(photo by Larry @ Muy Yum/Flickr) Even their name is sweet and delicious: baci di dama, lady's kisses. These rich, yet delicate cookies filled with a thin layer of chocolate are one of the many gifts to Italy of Piemonte's baking tradition. Their origin dates back to the 19th century and is shredded in an aura of legend. It seems they were created by a pasticcere in Tortona, but others believe it was one of the chefs of the house of Savoia who baked them for the first time in 1852, when Vittorio Emanuele II – at the time still only king of the Kingdom of Sardinia – felt like trying something new. Their name, it seems, comes from the way the two halves of the cookie are joined by a thin layer of chocolate, as if they were two mouths delicately touching each other. The original recipe is made with toasted almonds, but here we propose their most popular variation, where hazelnuts are used instead. Hazelnuts are a typical product of Piemonte and quintessentially autumnal, making these baci di dama a perfect dessert for this time of the year. The other ingredients remain the same: butter, flour, sugar, all in the same quantity, and a hint of vanilla. The Baci di Dama di Tortona hold a PAT denomination, which means they are considered a "prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale," a traditional culinary product of Italy. All PAT products must be made following traditional methods and recipes, using only the best ingredients. The chocolate used to fill baci di dama is very important: even though some recipes suggest to use chocolate creams such as Nutella, or melted gianduja chocolate (a dark chocolate with a a high content of hazelnuts, also typical of Piemonte), tradition calls, quite simply, for high quality dark chocolate, containing at least 60-70 % of cocoa. As said, we give you here the recipe for hazelnut baci, but if you like to try those made with almonds, just substitute the hazelnuts with the same quantity of almonds, which shall be toasted and ground in the same way.
An easy recipe for the pesto alla genovese. The garlic is optional. The cheese used is different according to taste (the pecorino gives a more pungent taste than parmigiano).
This recipe for tiramisù is very simple, but extremely satisfying. And don't forget that, when you make tiramisù, you truly are preparing a little slice of Italian food history! You can adapt it to your own taste, in the choice of the biscuits, in adding coffee beans or a layer of chocolate cream, in using white chocolate powder on the top, etc. I use 5 eggs for 500 g mascarpone and 5 tablespoons of sugar. So you can adapt the quantities to your needs, and the ratio should remain the same: 1 egg - 100 g mascarpone - 1 tablespoon of sugar.
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!