My son Michael got married last Saturday, and like any good Italian-American mother, I offered to make him and Beth (his bride) a wedding cookie cake for the reception.
Decades ago, you couldn’t go to a wedding reception in an Italian-American family without seeing trays of cookies for the guests, alongside a multi-tiered traditional wedding cake. They also include a scattering of Jordan almonds, or “confetti” as Italians call them.
I was dubious about whether this was truly an Italian custom, and I got my answer after attending a couple of weddings in Italy on my mother’s side of the family – the Northern Italian side. Nobody there seems to follow this tradition, at least not my mom’s relatives.
But one year when I was in Abruzzo, cousins of my late husband were busy baking up all sorts of cookies for a wedding tray – cookies that included the delicious bocconotti – recipe here.
My friend Lilli agreed to make her wonderful almond paste cookie, and I included those on the tray, and in another separate display.
And of course we had to have pizzelle. My father’s wife, Rose, graciously offered to make them – and she outdid herself, making about 150 in total. They merited their own separate tray since they are so fragile.
I also wanted to make “S” cookies, or “esse” in Italian. I’ve eaten them in Frascati and in Rome, and loved them so much I’ve brought them home with me, but never quite found a recipe that came close to what I’ve eaten there. These, a recipe from Mary Ann Esposito, are almost identical – a crispy sugar cookie that keeps its crunch.
Since the bride and groom’s initials are M and B, I thought I’d experiment with those initials too. They were a little trickier to shape and not so successful, so I went back to the “S” shape, but made sure to place the “M’s” and “B’s” on top. Another way they’re baked is in a figure “8.” Just make whatever shape you like.
The cookies added a nice extra something to the dessert table, featuring a most unusual cake topper.
It’s a sculpture of the bride and groom, Beth eating a doughnut and Michael eating gelato. Ever the animal lovers, at their feet are their two cats, Walter and Mervin.
On the way out, guests each took home a personalized bottle of limoncello – all made by Michael months before the wedding, with a photo of the two of them on the label.
And here’s the happy couple just after they took their vows.
Auguroni and mazeltov to my favorite newlyweds!
#Live long and Prospero!
“Esse” or “S” Cookies
recipe from “Celebrations Italian Style” by Mary Ann Esposito printable recipe here
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup solid vegetable shortening, melted and cooled (I used butter)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla
coarse sugar for topping
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
-In another bowl, whisk the legs with the sugar until light and lemon-colored. Whisk in the shortening, lemon juice and vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, mixing well to blend the ingredients. Let batter sit, covered, for five minutes.
-Fill a tipless pastry bag two thirds full of the batter to form 3-inch long Ss or 8s on cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart, and shape each one into a 3-inch long S, using the back of the spoon. (I didn’t bother shaping with a spoon. They spread out in the oven quite a bit. Also, at this point, I sprinkled with coarse decorating sugar. If you don’t have any, use plain granulated sugar.
-Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until pale golden in color. Watch carefully and rotate the sheets to prevent burning. Let the cookies cool slightly on the cookie sheets before removing to cooling racks.
Wouldn’t you like to get away from the throngs of tourists following the same old itineraries through the same old well-trodden tourist sites? Sure, if you come to Italy you don’t want to miss the major art cities like Rome and Florence. But if you want to experience something unique, come to Abruzzo and eat on a trabocco, found only in this small area of Italy’s Adriatic coastline.
The writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was born nearby in Pescara, described these spindly wooden structures as “a colossal skeleton of an antidiluvian amphibian.”
Regular readers of this blog may remember a post I wrote a couple of years ago here introducing trabocchi (plural of trabocco). This year, I actually got to cook on a trabocco with the owners and enjoy an unforgettable meal cooked in a miniscule kitchen beside the sea.
This particular trabocco, Trabocco Punta Tufano, is owned by Rinaldo Veri and his wife Maria, and was rebuilt seven years ago, following a storm in 2006 that destroyed the former structure. But his family has owned a trabocco on this site, near San Vito Chietino, since 1777. They’re typically made of a wood from trees that grow nearby and are resistant to the weather, called robinia pseudoacacia, commonly known as the black locust, or false acacia. Large nets are lowered from the long wooden arms and fishermen haul in fish that live near the rocks, such an anchovies, squid and octopus.
Inside this wooden building is the kitchen where Maria guided me and a few other visitors in preparing a meal using traditional recipes from the region.
Starting with these anchovies – looking and tasting nothing like what we get in those small cans in the U.S.
Maria showed me the technique used in opening them with one swift move, and removing the skeleton to end up with a fillet.
Then marinating them in vinegar, lemon juice and white wine.
The octopus was cooked in a pot of water, wine, vinegar and lemon juice for about 40 minutes.
And emerged looking like this:
After it was cooled, it was cleaned of some of the suckers and placed in a pot with olive oil, onion, peppers and bits of cherry tomatoes.
Olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes and red pepper were also used in the preparation of these tiny clams.
Maria also showed us how to open mussels and mix the ingredients for stuffing the mollusks.
After they’re stuffed, they’re cooked in a tomato sauce and given a few minutes in the oven at the end.
A classic dish of this part of the coast is brodetto, a fish soup made using the catch of the day. In this case, it was scorfano (scorpion fish), merluzzo (cod), and dentice (sea bream or red snapper).
Brodetto is cooked in the traditional terra cotta pots made in the region.
By this time, our group had worked up an appetite and we were ready for a drink of prosecco and an appetizer.
We started with the fresh anchovies that had been marinated and served on slices of bread sprinkled with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, salt and parsley.
We moved on to the stuffed mussels, and octopus served over polenta.
The clams were next, loaded with flavor. We sucked every drop of liquid from the shells, before dipping our bread into the liquid left on the platter.
Then came the pots of brodetto, dotted with clams and mussels above the whole fish.
I’m sure I went back for two and three helpings.
Oh yes, and I can’t forget the marinated mackerel fish, bathed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
We had to finish with something sweet, and in this case, it was the classic ferratelle or pizzelle, from Abruzzo. All accompanied by various homemade liqueurs, including genziana, a plant that is omnipresent in the Abruzzo countryside.
Afterwards, Rinaldo demonstrated how the nets are lifted above the sea to haul in the fish.
I want to thank this handsome fellow – Fabrizio Lucci of Italia Sweet Italia, for inviting me and a few other bloggers who attended Let’s Blog Abruzzo to come along for this unforgettable experience. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more posts on other adventures in Abruzzo, courtesy of Italia Sweet Italia.
It’s World Nutella Day! Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso started this holiday two years ago for all Nutella lovers out there. The celebration takes place today, when tons of new Nutella recipes, stories, art and other adventures will be posted on the blogosphere. They’ll be sharing all the recipes on Monday, February 9 on the World Nutella Day site.
For those of you who haven’t posted, the day is young. Get going. For those of you who haven’t tried Nutella yet, get thee to a Nutella-selling store anon. Procure spoon. Open Jar. Indulge.
Here’s my slightly gussied-up alternative to spreading on toast: a pizzelle sandwich smeared with warmed Nutella on the inside.
The pizzelle recipe is thanks to my husband’s Aunt Alice, who at 94, is still going strong and making her spaghetti and meatballs every Sunday for her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Several years ago, she invited me to her home to show me how she makes her pizzelle. I’m passing on her basic recipe to you, minus the Nutella, which is simply a matter of microwaving for about 20 seconds or until it reaches the right consistency, then slathering it between two pizzelle. My advice though, is if you plan to sandwich the pizzelle with Nutella, use vanilla extract and omit the anise flavoring, which is too strong to pair with Nutella.
1/2 tsp. anise seed or anise oil
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter, vanilla and anise. Sift flour, baking powder. Add to egg mixture. Let batter rest a half hour, then drop by small spoonfuls onto pizzelle iron, following manufacturer’s instructions.
One of the exhibits on display until Feb. 16th at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is called “Art and Love in Renaissance Italy,” and it’s well worth a visit. I loved the artwork, but even made a culinary discovery that I’ll tell you about in a sec.
First let me recommend the show. It’s a real treat to see all these beautiful works of art – from ceramic plates to dowry chests to paintings and drawings – that were created during the 15th and 16th centuries as expressions of love.
Expect to see typical depictions of “Venus and Cupid,” as in the detail above by Lorenzo Lotto, as well as other less controversial paintings and art objects. But don’t say I didn’t warn you when you come across quite a few pieces of art featuring phalluses (phalli?)- including an engraving that must be four feet wide, with enough appendages to satisfy a brothel.
OK, so this is a family blog – onto the culinary part.
One of the items in the exhibit looked exactly like something my husband found when we were living in Rome. There it was, this cast iron implement with two rectangular plates that closed shut via two long long handles. It was leaning against a street post outside the church of San Sabino in the Aventine neighborhood. Intriqued, and an intrepid scavenger, my husband schlepped it back to our apartment, and then back to the U.S. at the end of our stay.
It was sort of reminiscent of a pizzelle iron, but the space between the two plates was too slight to accommodate a batter. Engraved on one part of the inside were the intertwined initials “C” & “R”. The year “1939” was engraved on the other half. We just weren’t sure what it was used for.
My husband experimented, slathering the iron with some olive oil and placing a piece of crustless Wonder Bread sprinkled with some minced rosemary in the middle. He squeezed the two halves together and cooked them for a few minutes over an open flame. What emerged was a crusty, crispy cracker that made a nice accompaniment to a glass of wine. But somehow we didn’t think they had Wonder Bread in the Renaissance.
We finally found out what it really was when we saw a nearly identical one dating from the 16th century in the Met’s exhibit. The one at the Met has round plates, not rectangular. We learned that such implements are called “wafering irons,” and were used for making wafers that were served at the end of festive meals. Recipes for them are found as early as the late fourteenth century, according to the exhibit’s catalog. The wafering iron in the show was used to provide personalized wafers for a wedding feast, and then kept to commemorate the event.
I just had to try a pizzelle recipe on my own wafering iron, even though my gut feeling was that the batter would indeed squirt out when I pressed the two plates together. As a backup, I had my REAL pizzelle iron warming up in case this didn’t work. Well, guess what? It worked, but not so well that I’ll be churning these out for the next ceremony held by C & R. The plates really have no space in between, so all the batter kept squeezing out, leaving me with a very thin and very crispy, easy to break pizzelle. No complaints, they tasted great. But I’ll leave the wafering iron by the fireplace, where it makes a nice conversation piece. I’ll continue to use my pizzelle iron and will post a recipe shortly. It’s hard to see the imprint in the center where the initials C&R are intertwined on one side, and the date of 1939 on the other.
Now the question remains. Who was C? Who was R? Did Carlo marry Rita in 1939? Or Riccardo wed Camilla? Or did Carlotta Ruspoli become a nun in 1939? I guess we’ll never know.