During the Christmas Holidays--even in the States--panettone and pandoro are both in plentiful supply, even in large supermarket chains. In fact, I bought several imported pandoro and panettone (they store and freeze well) two days after Christmas for under $5 each!
Pandoro literally means golden bread, and lends itself to making a tree shape because of its fluted sides. To make a tree shape, simply cut 3/4 - 1" thick slices, ensuring that each slice is cut as flat as possible to prevent your "tree" from leaning when re-assembling later. A very sharp chef's knife is better than a serrated bread knife which would create too many crumbs.
You will be filling each layer and re-assembling by alternating the position of each layer to position its points in between the points of the layers below them. Keep track of the orientation of the layers and re-assemble to keep your "tree" from leaning--flipping them upside and to the side after cutting each helps keep them in order.
To make ours, I brushed each layer with a coating of heated and softened seedless red raspberry jam, then willed each layer with some vanilla custard, the same recipe I use when I make pasticiotti. You can also fill them with zabaglione, butter cream, or a store-bought vanilla, or other flavored pudding mix.
I held back a bit of the custard and placed it into a piping bag with a fluted tip, then piped rosettes around the tiers of the assembled panettone tree, placing a blackberry on each. You can use fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or pitted cherries. Top the cake with more piped custard and berries, or place a star-shaped Christmas cookie standing up. Powdered sugar adds a dusting of "snow" to make it look really festive.
Traditionally, you make tall sliced wedges for each serving and lay them on their side in a dessert plate.
Vanilla Custard Recipe
While French style egg custards can be difficult to master, this is a very easy custard due to the fact that the cornstarch is the thickening agent. This recipe can be used for many pastry treats that utilize a custard as a bed for berries.
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1 - 1/2 cup whole milk or Half & Half
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon butter
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar.
Whisk in the milk and egg yolks.
Place the saucepan on medium heat, stirring with either whisk or spatula until the custard starts to thicken.
Add the vanilla extract and butter and stir until creamy, thick and smooth.
Transfer to a bowl to cool, covering the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.
Spread melted seedless on each layer of your pandoro and then spread on a layer of custard. Do this for each payer as you re-assemble your "tree". Pipe rosettes as described above and place your berries. Dust with powdered sugar.
When friends come to visit during the holidays, it doesn't always mean making a formal meal. How about making a Christmas Tree Pizza?
It's easy to make your own fantastic pizza crust and pizza sauce... the toppings are easy: cherry tomatoes or olives for the ornaments and strips of mozzarella, provolone cheese or even sweet peppers. Rough out the pyramidal shape with your dough, then trim the sides with a pizza cutter or chef's scissors.
The star is made from trimmings cut when making the tree shape and topped with provolone. Buon Natale!
One of our favorite soups during the Christmas season or anytime during winter is Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. Although you can make this simply by cutting up the squash into cubes, additional depth of flavor is gained by roasting halved Butternut squash in the oven before adding to the soup. This can also be made using smaller Acorn squash which has a similar level of sweetness.
2 butternut squash, halved with seeds scooped out and discarded.
3-4 large carrots, diced (they add texture and sweetness).
1 large sweet onion, diced (Vidalia is best)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt
40 cracks of freshly ground pepper (or 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
32 ounces chicken broth
Plus, additional water or cream as needed to adjust creaminess
For the Garnish
2 cups fresh cranberries (You can also use canned, whole cranberries as your garnish)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pint of heavy cream (for whipping)
Serve with some crusty, heated bread and a glass of Prosecco.
Copyright Grand Voyage Italy, 2018 - All Rights Reserved
Making gingerbread and gingerbread houses have deep roots in history. Honey cakes can be traced to ancient Rome and culinary historians verify that ginger has been seasoning foodstuffs and drinks since antiquity. It is believed that the gingerbread as it appears today was first baked in Europe at the end of the 11th century, when returning crusaders brought back the custom of spicy bread from the Middle East. Ginger was not only tasty, but also had properties that helped preserve the bread something essential in the ancient world.
According to a medieval legend, there was originally a fourth Magi who was to bring yet another gift to the infant Jesus--ginger. Sometime during his journey he fell ill and never got to Bethlehem, but a local Rabbi nursed him back to health. The Rabbi taught him that the name for Bethlehem in Hebrew actually meant House of Bread, and further told him of how he tasked his young students to make houses of bread to eat in preparation of their hopes for the coming of their Messiah. The Magus gave his chest full of ginger roots to the Rabbi and suggested adding ground-up ginger to the bread for flavor and preservation. The gingerbread house was born!
Gingerbread, as we know it today, descends from Medieval European culinary traditions. The spicy delight was also shaped into different forms by monks in Germany in the 13th century but quickly spread to other European countries. Medieval bakers used carved boards to create elaborate designs but in other places such as Calabria, Italy artisans hand shaped the spicy dough into elaborate designs, still popular today during holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Click HERE to read more about the art of Shaped Mostaccioli, the Calbrian Gingerbread.
As you can see in the photos above, our gingerbread projects were modest at first, mostly a chance to begin the tradition for our son Lucas when he was a little boy. But then our passion for constructing gingerbread grew more complex and we started entering gingerbread house competions...
Our 2018 Gingerbread Project:
Lucas' Concept to Recreate an historic A&P Grocery Store
For this year's project, I really wanted to do an Amalfi Coast hillside village complete with rugged mountain and multiple houses clinging to the cliffs, I was out-voted and we decided to build my son Lucas' concept for a 1930s vintage A&P grocery store--a timely choice since the A&P supermarket chain, the oldest in America, had recently closed all of its stores. Besides, to win, Lisa and Lucas both thought we should do a more "all-American" theme.
The trouble with completing our project was that time was not on our side. For example, to create our gingerbread Colosseum it took about 6 weeks, from planning through baking all the components to finished construction. I don't know how time slipped away from us, but we only had about 10 days to plan and complete our A&P store, which would be difficult to impossible due to all the new techniques we were going to employ for the first time: melted candy windows, poured clear gelatin window "glass", creating miniature products and produce, fondant checkerboard tile floor and fondant asphalt paving, edible printed signage and timed electrical lighting!
Well, somehow we did it! We delivered our project within 15 minutes of the delivery deadline!
In the end, we won First Place in the Authentic Reproduction of a Significant Building category. I think we won based on to Lucas' concept and especially his skill in creating the brick textures and miniature details (fruitcake, fruit, watermelons, pumpkins, baguettes, a cheese board and much more) and his graphic design for all the signage! Oh, and of course, as usual, my wife Lisa helped with the preparation of the gingerbread dough and fondant.
We Three make a great gingerbread team, don't you think?
When autumn comes to Tuscany, you will be able to enjoy Castagnaccio, a torta rustica made with chestnut flour and olive oil that has ancient origins. In the 1500s it was well known in Tuscany as cucina povera, a dish prepared by poor, peasant farmers and shepherds. Chestnuts were plentiful in the hills of the Apennines and easy to harvest, not only for its nutritious flesh but also for chestnut flour. Chestnuts (castagne) are rich in protein, calcium and vitamin A.
This torta can also be called baldino, ghirighio, toppone or pattona, depending on where you are in Italy. Local variations may include other ingredients, such as rosemary, orange peel and fennel seeds. There is even one romantic legend that says when its perfumed with rosemary, Castagnaccio is a powerful love potion--making and serving it the object of your affections will make them fall in love with you, and ask for your hand in marriage. Perhaps this is more than just a dish served during Natale, but also appropriate for Valentine's Day!
In its earliest conception, it was an easy way to make a portable food (like an energy bar) that stored well for long periods, helping sustain poor contadini during long, harsh winters. According to Ortensio Landi (1553) in his “Commentario delle più notabili et mostruose cose d’Italia e di altri luoghi“ ("Commentary on the most notable and monstrous things of Italy and of other places"), he traced its origins to a man called Pilade from Lucca.
By the nineteenth century however, the addition of pignoli and dried fruits morphed this spiced cake into a dessert deserving of the Christmas season and its popularity spread to Liguria, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna and even on the nearby French island of Corsica. Today you will find castagnaccio just about everywhere in Italy during Natale festivities. Keeping with Tuscan tastes, typically, no sugar is added because of the inherent sweetness in the chestnuts themselves and the addition of dried fruit and raisins. Castagnaccio is often served with ricotta, honey or sweet wines such as Vin Santo.
Optional: You can soak the raisins in rum, Amaretto or orange liquor instead of water for a more adult version.
Serve with a glass of Vin Santo, and a dollop of fresh ricotta on the side, and drizzle both with a Tuscan honey of your choice.
For further reading:
Chestnuts: The Italian Love Affair with Castagne
Foto del Giorno: Chestnut Vendor
Harvest Festivals in Italy: From Grapes to Wine, and More
When you bite into a Tuscan cookie like Cavallucci Sienese, you'll be tasting traces of a medieval or Renaissance past... layered spices, honey, nuts, figs and canditi (mixed dried fruits), but not the typical dried fruit used in modern Italian holiday breads, but luscious candied fruit. Keep in mind, these are not pretty biscotti, they are both rustic and a bit boring looking on the outside, but soft, sweet, fragrant and flavorful inside, where it counts.
A Bite of History
You can find these historic cookies in shops all over Tuscany, but especially in it's hometown of Siena. When you bite into one you will be transported back to fifteenth century Siena...
The name can be attributed to the fact that they used be embossed with either an image of a horse (cavallo means horse) or a horse's hoof--in fact, many today are shaped like a horses hoof. Some claim the cookies can be traced back to the reign of Jonah the Magnificent (1449–1492), when they were called biriquocoli. Others say that cavallucci were served to travelers and couriers on horseback (think "Renaissance Pony Express") as a source of nourishment for long trips (something like a Medieval power bar). Some Sienese claim that these dolci were the snacks for servants who worked in horse stables of rich Italian aristocrats in the various contradi (neighborhood districts), of obvious fame for the annual Palio horse race each year.
During the Christmas holiday season, they are served with wines such as Vin Santo, Marsala, Passito di Pantelleria, Asti Spumante or Moscato--dunking is perfectly acceptable and some would say, required.
Serve with a sweet Italian wine, Amaretto or Sambuca.
For further reading:
As an option to marinara as a dipping sauce, try some
Whisk together the following:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
Memorial Day Weekend is here. And so is the corn on the cob, French fries, burgers, hotdogs, hot wings and brisket. In Italy the equivalent of our Memorial Day is April 25, la Festa della Liberazione which commemorates the end of WWII, followed by Festa dei Lavoratori (Labor Day) on May 1st. Many Italians combine the two and go on holiday to celebrate the beginning of spring, and like Americans, they love their BBQ, but typically over a wood fire. Many Italian-Americans are looking for ways to bring a little of Italy into their choices... here are some ideas.
From Giada's Giadzy:
Burrata and Kale Salsa Verde Bruschetta
The salsa verde for these decadent toasts can be made a day ahead, making assembly a breeze once the grill heats up.
Florence's signature dish doesn't need to be made with that famous Tuscan beef - a good-quality rib-eye marinated in this herb-garlic mixture will do the job perfectly.
Tomato, Avocado, and Escarole Salad
Bitter escarole is a perfect foil for the rich steak in this simple side salad, while tomatoes and Castelvetrano olives add bright acidity. And you can never have too much avocado!
Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches
Ice cream on the grill? It's true! Grilled bread topped with luscious chocolate-hazelnut spread encloses scoops of vanilla ice cream for a perfect ending.
A here are some tips on how to recreate an
Italian Mixed Grill from Honest Cooking, using a variety of meats grilled over a wood fire, as Italians do.
And of course, the ultimate Italian BBQ is the Tuscan classic, Bistecca alla Fiorentina, offered here from Memorie di Angelina. In Tuscany, the steaks used are from the Chianina, an Italian breed of cattle raised mainly for beef. It is the largest and one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world. In the U.S. 1-1/2 - 2"" thick porterhouse or T-bone steak are good substitutes. In Tuscany, these steaks are grilled over wood coals until dark and smoky outside and bloody toward the center. They are sliced thin and enjoyed by all with a salad of Italian greens (especially arugula) grilled potatoes or beans in olive oil and sage. There are always wedges of lemons, course sea salt, pats of butter or extra virgin olive oil to top it off. Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino are good choices to add to the celebration.
by Jerry Finzi
While exploring the villages of the Amalfi Coast, Voyagers are certain to notice that the lemons there are larger than they are used to. They are sure to come across the Sfusato lemon (about two to three times the size of a supermarket lemon) and will be further shocked when they are confronted with the giant-sized, Cedro Citron variety of lemons. They are beastly looking things, with a pebbly surface, strange shapes with a large nipple at one end, and are often as big as your head!
Cedri are primarily found in Italy, from the Italian Riviera down to the Amalfi Coast, though they are occasionally spotted in France, Isreal and even exported to Britain. There are three different citron types: acidic, non-acidic and pulpless. Of the different cultivars, the acidic Diamante is more common in Italy.
Cedro citrons are usually up to three to four times the length of common lemons and can measure between 10 and 15 inches in diameter. They can weight up to 3-4 pounds each.
The pebbly surface ripens from green to a bright yellow--both colors can be harvested, the peak season being fall and winter. Most--about 70%--of the lemon is white pith from 2-5 inches thick with a soft texture and almost sweet lemony fragrance. In its center is a small amount of segmented pulp with a few pale seeds. This lemon is fairly dry and not used for its juice and the taste is milder than a common lemon.
The pith can be eaten raw or cooked: in salads, atop bruschetta, in jams and preserves, in risotto or pickled. The rind of this citron is very aromatic and a bit sweet, and is used to produce "citron", or candied lemon (used in Italian celebration breads and cakes, like panettone). Some claim it can be a remedy for hangovers, coughs and indigestion. Since the Renaissance, the oils from the skin have also been used in perfumery and cosmetics due to their delicate and fragrant scent.
If cooking while in Italy (or if you can get some cedri at home), try these recipes:
Risotto alla Sorrento with Fennel and Sage
1 Cedro lemon
1-1/2 cups rice for risotto (Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or Arborio)
1-1/4 cups freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus another tablespoon to finish
4 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
1 head of finoccio (bulbing fennel) - finely diced
3 stalks celery - finely diced
1 cup white white Vermouth
1 quart chicken stock
4 large julienned sage leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried-crushed)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Candied Chocolate Cedro Strips Recipe
(A great holiday snack)
1 - 2 pound cedro
1 cup sugar
1 pint water
3-5 ounces bitter sweet chocolate
You can store these in an airtight container and serve at the end of a meal with fruit, nuts, biscotti and espresso.
© GVI 2018
You might also be interest in:
When Life Gives Them Lemons, Italians Make Limoncello
Amalfi Lemon and Chicken Pasta
Lemon and Turkey Pasta with Prosecco
Chie hat pane mai non morit.--Sardinia Proverb
One who has bread never dies.
In Sardinian bakeries there is a time honored tradition of elaborate and intricate decoration of celebration breads for weddings and also for Pasqua (Easter), called
Pane Pasquelina, or in local dialect known as Su Coccoi or Pane Coccoi.
The designs recall ancient symbols from the many cultural influences in Sardinia. The shapes include the crown, wreathes, the chick, a girl, doves, fish, small baskets, fruits and flowers. Especially for Easter, whole eggs are incorporated into each design, sometimes hidden but often exposed within the design theme. These breads are considered symbols of fertility and good luck. When you look at the intricacies of these artisinal breads, it's surprising to think the only tools used are a small knife and scissors.
Two interesting shapes are called Sa Pippia and Lazzaro. Sa Pippia is a doll-shaped bread with seven legs, one for each day of the Holy Week. This bread was used as an Easter Advent Calendar, one leg given to a child each day leading up to Easter Sunday. Lazzaro represents the body of Lazarus wrapped in a shroud, a symbol of resurrection.
Watch as the Nonni teach the younger women how to create Pane Coccoi
and then bake them in a community oven.
If you'd like to try making these special breads, here is an authentic Sardinian recipe that I translated and converted...
Shaping the Dough
Preheat your oven to 450 F degrees with the pizza stone on the middle rack. Place a sheet pan on the bottom or lowest rack of your oven at this point.
I suggest using a pizza peel to transfer your breads into the oven and directly onto the pizza stone. If you don't have one, you can use an up-turned sheet pan lined with parchment paper (the paper will slide onto the stone with the dough). Alternately, sprinkle the back of the sheet pan with course cornmeal, then place your shaped breads on top. The cornmeal acts like ball bearings to slide your breads onto the stone.
I don't recommend baking your breads on pans simply because the pans would be cold when placed into the oven. If you do want to use pans instead of a pizza stone, use sturdy, heavy dark pans. They will heat up faster.
Just before placing your breads into your oven, pour about 1/4 cup of water into the hot sheet pan on the lower rack to create steam. Immediately shut the oven door.
Quickly transferring your formed breads into the oven, bake for the first 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 F degrees and continue cooking for another 20-25 minutes. You might want to quickly spray some water onto the oven's side walls halfway through the baking.
Check the browning of the bread and adjust according to your oven. These breads should be a very light tan with a fine textured crumb interior.
Remove from the oven and place on cooling racks to dry and cool completely.
There is another version that adds eggs, so you can experiment in adding eggs while you compensate by adding more flour. You can still eyeball the smoothness and elasticity of the dough when mixing. Remember, making dough for breads and pizza is a feel thing, varying depending on the humidity of the day.
Have a great celebration! Buona Pasqua!
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