Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Tart)

January 31, 2018

Torta di Riso is an Italian specialty.  It is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust; a Rice Tart, so to speak.

I first had Torta di Riso more than 20 years ago while visiting Italy with my husband and his parents.

We ate meals at the homes of many relatives.  I often arrived with a spiral-bound notebook to jot down the inevitable recipes that would be discussed around the table or the recipes I begged for after being served something wonderful.  That notebook is a mashup of American and Metric measures and English and Italian words for ingredients.  It became a bible of sorts for recreating many of the dishes I ate on that trip.


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My father-in-law’s Zia (Aunt) Meri made the first Torta di Riso that I ever tasted.  Her recipe is below (adapted for American measures).

After having it at Zio (Uncle) Beppe and Zia Meri’s house, I started noticing Torta di Riso in many places in Tuscany.

My father-in-law with his Uncle Beppe and Aunt Meri, from whom this recipe for Torta di Riso originated in their garden in Tuscany, 1994.

Alkermes liqueur originated in Tuscany so it is particularly appropriate to use it as the liqueur in Torta di Riso.  Alkermes is nearly impossible to find in the United States, however.  One can make a perfectly traditional Torta di Riso using rum in place of Alkermes but the resulting confection won’t be pink.

According to CooksInfo, “Alchermes was invented in the Frati Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Its making was kept secret, but the recipe was reputedly stolen by spies from the nearby city of Siena, which Florence was often at war with.”


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Recipes for alkermes (also spelled alchermes) are closely guarded but the process basically involves infusing alcohol with spices and flavorings like cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, star anise, rosewater, and orange zest.  The red color comes from cochineal, an insect that is the foundation for natural red food coloring.  The resulting infused alcohol is sweetened and diluted with water.

The pastry crust is pasta frolla, a slightly sweetened pastry, leavened with baking powder, and often flavored with vanilla and lemon zest.  This is Meri’s recipe for pasta frolla but I also have one from Zia Fidalma that makes about half the quantity.

Torta di Riso was a big hit at my father-in-law’s birthday dinner last week. So were the cocktails, wine, and champagne!

If you don’t have access to Alkermes, you can use rum.  In fact, torta di riso is not always pink.  Many that I saw in Italy were white.

If you want to try to make your own Alkermes you can find a recipe here.  Amazon even sells the dried cochineal insects that provide the traditional scarlet color.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


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Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Tart)
This classic Italian dessert is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust. Alkermes is a traditional Tuscan liqueur used in a number of sweets, including torta di riso, for its color and spice-like flavor. If you don’t have Alkermes, use rum. Not all versions of torta di riso are brightly colored. Vanilla powder is a natural vanilla product, not artificial. Use vanilla extract if vanilla powder is not available.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Rice
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Rice
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Instructions
Pasta Frolla
  1. Blend the flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor until combined.
  2. Add the butter, cut in pieces, and blend till well combined.
  3. Add the eggs and blend till the pastry almost forms a ball.
  4. Remove the pastry from the food processor and use your hands to press everything into a single ball.
  5. Wrap the pastry in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour before using.
Rice
  1. Wash and drain the rice.
  2. Combine the rice, water and milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  3. Bring the rice to a boil.
  4. Cover the rice and simmer, stirring frequently, until cooked and the liquid is almost completely absorbed. If the rice does not have the consistency of thick oatmeal, add a bit more milk at the end to make it creamy.
  5. Mix the sugar, lemon zest, and Alkermes and/or rum into the rice.
  6. Pour the rice into a bowl and cool, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Assembly and Baking
  1. Cut off a small piece of the pastry to make a lattice top and refrigerate.
  2. Roll the remaining pastry between waxed paper, turning often, until it is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan.
  3. Line a 10" springform pan with the pasta frolla.
  4. Cut the pastry even with the top of the pan. Add the scraps to the pastry you have reserved for the lattice.
  5. Beat the egg and egg yolks to combine.
  6. Stir the beaten eggs into the cooled rice.
  7. Pour the rice into the pastry lined pan.
  8. Roll out the pastry reserved for the lattice.
  9. Cut seven or eight strips, approximately 1/2 inch wide.
  10. Arrange the strips into a lattice on top of the rice. Cut off the excess.
  11. Roll the pastry lining the sides of the pan down to the top of the rice and form a decorative edge.
  12. Bake at 350°F until the crust is lightly browned and the rice is barely jiggley in the center, approximately 30-45 minutes.
  13. Cool on a rack for approximately 20 minutes.
  14. Remove the side of the pan and cool completely.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Crostoli (Italian Fried Pastries)

December 26, 2017

I didn’t grow up eating crostoli.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have our own version of fried dough.

Unlike crostoli, which are thin and crispy and leavened with baking powder, I grew up eating ovals of fried yeasted bread dough sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Frying bread dough and sprinkling it with granulated sugar is a common among Southern Italians. My mother had a name for it that I’ve never heard anywhere, it sounded something like “pitla.” I started doing some research. The word “pitta” is still used in Calabria, where my mother’s family originated, for various types of dough-based foods, including some that are quite flat. The word “pitta,” which I believe derives from the Greek word “pita,” became the word “pizza” in standard Italian. I’m guessing that “pitla” is a dialectical variation of “pitta.”


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One of the positive outcomes of doing research on Italian fried dough products is that I came across a wonderful Wikipedia page on fried dough from around the world.  Check it out here.

Crostoli (or crostui in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy where my mother-in-law was born) are traditionally served at Christmastime. My mother-in-law says that they would sometimes have them at other times of the year when they “wanted something sweet” that was simple to make.

My mother-in-law’s zig-zag pastry cutter

Not growing up eating crostoli, I asked my husband to tell me what he remembered.

I got two sentences:
“We always had them at Christmas.”
“They’re not my favorite.”

There you have it, the entirety of the crostoli story in 10 words.

I even waited a couple of days and asked him again if he remembered anything else about crostoli. “Nope” was the answer.

Now we’re up to 11 words.


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That might have been the end had it not been for Christmas Eve. The morning of Christmas Eve, after I mixed dough for panettone, my mother-in-law and I made up a batch of crostoli to take to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of our friends Rich DePippo and Doug Howe.

Rich’s grandfather was from Domegge di Cadore in the Veneto region of Italy, just next door to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia where my mother-in-law was born. In fact, Domegge is about 100 kilometers from Treppo Grande, my mother-in-law’s home town.

As it turns out, Rich and his mother, visiting for Christmas, also made crostoli the morning of Christmas Eve.

Using a Microplane grater makes fast work of zesting lemons

There were dueling crostoli served for dessert (along with pizzelle, nut roll, and biscochitos).

Rich’s were long and thin, with a slit cut in the middle through which one end of the dough was twisted before frying. This seems to be the most traditional shape that I’ve seen in my research, though Lidia Bastianich, who is also from very near where my mother-in-law was born, ties hers in a knot.

Having seen pictures of crostoli twisted and tied before embarking on making them with my mother-in-law, I asked her why hers were just left as irregular squares (well, quadrilaterals, really) of dough. That’s the way her mother made them was, of course, the first response. After which she added that she liked them to puff up, which they don’t do if they’re twisted or tied.

The other difference in the crostoli is that Rich used anisette to flavor his whereas my mother-in-law used lemon zest and vanilla.

The anisette was definitely a new twist. In researching crostoli, I’ve seen citrus, usually lemon or orange, as the most common flavoring.  Often vanilla is added; sometimes brandy or rum. Never have I run into a recipe with anisette. Hopefully Rich will weigh in on his family’s recipe for crostoli and how they came to use anisette for flavoring.

Meanwhile, enjoy!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan, it will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Crostoli (Italian Fried Pastries)
Crostoli are pastries that re rolled thin, fried, and dusted with granulated sugar. Powdered sugar melts and becomes sticky so granulated sugar is traditional. Crostoli are usually larger than the ones shown here, something like 1 ½ inches by 3 or 4 inches. We made these smaller because they were being served as part of a dessert buffet at the end of a large meal.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and salt in a large bowl. Mix well.
  2. Make a well in the center and add eggs. Using a fork, begin to incorporate the flour.
  3. Add vanilla extract, lemon juice and incorporate.
  4. Add melted butter.
  5. Mix to form a soft, non-sticky dough.
  6. When the dough becomes too stiff to mix with a fork, use your hand. Do not over knead.
  7. Cut into four or five pieces.
  8. Roll out less than 1/8 inch thick, dusting with a little flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
  9. Cut into rectangles, approximately 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches, with a zig-zag cutter.
  10. When all are cut, deep fry until brown. If you are not comfortable doing this from experience, use a thermometer and keep the oil at about 350 degrees Farenheit.
  11. Sprinkle with granulated sugar as soon as they are removed from the oil so the sugar sticks.
  12. They are best the same day but will stay fresh at least one day at room temperature, loosely covered.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Crostata di Noci (Italian Walnut Tart)

December 20, 2017

One evening in 1996 my husband and I were sitting with his parents in a dimly-lit bar in Venice. We were all chatting. I was drinking grappa, as was my father-in-law. Then the desire for dessert hit me. If you’ve spent any time in Italy you know that at no point in the day are you actually hungry. There’s just too much wonderful food around to not partake in it. So the desire for dessert had absolutely nothing to do with the need for more calories.

Going for something new, I selected Crostata di Noci. I was absolutely amazed by what I got.

The pastry was standard-issue Italian pasta frolla, a slightly sweet leavened crust that’s like a cross between shortbread cookies and a dense cake. The filling, however, tasted for all the world like nut roll, one of my favorite pastries but one that is also very time-consuming and frustrating to make.

In that instant, it all made sense. Nut roll hails from Eastern and Central Europe (as does another of my favorites, the poppy seed roll).  In northeast in Italy there is a lot of Eastern European influence. Suddenly, taking nut roll filling and putting it in a pasta frolla case meant I could have something that tasted just like a nut roll but without all the frustration of actually making nut roll.


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Now, Crostata di Noci will never actually replace “real” nut roll just like making bread in my bread machine won’t replace making bread by hand. But, with a bread machine, I have homemade bread every day which wouldn’t be the case if I had to make every loaf by hand. With less than half-an-hour’s active time, I can indulge my taste for nut roll any time I want!

Around the holidays nut rolls were ubiquitous in my home town but my mother and my Aunt Margie made the best nut rolls I have ever had. Largely this is because they both put in a large proportion of sweetened nuts to dough. Honestly, there was just enough dough to roll pinwheel fashion and hold the whole thing together. Many other nut rolls were bready by comparison.

To be sure, my mother’s filling differed from my Aunt Margie’s. I’m not sure how each of them came by their respective recipes but my suspicion is that Aunt Margie’s came from her mother or another Italian relative or friend because it contained orange juice. The use of citrus in various pastries is common in Italy. Pasta frolla, for example, is traditionally flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. I am guessing my mother’s recipe came from my father’s mother or someone on the Slovak side of my family because the liquid in the nuts was milk and not orange juice.


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Separate from actually eating nut roll, there was this whole aura around making them (at least there was when I was young!). Buying shelled walnuts and using a food processor make quick work of preparing the nuts but in the 1960s, making nut roll started with my mother buying a large quantity of whole walnuts. We would sit around the table and crack the nuts open then extract the nutmeats. I still have the nutcracker and picks that we used.

My parents’ nutcracker and picks

After all the nuts were shelled, they needed to be ground. We did this in a hand-crank grinder of the same type used to grind meat for sausage. As a kid, I got to turn the crank on the grinder! I no longer have my mother’s grinder as it got rusty from being stored in the basement but I have my own that is pretty much identical. I got it when I was in college.

The hand-crank grinder I got while in college

After the excitement (well, as a kid it was pretty exciting!) of shelling and grinding the nuts we all kind of abandoned my mother who started the laborious process of actually making the nut rolls. That is definitely not a job for amateurs. The dough had to be very thin but just thick enough to contain the nuts. The nuts had to be moist, sweet, and generous in quantity compared to the amount of dough. Then the whole thing had to be rolled up and baked.

After my mother died, Aunt Margie started sending me nut roll every year. After Aunt Margie died, my cousin Donna (Aunt Margie’s daughter) picked up the nut roll mantle. The two nut rolls that I got this year will be carefully doled out over a few weeks, befitting their preciousness, starting on Christmas Eve!

This year’s nut roll from my cousin Donna.  Notice the large proportion of nuts to dough.

If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss it. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. Take a look at Bertha’s Flan.  It will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


After returning from that trip to Venice I was determined to recreate Crostata di Noci. I whipped up a batch of Zia Fidalma’s pasta frolla and made a simple walnut filling with orange juice in a nod to the Italian origins of this particular pastry.

The first try was a winner and I haven’t really made any substantive changes in the recipe since. If one wanted a creamier filling, one could add a few tablespoons of butter but, honestly, the crostata is so rich that I haven’t felt the need to make it more so.

Until I tackle nut roll making 101 (which I swear I’m going to do one day soon!), I’ll have to settle for crostata di noci, and the occasional nut roll care package from my cousin!

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Crostata di Noci (Italian Walnut Tart)
Lightly sweetened ground walnuts fill an Italian pasta frolla crust in this Venetian dessert. If you’re not a fan of walnuts you could use other nuts. If you want to make the crostata extra festive, put a paper doily on top and sprinkle it with powdered sugar to get a pattern.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes, plus cooling
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Nut Filling
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes, plus cooling
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Nut Filling
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Instructions
Pasta Frolla
  1. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor until combined.
  2. Add the cold butter, cut in pieces.
  3. Blend till well combined. The mixture in the food processor will appear to move as one mass though when you stop the processor you will see that it is not.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla extract if you are using that instead of vanilla powder and blend till it almost forms a ball.
  5. Remove the pastry from the food processor and incorporate the final bits of flour by hand.
  6. Wrap the dough in waxed paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before using.
Nut Filling
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  2. Cover the nut filling and keep it at room temperature while rolling out the pasta frolla.
Assembly
  1. Roll out pasta frolla between sheets of waxed paper until it is just large enough to come up the sides of a 10" diameter by 1” tall tart pan with a removable bottom.
  2. Trim the edges of pastry even with the top of the tart pan.
  3. Add the filling and spread it out evenly.
  4. The filling should come just to the top of the tart pan.
  5. Bake the crostata at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
  6. Cool and remove the sides of the tart pan.
  7. The crostata can be sprinkled with powdered sugar for serving and/or accompanied by lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Aunt Margie’s Colored Cookies

December 15, 2017

We called them “Colored Cookies.”

I’ve never seen them anywhere but in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania though I can’t believe they are unique to there.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever had them made by anyone besides Aunt Margie until I made them from her recipe.

Aunt Margie in 2004 with me on an architectural tour of Chicago by boat

Many of the Italian and Italian-American cookies that I grew up with were cake-like. A stiff batter of flour, sugar, eggs, and fat (lard and butter were the most common), leavened with baking powder, flavored in some way (vanilla, lemon, chocolate and spice, sesame, and so forth), rolled or shaped and baked, and usually iced with a thin powdered sugar-milk icing that would harden to a glaze.


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Totos are a perfect example of the chocolate and spice variety.

Anginetti (Genets, as we called them in Italian-American-dialect-slang) also referred to as Lemon Knots, are lemon flavored. Although I’m devoting most of December to posting Italian-American pastry recipes, Anginetti won’t appear until next year.

Sesame Seed Cookies (which certain members of my family like to dip in wine) have no flavoring other than the sesame seeds they are rolled in before baking. These are coming next December, too.


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Colored Cookies are flavored with vanilla despite the riot of color that might suggest otherwise. There was a brief period of time, however, when Aunt Margie got creative (read iconoclastic) and used coconut extract instead of vanilla. Coconut and almond are my two favorite flavors when it comes to sweets, leagues beyond chocolate and vanilla as far as I’m concerned, but coconut-flavored colored cookies strayed too far from tradition for my taste. It didn’t keep me from eating them, however!

Colored Cookies

This is Aunt Margie’s original recipe. And if you flavor them with anything other than vanilla, please don’t tell me…just kidding!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss it. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan, it will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


I don’t use a lot of food coloring.  The only other exception in recent memory (other than these cookies) was Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake.  Take a look at my box of food coloring.  The number 39 is the price:  39 cents!  I’ve had it a long time, though I used up the red making the Guava Cake.


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Aunt Margie's Colored Cookies
Use a very good quality vanilla extract, not artificial vanilla flavoring, as that is the predominant flavor. The best way to mix these is using your hand. If you don’t start there, you’ll end up there so just use your hand from the beginning. Although Aunt Margie’s original instructions were to ice the cookies while still warm, that is very difficult to accomplish without assistance. You can ice them after you have baked all of them with no noticeable difference. It is best to use medium-weight shiny aluminum cookie sheets. Dark metal makes the bottoms too dark before the cookies have completely cooked. You can divide the dough into five parts and color the last one yellow. If you do so, you will need to use slightly less of each dough to make a cookie.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
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Instructions
Cookies
  1. Measure all the ingredients.
  2. Combine butter and sugar.
  3. Mix well using your hands.
  4. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each.
  5. Mix in salt and baking powder then add milk and vanilla.
  6. Combine well.
  7. Add flour and mix until a dough forms.
  8. Divide dough into four parts.
  9. Leave one part of dough white.
  10. Color the others pink, blue, and green.
  11. Take approximately 1 teaspoon of each dough and roll into a ball the “size of a walnut” according to Aunt Margie’s recipe. You will need to apply a bit of pressure, without smashing the colors together, to be sure that the different colored doughs have joined into one cookie. If not, the cookies will split during baking.
  12. Bake 350°F for 17-20 minutes until very light brown on the bottom and the top does not depress when touched lightly.
  13. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and put on a cooling rack.
  14. Using your finger, ice with powdered sugar icing while still warm.
Icing
  1. Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Stir to combine.
  2. Stir to combine.
  3. Thin with a small amount of milk if needed. The icing should be of a spreading consistency.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pizzelle (Italian Anise-Flavored Wafer Cookies)

December 6, 2017

Pizzelle punctuated my childhood.

Pizzelle were present at every holiday, birthday, wedding, and festive event as well as at random times throughout the year.

They usually came from Aunt Margie, though other folks made pizzelle, too.

My mother never did. Though she liked to bake, and made some wonderful pastries, pizzelle were not part of her repertoire.

The classic flavor is anise, though vanilla, and to a lesser extent lemon and orange, are common as well.

Aunt Margie would use pizzelle to make ice cream sandwiches. She would roll them around a tube to make faux cannoli. She would even roll them into ice cream cones. Of all the permutations, though, my favorite is just the classic, flat, crispy anise-flavored cookie.


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I don’t know anybody who doesn’t use an electric pizzelle iron these days but originally Aunt Margie used one of cast iron that was heated on the stove. It came from Berarducci Brothers in McKeesport, Pennsylvania and is most definitely iron, not aluminum. I have the pizzelle maker in its original box.

Aunt Margie’s original cast iron pizzelle maker

The original box for the pizzelle maker

Unfortunately Berarducci Brothers is no longer around. Not only did they manufacture stove-top and electric pizzelle irons, they made ravioli molds, crank-handle vegetable strainers, and an array of other culinary tools.

A modern pizzelle maker

In my experience, anise oil is essential. Anise extract simply does not pack enough flavor to give pizzelle the punch they need.

When I was young, anise oil came from the pharmacy. It was not uncommon in those days for pharmacies to routinely compound medications to a physician’s specific instructions. Compounding is now limited to a few specialty pharmacies but not so back then. Anise oil was commonly used to flavor what might otherwise be a noxious medication.

It was common practice among the Italian families in my hometown to go to the pharmacy to buy a bottle of anise oil. One upside, besides the easy availability of the stuff, is that it was pharmaceutical grade and, therefore, very pure.


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I tried that in Santa Fe after my mother-in-law kept failing to get enough anise flavor out of anise extract. We even have actual compounding pharmacies in Santa Fe as well as pharmacies that specialize in herbal and homeopathic medications that also make up their own medications. No dice. Not one of them carried anise oil.

Amazon to the rescue. There are other on-line sources, too, like the King Arthur Flour people. So, if you want to try your hand at pizzelle, get anise oil, not anise extract.  If you don’t like anise you could give vanilla, lemon, or orange a try.  If you do, I suggest the lemon and orange oils from Boyajian rather than extract.

The brand of Anise oil I have been using lately

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Pizzelle
Anise extract does not work well. Anise oil is an absolute requirement for the authentic taste. As with many "old Italian recipes" in my collection, this one provided a range of amounts of flour. 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour worked well and was pretty much right in the middle of the range. The batter will be quite stiff until the melted butter is stirred in.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder.
  2. Mix well. Reserve.
  3. Combine eggs and sugar.
  4. Mix until well combined.
  5. Stir in vanilla and anise oil.
  6. Stir dry ingredients into egg-sugar mixture.
  7. Stir in melted butter.
  8. Lightly grease the pizzelle maker (with lard, preferably) before the first ones are baked. After the first, additional greasing is not needed.
  9. Add a rounded tablespoon of batter to the center of each shape, depending on the size of your iron.
  10. Cover and cook until light golden but not really brown. The length of time will vary based on the specifics of your pizzelle iron. With mine, it took 30-45 seconds per batch.
  11. Cool the pizzelle on racks.
  12. You can dust with powdered sugar if you'd like but I rarely do unless it's a really festive occasion.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Homemade Dumplings

May 19, 2017

It is unfathomable to me that someone could voluntarily go on a low carbohydrate diet.

Avoiding gluten, short of having full-blown celiac disease, is equally unthinkable.

All of my most favorite foods start with flour.

Some contain flour and potatoes.

Roughly in order these are Potato Gnocchi, my Slovak Grandmother’s Potato Cakes and a three-way tie between Pasta (of almost any sort), Dumplings, and my Aunt Mary’s Bread Rolls Stuffed with Mashed Potatoes and rubbed with garlic and oil.

Of those five foods, the only one I get on a regular basis is pasta.  I have pasta 3 or 4 (or 5 or 6) times per week.  I could probably have it every day and never tire of it.  A few days without pasta and I begin to have serious cravings.

Until just recently, I had a frenetic travel schedule for work.  One of the first things I would do upon landing in a city that I was likely to return to over and over for work was to find a really good restaurant, preferably an Italian restaurant or one with a goodly number of Italian dishes on the menu.  Failing that, I would look for a restaurant with an ingredient-driven menu that was not into precious or pretentious presentation!

Sometimes finding that restaurant was elusive and my pasta cravings would be in full swing by the time I got home.

Over the years, my mother-in-law has learned that the best thing she could make for dinner on a day when I’m returning from a trip is pasta.  Even if I’m not having pasta withdrawal symptoms, there are few foods that I would rather have.  Actually, there’s only one:  gnocchi, which truth be told, is just the Italian word for dumpling, which as you’ve noticed is on my list in its English form, too!

Sometimes the restaurants I’d find were so spot-on perfect that I would just work my way down the menu over successive trips.  In this category are the recently closed Dish Osteria in Pittsburgh, Bari Ristorante in Memphis, Antico in Chicago, and, until the recent change in the menu, Tre Soldi in Chicago.

Sometimes I’d find a chef whose cooking I really enjoyed, as happened with Bruce Bogartz in Knoxville a number of years ago.  My business partner and I followed Bruce through at least three different restaurants.  Sometimes we’d just walk in and sit down and Bruce would come over and say: “Can I just cook for you this evening?”  That would be the sum-total of ordering.

Sometimes my business partner and I would find a restaurant that would accommodate our cravings as happened in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  We’d usually get to the restaurant late on the day we came into town.  After a few trips, we got bold and asked for something that wasn’t on the menu.  Something simple.  Something Italian.  As I recall it was spaghetti with anchovies, garlic, olive oil and red pepper.  The chef accommodated us.  From then on, at least once during every trip to Harrisburg we asked for the same thing, sometimes we’d mix it up by asking for a bit of fennel seed to be added.  A salad of arugula with olive oil and lemon juice always rounded out the meal.

While it’s easy to find pasta on restaurant menus, it’s pretty difficult to find dumplings unless you’re in a dumpling culture like Eastern Europe.

After two trips to Prague, I discovered that it was basically impossible to just order dumplings.  I frequently found myself ordering some sort of “Hunter’s Plate” which had an array of cooked meats and, you guessed it, dumplings.

I ate the dumplings first.

Dumplings are a breeze to make.  And don’t even think about packaged baking mix.  (For the reasons why, see my post about hydrogenated fats.)

Unless you are seriously trying to avoid carbohydrates or gluten, give these a try.  They honestly take less than 10 minutes to whip up.  You could get a serious paper cut opening up a box of Bisq…er, biscuit mix, in less time!

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Homemade Dumplings
In order for the dumplings to cook properly, they need to be placed on top of food that is just submerged in the cooking liquid. A little bit of the dumpling will sink below the liquid but, basically, the dumplings should sit on top of the food and steam, rather than boil in the liquid itself. Growing up, the “food” below the dumplings was often kielbasa and sauerkraut. For this post it was turkey with mushrooms and peas in a light cream sauce due to the presence of leftover roast turkey in the fridge. Stir the contents of the pot before adding the dumplings as you won’t be able to do it afterwards. Prior to adding the dumplings, be certain that the heat keeps the liquid at a steady low boil with the lid tightly on the pot.
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Course Sides
Cuisine American, Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Sides
Cuisine American, Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Lightly beat the egg and ¼ cup of milk. Reserve.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until there are “lumps” no bigger than flakes of oatmeal.
  4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the beaten egg-milk mixture.
  5. Using a fork, gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid by starting in the center of the bowl and stirring in a circular manner, gradually widening the circle to incorporate more and more of the flour.
  6. When the batter will not incorporate more flour, add a few tablespoons of the remaining milk.
  7. Continue stirring and adding milk a few tablespoons at a time, until all the flour is incorporated and you have a fairly stiff but still somewhat sticky batter.
  8. Drop by rounded tablespoonsful on top of whatever you’re cooking in the liquid, such as sauerkraut, pot pie, etc.
  9. Cover tightly and cook 20 minutes without opening the lid. The contents of the pot should stay at a steady, low boil.
  10. Carefully scoop the dumplings onto a serving platter.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Totos (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies)

December 21, 2016

Homemade cookies and pastries were staples of my childhood.  Trays of cookies showed up for holidays, celebrations, weddings, funerals, and, sometimes, for no apparent reason.

My mother along with relatives and friends set up a cookie-making operation that went on every night for weeks leading up to my sister’s wedding.  The overseer was Annie Castagnola, a family friend.  She had a thin spiral-bound 3-inch-by-5-inch notebook of cookie recipes.  The notebook was the kind we used in grade school to write down our homework assignments.  Annie’s recipes were a curated collection gathered from a host of “old Italian women,” my grandmother included.

The little notebook was coveted by more than a few cooks.  Annie, however, did not share her recipes, even when those recipes came from relatives of the very people who were asking for them.  I know, my mother was one of those people who wanted some of her mother’s recipes.  Annie wouldn’t budge.  The situation got resolved, however, during the cookie-baking marathon for my sister’s wedding.  One night, Annie left her little notebook at our house overnight.  Nobody’s confessing, but there are a few cookie recipes in my mother’s recipe box (sitting on my bookcase) written in my twelve-year-old hand.

Annie died a while back.  Her little notebook is most likely gone forever and along with it the baking secrets of a whole group of “old Italian women.”

Of all the cookies that showed up throughout the year, my favorites were the various kinds of cakey cookies, my mom’s Genets, Aunt Margie’s aptly named “Colored Cookies,” and my cousin Angie Catanese’s Sesame Seed Cookies, to name a few.  These cakey cookies, which were not very sweet by American standards, were usually little balls but not always.  Genets are lemon flavored knots.  Colored Cookies are vanilla flavored balls, each made with four or five pinches of dough of different colors rolled together.  Sesame cookies are little logs, perfect for dunking into some Vin Santo.  For me, though, the best of these cakey cookies are Totos, little chocolate spice balls.

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Totos (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies)
These little chocolate balls are intended to have a good kick from an array of spices. Lard is the traditional shortening to use. I render my own. If you need these to be vegetarian, or you just don't want to use lard, you can use solid vegetable shortening. Heck, you can even use clarified butter but that is way off the traditional scale!
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen cookies
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen cookies
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Cookies
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the lard over low heat. When just melted, remove the lard from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg together. Reserve.
  3. Make the icing and reserve.
  4. Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled but still liquid lard and mix well until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be gritty. I recommend doing this by hand with a mixing spoon but you could use a portable electric mixer.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time to the sugar and lard mixture, mixing well after each addition. The sugar should dissolve as the eggs are added.
  6. Add the milk, honey, vanilla extract and lemon extract to the egg mixture. Mix until well combined.
  7. Add the reserved dry ingredients. At this point there really is no better option than to reach into the mixture with your hand and get everything well combined. The dough will be somewhat sticky. Be certain that all the dry bits are scraped off the bottom and sides of the bowl and combined into the dough.
  8. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls. If you want to weigh the first few to get the size correct, they should be between 21 and 22 grams.
  9. Space the cookies several inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are very slightly browned on the bottom but still soft when touched. They have a tendency to crack as they bake. This is normal. You can bake two trays at a time, one in the lower third of the oven and one in the upper third. Be sure to switch the top and bottom cookie sheets after five minutes and also turn them front to back.
  10. As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven, carefully put them on cooling racks.
  11. Ice them immediately by holding a cookie with one hand and using the tip of your finger to spread a dollop of icing on the top half of each cookie. The icing should be a glaze, not a thick coating. Put the iced cookies on cooling racks to cool completely.
  12. Well wrapped, the cookies can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen for several months.
Icing
  1. Melt the butter. Add the sugar, vanilla (or lemon) extract and 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix well. Add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, if needed, to make a thick icing that will hold its shape and spread well.
  2. It may be necessary to add a bit of milk from time to time if the icing stiffens up over the course of icing each batch of cookies as they come out of the oven.
Recipe Notes

Check out my method for rendering lard.

I prefer to grind my own spices using a small electric coffee grinder, except for the nutmeg, of course, for which I use a small grater. It is best to pass the ground spices through a small strainer to get out any small bits. If you don’t grind your own spices be sure to buy really fresh ground ones so the flavor is vibrant.

This recipe doesn’t involve any strenuous beating so the first few steps can easily be completed by hand with a sturdy mixing spoon rather than with a mixer. Similarly, after adding the dry ingredients, the dough only needs to be mixed enough to come together. This is easily (and traditionally) done with your hand though I suppose a dough hook would work, too.

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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