If you’re a chocolate and hazelnut fan, this recipe is for you. It’s got a bottom layer of Nutella, covered with a ricotta mixture and drizzled with more Nutella on top. The first time I made the recipe, I used a ready made crust and it crisped up nicely, browning perfectly on the bottom. I loved the flavor combination but thought it could benefit from a doubling of the ricotta layer.
So the next time I made it, I doubled the recipe for the ricotta layer.
The filling tasted great, but the problem was that the crust was undercooked on the bottom, even though I left it in the oven a little longer than the recipe called for. It could be because in addition to doubling the amount of ricotta, I also baked two tarts in the oven at the same time, which may have caused the pastry to bake unevenly. Or was it because I forgot to prick the pastry before smearing on the Nutella? In any event, it’s worth making this tart, but be warned – bake only one tart in the oven at a time for best results.
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If you’ve ever been to Sicily, you know that one of the classic desserts from that island is cassata Siciliana, a delicious sponge cake layered with a ricotta filling, traditionally edged with almond paste and topped with candied fruits.
I was fortunate enough to have Fabrizia Lanza show me how to make cassata when I stayed at her farm in Sicily last spring. Fabrizia, who lived and worked in Bologna in the field of art history, moved back to Sicily to take over the cooking school founded by her late mother, Anna Tasca Lanza. The school offers lots of different programs from food writing to sketching, and even a ten week intensive course called “Cook The Farm.” Click here for more information.
Cassata Siciliana may look complicated to make, but Fabrizia breezed through the various steps in short order without working up a sweat. With Easter just around the corner, this would make a mouth-watering, show-stopper dessert.
The first step is making the marzipan, using pistachios, almond flour, and a few other ingredients, including the traditional green food coloring. Make the marzipan without the food coloring if you prefer, or if you don’t want to use the marzipan at all, you can omit it, and just cover the entire cassata with the confectioner’s sugar icing.
Roll out the marzipan and place strips of it in a tin specially made for cassata. These pans are not easy to find, but a pie plate makes a good substitute. Line it in plastic wrap first to make it easier to flip.
The sponge cake (pan di Spagna) is sliced in this manner, contrary to how I presumed it would be sliced (through the middle in horizontal layers).
Place one layer of the slices on the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with limoncello, or Grand Marnier liqueur.
Spread a layer of the ricotta/sugar mixture on top.
Then repeat with another layer of the sponge cake and liqueur.
Pat it down firmly.
Then place a serving plate over it all and flip it over (fingers crossed).
Remove the pan and the plastic wrap.
Drizzle the confectioner’s sugar glaze on top.
Then decorate with candied fruits. They’re quite common in Sicily, and infinitely better in quality than what we get here in the states. If you can’t get good candied fruits, just keep it simple and use some homemade candied orange peel, (recipe here) rather than ruin your cassata with “industrial” candied fruit. Besides, the larger pieces, like the whole candied orange, are mostly decorative anyhow.
Just looking at the interior of this cassata Siciliana brings back some delicious memories and a strong desire to return to that fascinating island.
Part of the reason this cassata was outstanding was the quality of the ricotta that went into it. Fabrizia used sheep’s milk ricotta, but if you can’t find it, (admittedly not easy), use cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained. Our ricotta couldn’t have been any fresher, since we went to the farm that morning, where the cheesemaker made the cheese right before our eyes.
We could thank these sheep for the ricotta, who just a short while earlier had been milked.
Much of the pecorino cheese is drained in plastic molds, but here are some that were being drained in traditional reed baskets. Thank goodness for people still making food in the time-honored traditions of their ancestors, and for people like Fabrizia Lanza, who is helping disseminate these old world customs and recipes. If you really want to slow down and treat yourself to a unique experience, book at week at her farm, Case Vecchie and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of authentic Sicily.
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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and this recipe is perfect for winning over the hearts (and stomachs) of your loved ones. Or just treat yourself to a special home made meal. You deserve it! The ravioli dough is made with beets, although it hardly retains any of the beet flavor. But it does look rather festive, and was a good way for me to salvage some of the beets I had dreadfully overcooked this past weekend. You see, I planned to make pickled beets and I placed the beets to cook atop the stove in a pot of water. I like to undercook beets since they get cooked a bit more in the pickling process, and I prefer some “bite” to the finished product. But I left the house to see the HD performance of “Carmen” live from the Met, and forgot about the pot simmering on the stove. I didn’t realize it until nearly three hours later, well after Carmen entices Don Jose with her guiles, but before he gets his revenge on the alluring gypsy.
You know it’s verboten to phone or text in the theater during a performance, but I covered by head and torso with my jacket and texted my husband to ask him to immediately drain the water from the beets. Thank goodness for husbands who are loyal to their alma mater and stay home to watch the basketball game on TV. Go Pirates!
I know it could have been avoided had I roasted the beets, but I always have trouble peeling beets when I roast them. Besides, I might have forgotten them in the oven and come home to dehydrated, or worse, burnt spheres of my favorite root vegetable.
So anyway, here I was with lots of mushy beets to use up. I’ve always wanted to try making pasta with beets so this gave me the perfect excuse. Let’s get started.
Whiz the beets in a food processor until smooth.
Add the eggs, flour and other ingredients. I used 00 flour, the kind that Italians traditionally use for making pasta. If you don’t have it, use regular flour, or add some semolina flour to regular flour. However, it’s easy enough to find 00 flour online, if you don’t have an Italian grocery store, or specialty food shop near you.
The dough is stickier than normal pasta dough – possibly because of those darn overcooked and water-logged beets of mine. So I had to knead in a little more flour on the wooden board. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.
I placed the dough through the pasta machine, spreading a little more flour over the dough each time I passed it through a different thickness. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the heart shapes.
Place a tablespoon of filling over each heart and then using your finger, or a small paint brush, brush a little water around the perimeter of each one. By the way, the goat cheese adds a nice tang to the ricotta and the lemon zest brings a nice “brightness” to it. Don’t skimp on the fresh thyme or the grating of nutmeg either. It’s a delicious combination of flavors.
Cover with a second piece of the pasta, and crimp the edges with a fork.
This dough recipe makes enough for about four dozen ravioli, but frankly, I was getting hungry and wanted to get moving with dinner. So I stopped at about two dozen ravioli and made fettuccine with the rest of the dough. I had some leftover filling, but I’ll use it in a frittata.
Boil the ravioli in abundant, salted water. These were ready in only three or four minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter, and add the thyme and hazelnuts. When the ravioli are cooked, transfer them with a slotted spoon or spider to the pan with the butter and hazelnuts. Don’t drain the pasta really well; It’s good if a little water comes along to add to the sauce.
Carefully spoon the pasta into a heated dish and sprinkle some parmesan cheese over everything.
Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!
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Among other things, Sicily is famous for cannoli, those crunchy, ricotta filled delicacies that are ubiquitous in Palermo and throughout the island. So it was only natural that we would be making them in one of our classes at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school.
I have a real weakness for cannoli and there are plenty of good ones to be had near where I live in the Northeast U.S., but I never buy a cannolo (singular of cannoli) that’s already filled, unless it’s done right in front of me. There’s nothing worse than a soggy cannolo shell. (Well, actually there are plenty of worse things, but you get the point.) Eating a soggy cannolo is just not worth the calories.
But eating them in Sicily with sweet, creamy fresh sheep’s milk ricotta that was just made, and shells that were crunchy yet tender, well, that’s a whole different ball game.
Don’t be afraid to make them at home. I made them for the first time decades ago, when I was a neophyte in the kitchen, and they’re not hard at all. If you can make pasta, you can make cannoli. It’s a similar procedure. You do need metal tubes to shape them, however, or if you’re handy with a saw, you can make your own forms from wooden dowels.
By the way, for the word nerds out there, the word cannolo is a diminutive of the Italian word “canna,” which means “reed” or “tube.” There’s a famous Italian book called “Canne Al Vento,” (“Reeds in the Wind”) written by the only Italian woman to win a Nobel prize in literature — Grazia Deledda.
But back to the cannoli directions. The first thing to do is mix the dough, then knead it, and run it through a pasta machine at increasingly thin settings. If you’re a real purist and you’ve got strong arms, you can roll it by hand with a rolling pin.
Then cut it into circle shapes, using either a large circle cutter, or use a small plate as a template and cut around the perimeter with a knife. Then roll around the metal or wooden form, sealing with some water, overlapping slightly.
Fry them in hot oil until golden brown, using an oil with little flavor, like peanut or canola oil.
Drain and cool them, then fill with the ricotta and chocolate chip mixture. You can use a small spoon to do this, but if you have a large quantity, a pastry bag speeds things along.
Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and bits of candied orange peel and/or chopped pistachios, and watch them disappear.
candied orange peel, chopped pistachios, to garnish
Make the cannoli shells:
Combine the flour, lard, sugar, sauce and slat in a bowl and mix together with your hands.
Add the vinegar, bit by bit, and knead until the dough comes together. The dough should be quite stiff.
Set a pasta machine to the widest setting.
Take a piece of dough and run it through the machine 7 to 10 times at that setting, folding the dough in half each time before rolling it again.
When the dough is very even, continue to roll it through the machine, once at each setting without folding, until you reach the next to last setting. (The dough should be very even and silky).
Lay the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and with a lightly floured 4 inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds (use a small plate as a template if you don't have a cookie cutter)
Wrap the dough rounds around metal or wooden cannoli molds, dab the edge with egg, and press to seal.
Repeat with the remaining dough, retooling the scraps.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a wide, heavy pot over medium high heat.
Add the cannoli shells in batches and fry until the shells have become bubbly, crisp, and browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
With tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain.
Cool and remove the molds carefully.
To Make the ricotta cream:
Beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the chocolate chips, if desired. With a small spoon, fill the cannoli shells, then decorate with the candied orange peel and pistachios, and dust with powdered sugar.
Easter is just a few short days away and many of you have your menus all ready. But for those of you still looking for ideas, here are a few from blog posts in the past. Click on the name of the dish below the photo to take you to the recipe.
Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta – This is a dish my son makes as an appetizer for Easter, using broccoli rape. No, that spelling is not a mistake, it is rape in Italian, while most Americans spell it broccoli rabe or raab. Any way you spell it, it’s delicious, and a lighter alternative to the heavier, meat-laden pizza piena.
Braided Easter Bread – This bread, studded with hard boiled eggs, is braided with soppressata, olives and cheese, and would be perfect with drinks before dinner.
Grilled Leg of Lamb – Marinated and cooked on the grill, this lamb recipe from Julia Child, is tender and full of flavor.
Colomba Pasquale – It wouldn’t be Easter in most Italian households without this Easter dove, which you can make at home too.
Coconut covered lamb cake – A childhood favorite, I continue the tradition with the same cake mold my mother used more than sixty years ago.
chocolate lamb cake – Why not give equal time to the black sheep? This cake, decorated with crushed cookie crumbs, will please the chocolate lovers in your family.
coconut cream Easter eggs – These are a weakness of mine, which is why I can’t make them more than once every few years. Otherwise, I’d end up eating dozens of them.
Perfect hard boiled eggs – And if you don’t make any of the above recipes, you’ll probably make hard-boiled eggs at some point. If you’ve ever struggled with peeling them, here’s a primer that will help you avoid frustration.
I subscribe to an Italian TV channel and one of the programs I like to watch is a cooking show called “La Prova del Cuoco” (The Cook’s Test). The host, Antonella Clerici, invites well known Italian chefs, as well as members of the public to cook each day. On a recent program, this girasole rustico was prepared by chef Roberto Valluzzi, and it caught my eye right away. I thought it would be perfect to prepare for my Italian chit-chat group, since we usually offer both savory and sweet things in our weekly get-together.
This not only was delicious, but was a snap to prepare and makes a really beautiful presentation. You can make the pastry with your own recipe, but for this particular day, I took a shortcut and bought frozen pastry from Trader Joe’s.
All you really need to do is sauté some scallions with spinach and a couple of anchovies (don’t worry, it doesn’t give it a fishy taste. The anchovies “melt” and add great flavor). Let the mixture cool, then mix it with ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese.
Lay out the one layer of the pastry on a cookie sheet (I used a pizza stone) and spread the filling all around.
Crimp the edges with a fork, and place a small bowl in the center. You’ll need this as a guide.
Make cuts through the pastry in even measurements, then take each section and give it a twist.
It will look like this when you’re finished. Remove the bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.
Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Cut into sections and let people serve themselves.
Thanks to all you readers who left a comment on my last post. Six of you will be receiving a tin of these delicious Cornish sardines and you were picked by a random number generator. I wish I had enough tins to send to everyone who left a comment. The winners are Marie, Jan Mannino, Joanne W., Claudia, Victoria Skelly, and Gloria. Please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your home address so I can send you the tin. I hope you enjoy them.
2 round sheets of your favorite homemade pastry recipe or purchased (I used Trader Joe's brand)
1 cup ricotta
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 T. olive oil
1 box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 scallions, sliced
2 anchovy fillets
salt, pepper to taste
dash of hot pepper flakes
Sauté the scallions in the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, until the scallions are soft and the anchovies are almost "melted." Add the spinach, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes. Set aside to cool.
When cool, add the spinach mixture to the ricotta and parmesan cheese and blend well in a bowl.
Lay one layer of pastry on a round cooking sheet (I used a pizza stone). You may want to grease the cookie sheet just for extra insurance so it doesn't stick, or you can place the pastry on a piece of baking parchment paper.
Spread the cooled spinach mixture over the pastry.
Lay the second sheet of pastry over the spinach mixture and press gently all around, but more firmly at the edges. Seal by pressing fork tines around the perimeter.
Place a small bowl in the center of the pastry, and cut all around the edges, stopping at the bowl.
Pick up each cut piece and twist gently.
Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the middle of the pastry and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pastry is cooked.
I’ve rolled pasta, baked bread, canned fruits, jarred jams and fermented vegetables. I’ve fried cannoli, stretched strudel and brined turkeys. I’ve cleaned squid, octopus and even fed snails for a day to cleanse them before cooking. I’ve pounded lemon grass and ground spices for curry in Thailand, made macarons in Paris and caught cephalopods off the coast of Sardinia. But one of the things I’ve wanted to try, but hadn’t until last week was cheesemaking.
All that changed at the Farm Cooking School in Titusville, New Jersey, where I learned how to make four different kinds of cheese – mozzarella, ricotta, crème fraîche, and goat’s milk cheese. The class of about eight people gathered to learn from Ian Knauer, founder of the school, which I’ve written about in the past here.
I’m not going to describe the process in detail, although there is a recipe at the end, using one of the cheeses we made. But for those of you who live within the tri-state area of New York-Pennsylvania-New Jersey, I hope you will seek out this cooking school and take the class — or any one of the myriad they offer — from butchering to bouillabaisse. Ian and business partner Shelly Wiseman, both veterans of Gourmet magazine, hold classes mornings and night, and even offer week-long culinary vacations in the beautiful countryside around the Delaware River Valley.
The cheesemaking process is similar for most cheeses – bring the milk up to a certain temperature, add rennet, let it stand until curds form, and strain through cheesecloth. For mozzarella, the curds are stretched and pulled in hot water until they meld together into a ball shape.
Crème fraîche is made with heavy cream to which a mesophilic starter culture is added. Alternately, simply add a tablespoon of purchased crème fraîche to a cup of heavy milk inside a sterilized glass jar, and heat it inside a pot filled with warm water. For goat’s cheese, you start with goat’s, not cow’s milk (naturally) raw or pasteurized — not always so easy to find.
But even if you don’t make your own cheese, you’ll want to try the recipe at the end of this post using good quality purchased cheese. Of course, nothing compares to freshly made, but still, the recipe can be adapted using store bought cheese.
None of the dishes we ate contained meat. (For strict vegetarians, you might think twice about eating cheese, since rennet, used in most cheeses, is an enzyme made using cow’s stomach.)
The lunch lineup included this delicious salad of kale, cooked beets and the goat cheese we made and crumbled on top.
We also roasted shishito peppers and served them with the mozzarella balls we pulled.
The lentils were cooked and mixed with the crème fraîche, then topped with sweet roasted carrots, dill and mint.Dessert was simple but wonderful – apples poached in white wine, sugar and cinnamon and served with fresh ricotta.
If getting to The Farm Cooking School is impossible, here’s the next best thing — a cookbook Ian and Shelley have written that is due to be released in a few weeks. You’ll find many of the recipes and techniques here that you’d learn at the school, and you can pre-order it on Amazon.com.
Lentils with Spice-Roasted Carrots and Crème Fraîche
I wish I had thought to post this before Easter, because it would have made the perfect meal to serve on Fridays during Lent. But it still is a good one to keep in your back pocket for those nights when you want a meatless meal.
I made this using a store bought pie crust, making it easy to get on the table in a snap, but use your favorite homemade crust recipe if you have time.
The recipe comes from “Blue Plate Special,” a memoir by Kate Christensen, read by my book group nearly a year ago. It’s a passionately written account of her unorthodox childhood and relationships as she navigates her way through adulthood. Through the sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, and frequently tumultuous events, food is the sustaining thread throughout. It’s well worth a read.
And if you have a food, travel or family story you’ve been wanting to write down for posterity, now is the time to start. We’ve got only a couple of spots left for our memoir writing retreat on Lake Como, Italy. Join us for an unforgettable week in this enchanting location in late September. Get more information by going to www.italyinotherwords.com
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Sauté the onion in the olive oil. Add the spinach, the herbs and spices. Beat the eggs, then blend in the ricotta cheese and the cheddar cheese, plus the sauteed onion and spices. Stir. Turn everything into a store bought or homemade pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top.