Struffoli have a very interesting history. Some believe they originate from Greece and are cousins of the famous "loukoumades." Their name could also bear Greek origins: it may come from the word strongoulos or stroggulos, which means round shaped. Struffoli (Jimsidea/flickr) Interestingly, struffoli became popular in Southern Italy thanks to... convents. In Naples in particular, nuns would prepare them to offer them as a Christmas gift to all those noble families who, during the year, had distinguished themselves for their sense of charity and piety. Antonio Latini, in the 16th century, mentions them in his culinary treatise, even though it calls them "struffoli alla Romana." Struffoli come in many varieties and recipes, but almost all good cook agree in saying they need to be small, so that honey can cover them entirely and they reach the right point of sweetness and deliciousness.
According to the interesting blog placidasignora, u pandùçe is a typical ligurian Christmas cake. In the rest of Italy's known as pandolce alla Genovese, which translates literally as "genoese sweet bread." And that's exactly what it's. In the western-most part of Liguria, near the border between Italy and France, pandolce is also known as pan du Bambin, the Holy Child's bread. Its history's interesting and rooted in a glorious past. According to historian Luigi Augusto Cervetto, pandolce hails all the way from Persia when, in the golden times of the Empire, a sweet bread filled with candied and fresh fruits was offered to the Emperor by the youngest of its subjects, on the early morning of new year's day. Pandolce alla Genovese (source: Wikipedia) This habit's the same still respected today in Liguria where it's the youngest member of the family to carry the pandolce to the table on Christmas Day. According to others, the origins of pandolce are entirely ligurian: it'd derive from an old ligurian bread called pan co-o zebibbo, that's sultanas bread. This basic recipe was to be enriched with candied fruits, orange blossom water and pine nuts.
Monte Bianco, also known as Mont Blanc, is an autumnal dessert typical of Northern Italy. Very likely, it originated in France, but became popular in north western Italy, too, especially in Piedmont and Lombardy. There are different types of Monte Bianco: one – the one we are presenting here – is a creamy dessert made of chestnuts and whipped cream. The other version is a more complex preparation where a chestnut cream is paired with sponge cake, meringue and whipped cream. The reason I chose this recipe is because it yelds a result similar to the Monte Bianco my mom used to make when I was a child: it brings back loads of memories! Needless to say, you have to love chestnuts to enjoy this dish, as it is as chestnutty as it can possibly be. The preparation in itself is not difficult, but it can be lengthy, especially if you are using fresh chestnuts, as I will explain below. The result is well worth the work, though!
Perfect to warm up November’s colder evenings, this rich and delicious risotto is full of seasonal pumpkin and spiced up by chunks of Italian sausage. Top it with grated parmigiano and see if you manage not to have second helpings! Pumpkins in Campo de' Fiori, Roma (Salvatore Freni Jr/flickr)
Mushrooms are a symbol of the Fall and plenty of typically autumnal recipes call for their presence. One of the most common ways to enjoy them is in sauces, which can be used to dress anything you fancy, really: frome homemade pastas, to heart-warming polenta, from potato gnocchi to a simple slice of warm bread, wild mushroom sauces are always delicious. Before starting chopping and frying, there are two considerations to make: the first concerns the sauce recipe itself, the other the type of mushrooms you can use to prepare it. Wild mushroom sauces come in two variations: one with and one without tomatoes. The one you are about to read includes them, but they are not always compulsory. Many use stock instead of tomatoes, or even cream, although this latter variation does not rank high on my personal list of favorites. It really depends on you. What mushrooms you choose to make your sauce is a whole different thing: if you want a truly scrumptious, flavorsome sauce, stay away from button or portobello mushrooms (unless you are totally stuck: more about it below), as they are not strong enough to deliver that "mushroomy" punch you expect from a sauce like that: invest in wild mushrooms. Porcini of course are king, but golden chanterelles, sanguinelli and honey mushrooms are nice, too. Dried mushrooms are important, too, because they are used to make the broth you are going to dilute your sauce with: these are usually easier to come by in stores than fresh ones, as they are available pretty much all year round and a bit in every supermarket. A little tip: when I used to live in Ireland, finding porcini was not easy and even when you could they were ridiculously expensive. If I wanted to make a good mushroom sauce, I would get good quality dried mushrooms and some button or portobello and make the sauce like that. Of course, it will not be the same as having a real porcini sauce, but if you use more dried mushrooms, your sauce will taste nice. Another alternative is to use only dried mushrooms and add ground beef or sausage meat, hence turning your mushroom sauce into a mushroom and meat sauce. There are plenty of solutions, as you can see, all appliable to the basic recipe you are about to learn. Ready to cook?
Castagnaccio is a typical Fall dessert in many an Italian region. It is especially popular in Piemonte, Liguria and Toscana. It is a "cucina povera" dish, as chestnuts had been, since the Middle Ages, the food of the poor, especially on hills and mountains. The one we propose here is the simpler, original recipe, but many variations exist. A note on the ingredients. Chestnut flour is readily available a bit everywhere in Italy, but only in season, that is, after the end of September. In other parts of the world, it may be a bit harder to find, but if you try larger healthstores, Italian delis or markets, you should be able to get it. Otherwise, you can always buy it online: a simple search will give you loads of hits. Amazon is also a good option!
The Fall is a season full of colors and flavors, also in the kitchen: it's funny, because many consider it the season when Nature stops actively giving, but this is far from true. Nature, in the Fall, offers a bounty of delicious fruits and vegetables, the taste and scent of which bring to us the comforting sensation of warm evenings spent at home, chit chatting with family and friends. I think there's little as quintessentially autumnal as pumpkin. Now, you guys in the States make single-handedly the best pumpkin pie on the face of earth, but we Italians also have a couple of aces up our sleeves, when it comes to it. Here, we'll present you a simple recipe to make pumpkin jam, a lovely, heartwarming jam with spicy hints, which brings back memories of childhood "merende" in the form of the lovely "crostate" (tarts) Piedmontese mums used to make. Pumpkin jam in very versatile, as you can use it to make, as said, "crostate," as a filling for cookies or croissants, but also as a side for Italian salumi and mature, strong cheeses. You could also just have it on a slice of homemade bread or, quite simply, spoon it out of the jar!
Tiramisù is one of Italy's favored desserts and probably one of the country's best known culinary exports. We have already given you the recipe for the traditional version of this delicious treat, as well as some interesting info about its history. One thing about tiramisù we almost never consider is its versatility: the traditional, basic recipe can be changed and varied in many ways, always creating a fantastic result. The tiramisù recipe we propose here is a fresher and lighter version of its traditional counterpart, where mascarpone is swapped with greek yogurt and eggs and coffee with strawberries. I call it Summer tiramisù because, of course, it needs the freshest of fruit and this is the right season to get it. I must admit, this is not my own recipe, but my stepmother's, who is a great cook and could teach a thing or two to many chefs out there! The base for this tiramisù is, of course, savoiardi, which are called lady's or boudoir fingers in English. In case you cannot find them, you can either make them yourself (they are pretty simple to prepare!) or substitute them with a plain, sponge cake, of the type you find at the store ready to be cut and filled with creams and frostings. I would avoid crunchier cookies for Summer tiramisù: if they work very well as an alternative to savoiardi in the original recipe, they may not be the best for this one. Stick with lighter, fluffier cookies so! One last thing: as you will see, I soak savoiardi in fresh orange juice instead of coffee, but if you prefer, you can get some extra strawberries and blend them to make a coulis to use instead. It is really up to you!
Vitello Tonnato is a staple of Northern Italian culinary tradition. Very likely, it appeared on the tables of Italy at the end of the 18th century and more than one region claim to be the fatherland of this delicious dish, Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto above all others. As a Piedmontese, I of course consider Vitello Tonnato piedmontese, but I will not get offended if you see it differently! The first, written recipe for Vitello Tonnato was the one presented by Pellegrino Artusi in his La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiar Bene, published for the first time in 1881. But if I told you there is one, single recipe for Vitello Tonnato, I would be lying. First of all, there are a cold and a hot version of it, but here we will only present the cold version, which is by far the more popular. Thing is, cold Vitello Tonnato is not always made the same way. In my family, for instance, the sauce has always been mayonnaise-based, as it was this way my grandmothers made it. Basically, you would add the blended tuna, capers and anchovies to a base of homemade mayonnaise: yes, homemade. There was no way my grandmothers would have bought mayonnaise from a store. This version of the sauce is at least one century old, so it could well be considered "traditional," yet, there is an even older version of it, which does not involve the use of mayonnaise. The binders for all the ingredients are boiled egg yolks and olive oil, to which, once again, tuna, capers and anchovies are added. Both sauces are delicious and delicate, with a lovely punch given by the anchovies. Below, we propose the recipe for both sauces. The mayonnaise based sauce is delicious on fresh bread or as a substitute for simple mayonnaise in a meat sandwich. To have a truly delicious "salsa tonnata" with mayo, you should really use homemade mayonnaise, as it makes an enormous difference in taste and texture. When it comes to the meat, the piece usually chosen is the "girello," or eye round in English: needless to say, the meat has to be of the best quality, if you truly want to enjoy Vitello Tonnato at its best.