madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


olive oil and wine ciambelline cookies

light, crispy and fragrant of fennel and anise ciambelline

light, crispy ciambelline, fragrant of fennel and anise

What an exciting and busy time this is! Summer is finished and fall has descended on us with all its gorgeous beauty. Olive harvest is well underway. This year we are gifted by the much needed help of friends who have come all the way from Singapore for the event, how delightful!

It’s a lot of work but we are having a fabulous time. Beside picking, we have been doing a great deal of laughing, chatting, cooking and drinking. We’ll probably be ready  in one more day and then we’ll need to wait until next week for the pressing and bottling to enjoy our emerald liquid.

The only and real “Alla Madonna del Piatto olive oil“.

The last few B&B/cooking guests will be arriving this week-end for our first – of I hope many – Pasta and Vino Tour. We should actually call it Pasta and Vino and Olive oil tour as it will be heavy on the bruschetta ;).

Pasta and Vino

This is an extraordinary time to be here, wineries are buzzing with activity, there are food festivals and farmer markets in many of the hilltop villages. Olive mills are running 24/7, everybody is out and about with nets and ladders to pick olives until dusk. And if that was not enough, there are mushrooms, truffle, thick farro soups, polenta, pumpkin, fresh fennel and cime di rapa to add to the cornucopia of incredible foods available just now. Add the salami and life is perfect.

Last night, tired after a day of trodding up and down the hill, we prepared a light dish of homemade gnocchi with pesto and these cookies. The term ciambelline means small ring cookies. They are as “seasonal” as a cookie can get as they are made with wine and olive oil.  One can while the night away with a tray of these and a good bottle of sweet wine to deep them in.


  • 450 gr (3 cups) 00 or pastry flour, better if organic and unbleached
  • 150 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 150 ml (1/2 cup) white wine
  • 2 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 130 gr (1/2 cup)  light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup white regular sugar for coating

Preheat oven at 160 °C (340 ° F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place all dry ingredients – except the white sugar – in a food processor bowl. Using the blade at high speed, add the oil and wine and blend until most of the mixture forms a soft ball of dough, about 2 minutes.

If you don’t have a food processor or mixer, make the dough in a large bowl by hand and transfer on a lightly floured worktop.

Sprinkle the white sugar on a large flat plate or cutting board. On the worktop, roll the dough into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick cylinders. Cut each cylinder into 10 cm (5 inch) pieces and roll them into the white sugar to coat.

roll the dough cycilinders in sugar, then form the rings

roll the dough cylinders in sugar, then form the rings

Pinch the ends of each cylinder together to form a ring.

Carefully arrange the rings on a the baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 min until just golden around the sides.

Cool on a wire rack and serve with sweet wine like a vinsanto, passito or marsala or a big mug of herbal tea.

Makes approx. 36 ciambelline.


Home-made Ladyfingers

light as a feather, home-made ladyfingers

The real Italian heart beats in the peasants. Somewhat our royals have been always underwhelming.

Take our former Savoy kings, for example. It is said that ladyfingers – savoiardi in Italian – have been created at the court of Amadeus VI duke of Savoy in honor of Charles V king of France. As the story goes, the head baker of Savoy was asked to invent something memorable to impress the king during a very rare visit to the Duchy.

Imagine: the medieval king is used to lavish banquets where he is served dishes like the tourte parmerienne, a pastry dish made to look like a castle with chicken-drumstick turrets coated with gold leaf. His head chef, Guillaume Tirel is  considered one of the first truly “professional” master chefs in European history.

Then he goes to visit his brother-in-law in Savoy and he is offered sponge cookies. Wow.

I am not sure the story it’s true, but we should have gotten read of them a few hundred years earlier. I mean, the would-be-kings Dukes.

Luckily we kept the cookies and used them to invent tiramisu. They are also lovely with gelato, warm custard, ricotta or simply dunked in good sweet wine like a Vinsanto o Moscato. And very, very easy to make.


  • 75 gr (2/3 cup) 00 or pastry flour
  • 75 gr (2/3 cup)  sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teasp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 scant tablespoon yogurt or milk
  • 2 tablespoon powder sugar plus 2 tablespoon regular sugar, mixed in a small bowl

Preheat oven at 150 °C (300 ° F). Line a large baking sheet with buttered parchment paper. If you don’t butter the parchment paper you will have to eat it as it’s hardly possible to remove it from the cookies after baking.

Whisk egg whites until firm. Cream the sugar and egg yolks, add lemon zest, vanilla extract, flour and milk or yogurt and keep whisking to obtain a very thick batter. Fold in egg whites using a metal spoon. Make sure to incorporate them lightly, with circular upward movements so to obtain an airy mixture that will not deflate while cooking.

At this point, using a pastry bag, you should pipe the batter into 10 cm (4 inch) long strips on the baking sheet.

I hate pastry bags, so I use a soup spoon making sure to keep the strips at least 3 cm (1 inch) apart. One spoon of batter is enough for one ladyfinger.

Now sprinkle half of the sugar mixture onto the strips and wait for 5 mins before sprinkling the rest. This makes that pretty craquelè coating.

Bake for 20 min or until golden around the sides.

Makes about 2 dozens.


baci di dama cookies

lovely baci di dama from Piedmont (but made in Umbria!)

Baci di dama, lady’s kisses. Heavenly lips with a chocolate smile. These are classic Italian cookies from Piemonte, one of the gastronomic meccas of Italy. The region is rich in all sorts of delicacies such as hazelnuts, chocolate, truffles and some of the best wines known to mankind. My best friend Diana – also an innkeeper – lives in Piemonte.  When I make these cookies I think of her and I wish we could meet more often, bake cookies and drink some of that splendid wine.

Real Baci di dama allegedly come from Tortona, a little town South east of Torino, and are made with almonds.  It is also reported that the kisses originate in the Savoia king’s kitchens and are made with hazelnuts.

I’m not fond of our former royals, but I love hazelnuts. In addition, I love this recipe. It’s quick, easy and fills the kitchen with a rich aroma of nuts and butter that never fails to cheer me up.


  • 100 gr. ( 3.5 oz) hazelnuts
  • 110 gr. ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 150 gr. (1 cup) pastry flour
  • 1 egg white
  • powdered sugar to coat
  • 60 gr (3 oz ) 70% dark chocolate

Place all dry ingredients and the butter in a food processor bowl. Using the blade at high speed, blend until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Stir in the egg white and vanilla and blend until the mixture forms a dough, one more minute. It is important not to overheat the butter in the dough, so do not overwork.

With lightly floured hands roll the dough into 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick cylinders.  Cut each cylinder into 2 cm (2/3 inch) pieces and roll them into balls. Carefully arrange the balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 180° C/ 350° F. Bake the cookies in middle of the oven for 30 minutes until slightly golden. Meanwhile place two tabsp powdered sugar in a paper bag. Pull the baking sheet from the oven and wait a few minutes until the cookies are cool enough to handle. Place 1/3 of the cookies in the paper bag and shake lightly to coat them with sugar. Place the coated cookies on a wire rack and repeat the sugar coating with all other cookies, one third at the time. Add more powdered sugar to the bag if necessary.

If you stop here, you have made delightful hazelnut cookies with hardly any time and effort.

aren’t they  cuties? just before kissing

Now, if you are in need of sophistication, melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a small pan over low heat. Let it cool off to obtain a thick spreadable cream. To assemble the baci di dama, sandwich two cookies of similar size with a thin layer of melted chocolate in between. Serve to high acclaim.

Makes 46 kisses.


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