Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily (Anglais) Relié – 8 octobre 2013
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I have organized the desserts of Southern Italy by region, with each chapter showcasing my favorites from among the area’s typical desserts and, occasionally, modern interpretations now found there. Representing the broad expanse of what you would find traveling through Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Puglia, and Basilicata, the recipes range from simple home desserts to the cutting-edge creations of Southern Italy’s finest restaurants and pastry shops. I’ve included desserts already well known and loved in America, such as gelato and cannoli, as well as regional specialties virtually unknown in this country and rarely, if ever, found in books, magazines, or online. The almond cookies filled with cherry preserves called Biscotti di Ceglie, a typical sweet in one of Puglia’s oldest towns, or the ricotta and semolina cake made for Carnevale in Naples called Il Migliaccio may be found in Italian cookbooks and on Italian websites, but to my knowledge these have not been heretofore available in English. Others, such as the Biscotti Eureka, Africano, and Foglie da Te’, I found in pastry shops while traveling through the region, returning to decipher cryptic advice from pastry chefs to reproduce them. These have been some of my favorites to develop, crowned by the satisfaction of creating something that looks and tastes utterly authentic, or even better than the original.
I have shared here only a small sample of the thousands of recipes enjoyed in Southern Italy. My dearest hope is that not only will you make and enjoy them in your home, but that you might consider visiting and falling in love with this magical area that offers my most cherished sweets (and savory foods, as well). The desserts found in homes, pastry shops, gelaterie, and restaurants still surprise and delight me, and I find something both comforting and familiar, yet new and exciting, each time I return. This book is meant to bring these desserts-many of which are found in the United States primarily among Italian populations, if at all-into our common lexicon, preserving them for future generations. It is my invitation to you to share in the sweetness of my favorite desserts.
Pasticcini di Mandorla
-soft almond cookies
Makes about 36 small cookies
These little almond cookies are found all over Sicily and often in other parts of Southern Italy as well. They are pretty piped with a star tip into rosettes or into “S” shapes, but you needn’t be adept at piping; more often they are simply formed into balls and rolled either in confectioners’ sugar or chopped nuts before baking, as I have done here.
1 2/3 cups (250 g) blanched almonds (page 189)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons mild-flavored honey, such as clover or orange blossom
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
Confectioners’ sugar, finely chopped pistachios or hazelnuts, sliced almonds, or whole pine nuts, for coating
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Combine the almonds and granulated sugar in a food processor and process until they have the texture of fine meal, scraping the bowl down occasionally to evenly grind the nuts. Transfer the almonds to a bowl and use a spatula to mix in the egg whites, honey, and almond extract until evenly combined.
You can coat the cookies all in confectioners’ sugar or a single type of nut, or make an assortment by using several different coatings. Whichever you choose, place each coating in a separate shallow bowl.
Use a tablespoon measure to scoop out level tablespoons of the dough, making thirty-six cookies in total. Roll each dough piece between your palms to form a ball.
To coat the cookies, roll one ball in a topping (confectioners’ sugar or nuts), firmly pressing the nuts into the dough with your hands. Continue to coat all the cookies, transferring them to the prepared baking sheet as you form them, allowing 1 inch all around each cookie for spreading.
Bake the cookies until they are light golden and still soft to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Revue de presse
—Alice Medrich, author of Bittersweet and Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts
“I’ve been chasing down Southern Italian dessert recipes for thirty years, and my dear friend Rosetta just saved me another decade. She is truly one of the best Italian cooks I know!”
—Michael Chiarello, chef and owner of Bottega and Coqueta
“Reading this book, I pictured Rosetta moving between bakeries and homes throughout Southern Italy, her impeccable sweet tooth and culinary knowledge guiding her to the special sweets of each village. Brava to Rosetta for creating a book that’s original, tantalizing, and embodies the culture and spirit of her region.”
—Carol Field, author of The Italian Baker
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Thank you, Rosetta!!
The picture on the front of this book stopped me in my tracks. What WAS that? Watermelon? In a pie or pudding? Whoa. That sounded like the best kind of food crazy. I needed to know more.
Not only is this a beautiful book with clear instructions and unusual (to us here in the US who are not Italian) desserts, but it's a wonderful introduction to some parts of Italian cuisine that are grossly and unfairly under-represented in most articles and books on Italian cooking/food. I enjoyed reading this as "just" a book before ever taking it into the kitchen; however, do take it into the kitchen, I certainly did.
The lemon cookies I made were delicious, as were the pear ricotta cake and the other four recipes I've made. (The pistachio mousse cake? Oh yeah! Be still, my heart.)
In my opinion, this is a cookbook for an adventurous cook because the flavor combinations are not common to American menus. For one thing, there is not much chocolate in here, so if you're one of those people who cannot conceive of a dessert that doesn't involve cocoa beans, you're going to be disappointed unless you can bring yourself to think outside the chocolate box. Fortunately, I don't care much for chocolate, and I love fruit, nuts, and citrus.
As for the recipes' skill level, more than half likely will be a challenge for an average cook and possibly frustrating for a beginner cook, at least one short on patience and attention. You aren't going to knock out any of these in half an hour while having one eye on the TV or Angry Birds. These recipes require paying attention to what you're doing. I consider myself a slightly above-average cook, and so I enjoyed the challenge of making something I'd never made before. There are a few recipes I find intimidating, but having had success with the recipes I made, the more challenging ones give me something to look forward to. (If I can get those peach cookies to come out looking anything like the photo, I'll know I've accomplished something impressive.)
Sicily offers so much more than cannoli; the divine biscotti Eureka (almond-and-blood-orange-marmalade-filled spirals), chocolate-hazelnut cake rolls, a gorgeous ricotta and pistachio mousse cake named for the 1958 novel Il Gattopardo, a baked ricotta tart, and several gelatos and puddings are all on display, including the elaborate watermelon pudding-filled tart on the book's cover. The illustrated primer on making the perfect cannoli (including shells) was very helpful as well; I've only worked with store-bought cannoli shells before, so having a detailed how-to was a lifesaver.
Campania's offerings are rich with cherries, pears, and some lovely semolina-enhanced cakes and pastries. One of the more unusual offerings here is the eggplant layered with sweetened ricotta and chocolate sauce. Calabria contributes luscious odes to figs and clever peach-shaped cakes filled with ricotta cream. I fell hard for the chocolate-dipped dried figs filled with almonds and candied orange peel; one of my favorite treats around the holidays are chocolate-dipped figs from Spain, so I loved having the option to make them myself at home. I also fell for the ricotta-filled baked pears; a filling of crushed amaretti, almond paste, and candied orange peel fill ripe pears poached in wine. The elegant ricotta and pear cake was light and refreshing.
Other recipes that have become favorites are the biscotti di ceglie (almond cookies with cherry preserves from Puglia). The flavor combination of toasted almonds, a touch of limoncello, honey and cherry preserves is addictive and fun to make; where else can you continually moisten your hands with limoncello instead of plain water? The barchiglia (chocolate-glazed almond tart with pear preserves) was another great find; the combination of pastry crust, pear marmalade, almond pastry cream, and chocolate is layered with flavor.
A final chapter of master recipes provides a handy do-it-yourself guide to ricotta cream, nut pastes, fig and grape syrups, and candied orange peel and orange (or blood orange) marmalade, which is a much-appreciated touch as many of these are not available in regular supermarkets.
The cookbook itself is beautiful, printed on high-quality matte paper (my preference, as there is less of an issue with glare when placed in a cookbook holder). Ingredients are listed in volume and metric, and a conversion chart is at the back. The font is easy to read and stands out on the page.
Along the way, colorful notes on local ingredients, traditions and legends (including how a local pear variety takes its name from a story involving a statue of St. Anthony) share space with beautiful candid photos of cafes, churches, piazzas, Greek temple columns and inviting alleyways. Many of the recipes have full-page color photos, and the step-by-step photos for more complex recipes like the sfogliatelle ricce was extremely helpful in visualizing the technique described in the recipe. A list of sources, a bibliography, and conversion charts round out the book.
"Southern Italian Desserts" is a beautiful (and delicious!) homage to the varied desserts of southern Italy that make the most of seasonal fruits and local ingredients, along with ample holiday sweets and traditions. The many master recipes for items that would otherwise be expensive or hard to find means that anyone is able to recreate authentic Italian desserts at home; whether you're looking for a simple three-ingredient walnut cookie or an elegant layered tart, you're sure to find something that tickles your sweet tooth in "Southern Italian Desserts!"
(Review copy courtesy of Rosetta Costantino and publicist - grazie!)