madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


the big kicks

the "cauciuni", Christmas sweets from Abruzzo


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.

Serves 6-8


classic tiramisu

classic, soft, creamy, fantastic tiramisu

classic, soft, creamy, fantastic, tiramisu

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.

Serves 8-10

Savoiardi, artisan made Italian lady fingers from Sardinia

Sardinia Savoiardi, artisan made Italian lady fingers

Tiramisu on Foodista


ahhh, caffè!

a stainless steel verion of the iconic Italian coffee maker

a stainless steel version of the iconic Italian moka pot

Italians do not linger over a cup of coffee. They might meet for a coffee and talk for hours if time allows. However, the revered drink is consumed within seconds to capture all its taste and aroma.

Even though Italian cafes sell a variety of coffee based drinks, Italians tend to drink only two types of coffee at home.  One mug of caffelatte with breakfast.  One small cup of really hot and strong moka coffee with one teaspoon of sugar at any other time of the day.

A  dash of milk is infrequent as most Italians agree with the ancient Turkish proverb by which coffee should be dark as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.  My guess is that Turkish love must be a lot sweeter than Italian love, but I lack the necessary expertise on this particular aspect.

So, when you visit an Italian home you will most likely be offered una tazzina di caffè, one tiny cup of black, strong and probably sweetened coffee. Make sure to inform your host about your milk and sugar preference in advance if different. Do not expect a second cup. In fact, it is quite unusual to drink more than one coffee at the time.

an insider view of the caffettiera

an insider view of the caffettiera

Nowadays, home-sized pressurized espresso makers are available in every form and model. However  in Italy most people still use a caffettiera or moka pot at home. This magic object invented by Bialetti in 1933 is very easy to use provided that you have the right coffee beans or powder and water that is not too hard or heavily chlorinated.

how to use a caffettiera

how to use a caffettiera

If you happen to travel to Italy you can buy a caffettiera in any larger supermarket or department store selling household items.

In Italy all brands of coffee offer beans or powder for espresso makers and for moka. The powder for espresso is finer than that one for moka. Please note that coffee beans are roasted, blended and ground in different ways depending on the type of coffee that has to be obtained with those beans. There is no point in using a  product that is not meant to become an espresso or moka coffee.

Even though Italian-style coffee is available all over the world, I find that many non-Italian brands lack that unique combination of a relatively sweet taste and intense aroma. Moka and espresso coffee is naturally  sweet because the sugars caramelize during roasting. So, as with all good ingredients, it is worth to search for a good product.

Finally, when you have assembled all this refined equipment and ingredients you can happily enjoy your cup of coffe and feel a bit Italian everyday.


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