot pasta is simply tossed into this hearty, creamy sauce for a simple yet satisfying meal. The cut of pasta traditionally used is called busiati, a fresh pasta, which is similar to the maccheroni al ferro and fusilli. These shapes of pasta all have in common the way they are made, with the aid of a “ferro” (similar to knitting needle) or a “ buso” – hence the name busiati – (a wooden stick from a local plant). In my dish I used dry maccheroni that I was fortunate to find at my local grocery store.

Fusilli would be a perfect option and I, personally, wouldn’t mind using this sauce with bucatini.

The Pesto Trapanese is also characterized by the absence of cheese, however, in my recipe I did add some pecorino cheese. I also used cherry tomatoes rather then regular tomatoes. Using the cherry tomatoes allows for a shorter time in the food processor which subsequently helps in keeping the texture of the almonds.

Note: traditionally a mortar and pestle should be used.

Enjoy the recipe with a glass of chilled Regaleali Bianco di Sicilia!

 La Mia Ricetta

Maccheroni con Pesto Trapanese

Cosa Serve (What is needed)

1-1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (ripe)

15 leaves of fresh basil

1 cup of whole almond

1 clove of garlic peeled, cut in half and inner green core removed.

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese

kosher salt

1 pound of fusilli or bucatini

INGREDIENTI

Cosa Fare (What to do)

Put the food processor bowl and its blade in the fridge (this will prevent the basil from becoming dark).

In a large pasta pot bring the water to boil. You will use the boiling water first to blanch the almond and the tomatoes, and then to cook the pasta.

Rinse the cherry tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze out the seeds.

Clean the basil with a damp kitchen towel.

When the water start boiling add the almonds and after 70 seconds add the tomatoes.

After 20 seconds, with a skimmer, pull both the almonds and the tomatoes out of the water and transfer to a colander. Add salt to the boiling water, lower the heat and cover to keep the temperature just below boiling.

Peel the tomatoes and set aside.

Skin the almonds and transfer to a small frying pan.

Slightly toast the almond and then let them cool completely.

Once the almond have cool down you are ready to assemble the sauce. At this time you are also ready to cook your pasta. Turn the heat up, bring the water to boil and cook your pasta “ al dente”!

In the food processor grind the almond, garlic and salt.

When the almonds are roughly chopped, add the basil.

Pulse until all the basil looks like is finely chopped and blended with the almonds. The mixture should result creamy but at the same time grainy. You should be able to see and feel small bits of almonds.

Add the tomatoes and pulse until they blend into the mixture.

Lastly add the pecorino cheese and the oil and pulse to blend.

Spoon 1/2 of the sauce into a large serving bowl and diluted with some of the pasta water.

Drain the pasta and drop into the bowl and toss quickly to coat the pasta. Add the remaining sauce and toss again.

Serve in individual bowl with a sprinkle of pecorino cheese.

MACCHERONI AL PESTO TRAPANESE FOR YOU TO ENJOY!!!

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!

March 19th, celebrate St. Joseph’s and Italian Father’s Day with a Neapolitan sweet treat: The Zeppole di San Giuseppe

My Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Auguri a tutti i papa` (Best wishes to all of the fathers). Today, March 19th, in Italy we celebrate La Festa del Papa` (Father’s day).

When I was a child, on the afternoon before Father’s Day, my mom and I would go to a nearby field to pick-up the fragrant mammole (violets). The next morning, I would set up a breakfast tray for my dad with the violets nicely gathered in a small glass. A small handcrafted gift and a short letter was usually on the tray as well. This past winter I received, from my brother in Italy, some boxes full of mementos from our mom’s home. In one of the boxes, to my surprise, I found a little red velvet sketch book with a small round cutout window through which you could glimpse a picture of my dad and myself. It was a gift I had made for my dad on Father’s Day, March 19, 1971, I was 8 years old.  Inside the book, dedicated to my dad, there was a prayer, a poem, and a short letter. I guess he loved it and I am so glad that 40 years later I can share it with my children.

If you have been following my blog, by now, you have realized that most of the Italian Holidays are tightly connected to the religious calendar; Father’s Day is no different.  Today, March 19th, the Catholic Church celebrates  San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s day), foster-father of Jesus and therefore, symbol of all fathers.

I have, however, recently learned  that Father’s day was first celebrated on July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia. It was then officially formalized  on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington where Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd, (unaware of the celebration in Fairmont) inspired by the celebrations for Mother’s day, organized the first festival to honor the paternal figure. Mrs. Dodd chose the month of June because that was her father’s birthday.

Once the Holiday arrived in Italy it was decided that it would have been more appropriate to celebrate on March 19th.

In Italy the festivity also coincides with the ancient pagan propitiatory rites of the end of winter, with the burning of the crop’s residues on the field. The rites were accompanied by the preparation of the zeppole, which is the typical sweet treat of this Holiday.

As you can imagine, I make my Zeppole di SanGiuseppe the way they make it in Naples where the first recipe was put on paper, in 1837, by the famous Neapolitan gastronome Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino.

I am pretty sure I have already told you that I tend to give an Italian flair to any holiday. So, when this past Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, I was invited to dinner by some very dear friends, I offered to bring dessert,  I made my zeppole di San Giuseppe and I just sprinkled them with green sugar sprinkles.

The zeppole can be deep fried or baked. I do bake mine.

Ricetta Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Ingredients

For the pastry dough

6 eggs

2-1/3 cup flour

3-1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

2-1/8 cup water

For the pastry cream

2-1/8 cup whole milk

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

2 strip lemon peel

To garnish:

powdered sugar

drained cherries is syrup

Directions:

Pour the water into a saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt, turn heat to medium and when the water begins to make the first bubbles, but not boiling, pour the flour all at once and stir vigorously for 10 minutes with a wooden spoon until the mixture will detach from the edges of the pan.

Turn off the heat and add the 6 eggs, one at a time.

Stir vigorously, with a wooden spoon. Each egg must be well incorporated throughout the mixture, before you add another egg (this is not easy, you can also use your standing mixer with the hook attachment or, you can use your hands).

Let stand for 20-25 minutes.

Now prepare the Crema Pasticcera (Pastry Cream)

In a pot work the sugar with the egg yolks until mixture is white and fluffy.

Add the sifted flour, stirring to avoid lumps. Slowly add the milk and lastly the two pieces of lemon peel.

Place the pot on the stove and thicken the cream over medium heat without boiling, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a whisk.

Remove the lemon peel and cool. Take a piece of plastic wrap pushed on the surface of the cream to avoid the formation of a crust on the surface.

Preheat the oven to 430 degree.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag or pastry syringe, attached with a 1/2 inch star tip, with the pastry dough and press the mixture onto the sheet giving it a spiral shape.

Bake the zeppole for 10 minutes then turn the temperature down to 400 degree and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove form oven, transfer to a cooling rack.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar once they’ve cooled slightly.

Before you top with the pastry cream make sure the zeppole are completely cool.

Place the pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a 12mm star tip.  Into the center of each zeppole, pipe the pastry cream.

Now, as I mentioned to honor St. Patrick’s Day I sprinkled my zeppole with green sugar sprinkles.

Pretty in green!

The Neapolitan zeppole are topped with amarena cherries, you can use any kind of sour cherries, in syrup or, simple maraschino cherries.

They should be eaten the day they’ve been made.  Enjoy!


Spring is on the corner. . . green peas are calling!

The warm days leading to Primavera (Spring) are here and this wonderful season comes with a basket full of fresh produce. While it is true that it is possible to find almost any produce all year long either frozen, grown in greenhouses or coming from somewhere on earth, there is not better satisfaction than using seasonal, local ingredients.

Which one amongst produce speak to you about Spring? To me is piselli (green peas)! How can I forget  when as a child, on my mom side, I was helping to shell the piselli freschi (fresh green peas)! And when a very tiny one would come out of the pod,  I would eat it just like that, raw. . . and I can still taste the sweetness of it.

I definitely associate certain dishes with Spring. One is the Agnello di Pasqua (Easter Lamb), baked with green peas and potatoes, and another one is definitely the pasta e piselli (pasta and green peas).

My other Spring favorites are carciofi (artichokes) and asparagi ( asparagus).

Two nights ago, the warm weather and a trip to the grocery store reminded me that it was no longer time for stew, polenta, and soup but it was time to switch – just like your wardrobe- to the Spring menu.

And guess what? A basket of fresh green peas was before my eyes, just waiting for me, and I immediately knew what was going to be on my dinner table : pasta e piselli, of course!

Before I give out my recipe, there is something I should confess. To my complete disappointment, once I started shelling the fresh green peas I soon realized that they were not very good; the peas inside the pods (except for a handful) didn’t have the bright green color that you would expect, they were pale and hard. After the initial discontent, I got over the fact that I couldn’t actually use the fresh spring green peas that I was longing for, but I had to rely on the bag of frozen organic sweet peas that was in my freezer. Except for my personal disappointment the final product was delicious anyway.

For the most part, this is the traditional recipe of pasta e piselli like my mom used to make. I have added, however, few unconventional elements: the snow peas for crunchiness and the fresh mint for aroma and freshness. I also puréed part of the green peas to achieve some creaminess.

I hope you will enjoy it. Oh, and did I mention that you can add this dish to your meatless Friday (or Monday) and to your Mediterranean diet’s recipe book?

Which is your favorite Spring recipe? Do you usually make an effort to use seasonal, local ingredients?

RICETTA PASTA E PISELLI

Ingredients for 4 persons

2-3/4 cups mezzi ditalini tubetti pasta (My preferred brand is De Cecco)

2 pounds of fresh green peas (this should yield to 2 or 2-1/2 cups of unshelled peas)

OR 1 bag of frozen sweet peas

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 slice of ham 1/4 inch thick and cut into short strips (I use grilled Tuscan cooked ham). You can also use pancetta cubed into 1/2 inch pieces.

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetables broth (warm)

10 snow peas

few leaves of fresh mint

Directions

If using frozen peas:

1)  To defrost the peas I place them in a colander and I set the colander under cold running water for few minutes. Transfer half of the peas to a food processor, start pulsing, add a little broth and run the food processor to purée the peas. Set aside.

2) In a heart ware pot heat the oil with the onion and the ham. Add some salt and cook until the ham is golden. Add the snow peas and the whole peas and stir to combine the flavors.

3) Add the peas purée and stir to combine. Add few leaves of mint (save 4 for presentation).

4) Cook few more minutes then add 3 cups of the broth. Add salt, pepper  and cooking on medium heat, bring to boil. add the pasta and cook for the required time (if more liquid is needed add the remaining broth). Make sure you stir frequently so the pasta doesn’t stick together and do not over cook the pasta, it must be al dente!

4) Before spooning into individual plate remove the mint’s leaves (once they are cooked the color is not appealing). Plate the pasta and right before serving decorate with a small leaf of fresh mint. If you desire you can drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Doesn’t just the color of this dish tell you that is Spring?

Wow, this dish is quite green. Italian twist on St. Patrick’s day anyone?

NOTE: if you are using fresh peas, during step 2 will shall add all the unshelled peas. You will skip step 3. In step 4 you will cook the peas for 15 minutes then spoon off 1/2 of the peas, purée them in the food processor and then transfer back into the pan. Cook 5 more minutes, bring to boil and then follow the directions for cooking the pasta.

Friday night flavorful meatless dinner

Who said that the days of magro (days of fasting or meatless) cannot be flavorful?

Do you know that during the Middle Age, the Christian’s observance of Lent and the various religious fasts added up to an estimated 130 days a year?

The Italian cuisine is rich of exquisite meatless dishes based on fish and vegetables, and today I am going to share with you My Friday night dinner. Two recipes, simple enough to require only a handful of ingredients and only 30 minutes of your time, but at the same time, rich of flavor, comforting and satisfying.

Pesce Spada in salmoriglio (Swordfish in Salmoriglio), with a side of Melanzane a funghetto.

Both dishes are perfect examples of Mediterranean diet. In fact, fish, vegetable, olive oil, and aromatic herbs are the staples of this diet.

The pesce spada in salmoriglio is a typical recipe of both the Calabria and the Sicilia  regions. The melanzane a funghetto is a contorno (side dish)  typical of the Neapolitan cuisine. For the eggplant, I use my mom’s recipe which also happens to be my husband’s favorite. In the most canonical version of the recipe, the eggplants are deep fried, the tomato sauce is cooked separately and the two ingredients are combined only at the end. My mom’s recipe, however, is a little lighter, because the eggplants are not deep fried.

The swordfish is simply grilled or – when it’s cold outside – seared in a skillet, and it is then drizzled with the salmoriglio, which is a raw sauce made with olive oil, fresh parsley, fresh oregano, lemon, garlic, and capers. As often happens, there are several variations of this sauce, some with capers some without, some where the sauce is simmered  a bagnomaria (wet bath) and some where the ingredients are simply emulsified. I do use the capers and I do the wet bath.

I shall say that in the preparation of the salmoriglio the use of the fresh oregano is important because is less pungent than the dry oregano, but I have to confess that last night I realized too late that my oregano’s plant had not survived the winter and that I had forgotten to buy a fresh spring at the market. Solution: use dry oregano, a little stronger flavor but, still good.

Well, I am sad to say that the oregano was not the only thing missing. . . the whole herbs section went forgotten! The BASIL!! How could I have forgotten the basil for my eggplant? Oh, I have an excuse: at the end of summer I freeze my fresh basil. Few weeks ago, however, my freezer broke and I was forced to throw away everything. . . including my basil. My mom’s melanzane a funghetto without the sweet scented basil would have been a big NO-NO, yet my husband and I enjoyed the dish and were happy to have leftover for today’s lunch.

RICETTA PESCE SPADA IN SALMORIGLIO

Swordfish is Salmoriglio Sauce

Ingredients for  4 persons

4 swordfish steak, not too tick

A handful of flat-leaf parsley

2 sprigs of fresh oregano

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon of capers ( I prefer caper in salt)

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp of grated lemon zest

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper.

Directions

Start with the salmoriglio sauce. Finely chop the garlic, oregano and parsley with a knife or, like me with a mezzaluna (half-moon chopper) – did I tell you this is one my favorite kitchen gadget? – and set aside.

In a small bowl wisk together ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Wisk the ingredients, set the bowl in a small pan with simmering water on low heat – this is the bagnomaria (water bath) – and add the minced garlic, parsley and oregano, wisk and let the sauce slowly warm up.

Lastly add the chopped capers and the grated lemon zest. One more wisk and it’s ready!

For the fish,  grease a grill grate with olive oil and set it over high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish with kosher salt and black pepper.

Once the grill is hot, cook the swordfish, for about 5 minutes per side ( 3-4 minutes for thin steak).

The flash has to be opaque. Make sure it is nice and browned at least on one side.

Plate the swordfish and drizzle with the sauce on top.

Doesn’t it look delicious?

And to go along . . .

RICETTA MELANZANE A FUNGHETTO

(In Naples these are called Mulignane a fungetiello)

Ingredients for four persons

4 eggplants (possibly the Italian kind, long and small)

1 can of chopped plum tomatoes ( San Marzano are the best)

extra virgin olive oil

1 glove of garlic

salt

few leaves of basil

Directions

Dice the eggplant, transfer to a colander sprinkle with salt, cover with a flat plate and put something heavy on top. Let sit for 1 hour so the eggplant will release all the bitter water out of the eggplant. Rinse, squeeze and pat dry.

In a frying pan heat 6 tablespoon of olive oil with a clove of crushed garlic. When the oil is warm and the garlic is golden, add the eggplant, stir well so they are coated with the fragrant oil and cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat.

Add the chopped plum tomatoes and salt to taste.

Cook 10  more minutes. Lastly add the hand chopped basil – NO BASIL IN MINE THIS TIME! –

This is not just a delicious side dish, think of it as a great appetizer along with some fresh mozzarella or, on top of crostini (toasted bread bruschetta style).

NOTE: A funghetto, means in a small mushrooms style. When the eggplants are diced in small cubes and fried the are indeed similar to mushrooms.

Chiacchiere di Carnevale e Sanguinaccio. Fat Tuesday with a recipe from my hometown, fried sweet dough and chocolate pudding.

Carnevale in Italy is not only about the fancy masquerade ball of Venice, it is also the happiest children’s holiday. In every Italian city, big or small, during the time of Carnevale the children dress up in costumes, stroll in the streets and greet each other exchanging handful of coriandoli and stelle filanti (confetti and streamers). It is a joyous time marked by the colorful masks, the horsing around, and the laughing.

Carnevale is also associated to some culinary traditions and the epitome in the kitchen is reached on the last day of Carnevale, Fat Tuesday. In anticipation of the austere season of Lent, the food of Carnevale is markedly rich.  The sweet treats were traditionally fried in lard and the king of the savory dishes was the pork.

Typical sweet treats of my Region, the Campania, are the chiacchiere. On the savory side, the lasagna napoletana (Neapolitan lasagna) is the most traditional dish of Carnevale and, it will be on  my table tonight!

The chiacchiere are strips of dough fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Classic accompaniment to the chiacchiere is the sanguinaccio. It is a thick chocolate cream, originally made with fresh pig blood cooked with chocolate and spices, and thickened with potato. Since 1992 the sale of pig blood to the public has been banned. It is, however, possible that in rural communities, where peasants still slaughter the pig, the sanguinaccio may still be prepared according to the original recipe.

In the peasant tradition, indeed, Carnevale also coincided with the pig slaughter. The pig was then the Re di Carnevale (King of Carnival) and, a party followed the event to celebrate the abundance of meat before the fasting of Lent. When I lived in Italy, I was once invited to participate to the pig slaughter and the afterwards party. I have to confess that, to avoid being unkind and refusing the invitation, I lied and pretended to be ill.

But not more talking, here it is, I am sharing the recipe of my chiacchiere and sanguinaccio, and do not worry, no blood required! I also do not use lard and,  I substitute it with butter.

Ricetta Chiacchiere di Carnevale

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour,

5 tablespoon of unsalted butter (My preference is European butter) or lard

4.5 tablespoon of sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsp Marsala

1-pinch salt

lemon rind from one small lemon

¼ teaspoon yeast dissolved into a little bit of milk

powdered sugar

peanut oil to fry

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor combine the sugar and the lemon zest.

Add the butter and the eggs.

Add the flour and salt and keep working while slowly adding the Marsala.

Lastly add the yeast and work the dough until it detaches from the side of the bowl.

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead few minutes.

Form a ball, wrap in film and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out, one half at the time, with a rolling-pin. Make sure that your surface is dusted with flour as well as the rolling-pin.

Your sheet of dough should be 1/8 inch thick.

Use a toothed wheel to cut diamonds or triangles. One of the characteristic of the chiacchiere is to have irregular shapes, so don’t seat trying to make them all perfect.

With the toothed wheel make an incision in the center of each piece of dough.

Gently remove each chiacchiera, open the incision, through which you will pass a corner to  form a knot.

Fry in plenty of Peanut oil or lard if you prefer. The oil should not be very hot ( 338 degree) or the chiacchiere will burn easily. Quickly flip the chiacchiere and as soon as golden remove from oil.

Transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper to drain the excess oil. Transfer to a serving dish and when they are completely cool sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar.

Ricetta del Sanguinaccio

Ingredients

2 cups of milk

1.5 cups of sugar

1 cup of cocoa

2 oz. of bittersweet chocolate chip

half stick unsalted butter

2 oz. of starch (potato starch or corn starch)

1 / 2 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch of salt

candied orange (in small pieces)

Directions

In a pan mix the starch, cocoa and sugar.

Slowly add the milk, stirring to dissolve the dry ingredients.

Transfer the pan to the stove over low heat.

While constantly stirring, cook until the mixture has thickened  about 20 minutes).

Remove from heat and immediately add the cinnamon, dark chocolate, and butter. Mix energetically until smooth.

Lastly add the candied orange and give one more stir.

Transfer to a serving bowl cover with film and let it cool.

Serve alongside the chiacchiere.

You still have time to make your chiacchiere for Mardi Gras but you can enjoy this bontà (delicacy) any time.

Enjoy!

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!