»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Christmas Befana Cookies
Dec 16th, 2009 by

My grandmother used cookie cutters shaped like the four suits on playing cards. All I have is the spade cutter, which I use along with a star-shaped cookie cutter.

My grandmother used cookie cutters shaped like the four suits on playing cards. All I have is the spade cutter, which I use along with a star-shaped cookie cutter.

La Befana is an old woman who visits children in Italy on Jan. 6 in celebration of the Epiphany. Similar to Santa Claus, she enters their homes through the chimney in order to deliver gifts.

Small towns throughout Italy celebrate her arrival each year, including Barga, in northern Italy, near where my family is from. Many people from Scotland have settled in this area and this year the local school put on an outdoor show, featuring Father Christmas and La Befana.

My grandmother, Bruna, made these Befana cookies every Christmas. Requiring 8 cups of flour, her recipe made enough of these biscuit-like treats to last well past Valentine’s Day. Here, I’ve cut her recipe in half, which still makes about 100 cookies.

This recipe is pretty easy as you just dump all of the cookie dough ingredients in a bowl and stir.

This recipe is pretty easy as you just dump all of the cookie dough ingredients in a bowl and stir.

Ingredients For the Cookie:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter
  • Skin of 1/2 orange, grated
  • Skin of 1/2 lemon, grated
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Milk, just enough to work with (about 1/4 - 1/2 cup)
  • Crisco shortening (enough to grease a few cookie sheets)

The egg white makes the filling expand in the oven.

The egg white makes the filling expand in the oven.

Ingredients For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup of almonds
  • Sugar (1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup)
  • Skin of 1/2 orange, grated
  • Skin of 1/2 lemon, grated
  • Vanilla (1/2 tsp.)
  • 1/2 ounce of Anisette or Whiskey
  • 1 drop of red food coloring
  • 1/16 tsp. of cinnamon
  • 1 egg white (beaten until foamy)

Keep a close eye on the cookies while they cook, so they don't burn.

Keep a close eye on the cookies while they cook, so they don't burn.

What I did:

To make the cookie dough, put all cookie ingredients in a bowl and stir well to blend ingredients.

Put flour over your hands and over a flat surface. Take dough from bowl and knead a few times until all ingredients are blended well.

Take large chunks of the dough and roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin covered with flour. Roll it out to about 1/4-inch thickness.

Grease a couple of cookie sheets by spreading Crisco shortening over them and then flouring them.

Take your cookie cutters and cut out cookies. Put on a greased baking sheet and with your index finger, make a small indentation in each one (This is where the filling will go.)

Here, even Santa celebrates La Befana!

Here, even Santa celebrates La Befana!

To make the filling, put almonds and sugar in a food processor and mix until very fine.  Empty into a small bowl.

Add the rest of the filling ingredients, except for the egg white, and mix well. Then fold in the egg white.

Put a small drop of the filling on each cookie and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, until the cookies turn a dark golden brown on the bottom. (Note: You only need about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of filling for each cookie as the egg white makes the mixture expand during cooking.)  (Warning: If the cookies are too thin, they will cook quickly and could burn if you don’t watch them.)

Let them cook on a rack and bake the rest in batches.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Ribollita Soup
Dec 6th, 2009 by

Ribollita means to "re-boil" in Italian.

Ribollita means to "re-boil" in Italian.

Also known as “Tuscan Bean Soup,” this is a real crowd pleaser. I’ve tripled this recipe and fed nearly 50 people with it at our annual Christmas open house party.

I got this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, but incorporated a few short cuts so you can make this in about 1 1/2 hours. Using a food processor to chop all of the vegetables also helps make the work go faster.

The taste is sweet and a little sour with a punch of heat from the crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a great, hearty soup on a cold winter night.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large can of cannellini beans (about 19 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 1/4 pound diced pancetta
  • 2 cups chopped onions (about 2 onions)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (about 3 carrots)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (I always use Kosher as it’s the most flavorful.)
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (preferably the imported Parmesan Reggiano), for serving

What I did:

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot.

Add the pancetta and onions. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. (Stir occasionally)

Add the carrots, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. (Stir occasionally)

Add the tomatoes with the puree, the kale, and basil. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. (Stir occasionally)

Rinse the cannellini beans under cold water. Puree half of them in a food processor with about 1/2 cup of water.

Add pureed beans to the soup. And then add the remaining half of the whole beans. And stir.

Add the eight cups of chicken stock.

Bring soup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the bread cubes to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes.

Serve hot in large bowls. Sprinkle a little freshly grated parmesan cheese on top. And then drizzle a little olive oil over it.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Take a Four Minute Trip to Italy (Audio Slideshow)
Aug 28th, 2009 by

This ancient door is located in the walled city of Barga, not too far from Lucca and Florence.

This ancient door is located in the walled city of Barga, not too far from Lucca and Florence. (All photos by Mark Micheli)

(Click here or the photo above to watch an audio slideshow on the doors and windows of Italy. To watch it full screen, click on the arrows in the lower right corner of the slideshow.)

With the euro high and the economy weak I thought I’d help by creating an audio slideshow mini-staycation for those who are dreaming of traveling to Europe but simply can’t justify it with their bank account.

For me, traveling to Italy is all about immersing myself in the colors and shapes unique to that part of the world: the earthen yellows, burnt orange, and dusty browns of the stucco buildings; the ornate architectural embellishments; and the soft shadows cast by a gentle sun.

Looking through photos from my trip there in 2007, I realized I captured much of this in the photos I took of windows and doors. Some of them are the typical, sentimental shots of flowers dripping down from small rod-iron window balconies; clothes drying on the line in the cool Tuscan air; or old bicycles parked haphazardly on ancient city streets.

But they are all real and representative of what you see there. These images slowly become a part of you and can alter your aesthetic sensibilities. These visual memories are the most important thing you bring back home, but often get overlooked in favor of the souvenir guide of Rome, the leather bookmark from Florence or the Murano glass figurine from Venice.

It’s my hope that this audio slideshow will offer you the same visual treat you’d get on an afternoon stroll down the Via Veneto, the back streets of Tuscany, or alongside  the Grand Canal in Venice. So sit back and relax with a real or imagined glass of Chianti and enjoy this staycation. You deserve it.

–Mark Micheli for RootsLiving

(P.S. — There’s a message on one of the doors. See if you can find it and if you do, follow the instructions. You’ll be rewarded.)

»  © 2010 AllThingsTuscan; Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa