I have developed this recipe for my first article on “The American in Italia” online magazine. It’s a lovely rustic crostata made with farro flour and unrefined brown sugar. For more crostata recipes please check my previous posts here and here. Enjoy!
CROSTATA AL CIOCCOLATO. I can proudly say that this is a family recipe. My family is half Umbrian, half Sicilian. Both regions have great food but when it comes to sweets there is no contest. Sicilians are blessed by the best sweets ever invented, cassata, cannoli, panzerotti, martorana, granita, pignolata….oh my.
Enter any humble bakery in Sicily and you will feel like in sugar heaven. Sicilians rarely make sweets at home because they can buy the best stuff in the world. And by the way, most of their sweets take days to make, so why bother.
We Umbrian peasants really can’t compete but we have one good thing, our crostata. We like it so much we eat it all the time. In addition it’s really easy and quick to make.
I don’t know who had this brilliant idea, but sometime when I was a kid, one of my Sicilian aunties living in Umbria came up with the idea of using the cannoli filling for a crostata. It was an instant success and adopted for all picnics and garden parties. Home-style fusion food, I just love it.
- 1 recipe crostata dough
- 250 gr / 8 ounces ricotta
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 100 gr. / 2 and 1/2 ounces 70% dark chocolate
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon minced candied orange or citron peel
- orange blossom water (optional)
Chop chocolate in small cubes and stir into the ricotta, add all other ingredients and if desired 1/4 teaspoon of orange blossom water. Make sure to use good quality, flavorful candied peel which will contribute a characteristic citrus taste to the mixture. In the winter I make candied orange peel, it’s fantastic.
Prepare the tart as explained in the main crostata recipe using the ricotta filling instead of jam. Bake the crostata at 180° C/ 350° F for 45 minutes, or until the lattice is golden. Cool the crostata in the pan on a rack and serve.
Because of the soft cheese filling, you need to make this tart the same day you serve it otherwise the crust will soften.
CHICK PEA AND CHOCOLATE DUMPLINGS.
Did you know that ancient Romans – if poor – were not allowed to cook? Such was the danger of fires that the plebeians were expected to eat in a tavern rather than cook on a rickety brazier.
Italian farmers had basic cooking facilities until relatively modern times. Most food was cooked in a clay or copper pot over an open fireplace which was also the only heating system of the house. That’s why the Italian tradition is rich in fried sweets. They can be cooked easily and in amounts suitable for large families.
This is a fabulous recipe from my friend Luana. The “cauciuni” are fried dumplings that are prepared in Abruzzo for Christmas. The name probably means small “calzoni”- of the pizza variety -, but to us Italians it sounds like “big kicks”.
The filling is a relatively extravagant concoction combining the peasant beans and nuts with the noble coffee and chocolate. Unlike real life, the combination of social strata works very well.
- 350 gr (3 cups plus one tablespoon) all-purpose flour
- 50 gr (1/4 cup) sugar
- 25 gr (1/8 cup) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup sweet wine, brandy or cognac
- 200 gr (7 ounces) cooked garbanzo beans, mashed
- 50 gr (1/4 cup) sugar
- 100 gr (3 ounces) dark chocolate
- 1 teaspoon coffee powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoon sweet wine
- 100 gr ( 3 ounces) toasted almond
- 2 egg yolks
Make the dough in a food processor as explained for fresh pasta. Alternatively mix ingredients by hand in a large bowl, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place the dough on a table, and flatten it with a rolling pin until it is about 3 mm cm (1/8 inch) thin. Cut it into 5 cm (2 inch) disks. Knead the leftover dough, roll it again and cut more disks until all dough is used.
Blend all filling ingredients and place a teaspoon of filling over each disk. Fold disks in half and seal pressing with your fingers along the round edge of each dumpling (see video below). Deep fry in hot vegetable oil until golden. Serve warm with a glass of Marsala or other sweet wine.
Every year around this time, mid October, I get vaguely annoyed. First of all it gets cold and wet for the first time after months of wonderful weather. It’s still beautiful all around, but one needs to get used to the sweaters.
Then, like every October in the last 10 years, Eurochocolate comes to Perugia and so the traffic and a million chocolate wrappers.
Eurochocolate is a large chocolate festival, sponsored by the big chocolate brands. It brings more than 100 thousand visitors to our small provincial capital. The locals lock themselves up for 2 week-ends. There is not point in getting squashed when one can buy (most of) the same stuff in the supermarket.
It’s better to visit during the week if one wants to get any close to the stands.
Those who love crowds can go in the weekend to see the making of the chocolate sculptures in Perugia’s main street Corso Vannucci. Large blocks of chocolate are carved by energetic artists and all the trimmings are given out for free to the onlookers (video).
Altrocioccolato, held in Gubbio is the cozy, fair-trade, green alternative to the monster kermesse. There’s lots of organic stuff, hand knitted socks, good music and free theatre for the kids. It’s even possible to find parking space. Really, it is very friendly.
As for myself, if I need special chocolate, I can get it year around, I have friends. I go to Barbara in Santa Maria degli Angeli* or to Elena in Palazzo** where I can find a variety of artisan chocolate at reasonable prices. I like to support small companies. I like to get suggestions and a bite to taste in peace, no queuing up required.
I am grateful to someone who makes the effort to trace good genuine products, possibly from another small company, and hands it with a smile. They know I’ll be back tomorrow.*Terra Umbra. Via Patrono d’Italia 10, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi **Pasta fresca e non solo, 43, Viale Michelangelo Palazzo di Assisi
In Italy, the zabaglione – a frothy custard made of egg yolk whipped with sugar and fortified with wine – has been administered to the weak, to fighters and lovers for at least 500 years.
Only in the early ’80s however, Loli Linguanotto, the chef of a restaurant in Treviso near Venice, conceived a dessert that was meant to be good for everyone, the young and the old. He layered lady fingers dipped in espresso with a mixture of zabaglione and mascarpone cheese and sprinkled it with cocoa powder.
The now world-famous tiramisu had been invented and became an instant success. Indeed the tiramisu is known and appreciated probably way more than Loli would have ever anticipated.
Needless to say, the secret of the recipe is to use original ingredients. Take real espresso no coffee granules, Italian mascarpone no bland cream cheese, good quality lady fingers, no store bought sponge cake. When I can, I use Sardinian savoiardi which are larger, softer and more fragrant than regular lady fingers.
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoon /50 gr. sugar
- 1/2 pound / 250 gr. mascarpone
- 1 cup/ 250 gr. chilled heavy cream
- 1 and 1/2 cup cold espresso coffee
- 1/3 cup dry Marsala or other sweet wine
- 30 Italian lady fingers
- unsweetened dark cocoa powder for dusting
Beat egg yolks and sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or an electric mixer until smooth and fluid. Add 3 tablespoon Marsala and whisk thoroughly for another minute or so. Remove bowl from heat and let it cool. Add the mascarpone until just combined.
Whip the cream in a separate bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Fold it gently into the mascarpone mixture.
Add the rest of the Marsala to the coffee and transfer into a flat bottomed bowl which must be wider than the lenght of the lady fingers.
Now work quickly. Dip both sides of each lady finger into the coffee mixture for a few seconds. The cookies absorb rapidly and will disintegrate if left in the coffee. Line the bottom of a baking pan with one layer of ladyfingers, making compact rows. Spread a 1/2 inch/ 1 cm layer of the mascarpone filling on top. Repeat layers of cookies and filling, ending with mascarpone.
Cover the pan with clingfilm and chill for at least two hours and up to 2 days. Before serving dust with cocoa. This looks prettier and fresher than dusting before chilling.