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At Christmas time in our part of the world there is a Sbrisolona on every table, bringing good luck to the entire family. The odd name comes from the Mantova dialect and means ‘sbriciolare’ ‘to crumble’, because of the very crumbly consistency of the cake.
This recipe originated around 1600 in the grand Gonzaga court of the Duchy of Mantova, and soon became popular throughout the more modest houses of the Po Valley. It is said that walnuts, which are more typical of our area, were originally used instead of almonds. But walnuts were meant to be the ‘fruits of the witches’, while almonds have luckier significance, meaning ‘light’ and ‘rebirth’. Hence the change of ingredient!
white flour 250 gm (9 oz)
cornflour 150 gm (5,3 oz)
sugar 200 gm (7 oz)
unsalted butter 200 gm (7oz)
almonds 200 gm (7oz)
A few drops of vanilla extract
Keep aside a spoons or two of the sugar, to be sprinkled on the cake when it is cooked. Keep aside a handful of whole almonds - 7 or 8 whole for the decoration and the others for the mixture.
Coarsely grind the rest of the almonds.
Put them a in bowl together with the white flour and cornflour, the sugar, the soft butter in pieces (take it out of the fridge 30 mins before), 2 egg yolks, the vanilla and grated lemon peel. Mix it all quickly using your hands until the yolks and butter are well integrated. The mixture should be very airy and ‘sandy’. Taking care not to compress it, put the mixture by hand into a buttered spring form cake pan (25 cm diameter).
Decorate with whole almonds. Bake in a Bertazzoni oven at 170°C for 35-40 minutes. Just out of the oven sprinkle with the sugar.
Even if you are serving your Torta Sbrisolona at a formal dinner party, don’t try and cut it with a knife into regular slices. It’s so crumbly you will find it impossible!
Perfect in Summer as in Winter, this dish can be a lovely starter or a light main course if you serve it with 2 or 3 slices of Pane Toscano (unsalted Tuscan bread).
16 calamari midium size
18 oz (500gr) Pachino tomatoes
Extra -vergin olive oil
Clean and cut the calamari in rings or slices. Boil them in a slighted salted water on a low flame for 20 min. In the meantime clean the shrimps and add them to the boiling water 4 minutes before the end of cooking of the calamari. Drain it all and put in a plate with Pachino tomatoes cut in half and arugola. Dress with extra-vergin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon, a pinch of salt and some white pepper. Try to do the "scarpetta" at the end: sop up the bread in the dressing left on the dish... but only if you don't have guests.
Summer, the season I love the most for fresh fruits: the variety, the abundance, the colors, the intense fragrances. If you ever get bored of fresh fruit try this recipe, one of my favourite summer desserts!
4 big yellow peaches
7 oz (200g) Amaretti crunchy cookies
3.5 oz (100g) sugar
1 egg yolk
½ glass of white wine
Turn on the oven to 340F (170C).
Wash the peaches, cut in half and stone them. Use a spoon to remove from each peach some pulp from the centre and cook it with the sugar for about 15 mins. Then mix it in a bowl together with the crunched Amaretti and the egg yolk (if you like you can add a drop of sweet liquor, such as the Sassolino).
Fill the peaches with the mixture and add on top of each one a knob of butter and some sugar.
Pour the wine in the tray, organize the peaches and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes.
You can serve them warm or even cold, they are also delicious the next day!
This is an easy and very tasty recipe from my best friend Agata from Sanremo, using fresh herbs. Easy to make and enjoyable to eat!
2 bunches of fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic
a handful of pine-nuts
0.1lb (50g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra-virgin olive oil
Wash only the basil leaves and pat dry. Put them in a blender, add garlic, pine-nuts, about half a glass of extra-virgin olive oil, and blend it. You might need to use more olive oil as you blend the basil. Once the basil is in a rough texture sauce you add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
To make pasta with Pesto
Boil in abundant salted water the peeled chopped potatoes together with the pasta (trenette or linguine) until cooked.
Drain the pasta and the vegetables together and season with pesto and enjoy it!
If you have time, instead of using the blender, you can pound the ingredients in a pestle mortar. The flavour will be even more intense.
Asparagus is one of the most loved vegetables the world over and in many countries it’s considered an aphrodisiac! With its “root” going back over 4000 years to the ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Apparently the ancient Roman Emperors were so fond of asparagus that they sent merchants all the way to Egypt just to bring in the precious vegetable. I completely understand why.
The asparagus season starts in April, from then you have around 30 to 40 days to find the freshest asparagus and to prepare it in your favourite way. This is one of my favourite ways…
1lb (500g) fresh asparagus
11oz (320g) Arborio o Carnaroli rice
½ a leek
5 cups (1l) of vegetable broth
2 oz (50) of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 Table spoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 knobs of butter
Prepare the broth in a pot and keep it warm on a low flame.
Wash the asparagus and cut them into thin slices, except the white parts and the heads (add these to the broth last).
Use a large pan to brown the thinly sliced leek in the extra virgin olive oil and add the knob of butter.
Add the rest of the asparagus and half a glass of white wine. Then add the rice, wait for a few seconds until it’s golden brown and cook with the broth, adding it one ladle at a time.
Keep stiring until the rice is almost done, stop adding the broth and turn off the flame. Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, another knob of butter and a little pepper to taste.
Serve and decorate with the head of asparagus boiled in the broth and some fresh chives. Enjoy!
Warm the plates in the oven before serving if you want the risotto to remain hot and smooth whilst eating.
These flans served with caramelized scallions and Prosciutto Crudo di Parma are a great appetizer to start an authentic dinner as if you were in Parma. Close your eyes while tasting this enriched flavour and you will believe of being seated in a fancy restaurant in the main piazza. Can you see the warm light on the ancient buildings and hear Italian voices speaking and laughing?
4/5 cup (200ml) heavy cream
1/3 lb (150g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
butter to grease the molds
8 small scallions
3 tablespoons cane sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
8 thin slices Prosciutto Crudo di Parma
Turn on the oven 350F (180C) and put in a cake tray half filled with cold water, so that when you are ready to cook the sformatini the water will already be hot.
In the meantime, mix the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, cream, eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper in the mixer.
Grease the cupcake molds with butter and fill them to ¾ of their capacity with the mixture.
Put the sformatini in the oven in the boiling water and cook for about 30-40 mins (depending on the dimesion of your molds).
Use a wooden toothpick to check if they are cooked: if the stick is dried after piercing they are done.
While the sformatini is cooking, boil the pealed scallions in a pot of salted water for about 5 mins.
In another small pan prepare the caramel with the sugar and the water. Add the baslamic vinegar and the boiled scallions and caramelize on a low flame for about 10 mins.
Serve each hot sformatino with 2 caramelized scallions and 2 slices of Prosciutto Crudo.
(by Giuseppe Furno, Italian writer and a dear Uncle)
This dish has the colours, the scents and the complex layers of Sicily and the surrounding Mediterranean; intense red Pachino cherry tomatoes, golden onions, dried oregano and sea salt that smells like waves. What else? A ¼ inch beef steak the size of your hand; bread crumbs, home made if possible and extra virgin olive oil.
For the meat, 2 pieces for each person, maybe more if you like.
Turn on the oven to 340F, it should not be soaring heat.
Grease a tray with extra virgin olive oil and start:
a) Drag the steaks through the oil on both sides and bread them, then organise neatly in the tray.
b) Cut the cherry tomatoes into slices and cover the meat with them.
c) Sprinkle sea salt over the tomatoes (but not on the meat becuase it will dry it). The salt will help the tomatoes release the juices the meat will need to cook.
d) Chop up the onions and put a layer of them on top of the tomatoes.
e) Dust with oregano to taste.
f) Cook in the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes.
Then if you like, once it’s out of the oven you can add a small quantity of capers, I would suggest the ones from Salina, Sicilian capers.
Did I forget anything… oh, the name! I like to call it “Carne alla Siciliana”, but it’s simply the way my mother used to cook it. She was Sicilian from Palermo.
To me this dish has her voice, her smile… in summary a memory of her.
Torta Cioccolatina literally means chocolate candy cake and comes from the sensation you have in eating it: it melts in your mouth like a chocolate candy! They are served as small cubes like in a chocolate box.
It's almost impossible to stop eating this delicious morsels sitting around the table with your family, even after a rich Christmas lunch. If you make very small cubes you needn’t feel too guilty.
2.5 oz (70 g) flower
7 oz (200g) sugar
5.3 oz (150g) butter
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate
1 small bag vanillin (vanilla extract)
1 pinch of salt
Mix sugar and yolks in a big bowl until you have a smooth creme.
Put a metal bowl (or a pot in case you do not have one) in the freezer for a while.
Use this cold metal bowl to beat the eggs white till stiff with a pinch of salt. Blend the yellow cream and the whites together taking care to mix from up to down in circle.
Melt the chocolate and the butter a bain-marie.
Add to the main mixture and then the flower and the vanillin.
Cook in your Bertazzoni oven at 285°F (140°C) for 30 mins, or 25 mins if you have a gas oven.
The Torta Cioccolatina should remain moist inside, like a chocolate candy. Decorate with powdered sugar and serve cut in small cubes.
Pumpkin risotto is all about colour. Cutting open a pumpkin is a voluptuous experience in itself, the rich, earthy orange tones of pumpkin always bring me back into a glorious summer sunset.
2 pounds (1kg ) pumpkin, or more (the more the better)
1 pound (450g) rice
Onion or scallion to taste
1 glass white wine
1 quart (1 litre) broth
5oz (150g) grated Parmesan
4 sage leaves in the Risotto, and some leaves for decoration
The very first step is baking 1 kg or more pumpkin cut in big sectors; leave everything, as it is, the skin and seeds. Set the oven without preheating at 220°C for 40 minutes. The orange colour will get even deeper or rather brown at the tips and the taste added by the oven bake is great.
Prepare the risotto the usual way, first a light butter soffritto with half an onion or one scallion, finely chopped and simmered at moderate heat until golden. Toast the rice in the soffritto and add one glass of white wine. When the wine has evaporated add the flesh of he pumpkin that you had cut in little cubes of about one inch.
Follow the preparation of risotto by adding hot broth little by little with a ladle and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the grains are softer but still hard at the centre. It is time to put the gas off, add a little bit of broth to keep the risotto compound very, very soft, add one knob of butter and the grated parmesan. Taste and add a little salt if needed, and a pinch of sugar.
Start stirring quickly so that the risotto incorporates some air: the result will be soft and creamy. Here in Italy we call it “all’onda” because if you move the pan quickly, the risotto will form a kind of a “wave”.
Final touch: a few leaves of sage into the compound will add zest to the sweet flavour of the pumpkin.
Serve and sprinkle with some more grated Parmesan. Pumpkin risotto tastes good and looks good, deep orange colours are incorporated in the pale white of rice grains, an amazing contrast with the light green of sage leaves.
Pasta with sardines is a very tasty and healthy food. Sardines are rich in unsaturated fats, very good for cholesterol control.
My choice is to use freshly made tagliolini as the round taste of this type of pasta enhances the delicate flavour of fish ragouts.
2 garlic cloves
2 or more chilli peppers (according to taste)
5 tablespoons of olive oil
pine kernels or white almonds
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
half tablespoon of lemon rind
400g / 14oz tagliolini
salt and pepper
Cleaning sardines needs some patience and skill: just hold the sardine by the head, then remove the bone by squeezing the belly and moving finger and thumb towards the tail so that the head, the bone and the tail all come away together, neatly separated from the meat.
Cut the fillets into sections of less than one inch each and put to one side.
With a large frying pan at medium–high heat carefully toast the pine kernels or some finely chopped almonds in little oil, remove and put to one side also. In the same pan, flavour 4 tablespoons of olive oil with one or two crushed garlic cloves and one chilli pepper. Turn the garlic until it takes some colour and remove it before it gets brown.
Lower the flame and add the sardines with some salt, cook gently for about 3 minutes, then add the pine kernels or the almonds, parsley, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and lemon rind and gently turn for another minute. Adding the lemon really gives a kick to the recipe as you may not like the “oily feeling” of this fat fish and the olive oil combined. The lemon rind on its side adds just a hint of sourness to balance the sweet base taste of the sardine meat.
In the meantime you have boiled the tagliolini in a large pot for 4 minutes, with plenty of water and two teaspoons of salt.
Add the tagliolini to the frying pan, turn gently for another minute or so, on a high heat, adding some olive oil and water from the pasta in order to get a more uniform blend of flavours and a consistent look.
The Italian tradition believes that on the sunrise of St. Johns (24th June is San Giovanni) is the right time to harvest the drupes (nuts) used to prepare “il nocino”. It seemed like the dew from the night before, between June 23rd and June 24th, was a relief for all our pains and if we want to go deeper into our memories and traditions, the 30 nuts had to be collected under the moonlight and cut with a crystal knife.
The time of harvesting is very important because the nuts are neither soft nor hard and can be cut in half or in quarters.
Place the nuts in a glass container covered with one kilo of pure alcohol at 90°, some cinnamon, some cloves and some lemon rind. The mixture must be kept in a dark room until autumn.
When this period has passed add 21oz of sugar boiled in 13oz of water and leave at rest for 10 days. Then filter with a hempen-cloth, pour into very nice glass bottles and forget them in the cellar for some months, one year …or even more …the older it gets the better it is.
Use protective gloves when you cut the nuts.
The artichoke heart was very popular in Roman times. The Romans thought it was very good for the liver, and they were right!
The best season for artichokes is from October to May: in this period growers will take around 20 crops.
Cut the stem of the artichokes, cut the upper part of the leaves, and with your finger spread the central leaves. If you like a flower effect, press each artichoke down against the counter.
Place them in an upright position in a pan.
Break and stir one egg into a bowl, add a pinch of salt to taste, add 50/60 grams of diced mozzarella, ground parsley, breadcrumbs and some parmesan cheese.
Stir and add a spoonful of this mixture into the separation with a spoon as much as possible in front of each leaf.
Spray olive oil on top and add some water to the pan.
Cover the pan and simmer until very tender (30/40 minutes). If you like you can grill in the oven for a few minutes.
A secret way to check the freshness of your artichoke? Grab it with your thumb and press it: if it feels hard, freshness is guaranteed!
In countries of Catholic traditions, Carnival comes before a period of compulsory fasting called Lent.
Maybe, well actually I am quite sure, fasting is not compulsory anymore, but I think we still deserve to taste this “tempting” and somewhat surprising, baked sweet. Don’t feel guilty, it is Carnival time.
Tortellini Dolci are made with a short pastry wrapping, the filling usually made of plum jam. They can be deep-fried or, the way I prefer, baked in the oven. During Carnival time, and not only, Tortellini Dolci can be found nearly at every bakery in Emilia Romagna, but, you bet, I prefer by far the version we prepare at home. It is really different and has a few more ingredients that give an incomparable zest.
How to prepare the right type of short pastry is probably not a secret to you, but still, follow my suggestions as the balance in cooking is everything, and yet we should add something unexpected in the filling. Ok, let’s not digress too much.
1.1 pounds/500g flour
4.2 oz/120g butter
5.3 oz/150g sugar
Take the butter out the fridge and while still hard, ground 4.2 oz (120g) in tiny pieces with a large knife, work it with fingers so to obtain a clotted “pulverized” compound, then create a fountain onto a wooden board, spray with icing sugar, top with a bigger fountain of 1.1 pounds (500g) of white flour, and in the center, break 2 eggs, add 1 yolk, 5.3 oz (150g) of sugar, a dot of baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork and knead quickly with your hands until you get relatively firm dough. You must be quick and if the dough is too hard and crumbles, you can add a little orange juice. Let it rest for half an hour.
1.1 pounds/500g dried chestnuts
½ orange peel
Sour black cherry jam (alternatively, sour plum jam)
Tangerine jam (alternatively, orange marmalade)
During the night you had soaked 1.1 pounds (500g) of dried chestnuts, cover with new water and boil until soft with two tablespoons of sugar and the peel of half orange. Squash the chestnuts with a fork to make an uneven grainy compound. Add 2 tablespoon of sour black cherry jam, 2 table spoons of quince jam, 2 tablespoons of tangerine jam.
Roll out the dough with the rolling pin until 2 millimeters high, stencil with the tortellini little mould, the shape of a fan 2" long (5 cm), fill, sear and put in pre-heated oven at 350° F or 175° C for about 30 minutes. Let cool off and happily spray ice sugar.
A pinch of salt in the short pastry adds to the sweetness!
Using the hard cold butter makes a better short pastry, but you have to be quick.
The short pastry dough must rest ½ hour.
The flavors of short pastry, mashed chestnuts contain elements of basicity that are greatly balanced by the acidity of the two sour jams, while quince jam fills the gaps: a pleasant surprise.
Over the generations of the Bertazzoni Family, the original recipe has never been modified in its fundamental ingredients, or, I suppose, just slightly improved to what today is one of my favorite carnival treats. The mix of grainy mashed chestnuts with the three types of jam fills the mouth with a cascade of flavors, after the first bite of golden, crunchy short pastry. The sour jams are a great contrast to the chestnuts, taste is freshened and no “greasy” feeling is left on the tongue. Hunting for, or producing the rather “eccentric” jams is really worth the effort, in my opinion.
I said before, Tortellini al Forno are “one” of my favorite treats, I have in mind another sweetie that is at least on par, maybe just less complicated, but this will come to you later.
Struffoli are an Italian speciality traditionally made around Christmas time. Every Italian family has their own preferred version. Ours is taken from the old Bertazzoni family cookbook that was begun over a century ago.
For about 40 Struffoli
250g (2 cups) flour
2g (½ teaspoon) salt
12g (1 tablespoon) butter, melted
5g (1 teaspoon) sugar
90g (½ cup) sugar
250ml (1 cup) honey
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Coloured sprinkles (optional)
Combine the flour and salt. Beat together the egg, butter and the 5g (1 teaspoon) of sugar. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and work it well with the fingers to make a soft, pliable dough.
Roll the dough into ropes on a lightly floured surface, and cut into small pieces. Then roll each piece into a chickpea-sized ball.
Immediately fry the balls in a large, deep pan with about 5cm (2 inches) of oil heat preheated to 190º C (375º F). Fry in small batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. After about a minute or so they will rise to the surface golden brown. Make sure the oil returns to the right temperature between batches.
Drain the cooked balls on paper towels and allow to cool.
In a saucepan mix the honey and the 90g (½ cup) of sugar over low heat. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved into the honey. Sugar in the honey is the Bertazzoni touch; it makes the Struffoli crisper.
Remove from the heat and add the drained Struffoli in batches to coat in the sweet mixture. Transfer to a platter and arrange in a ring or any other pattern you want. In some parts of Italy it is traditional to top with coloured sprinkles.
Struffoli are eaten at room temperature and can be kept for two or three days.