How to make semifreddo and sorbetto
Summer is here. Sunny days require fresh, light food. By instinct I am using low fat double cream and less butter when I prepare dinners, but more fresh vegetables and fruit.
To sweeten the weekend, especially if it is hot, here are two delicious desserts to taste with family and friends.
You need three eggs and three yolks, five tbsp of a sweet liquor (in Italy we use Marsala but here I am using Stamford Cream (fortified British wine 15% vol.), 200g. of sugar, 300g. of whipping cream, salt, 100g. of chocolate and 50g. of digestive biscuits.
Start cooking the eggs and yolks with the sugar and liquor, stirring till it thickens but does not boil. Let it cool. In the meantime whip the cream and grind the chocolate and the biscuits. Mix them all together, add a pinch of salt and pour the mixture in a rectangular mould you have previously greased with a light oil. Freeze for some hours. You can serve it sliced with cream or syrup or finger biscuits.
This is a quick and tasty dessert. You need a powerful blender, 300g. of strawberries, 150g. of icing sugar, the juice of one lemon and 500g ice cubes.
Put all the ingredients in the blender, mix them and serve. Easy, isn’t it?
Instead of strawberries you can have raspberries, blueberries or the traditional lemon sorbet with two peeled lemons…or two peeled oranges for the orange sorbet.
Enjoy the warmth of the sun and the cool freshness of the ice. Opposites balance best.
An easy, colourful dessert.
The grandmother who lived with us when I was a child used to make struffoli to celebrate whatever was worthy to celebrate, Christmas, birthdays and Easter. She was from a little village near Sorrento where struffoli are a traditional dessert. Besides she loved seeing my dad guzzling them.
I had great fun making struffoli with her on the green Formica-top table of our kitchen and pinching the hundreds & thousands from the plastic box where she kept them. They were so specially sweet and crunchy. The bright colours of the hundreds & thousands sprinkled on it reminded me of spring flowers.
To make struffoli you need 250g. of flour, two eggs plus a yolk of an egg, two tbsp of olive oil, one tbsp of sugar, one tbsp of a spirit you like, grated lemon rind, a pinch of salt, to decorate: 300g. of honey, hundreds & thousands and oil to fry.
Mix all the ingredients for the dough in a bowl and knead it. Then cover the dough and let it rest for half an hour. Make round rolls ½ inch thick and fry them in deep hot oil. When they are lightly browned drain them. Warm the honey in a pot and pour it on the struffoli, add the hundreds & thousands and mix. Chill it before serving.
Free jam at hand
Back from holidays at the end of August, we went cycling in Salt Ayre near Lancaster. Riding along the track with Valentina behind me on her little pink bike with stabilizing wheels, I noticed a lot of blackberry bushes. The berries were still red and unripe.
My husband, who was roller skating instead, spotted a huge overhanging bush with big juicy blackberries. We ate a few, then decided to harvest them. Working for more than half an hour, scratching our hands and arms with the thorns covering each branch, stem or leaf of the bush, we managed to fill a little plastic bag. We left as many berries to other passersby who might have had our same passion for blackberries.
At home I washed them and prepared part of them for dessert by mixing them with sugar and lemon juice. But what to do with the rest? About half a kilo of ripe blackberries. Jam, I thought. I remembered that I needed more or less the same amount of sugar. So I cooked the blackberries with a little water till boiling point. Then I crushed the fruits through a strainer and put everything back in the pot, adding 400 g of sugar. I let it boil for a while till it became thicker and deliciously sweet. I poured it hot in jars I had previously washed and dried and closed the lid. Now I have two and a half jars of luscious home-made blackberry jam for winter time. Fantastic considering it was free.
Next year, have a look at Salt Ayre cycling track in late August. You may be equally lucky.
Roulade with cream and strawberries
A splendid birthday cake
My husband’s birthday is on 17th February, an unlucky number in Italy. Actually he was born on Friday 17th (even more unlucky) and had his 17th birthday on Friday 17th. He always says this brought him good luck instead.
To celebrate his birthday I am planning to prepare his favourite cake, a cream and strawberry roulade, a type of Swiss Roll.
Here are the ingredients:
Six eggs, 150 g sugar, 150 g flour, 50 g butter, 1tsp baking powder, half a tsp bicarbonate of soda.
For the filling and decoration you need: 250g of strawberries, 500 g of whipping cream, 2 tbsp of sugar.
Use oiled greaseproof or baking paper.
Whisk the eggs and the sugar for at least fifteen minutes till you have a smooth, frothy mixture. Add the melted butter, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and the flour little by little. Keep beating. Pour the mixture onto oiled paper laid onto a rectangular baking tray. Bake for half an hour/forty-five minutes at 180° C.
Dampen a cotton tea towel and place over the cake. Turn tray over, so that the cake lies on the damp tea towel. Lift off the tray and peel off the paper carefully. Roll the cake in the tea towel and wait till it cools. For the filling, whip the cream with two tbsp of sugar and mix half of it with the strawberries cut in small pieces (keep three or four strawberries to decorate the cake). Unroll the cake and spread thickly with the cream and strawberry mix. Roll it up again (without the tea towel) and place it on a tray or large plate. Cover it with the remaining cream and decorate it with the remaining strawberries cut in half. Store it in the fridge. It is delicious even after a day or two.
I am sure my husband will lick his lips.
A seasonal treat
During my Christmas holiday in Italy I came across lots of delicious food. We had lasagne, gnocchi, ravioli, tortellini, fettuccine, roasted and stewed lamb, fried haddock, roasted bass, sea salad and several kinds of sweets, biscuits and cakes.
I especially enjoyed panpepato this year, a treat I made from a secret recipe given to me by a friend from Umbria. Here it is:
200 g of hazel nuts, 200 g of walnuts, 200 g of almonds, 200 g of pine nuts, 200 g of raisins and candied fruit, 200 g of milk chocolate (optional), 500 g of honey, half a tsp of ground black pepper, half a tsp of ground nutmeg, 350 g of flour.
Chop the nuts and almonds on a chopping board using a crescent-shaped chopping knife (mezzaluna). Mix them in a large bowl and add the candied fruit and raisins. If these are in big pieces chop them as well. Pour in the honey (warm it in a pan if it is solid) and mix. Add the black pepper, nutmeg and flour. Stir and mix well, finally adding the chopped chocolate if you like. Form little cakes five inches in diameter and bake them on an oiled tray or on baking parchment: 180°C for forty-five minutes. Remove them from the parchment and let them cool. When you serve it cut it in thin slices using a sharp knife. It is even tastier after a few days.
Happy New Year!
The true tiramisu recipe
In Italy we had a busy Christmas as usual, bustling with relatives and friends, plenty of food and drink and with some pleasant outings.
My mother-in-law gave me a handy Tiramisù recipe which I prepared as soon as I arrived in Lancaster. Here it is.
For each 100 g of mascarpone you need: one egg, one and a half tbsp of sugar, coffee (or decaffeinated coffee), any kind of spirit (optional) and rich tea biscuits.
First of all prepare the creamy filling. Whip the whites of the eggs stiff and separately beat the yolks with sugar till they become pale. Mix the mascarpone with the yolks and fold in the whites.
Then dunk the biscuits in the coffee (or coffee and spirit) and lay them in a rectangular glass, plastic or china container. The biscuits can overlap if necessary. Pour some filling on the biscuits and lay another layer of biscuits, then the filling on top again. Carry on till the filling is finished. It should be the top layer. Finally sprinkle with cocoa and chill overnight. Alternatively you can freeze it for a summer treat dessert.
Maritozzi, a Lenten treat
This is a typical treat you find mainly in Rome. Originally it was a Lenten treat, when the diet was so strict that you needed a treat to carry on. Nowadays you can find Maritozzo in almost every bar of the capital, usually consumed at breakfast.
It is a Panini, filled with dried fruits or opened and stuffed with a delicious cream. The name (maritozzo) is an affectionate, humorous take on the Italian word for husband (marito), The vaguely phallic, elongated shape reminds people of the abstinence from sex they were supposed to practice in Lent. This is reflected in the traditional rhyme:
Original text, dialect of Rome:
Er primo è pe' li presciolosi
er siconno pe' li sposi
er terzo pe' li innamorati
er quarto pe' li disperati
er siconno pe' li sposi
er terzo pe' li innamorati
er quarto pe' li disperati
Il primo morso è per chi ha fretta
Il secondo è per gli sposi
Il terzo per gli innamorati
Il quarto per i disperati
The first bite is for people in a hurry
The second is for married couples
The third is for people in love
The fourth is for the truly desperate
The desperate are the people who can’t find love, of course, and have to be content with a maritozzo, not a real husband.
Here is the recipe.
You need: 500 g of flour, 100 g of sugar, three tbsp of sunflower oil, two eggs, 250 ml of warm water, 7 g of dry yeast, the grated zest of a lemon; alternatively: candied fruit, raisins and pine nuts (200 g in total), or 200 ml of whipping cream.
Mix flour, sugar, oil, yeast and eggs in a bowl, add the warm water (if you are doing the fruit version you need to add the raisins, softened in water for about 10 minutes, candied fruit and pine nuts at this point) and stir with a fork. Then knead it for a while, adding flour if it is too sticky. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it rest and rise for two to three hours in a warm place.
Form elongated Panini and set them on a greased oven tray. Cover with clingfilm and let them rise for another hour. Beat an egg and brush it onto the surface of the maritozzi, then bake at 180° C for half an hour.
For the cream version, you need to open them when cool and fill them with abundant whipped cream.
Have a sweet Lent.
They are diamond shaped biscuits originally from Naples, or the south of Italy, dating back to the Roman times when they prepared it with mosto (grape must), from which the name of mostaccioli. A treat for Christmas festivities.
You need: 500 g of flour, 150 g of sugar, 100 g of almonds, 100 g of walnuts, 150 ml of coffee (or decaf coffee) with sugar, 150 g of honey, one tsp of cinnamon, one tsp of baking powder, one orange (juice and zest) and 200 g of dark chocolate to decorate.
Chop the nuts and add all the other ingredients (except for the chocolate). Mix well and spread the mixture (about half an inch thick) on an oven tray lined by backing paper. Bake for ten minutes, 180°C, then take it out and cut the dough in diamond shapes or in squares ( it’s easier). Put it back in the oven for another half an hour till they are brown. Let them cool then melt the dark chocolate in a pan bain marie. Spread the melted chocolate on the biscuits or dip them in it. Serve cold.
Zuppa Inglese English Soup or Trifle?
Recently I woke up at five in the morning to supervise my autistic daughter’s early routines (loo, getting dressed, drinking water). She went back to bed after a while but I couldn’t fall asleep so I decided to make a cake. I remembered I used to make zuppa inglese with my grandmother when I was a child, with sponge cut in pieces, soaked in liqueur and custard cream and meringue spread on top. We made it when the sponge didn’t turn out so well or just when we fancied a cake with liqueur (which my dad adored). The literal translation of zuppa inglese is ‘English soup’, but it doesn’t look or taste like a soup at all. I suppose the name refers to the fact that, as with soup where you soak or dunk some bread, you dunk the sponge in a sweet liquid or liqueur. It was certainly inspired by the English Trifle and it can be made in different ways, e.g. using ice cream instead of custard and a kind of Italian biscuit called savoiardi instead of sponge cake.
Here is my way of making it.
For the sponge cake you need: 4 eggs and 2 egg yolks, 150 g of flour, 150 g of sugar, 50 g of melted butter and one tsp of baking powder.
Whip the eggs and yolks with the sugar for about fifteen minutes, till the mixture becomes pale, soft and foamy. Add the melted butter and the flour plus the baking powder little by little and keep whipping. Cover a baking tray with baking paper and spread the mixture on it. Bake for about forty-five minutes at 180° C. When it is ready let it cool and cut it in rectangular or square pieces.
This is my way of preparing the custard cream: 2 eggs, a few drops of vanilla flavour, 400 ml of milk, 3tbsp of sugar, 3 tbsp of flour. Mix the eggs, sugar and flour well, add the milk and vanilla flavour. Cook the mixture, stirring, till it becomes thick.
Prepare a mixture of water, sugar and liqueur and dunk the pieces of sponge cake in it, then set them on a glass or china terrine. Start with a thin layer of custard cream, then the soaked sponge and the cream again. Make at least two layers ending with the cream.
For the topping prepare the meringue: use the whites of two eggs mixed with 4 tbsp of sugar, whipped till stiff and spread on the cake. Sprinkle with hundreds and thousands or with chocolate chips and bake for half an hour at 80°C. When it is ready let it cool before serving.
I was proud of the way I employed my unexpected spare time.