Articles in Desserts w/recipe

'Tis the season for pumpkins, Jack-o-Lanterns, and, of course, pumpkin pie.

What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye, What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? — John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Pumpkin,” 1850

Scottish and Irish immigrants brought many Celtic Halloween traditions with them to the United States, including that of carving jack-o’-lanterns. But the pumpkin they embraced for the practice is a true American.

Tracing its long family tree back to at least 3000 B.C., the pumpkin and other squashes probably originated in the Tamaulipas mountains in Mexico. One of the Three Sisters — along with climbing beans and corn — pumpkins formed a major part of the diet of early Americans.  By 1000 B.C., the pumpkin arrived in what is today the United States. And by the time the English settled in Jamestown, Va., in 1607, Native Americans had developed sophisticated recipes and uses for the pumpkin.

A popular recipe was a type of pudding sweetened with maple sugar, similar in spirit to English puddings. Nowadays, pumpkins strut their stuff in pies, not unlike those baked by my English ancestors. Long a symbol of autumn in the United States, pumpkins now see the light of day primarily for ornamental reasons. Ninety percent of pumpkins end up carved into jack‑o’‑lanterns, and the rest make their way into cans as pumpkin-pie filling or puree. Every grocery store stocks pumpkins, piled in heaps at the entrance.

Seeing all those pumpkins whets my appetite. So, I just baked my first pumpkin pie of the season.

Canned pumpkin puree confession

Yes, I confess: I used to follow the recipe on the label of the Libby’s can of pumpkin puree. To show you that I don’t slavishly follow recipes, I added a ¼ teaspoon of vanilla and heaping spoonfuls of all the spices, as well as a big hit of freshly grated nutmeg. Sometimes, I used cream instead of evaporated milk, an ingredient actually not out of line because many vintage cookbooks of the 19th century mention using cream or a mixture of cream and milk.

And, yes, I know that making your own puree is far more earth-friendly. I’m all for that. But since I cannot find those nice little sugar pumpkins and other types for sale right now, I use the “traditional” method, as I know it. My mother never used anything but Libby’s. But I am sure my grandmothers struggled with the food-mill method of creating puree from boiled or roasted pumpkin.

Regardless of the method, some things don’t change when it comes to pumpkin pies. First of all, the aroma. It fills the house as the pie is baking, and that brings back all sorts of memories. School days, leaf forts, decorating the front porch for trick-or-treaters, choosing the candy to give out at Halloween.

Start with a partially baked pie crust before filling the pumpkin pie. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

Start with a partially baked pie crust before filling the pumpkin pie. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen

And the smell of cinnamon. I don’t know about you, but I nearly swoon when I catch a whiff of Saigon cinnamon. I try to restrain myself and not dump too much into the custard mix. The rich aroma of freshly grated nutmeg pumps up the flavor of the pie, too, not to mention that of cloves and ginger. The medieval overlay of these spices causes me to think about the ties to my cultural past. Because of that, for me, autumn signifies the aroma of these spices.

Hearkening back to pumpkin pies past

I’m intrigued by the fact that I’m standing in my kitchen in Virginia — one of the first areas settled by English men and women from 17th-century England, some my own ancestors — and I’m baking a dish based on flavors and techniques dating back to those days. Baked puddings abound in traditional English cooking. Yes, pumpkin pie is basically a baked pudding, even though it goes by the name “custard pie” these days and wears a crust.

Take a look at Mary Randolph’s “Pumpkin Pudding,” a very English and yet very American recipe, from her 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”:

Stew a fine sweet pumpkin till soft and dry, rub it through a sieve, mix with the pulp six eggs quite light, a quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of new milk, some pounded ginger and nutmeg, a wine glass of brandy, and sugar to your taste. Should it be too liquid, stew it a little dryer; put a paste [crust] round the edges and the bottom of a shallow dish or plate, pour in the mixture, cut some thin bits of paste, twist them and lay them across the top and bake nicely.

Pumpkin pie  is not only for dessert any more, either. I find pumpkin pie a great breakfast food, just as many people did in the past.

I’ll probably make another pumpkin pie very soon. For some reason, I see only a small sliver left in the pie pan.  

Pumpkin Pie

 Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie  

Ingredients  

For the crust:

1 partially baked 9-inch pie crust

Dry beans (for shaping the pie crust)

For the filling:

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ heaping teaspoon ground ginger

¼ heaping teaspoon ground cloves

⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk or 1½ cups heavy cream or whole milk

For the garnish

Whipped cream

Ingredients

For the partially baked crust:

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Arrange the dough in the pie pan, crimping the edges, pressing down slightly to anchor the dough to the edges of the pie pan.
3. Place two sheets of aluminum foil, slightly overlapping, over the dough in the pan. Press down gently and make sure that the foil touches all the surfaces. Pour in enough dry beans to come to the edge of the pie pan. This allows the pie crust to retain its shape.
4. Bake 15 minutes with the beans. Then slowly remove the foil and beans by grabbing the corners of the foil and pull up and out. Bake the crust 5 more minutes.
5. Let cool almost completely on a rack.

For the filling:  

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, in the order given, whisking after each addition.
3. Pour into the partially baked pie shell.
4. Bake about 45 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted into center comes out clean. Check throughout the baking. If the edges of the crust get too dark, place a ring of foil over the exposed pie crust. At that point, the surface of the pie along the edges will have puffed up and cracked slightly.
5. Allow to cool. Serve with whipped cream garnish.

Main photo: Pumpkins. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen  

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It’s not by chance that October is National Doughnut Month. A fat circle of fresh-fried dough is a lot more appealing when the air is cool and crisp, especially when accompanied by cup of steaming cider. Moreover, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll look like in a bathing suit — until next year.

Of course national anything days, or months, don’t just happen. They exist because somebody once had an agenda. Sometimes, the days stick, like Thanksgiving, while others, like Health Literacy Month, have a hard time getting traction.

We can thank the now-defunct Doughnut Corporation of America for the monthlong celebration of sweet dough rings. The DCA once controlled virtually all the country’s automatic doughnut machines and most of the mix that went into them. One of the corporation’s brighter ideas was to dub October as National Doughnut Month in 1928.

The Halloween connection

When they did this, the connection of the ghoul fest and doughnuts wasn’t entirely spurious. Before Halloween became a kid’s holiday, people used to have Halloween parties, which often featured seasonal cider and doughnuts. One party game was to bob for apples. Typically, the apples floated in a tub; however, in one variant, the apples were hung on a string. This was also done with doughnuts. The trick was to eat the treat with your hands tied behind your back. To make it a little trickier, the air bobber could be blindfolded. And, in a version of the game that might be suitable for National Fitness Month, several doughnuts are strung horizontally along a stretched cord, laundry-line style (they can also be suspended from the line on lengths of ribbon). The competitors must “chase” the pastries down the line, eating as many as they can, without the use of their hands. These sort of Halloween doughnut acrobatics were popular long before the DCA set up its first shop in Harlem in 1921.

The company, founded by an Eastern European immigrant named Adolph Levitt, came up with all sorts of wacky promotions in its early years. Perhaps its most successful was the creation of the National Dunking Association, an organization devoted to dipping doughnuts in coffee. In 1940s, the organization boasted three million members and counted Zero Mostel, Johnny Carson and even choreographer Martha Graham as card-carrying dunkers.

In a somewhat more serious vein, during World War II the company supplied its machines free of charge to the American Red Cross, even if they charged the charity for the batter. Just in case America didn’t get the secret-weapon role that doughnuts were playing in the conflict, Levitt’s company put out full-page ads in Life Magazine that featured servicemen on the front, rushing eagerly to get their doughnut fix. In one frame of the comic-strip formatted ad, one dough-faced soldier purrs, “M-M-M, just like home.” In another frame, servicemen on leave whoop it up at a Halloween party. “Service men (and women) look forward to being invited to Halloween parties this year,” we’re told. “And what’s Halloween without donuts and coffee or cider?”

A perfect match

While doughnuts and cider were long considered a likely match, cider doughnuts appear to have been a more recent invention, likely in the early 1950s. This is another innovation that we can attribute to the Doughnut Corporation of America. As people increasingly piled into cars for a drive to the local pick-your-own orchard, the owners of farm stands started adding cider doughnuts to their offerings, not just for Halloween but throughout the leaf-watching season.

In the postwar era, trick-or-treating became ever more popular. In part, it made more sense in the growing suburbs than it had in gritty cities, but trick-or-treating was also pushed by the candy companies. Yet, in smaller communities, homemade treats continued to outnumber Snickers bars.

Connie Fairbanks, a Chicago-based food and travel writer, recalls growing up in Wheaton, Kan., a town of about 90 people at the time. “Everybody went from house to house,”  she recalls.  And every house had its specialty. “One woman was known for her popcorn balls,” she reminisces, “and my mother was known for her glazed, raised doughnuts. They were always warm when the kids came in.” Her mom made them once, maybe twice, a year and fried them in lard rendered from the family’s own hogs. “I remember the dough feeling like a baby’s bottom.” Fairbanks added that her mother’s secret was to beat the dough, by hand, and not add too much flour. “I remember the smell, it was unbelievable.”

Can you think of a better way to celebrate Halloween? Or, for that matter, the 31 days of National Doughnut Month?

Cider doughnuts make for a tasty October treat. Credit: Michael Krondl

Cider doughnuts make for a tasty October treat. Credit: Michael Krondl

Whole Wheat Apple Cider Doughnuts

Recipe adapted from “The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin

Many commercially produced doughnuts are made with a batter that is too wet to roll. This results in lighter pastry but requires a doughnut extruder. One way of getting around that is to use a piping bag to “extrude” the doughnuts. This also gives you the option of making the doughnuts any diameter you like. You will need a heavy pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip, and, once formed, the doughnuts are much easier to handle if you chill them for an hour or two in the refrigerator.

Cook Time: 60 to 90 seconds per doughnut

Yield: 16 doughnuts

Ingredients

For the doughnut dough:

1½ cups apple cider

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 ounces (about 1¾ cups) bleached all-purpose flour

4½ ounces (about 1 cup) whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Large pinch grated nutmeg

Large pinch grated cloves

5 ounces (about ⅔ cup) raw (turbinado) sugar or substitute light brown sugar

1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 egg yolk, at room temperature

Oil or shortening for frying

For the cinnamon sugar:

4 ounces (about ½ cup) granulated sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions

1. In a small saucepan, boil the cider until it is reduced to ¼ cup. Cool.

2. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and spray lightly with vegetable spray. In a measuring cup, stir together the milk, reduced cider, and vanilla. It will look curdled. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until well incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the egg and egg yolk and beat until fluffy, smooth, and pale, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Alternately add the milk and flour mixtures into the egg mixture in 2 or 3 additions, beating on low speed until just barely combined between each addition. Stir until the mixture just comes together to make a soft, sticky dough. Do not overbeat or it will get tough.

5. Working with about half the dough at a time, fill a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip. Pipe circles of dough about 3 inches in diameter on the parchment Repeat with the remaining dough. (The dough needs to keep its shape; if too loose, add a tablespoon or two more of flour.) If you wish, you can smooth the seam with a damp finger. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Remove plastic wrap, lightly dust the doughnuts with flour, place another pan over each pan, and invert. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

6. Using a deep fryer or a heavy pan, heat at least 3 inches of the oil or shortening to 360 F. If you’re not using a deep fryer with a built-in thermostat, check the temperature using a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Drop several doughnuts at a time into the heated fat, making sure there is enough room for all of them to float to the surface. Cook 30 to 45 seconds per side, using a slotted spoon or tongs to turn each doughnut. When the doughnuts are golden brown, transfer them to a cooling rack covered with paper towels. Cool to just above room temperature.

7. Whisk together the granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a wide bowl. Toss the barely warm doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar mixture, and serve warm.

Main photo: A woman bobs for doughnuts at an event at The City University of New York. Credit: Michael Krondl

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Pears are the star in Rincón de Soto, Spain. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Pears and Rioja are a marriage made in Spanish heaven, but although the region of La Rioja is synonymous with wine and bull running (one ponders the connection), it also has another claim to fame. The small town of Rincón de Soto may be little more than a main plaza, modern town hall, church and railway line, but it is on the map of European culinary produce thanks to pears.

In the Rioja Baja, a gently terraced swath of fertile fields, orchards and plane trees with ever-dancing leaves, the famous vines take second place to pears, peaches, cherries, cauliflower, onions, sprouts and cardoons. The growing area is defined by a natural margin: the Ebro River that separates it from the mountains of Navarre to the north, and the craggy, Riojan hills, where a network of dinosaur footprints remains eerily well-preserved.

Protected status for pears

Pears have been grown for centuries on the riverbanks. Over the years, many trees were abandoned, but the town’s success in gaining DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status for the pears has been a big boost in maintaining the orchards.

At the annual Jornadas de Exaltacion or pear festival in late September, the pear cookery competition is always keenly contested. There is also a kids’ competition. As the tension mounts, everyone chomps on hot chorizo sausages on bread, and in the evening there are pears poached in Rioja. The party carries on into the wee hours. It’s a day, indeed, of exaltation.

In Spain, the preference is for large Conference pears, although connoisseurs favor the delicate flavor of the smaller Blanquilla.

In 1747, the latter was enjoyed at the court of Philip V, where it was described as “an exquisite fruit,” and the royal pastry cook recommended it for drying, confits or preserving in syrup. Sometimes known as a “water pear,” the Blanquilla is crisp, juicy and aromatic. As it ripens, the Blanquilla becomes highly perfumed and meltingly soft, and the bright lime-green skin takes on a reddish tinge.

Blanquilla vs. Conference pears

The Blanquilla, however, is more difficult to grow, and it nearly disappeared in the 1960s, as agriculture became more intensive. It was largely replaced by Conference pears, which have green-yellow, naturally russeted skins and buttery flesh. However, it’s the local geography and climate that give these highly prized Rincón pears their special balance of sweetness and acidity, as well as their keeping quality and texture that allows the fruit to hold up when cooked.

Pruning and picking of these varieties is still done by hand. The pears are delicate and easily bruised, and each one is picked with  care. They must be held by the base and raised upward so the stalk snaps clean from the branch. The pears are placed into padded containers to avoid damage and transported within six hours of picking to one of the local packing stations, where teams of women pack them in perfect formation. Each one a swaddled infanta, each one a perfect taste of La Rioja.

olla

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Olla Gitana, a stew created for days when there was little meat for the pot, is probably vegetarian more by default than choice. It also is a good dish to serve before a juicy lamb chop or veal escalope, or as a vegetarian main course. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Olla Gitana

Olla means a tall, pot-bellied cooking pot, and this vibrant, autumnal stew probably originates with Roman travelers who arrived in Spain in the 1450s, settling mostly in Andalusia. A stew created for times when there was little meat for the pot, this dish is probably vegetarian more by default than choice. The vegetarian ethos has spread these days beyond the big cities, although in many a pueblo ham is still classed as a vegetable and they would probably regard this as a good dish to serve before a juicy lamb chop or veal escalope.

Prep Time: Overnight if you soak the beans; 30 minutes if you use canned beans.

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2½ cups cooked chickpeas)

1 cup dried white beans (or 2½ cups cooked beans)

2 cups chopped green beans

1 butternut squash or small pumpkin, seeded, peeled and cubed

1 medium carrot, sliced

2 firm Conference pears, peeled, cored and chopped

2 bay leaves

4 cups vegetable stock

Salt and black pepper

1 large onion, diced

¼ cup olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, diced

One small slice of stale country bread, crust cut off and fried in oil

¼ cup toasted almonds

A pinch of saffron, lightly crushed and soaked in a little hot water

3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

½ tablespoon pimentón de la Vera  (smoked Spanish paprika)

Chopped, fresh mint

Directions

1. Soak the chickpeas and beans overnight. Drain and put into a pot with fresh water, bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes until soft. Drain, place in a large casserole.

2. Add the green beans, pumpkin, carrots, pears, bay leaves, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until everything is tender.

3. In a pan, fry the onion slowly in the oil for at least 15 minutes, until soft and golden.

4. Meanwhile, pound the garlic, bread, almonds, saffron and a pinch of salt in a mortar until well combined. Stir in a ladle of stock from the bean pot.

5. Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture, fry over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the pimentón to the mixture, cook for another minute. Add the onion-and-tomato mixture to the bean pot.

6. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the contents of the mortar to the pot. Simmer a little longer; add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with mint, serve.

 

Duck Breast With Honey-Spiced Pears

The success of this dish depends on the delicate balance of sweet and savory flavors.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

2 duck breasts

A little olive oil

2 level tablespoons butter

¼ cup honey

3 cloves

1 tablespoon mixed peppercorns (white, green and pink)

1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half

2 ripe Conference pears, peeled, cored and halved or quartered

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt

Directions

1. Fry the duck breast in a little olive oil (15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness and preference). Set duck breast aside to rest for 5 minutes; slice and arrange on serving plates.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the honey and spices. Cook gently for a few minutes, until the honey melts and starts to bubble.

3. Add the pears, turn gently in the butter mixture until the edges start to caramelize.

4. Add the lemon juice; salt to taste.

5. Remove the pears, arrange alongside the duck. Strain the sauce and drizzle over the duck.

Ham and Pear Parcels

Prep Time: 20 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 parcels

Ingredients

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of cream, curd or ricotta cheese

¼ cup blue cheese

1 small pear, peeled and diced

A few walnuts, chopped

Black pepper

6 to 8 slices of  jamón serrano (cured Spanish ham)

Chive strands

Directions

1. Mash the soft cheese with the blue cheese.

2. Add the pear and walnuts to the cheese mixture, season with black pepper to taste.

3. Spread on slices of cured Spanish ham and roll into tubes. Tie decoratively with chives.

4. Use any surplus filling on crackers.

 

Pears Poached in Muscatel and Spices

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 whole large (or 8 small), firm Conference pears, peeled

3¼ cups Moscatel wine

A few black peppercorns

3 cloves

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half

Toasted, slivered almonds (optional)

Directions

1. Place pears in a pan just large enough to allow them to remain upright.

2. Pour wine over the pears, add all the other ingredients except for the almonds.

3. Bring the ingredients to a boil; cover, simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.

Optional, serve sprinkled with almonds.

 

Rioja Pear Cake

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 to 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

8 firm Conference pears

Red Rioja wine, plus sugar and cinnamon to taste

1¾ sticks butter, softened

1 cup caster sugar, plus 1 tablespoon

4 medium eggs, separated

1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups self-rising flour

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Salt

Whipped cream

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Peel and slice the pears. Place into a pan, add sugar and cinnamon to taste, and pour in enough wine to cover the fruit. Bring gently to a boil, reduce heat and lightly poach until tender. Drain the pears, saving the liquid. Set pears aside.

3. Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the yolks one by one; add the vanilla extract.

4. Add the flour, mix until well-combined.

5. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until snowy. Carefully fold them into the cake mixture. Pour into a buttered, 9-inch-round cake pan with a removable base.

6. Arrange the pears in a neat pattern over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the nuts and a tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is well risen (although it will shrink back down), and a toothpick comes out clean.

7. Reduce the wine until it is syrupy, serve with the cake and whipped cream.

Main photo: Pears are the star of a festival in Rincón de Soto, Spain. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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Peach and black currant gelato stuffed in brioche for a traditional Sicilian breakfast. Credit: Sue Style

For sheer decadent deliciousness, gelato with brioche is hard to beat. Where on God’s earth did such a gorgeous idea ever take root? In Italy’s Sicily, that’s where. And it’s not even some kind of exotic dessert, reserved for high days and holidays. Sicilians eat gelato con brioche for breakfast.

Long before we left home for our late September break on the island, excitement at the prospect of trading up from yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal and toast to lashings of ice cream sandwiched inside a sweet, buttery bun began building up. In idle moments while planning the trip, we pondered which flavors we might go for: darkest chocolate, Nutella, coffee or pistachio? Or maybe mango, peach, strawberry or blueberry? And could Sicilians routinely break their fast on ice cream and brioche, or had we been fed an urban myth?

That first morning in Sicily, we piled into the car and drove to the city of Ragusa Ibla to find out. Threading our way through the cool, shaded streets on the way to the center, we happened upon chef Ciccio Sultano drawing on an early-morning cigarette outside his world-famous restaurant, Il Duomo. Could he point us to the best place to get gelato? Ma certo (of course). It all depended whether we wanted a cafe, where we could have the full works seated at a table, or a gelateria, where it would be breakfast on the hoof.

We chose the cafe option and settled down at pavement tables on the square below the Duomo, etched in dazzling white like a gorgeous Baroque birthday cake iced in white against an azure sky. At any moment, we expected police cars to screech to a halt and for Inspector Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri’s famous Sicilian serial cop (the TV series was filmed here), to leap out with his uniformed team in hot pursuit of some hapless criminal.

We placed our orders and leaned back expectantly. After a gentle pause, breakfast arrived. Cappuccinos with smileys traced in frothy milk, freshly squeezed orange juice, a couple of cannoli front-loaded with ricotta and candied fruits, and the long-awaited pièces de résistance: cushions of warm, softly yielding brioche cradling sinfully smooth, ice-cold gelato. We wrapped our hands around them, took a bite, moaned in pleasure, munched again. Heaven.

Pick a bold flavor for gelato con brioche

I could hardly wait to get home to try reconstructing the experience. Two things to keep in mind for gelato con brioche. First, choose ice creams that are assertively flavored and richly colored — vanilla just doesn’t do it. I’ve given two recipes, one for palest peach, the other for deep purplish black currant, but you could just as well buy gelato (but one that believes in itself).

For the peach version, it helps to have an ice cream maker because it freezes rock hard; for lack of such a kitchen toy, make the gelato mixture, freeze it till semihard, then either tip it into a food processor and whisk it up till smooth or beat it like crazy with a hand-held mixer. Then return it to the freezer.

The black currant one can be made without an ice cream maker as the egg yolk-sugar syrup combination gives a softer, smoother ice that doesn’t need churning or beating as it freezes.

Then the brioches. These should not be the French-type Julia Child variety with a little topknot perched on top, which would be hard to cleave in two and even harder to fill with your gelato. You need a flattish, sweetish, buttery, eggy, burnished bun (think along the lines of a burger bun, but nicer) that can easily be opened up, stuffed with ice cream — ideally with both your chosen flavors — reassembled and eaten on the hand. For breakfast.

Peach Gelato With Brioche

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: None

Total time: About 20 minutes, plus several hours to freeze

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

Peach gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

Peach gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

1 pound (500 grams) ripe peaches (yellow or white fleshed)

5 ounces (150 grams) sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

8 ounces (250 grams) Mascarpone

5 ounces (150 grams) Greek yogurt

6 brioches, about 2½ inches (6 centimeters) in diameter

Directions

1. Put the peaches in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

2. Count to 10, then pour away the water and peel the peaches. Remove the pits and chop the flesh roughly.

3. Put the chopped peaches in a food processor with the sugar and lemon juice and process till smooth.

4. Add the Mascarpone and Greek yogurt and process again.

5. Freeze in a metal container for 2 hours or until the ice cream begins to harden around the edges. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer or hand-held blender to smooth it out and prevent ice crystals from forming. Return to the freezer to harden and beat/blend again after another couple of hours.

6. Remove from freezer to fridge at least an hour before serving so it softens up.

7. Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.

Black Currant Gelato With Brioche

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: About 40 minutes, plus several hours to freeze the gelato

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

Blackcurrant gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

Black currant gelato ready for the freezer. Credit: Sue Style

1 pound (500 grams) black currants

8 ounces (250 grams) sugar

3 egg yolks

1¼ cups (300 milliliters) whipping cream

6 brioches, about 2½ inches (6 centimeters) in diameter

Directions

1. For the purée, wash the fruit and put it in a pan with 4 ounces (125 grams) sugar and 3 tablespoons of water.

2. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, just enough so the juice runs. Don’t overdo this step; you don’t want jam, but fresh-flavored ice cream.

3. Push the fruit through a sieve, pressing hard to eliminate pips, and let the purée cool.

4. Put the remaining sugar in a small pan with half a cup of water and heat gently till the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear, not cloudy.

5. Raise the heat, bringing the syrup to a rolling boil, and continue boiling for about 5 minutes to the “thread stage”: dip a fork into the syrup and allow it to cool briefly (so you don’t burn yourself), then pinch a drop or two between finger and thumb repeatedly. As you separate finger and thumb, the syrup should form a slender thread.

6. Remove syrup from the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.

7. Using a hand-held electric mixer, start beating the egg yolks in a bowl then pour in the hot syrup in a steady stream. Continue beating till the mixture is pale, thick and doubled in bulk (about 10 minutes).

8. In a separate bowl, beat the cream till stiff.

9. Fold together the purée, egg mixture and cream, lifting and folding with a wire whisk to make sure they are well mixed.

10. Pour the ice cream into a suitable receptacle (a recycled ice cream container or metal bowl, for example) and freeze.

11. Remove ice cream from freezer about 10 minutes before serving.

12. Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.

Main photo: Peach and black currant gelato stuffed in brioche for a traditional Sicilian breakfast. Credit: Sue Style

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Green tomatoes on the vine. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Anybody who grows tomatoes during the summer reaches that fall day when the weather may have cooled (though not so far in this scorching September in Southern California), the tomato plants look brown, and it’s time to decide whether or not to pull them. They may still be sporting a fair amount of fruit, but that fruit stays green. Some may blush, but they will never be juicy, sweet, red summer tomatoes.

This is the point at which I pull my browning plants, but not before harvesting the green tomatoes. I feast on the obvious: fried green tomatoes (I didn’t grow up with them, but I learned to love them during the 12 years I spent in Texas) and fried green tomato sandwiches. I even make green tomato relish and green tomato pickles like the ones I used to shun at the deli when I was a kid (I liked the dill pickles much better). But I also make the not-so-obvious: Mediterranean green tomato frittatas, pasta with green tomato pesto, and salads with green and red tomatoes that cry out for Russian dressing. One of my new favorite green tomato dishes is an amazing sweet tart. It’s an adaptation of a recipe in a cookbook by the late Bill Neal, who was renowned for his Southern cooking, and I will now be making it every fall as my tomatoes go from red to green.

Green tomatoes are not at all like red tomatoes, and they don’t resemble tomatillos, which have a much more pungent flavor and a different texture. They are hard, and they hold back their flavor until you cook them. Interestingly, their nutritional profile is not too different from ripe tomatoes, though they don’t have the antioxidant-rich lycopene present in red fruit.

Green Tomato Tart. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Green Tomato Tart. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Sweet Green Tomato Tart

This is based on a recipe by the late Bill Neal, a great Southern cook and baker. It is an unbelievable tart, and somewhat mysterious: It tastes a bit like a lemon tart, but the green tomatoes contribute texture and body, as well as their own fruity flavor; then there are the spices that are reminiscent of pumpkin pie. The original recipe is sweeter than mine, though this is plenty sweet. Neal says to blanch and peel the green tomatoes, but I found that they were very difficult to peel, so I didn’t. The peels don’t get in the way.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield:  9-inch tart, 8 servings

Ingredients

9-inch sweet pastry, fully baked

1 pound (450 grams) firm green tomatoes

3/4 cup  (165 grams) organic sugar

2 tablespoons (20 grams) flour

1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon (pinch) salt

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Set the tart shell on a baking sheet.
  2. Slice the tomatoes and place into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until roughly pureed and transfer to a fine strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sift together the sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Return the tomatoes to the food processor and add the sugar mixture. Pulse until well combined. Beat the eggs and add to the processor, along with the lemon juice and zest. Pulse again until well combined. The mixture should be processed until it is a coarse puree. Pour into the baked tart shell.
  5. Bake 30 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the filling is set. Don’t touch as the top is sticky and will adhere to your finger. Just jiggle the baking sheet gently to make sure the tart is set. Remove from the heat and cool on a rack.

Oven-Baked Green Tomato and Feta Frittata

This baked frittata has Greek overtones. It puffs in the oven, though it will deflate soon after you remove it. I prefer to serve it at room temperature. It’s a good keeper and packs well in a lunchbox. 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound green tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

9 large eggs

2 tablespoons low-fat milk

About ½ cup fine cornmeal, or a combination of flour and fine cornmeal, for dredging

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more as needed)

2 garlic cloves, minced or pureed

2 tablespoons snipped chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

3 ounces feta, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Core the tomatoes and slice about 1/3 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Beat the eggs and milk together in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper (I use about 1/2 teaspoon salt). Quickly dip the tomato slices into the egg mixture and dredge lightly in the flour or cornmeal. Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and fry the sliced tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, just until lightly colored. Transfer to a rack set over a sheet pan, or to paper towels. You’ll probably need to do this in batches, so you might need to add more oil before adding the second batch. Quarter half the fried tomatoes. Wipe away any cornmeal residue from the pan.
  3. Stir the garlic, chives, marjoram, feta and the quartered fried green tomatoes into the beaten eggs.
  4. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Swirl the pan to make sure the sides are coated with oil, and pour in the eggs, scraping every last bit of the mixture out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Tilt the pan to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface and gently lift up the edges of the frittata with the spatula, to let the eggs run underneath during the first minute or two of cooking. Distribute the whole fried green tomato slices over the surface of the frittata, turn off the burner and place the pan into the preheated oven. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed, set and lightly colored. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Main photo: Green tomatoes on the vine. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

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Spiked Apple Cider Ice Cream. Credit: Kathy Hunt

A few months ago, I began hearing rumors about a new dessert craze — wine-infused ice cream. At first I was skeptical. Although I like both ice cream and wine, I’ve never felt tempted to swirl the two together for a Port sundae or Pinot Noir float.

But a chance encounter with wine ice cream at the Williamsburg Creamery in Brooklyn, N.Y., changed all this. While out working on an assignment, I ducked into the shop for a revitalizing scoop of plain old chocolate ice cream. Instead, I walked out with a cup of Chocolate Cabernet made by Mercer’s Dairy. Bold, rich and complex, it tasted as delightful as the pairing of a glass of good red wine and a chunk of high-quality dark chocolate should.

Mercer’s Dairy has been making and selling its wine ice creams since 2007. The inspiration for this creation came from numerous Pride of New York events where the Boonville, N.Y., dairy was showcased alongside the state’s Wine and Grape Foundation, said Roxaina Hulburt, co-owner and director of marketing at Mercer’s.

“People get burnt out on just vanilla ice cream. Marrying ice cream with wine seemed like an obvious fit,” Hulburt said. She added that the dairy tries to use as many New York state-produced wines as possible in its ice creams.

In 2007, Mercer’s released its first four wine ice creams — Peach White Zinfandel, Port, Riesling and Red Raspberry Chardonnay — in New York state. Today it exports these adults-only flavors as well as Cherry Merlot, Chocolate Cabernet, Strawberry Sparkling and the upcoming Spice to 15 countries, including the Netherlands, Japan and China.

Spiked ice cream has been around for decades

Although it may sound novel, adding alcohol to ice cream isn’t a new concept. Those who grew up in the 1980s with a hand-packed pint of rum raisin ice cream tucked into the back of the freezer know what I mean. This adult favorite featured raisins soaked in rum for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

“Our survey of historic USA newspapers suggests the ice cream flavor ‘rum raisin’ became popular during the 1930s. We find no single chef, restaurant or company claiming the invention,” said Lynne Olver, editor of The Food Timeline.

Olver added that rum raisin’s popularity peaked during the 1970s and 1980s. This may explain my parents’ passion for rum raisin. Today, though, they might not recognize their favorite frozen treat; mass-produced versions have replaced the rum with extracts and other flavorings.

Substituting extract for rum may sound like you’re skimping on ingredients. However, as I can attest from repeated attempts, freezing alcohol-laced goodies can be tricky. In my quest for vodka-laced sorbets, champagne sherbets and brandy-infused ice creams, I’ve created countless soupy, boozy treats.

There is a fine line between a frozen dessert and a cold, slushy drink. If I use too much alcohol, I end up with drunken milkshakes. If I add too little, my concoction lacks the flavor of that special ingredient.

Try gelatin as a stabilizer

To skirt this problem, artisan ice cream makers may add gelatin, which acts as a stabilizer, or keep the alcohol content low, to less than 0.5 percent of the total volume. The theory is that consumers experience the subtle taste of, but not the actual, liquor.

At Mercer’s Dairy, a different approach prevails. With its products, you get both wine and wine flavor in every luscious spoonful. Its ice cream contains up to 5 percent alcohol by volume and 15 percent butterfat, Hulburt said. How the dairy manages to freeze wine remains a secret.

Along with the issue of freezing alcohol, commercial ice cream makers face the problems of liquor laws and underage consumption. In the United States, you must be 21 or older to obtain and consume alcohol-infused ice creams. Even if you’ve hit that ripe old age of 21, you still may be barred from buying a pint or scoop of these desserts. Some states, such as Louisiana, strictly prohibit their distribution.

In May, Louisiana state legislators voted down a bill to permit the sale of wine ice cream. Concerns about residents driving while intoxicated from ice cream and minors buying alcohol-infused confections were among the arguments against it.

Fortunately, you can make alcohol-infused ice cream at home. The following recipe illustrates how to combine fall flavors, dairy products and liquor for a spectacular 21-and-over ice cream.

Spiked Apple Cider Ice Cream

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Yield: Makes 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 2⅓ cups apple cider
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons Calvados or other apple brandy
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups whole milk

Directions

  1. Place the apple cider, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger and nutmeg in a medium saucepan and bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, whisking periodically, until the liquid thickens and reduces down to a generous ¾ cup, about 25 minutes.
  2. Pour the mulled cider through a fine mesh strainer and into a glass measuring cup, checking to ensure that it has reduced to the correct amount.
  3. Pour the cider back into the pan. Leaving the pan off the heat, add the apple brandy and stir to combine. Add the cream and milk and stir until well-combined.
  4. Pour the ingredients into a shallow bowl or pan and place in the freezer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chilled and just starting to freeze.
  5. If using an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream. If doing this by hand, leave the cream mixture in the freezer, removing at 30- to 45-minute intervals and stirring to break up the ice cream. Continue freezing and stirring until a thick yet fairly soft ice cream has formed.
  6. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

Main photo: Spiked Apple Cider Ice Cream. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Dorie Greenspan. Credit: Alan Richardson

With her latest book, “Baking Chez Moi,” acclaimed author Dorie Greenspan has fait mouche (hit the bull’s-eye) again. In this luscious culinary tome, Greenspan manages to break through the mystique of French baking techniques with ease and humor. She is, quite simply, the perfect guide for any baker who wants to explore everything from approachable variations on haute pâtisserie to those classic weekend cakes called teaux de voyages.

ZESTER BOOK LINKS


BakingChezMoi_cover7b_sm

"Baking Chez Moi"

By Dorie Greenspan

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

496 pages

» Buy the book 

Of late, I’ve been poring over countless cookbooks for research. It’s made clear to me how important the author’s voice is in translating subject matter, recipes and technique. Greenspan’s uncomplicated, personable style makes me want to study her cookbooks cover to cover, with notebook in hand and an occasional smile. After all, how many cookbook authors will attribute a recipe’s success to “the magic of that vixen: chocolate”?

Reading “Baking Chez Moi” is like spending time with a best friend who happens to know just about everything there is to know about French baking, and whom to ask when she doesn’t. Even better, she’s a whiz at translating it into something that readers can conquer, not fear. It’s a skill that is never handier than when trying to attempt trickier French desserts like colorful macarons or her riff on Pierre Herme’s sumptuous Carrément Chocolat.

Anyone who has attempted advanced baking knows that it is an art of precision. Following directions to the letter is normally recommended. Yet while Greenspan encourages the exactitude of using metric weights and measures, she also allows for some interpretation, and in many cases promotes it.

Affectionately nicknamed “Miss One More Minute,” the author suggests that recipe timing is meant to be a well-defined guide but not absolute — especially when oven calibrations are never the same. Through her own tales of hits and misses, she gives the reader permission to play, including inventive sidebar suggestions she titles “Bonne Idées” (good ideas).

Cannelés, a popular French pastry. Credit: Alan Richardson

Cannelés, a popular French pastry. Credit: Alan Richardson

But what I like best about Greenspan’s approach with “Baking Chez Moi” is her active style of cross-pollination between recipes throughout the book. She moves from recipe to recipe just long enough to unearth the special character of each, then whisks along to find clever ways to employ it elsewhere, inviting the reader to jump right in and join her. And I took that invitation — after a first read, my copy was left with 17 sticky notes tagging the recipes I intend to try first.

Cannelés

Yield: 45 mini cannelés

From "Baking Chez Moi"

"This recipe was given to me by Joëlle Caussade, whose husband, Gilles, owns a lively Paris bistro, Le Petit Vendôme, where Joëlle makes the mini cannelés that are served with coffee.

"A word on timing: The batter needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, so plan ahead.

"Serving: Cannelés are traditionally served alongside coffee or tea and often turn up on trays of mignardises, the small sweets that are after-dessert desserts.

"Storing: The batter needs to be refrigerated for at least 12 hours, but it can hold there for up to 3 days. As for the baked cannelés, they’re perfect the day they are made and still good, but firmer and chewier, the day after. Keep the cannelés in a dry place at room temperature. Lightly cover them if you like."

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
  • 1¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2½ tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Melted unsalted butter, for the molds

Directions

  1. At least 1 day before making the cannelés: Bring the milk, ¾ cup of the sugar and the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool until the mixture reaches 140 F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, cool the milk for 10 to 15 minutes; it should still feel hot to the touch.)
  2. While the milk is cooling, put the flour and the remaining ½ cup sugar into a strainer and sift them onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Keep the strainer at hand.
  3. Working with a whisk, beat the eggs and yolk together in a large bowl until blended. Whisking without stopping, start adding the hot milk, just a little at first; then, when you’ve got about a quarter of the milk blended into the eggs, whisk in the remainder in a steady stream. Add the flour mixture all at once and whisk—don’t be afraid to be energetic—until the batter is homogeneous. You might have a few lumps here and there, but you can ignore them.
  4. Strain the batter into a large bowl or, better yet, a pitcher or a large measuring cup with a spout; discard any lumps in the strainer. Whisk in the rum and vanilla, cover the container tightly and refrigerate the batter for at least 12 hours. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
  5. Lightly brush the cannelé molds with melted butter and put the pan in the freezer. The pan needs to be frozen only for 30 minutes, but if you put it into the freezer right after you make the batter, you won’t have to wait for it on baking day.
  6. When you’re ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put a cooling rack on the sheet and put the frozen cannelé molds on the rack.
  7. Remove the batter from the fridge. It will have settled and formed layers, so give it a good whisking to bring it back together, then rap the container against the counter to debubble it a bit. Fill the cannelé molds about three-quarters full.
  8. Bake the cannelés for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 400 F and bake for another 30 minutes or so. Cannelés are supposed to get very dark—black really—but if you’re concerned that yours are darkening too fast or too much, place a piece of parchment or foil over the molds. When properly baked, the bottoms will be dark and the sides of the little pastries will be a deep brown—think mahogany. (I spear a cannelé with a bamboo skewer and pull it out of its mold to inspect it.) While the cannelés bake, they may puff above the tops of the molds, like popovers or soufflés, and then, as they continue baking, or when they’re pulled from the oven, they’ll settle down. Pull the whole setup from the oven and put it on a cooling rack.
  9. Let the cannelés rest in their molds for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack. (Resting gives the tender pastries a chance to firm so they’ll hold their shape when unmolded.) Be careful: Even though you’ve waited 10 minutes, because of the caramelized sugar and melted butter, cannelés are hotter than most other pastries. Let the cannelés cool until they are only slightly warm or at room temperature.

 

 Main photo: Dorie Greenspan. Credit: Alan Richardson

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Chocolate ravioli make for a sweet treat.

Pasta lovers, save room for dessert. Pasta can be enjoyed not just as a first course, but for dessert too! Pasta as a sweets course may sound trendy, but Italians have been making all sorts of desserts with it for centuries. From cutting-edge modern creations to traditional almond-pasta pie from Emilia, there are hundreds of sweets made with every shape of pasta, from angel hair to ziti. Plus, dozens of dessert ravioli.

Modern pasta desserts

Want a change from the same old, same old? Jumbo pasta shells coated in cocoa is one of my favorites from the many modern pasta desserts in Italy today. Luca  De Luca and the team at the Garofalo pasta company near Naples taught me this recipe while I was in Italy researching my book “Pasta Modern.” “Pasta shells can be filled with almost anything: vanilla custard, chocolate pudding, panna cotta, semifreddo, sorbet, granita, whipped cream and fresh berries, yogurt and honey — there are endless possibilities,” Luca said.

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli” is a popular line from “The Godfather,” showing just how popular the Italian dessert is. As anyone who’s ever tried knows, making cannoli shells is a huge challenge. It’s hard even for the most experienced home cooks. But now there’s a fun solution: cannoli made with pasta instead! Mezzi maniche, “half sleeves,” or little pasta tubes, are boiled then fried to create a crunchy, tasty container for the creamy sweet ricotta cannoli filling. They are a perfect pop-in-your-mouth, one-bite size. The fried mezzi maniche pasta are even good plain! Toss them in sugar and serve them with melted chocolate or with ice cream.

Spaghetti Sundae, a really fun, whimsical, kid pleaser, is spaghetti tossed in melted chocolate and served just like a sundae, deliciously cold-topped with your favorite sundae fixings.

It’s so simple you don’t even need a recipe. Just melt chocolate with a little olive oil and toss it with cooked pasta. Then top with any of the usual toppings: whipped cream, chopped nuts, sprinkles. Olive oil helps make the chocolate easier to melt, even in the microwave, and creates a super silky sheen. Olive oil also keeps the pasta from sticking together once it cools.

Fried pasta desserts

In Italy they have a saying, Fritti sono buoni anche gli zampi delle sedie — “Fried, even chair legs are delicious.” Pasta is certainly at the top of the list of delicious fried treats.

There are fried pasta desserts in almost every region of Italy. In Sicily, they fry a little forkful of angel hair and serve it topped with honey and chopped pistachios. It’s like a pasta cookie, crunchy on the outside and chewy in the center. In Tuscany and central Italy, they make a variation by frying thicker tagliatelle noodles nests, called nidi di tagliatelle per Carnevale. To make them, a few strands of fresh egg noodles are clumped into a little nest and fried. Since the noodles aren’t boiled first, only fresh egg pasta, not dried pasta, is used because it is softer. In Tuscany, the treat is created using chocolate noodles, made by incorporating cocoa powder into the pasta dough. The fried nests are drizzled with brandy-infused warm honey and topped with toasted almonds. In Emilia-Romagna, the nests are simply topped with confectioners’ sugar.

Dessert ravioli

Almost every region has its own sweet dessert ravioli, tortelli or mini-calzone recipes, with variations in fillings and shapes. Too difficult for me to recreate, but delicious for you to try if you are ever in Italy, are the chocolate ravioli filled with chocolate ricotta mousse and served in fresh strawberry puree from Osteria Pastella in Florence.

Ravioli filled with pureed chestnuts, chocolate, espresso, rum and ground nuts, caggiunitte, are an Abruzzo specialty. Lombardy’s specialty pasta dessert is fried tortelli filled with either jam or chocolate. I especially like the earthy combination of pureed chickpeas and jam filling in panzarotti con ceci of Puglia and Basilicata. Usually, ravioli can be tricky to make, because you have to get the dough very thin and seal them carefully since they’re going to be dashed about in rapidly boiling water like tiny ships in a storm. But because these ravioli are baked rather than boiled, you can make them thicker and don’t have to worry about them opening. It’s an easy way to work with dough.

Torta Riccolina

Torta Ricciolina, or angel hair pasta pie. Credit: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan

Angel Hair Pasta Pie (Torta Ricciolina)

From: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets,” by Francine Segan

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Baking Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Angel hair pasta, seasoned with chocolate and almonds, bakes into one of the most unusual, delicious pies I’ve ever tasted.

To make this classic Bolognese dessert, you absolutely must use fresh, not dried, egg pasta. If making your own pasta seems daunting, buy ready-made fresh instead. Most supermarkets sell ready-made fresh.

This is a great make-ahead dessert, as it’s much better the day after, once all the flavors have melded.

Ingredients

8 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups, whole blanched almonds

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

2 ounces, about 1/3 cup, finely chopped candied citron or candied orange peel

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 pie crust, store bought or homemade

8 ounces fresh thin egg-pasta, such as tagliatelline or angel hair, store-bought or homemade

6 tablespoons butter, thinly sliced

1/3 cup rum

Directions

1. Grind the almonds and sugar in a food processor until it resembles coarse sand. Pulse in the zest, candied citron or orange peel, and cocoa powder until well combined. Divide into 3 parts.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9- or 10-inch pie pan with the pie crust. Pot lots of holes in the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork.

3. Divide the pasta into three parts, with one part being slightly larger than the other two.

4. Line the pie pan with the larger portion of pasta and sprinkle with 1/3 of the almond mixture. Lift the pasta with the tip of a knife so it is loose and free form. Do not press the pasta down. Dot the pasta with thin slices of the butter.

5. Top with another layer of pasta sprinkled with a third of the almond mixture and more butter. Repeat for a third and final layer.

6. Loosely cover with aluminum foil, bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking uncovered for another 20-25 minutes until the top is golden and the center set.

7. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the top of the pie with the rum. It will hiss and absorb quickly, with most of the alcohol evaporating, leaving just a lovely aroma and flavor.

8. Allow to cool to room temperature. Serve, preferably after it’s rested overnight or for 24 hours, topped with confectioners’ sugar.

Dessert pasta shells

Jumbo pasta shells coated in cocoa. Credit: “Pasta Modern” by Francine Segan

Chocolate Stuffed Shells (Conchiglioni dolci al cacao)

From: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy,” by Francine Segan

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 24 large shells, serves 4 to 6

Use just cocoa powder for unsweetened shells that become a gorgeous reddish-brown color, or sweeten the cocoa powder with confectioners’ sugar for a lovely dark-colored sweet shell. Using a teaspoon, fill the shells with anything you like. Pictured here is milk chocolate and dark chocolate pudding.

Other fun options:

Ice cream, slice of banana, dollop fudge sauce and chopped nuts for a mini sundae

Ricotta, sugar, mini chocolate chips for a soft cannoli

Mascarpone cheese, sugar and drop of coffee for an instant tiramisu

Cream cheese, fruit jam and fresh fruit for Italian-style cheesecake

Ingredients

24 jumbo shells

Salt

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Fillings and garnishes: about 2 cups total of gelato, custard, whipped cream, fruit, yogurt, etc.

Directions

1. Cook the shells in lightly salted boiling water until al dente and drain.

2. For sweeter shells, put the cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar, to taste, into a sturdy plastic food storage bag. Toss the shells, a few at a time, into the bag until fully coated with cocoa powder. For less-sweet shells, toss them in just cocoa powder. Fill with anything you like.

cannoli pasta bites

Mezzi maniche, or little pasta tubes, are boiled then fried to create a crunchy, tasty container for the creamy sweet ricotta cannoli filling. Credit: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan

Cannoli Pasta Bites (Mezzi Maniche Dolci)

From: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy,” by Francine Segan

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Try this recipe once and, like me, I bet it will become one of your go-to desserts.

There are lots of ways to vary it. One of my favorite variations is to fill the fried pasta with mascarpone cheese sweetened with sugar and then dust with instant coffee granules and cocoa powder, for a riff on tiramisu.

Ingredients

1 cup ricotta

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon finely chopped dark chocolate or mini chocolate chips

1 tablespoon minced candied orange peel

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1/4 pound mezzi maniche

Salt

Vegetable oil

Optional garnishes: chopped pistachios, chopped candied cherry or orange peel, cocoa powder or chopped chocolate

Directions

1. In a bowl, using a fork, mix the ricotta, sugar, chocolate, candied peel and cinnamon until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until very tender, about 1 minute longer than al dente. Drain the pasta well. Meanwhile, heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a very small saucepan until hot, but not smoking. Add half of the pasta and fry until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Repeat with the remaining pasta.

3. When room temperature, roll the fried pasta in granulated sugar, then fill each with the ricotta mixture, either using an espresso spoon or by piping it in with a pastry bag. Garnish, if you like, with chopped pistachios, candied orange peel, grated chocolate or other toppings.

 

Sicilian Pasta Chips

In Sicily, they fry a little forkful of angel hair and serve it topped with honey and chopped pistachios. Credit: “Pasta Modern,” by Francine Segan

 

Sicilian Pasta Crisps (Pasta Fritta alla Siciliana)

From: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets,” by Francine Segan

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Twirled forkfuls of honey-sweetened spaghetti, crunchy on the edges and soft in the center — scrumptious and a snap to prepare.

Ingredients

1/3 pound angel hair pasta

Salt

Sunflower or other vegetable oil

1/4 cup honey

Zest of 1/2 orange, or 2 tablespoons finely minced candied orange peel, 2 teaspoons orange blossom water

Pistachios, finely crushed

Ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the honey, orange zest or candied orange peel, orange blossom water and 2 tablespoons of boiling water.

3. Put about 1/4 inch of oil in a small frying pan and heat until hot, but not smoking. Twirl small forkfuls of the pasta, drop them into the hot oil, and cook until golden and crisp at the edges. Turn, and cook on the other side for just a few seconds. Drain the pasta crisps on a plate lined with paper towels.

Arrange the pasta crisps on serving plate. Serve warm, drizzled with the honey mixture and topped with a sprinkle of pistachios and a pinch of cinnamon.

Sweet Chickpea Ravioli (Panzarotti con Ceci)

From: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets,” by Francine Segan

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 4 dozen

Ingredients

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned, or 4 ounces dry, soaked overnight and boiled until tender)

1 cup best-quality cherry jam

2 to 4 tablespoons sweet liqueur such as Amaretto, limoncello, mandarino, or a combination

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Honey or sugar, to taste

Ground cinnamon, to taste

1 egg

For the dough:

16 ounces, about 3 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

1. For the filling: Process the chickpeas through a food mill until you get a nice thick, smooth paste. Then mix in the jam and liqueur to taste. Stir in the zest and cinnamon to taste, and then add sugar or honey, if you like. Once you have tasted it and are happy with the flavor, then mix in the egg. You can make the filling several days ahead. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. For the dough: Sift the flour, sugar and salt onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Heat the wine in a saucepan or in the microwave. Pour the oil and 1/4 cup of the wine into the well and incorporate the flour, a little at a time, until dough forms. Add warm water, a little at a time, if the dough feels tough. Knead the dough until smooth. Put into a plastic bag or wrap in plastic wrap.

3. To assemble: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. Spread out a large clean cotton cloth onto a work surface for assembling and cutting the ravioli.

5. Leaving the rest covered, take a small section, about an 1/8 of the of dough, and either pass it through a pasta maker (#3 hole size, not thinner) or use a rolling pin to create a 3 to 4-inch wide strip of dough. Make just 2 strips at a time, so you can fill and cut the ravioli without having the waiting dough get dry.

6. Lay a sheet of dough onto the cloth and drop a tablespoonful of the filling on the sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Top with another layer of dough. Using your fingers, press the top layer of dough around the filling and using a ravioli cutter, cut out square-shaped ravioli. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough and filling.

7. Put the ravioli onto the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes until golden.

8. Eat warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar or cold dipped in honey or mosto cotto or vin cotto.

Main photo: Chocolate ravioli make for a sweet treat. Credit: Osteria Pastella

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