madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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Assisi’s apple and olive oil strudel

Rocciata is a rustic apple strudel from Assisi

Rocciata is a rustic apple strudel from Assisi (the red is a sugar and Alkermens glaze ;) )

No. You are not pretty my dear, not even in that red dress. Before baking you, I asked “frog, will you please turn out into a princess?”.

I know frogs are supposed to turn out into a prince, but this one wasn’t promising. Besides, in the fairy tales princes tend to be clad in white. So you stayed frog, thank you very much.

You’re flavorful though, and full of fruity goodness, spices and texture. Slightly crunchy outside with a soft, squishy heart. You are Christmassy as well as Umbrian in your own peasant, medieval, rustic way.

You are not even made with butter, how healthy it’s that at this time of the year?

Recipe

Pastry:

  • 300 gr (3 cups) cake or Italian 00 flour
  • grated rind of 1/2 lemon
  • 5 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil + extra for oiling the pastry
  • 1 tablespoon sugar + extra for sprinkling
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Filling:

  • 4 large apples, diced small
  • 12o gr (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 150 gr (5 oz ) chopped nuts of your choice
  • 150 gr ( 5 oz) rasins or sultanas
  • juice and rind of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoon alchermens liqueur.

Alchermens is an Italian speciality which contributes a floral scent and the bright red color to the pastry. Read here to learn how to substitute and here about it’s tradition.

Make the pastry by mixing all ingredients to obtain a firm dough. Cover and let it rest at least 30 min so it will be easier to roll.

Peel and dice apples, transfer into a bowl and add all other ingredients. In contrast with the dough, make the filling just before you need it to avoid release of juices wich will break the pastry while baking.

Now roll the dough into a long rectangular shape wich must be about 25 cm (10 inch) wide. The pastry must be as thin as possible but it should not break otherwise the filling will pour off the gaps. Brush the pastry sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle lightly with 1 additional tablespoon sugar.

Spread the fruit down the length of the pastry to within 1 inch of the edges.  Roll up from a long edge. Brush lightly with olive oil. Shape the roll into a coil and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoon extra Alchermens for decoration.

Bake at 180 °C (350 °F) for 45 min or until slightly golden. Brush with 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with a little water to make a soft paste and cook another 5 min.

Serve at room temperature.

happy holidays from Umbria!

happy holidays from Umbria!

PS. Sometime I cut the dough in 4 pieces and make 4 smaller strudels rather than a large one. They are easier to serve as a dessert for a large party. This way it makes 14-16 portions.


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spiced grape jelly

magnificent fall colors in Umbria

I love October in Umbria. Soon the winter sadness will descend on us, but right now colors are working full-time. Everywhere is golden and red. Everything seems to taste sweet, chestnuts, pears, grapes. There’s wonderful grapes everywhere.

We are the lucky owners of a 1/2 century old vine-arbor. We don’t make wine with the fruits, too much of a fuss. We just leave the bunches there to capture the last bits of sun. During one of those mellow afternoons, I go outside to harvest them and enjoy the technicolor.

a gorgeous sunset from our terrace

I pick the best bunches, put them in a large bucket, sit comfortably with (dog) Google at my feet and remove all the stems.

Then I pour the cleaned grapes in a cauldron and heat it until the grapes start bursting. I subsequently proceed to sieve the grapes through a mouli to remove skins and seeds.

Next, I transfer the filtered grape juice back into the cauldron where I bring it to slow boil and let it simmer until is reduced by half. Finally I can make the jelly.

For that, I use same amounts of sugar and reduced grape juice (weight), powdered pectin according to package instruction, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 2 cloves and 1 inch cinnamon stick per liter/quart grape juice.

The whole process takes several hours. A small mountain of tiny wine grapes only yields a few precious jars. Every year I think I am crazy. Every year I hope I have captured some of the last sun in the jar.

grape jelly made with green and red wine grapes


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chocolate and ricotta crostata with homemade candied orange

Umbria meets Sicily: a pastry tart with chocolate, orange and ricotta

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.

Recipe

  • 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.

Serves 8


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pears poached in Vin Santo

pears poached in sweet wine

pears poached in sweet wine

PERE AL VINSANTO.  Vin Santo, literally meaning “holy wine,” is a sweet dessert wine traditionally produced in Central Italy and some areas of the North using dried grapes. This is one of my favorite recipes  in Antonio Carluccio‘s book “Italian Feast”. It makes a perfect conclusion to a hearty Umbrian meal of lentil soup followed by  torta al testo with sausages and cime di rapa.

Recipe

  • 4 pears, ripe but not too soft
  • 1/2 bottle of Vin Santo or other dessert wine like Malvasia or Passito
  • 100 gr sugar
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • optional: 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese per person

Peel the pears, so they absorb the wine while cooking, but leave them whole or halved. Put them in a non-reactive saucepan and cover with wine. Add the sugar, lemon rind and spices and poach with the lid on until tender. Remove the pears from the liquid and place them into individual serving bowls. Simmer the remaining liquid until reduced to a golden syrup and just starting to foam. Pour the syrup over the pears, allow to cool and serve garnished with a dollop of mascarpone if desired.

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