Sunday, 27 August 2017

Cucina Conversations: Limoncello - Lemon Liqueur



The enjoyment of having a pre-dinner drink to whet my appetite, or as Italians would say - un aperitivo per stuzzicare l'appetito, is very much a tradition I experienced while holidaying in Italy. A quintessential Italian concept in step with their dolce vita and spirit that enabled me to connect with family and friends on my whirlwind visit. What grew in popularity in my parent’s and many Italian households here in Australia however, and what I am more accustomed to, is its sister drinks – digestivi (digestives). An excuse to extend the evening that little bit longer, a digestive is offered along with a few biscotti or walnuts placed on the table, perhaps a game of cards all in the best tradition of Italian hospitality. Digestives as the name suggests, are predominantly served to aid digestion and a lovely way of concluding a meal, but also known to be offered as a welcome drink served as small shots and sipped due to their high level content of alcohol. Their flavours are complex mixtures of herbs, roots, barks, berries, spices, flowers and citrus peels.  They are not overly sweet, and due to their general bitterness, are classified as amari

This month’s Cucina Conversations topic is based around these two Italian rituals which play an important role in Italian social life. It is not only expressed through drinks but also related finger foods.   So while Italy is enduring a very hot summer and enjoying many aperitivi to remain cool before dinner, I’m dabbling in a little limoncello (lemon liqueur) making to serve as either a welcome drink or a digestive. I thought I would also share a recipe for sweet limoncetti that I will be making again to be enjoyed with this liqueur, in welcoming the long awaited spring in a few weeks and an upcoming family birthday.
The cristalliera (crystal cabinet) is where my parents have always kept their favourite and prized liqueur bottles, preserved cherries in grappa, or the bitter herbal amari such as the intensely flavoured amaro lucano from their region of Basilicata, the centerba, fernet as well as cynar.  And did I mention that mysteriously clear spirit in a non labelled bottle known as home-made grappa, that only in my adult years I came to learn of its origins?  

So the story goes like this, my father would make his wine and the vinacce (pressed grape skins) would be passed onto his friend or my uncle who would distil it into this fiery spirit.  A bottle would then be gifted back as a thank you gesture to be used either in preserving cherries or sipped neat in good company and even added to the after dinner espresso known as caffe’ corretto. These age old traditions were passed on but have slowly faded with time and may I add, these were processes undertaken correctly. Making grappa at home is now illegal in Australia and known to be deadly if not produced correctly, so I don’t encourage any serious home brewing of this kind.  But a liqueur such as a limoncello is one that is very simple to make and well within the legal realm.  

Most famously associated and produced from Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, and the island of Capri but popular throughout all of Italy, limoncello is also often made at home from steeping lemon peel in grain alcohol until the oil is released, and then sweetened with sugar syrup.  It has an intensely fresh citrus flavour and the degree of sweetness is adjusted depending on the base alcohol used. Papa` had his first taste of home-made limoncello made from those lemons found along the Costiera Amalfitana. This coastal road between the port city of Salerno and cliff top Sorrento winds past cliff side lemon groves; lemons that are ideal for this liqueur due to their thick uneven skin.  My cousin’s wife from Salerno had made her own bottles and served it chilled after a meal at a family gathering.  It was here that she shared the recipe, and inspired papa` to make his own using lemons from his tree and what would be the last of this grappa. 


Notes on alcohol used:
The basics of the recipe are super easy but the only problem is that it needs a very high proof of alcohol content. Limoncello is normally made with a grain alcohol, but this recipe substitute’s with vodka or grappa, as it is more readily available.  It is not possible to obtain pure alcohol here in Australia and have read that in certain areas of North America, pure alcohol can only be sold to professionals who have a special license.  If you reside in Italy however, you may have better luck. Not only is it more accessible but cheaper in price as well.  

Grappa is an alcoholic beverage, a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60 per cent alcohol by volume.  Papa` made his limoncello with home brewed grappa; it's alcohol level was unknown. I made mine with store bought vodka and conclude that the grappa based is superior but vodka still makes a pretty good limoncello. When selecting the vodka that you are going to use, the higher the proof, the more lemon flavour your finished brew will have. Alternatively, leave the lemon in the alcohol to infuse double the time, and halve the amount of sugar syrup.

Notes on lemons:
When choosing the lemons, it’s extremely important to go for the highest possible quality. The best lemons are medium to large, with an elliptical shape and a thick peel such as the Lisbon or Eureka. The lemons must be untreated as the peel is what will be used, so organic lemons are the best. Any pesticides or even just waxing (commonly applied to help preserve the citrus’ moisture) would end up in the finished product.

 Limoncello (Lemon Liqueur)

Ingredients:
  •    250 ml of pure alcohol (95 per cent proof) or grappa (35 to 60 per cent proof) or        vodka (40 per cent proof)
  •    5 untreated (organic) lemons
  •    400 g white sugar (200 g if using grappa or vodka)
  •    250 ml  water (125 ml if using grappa or vodka)

Preparation:

Gently scrub the lemons under running water, and then carefully remove the outer yellow coloured part of the peel using a vegetable peeler. The white pith has a bitter flavour and needs to be discarded.  

The next step is to soak the lemon peel in the alcohol. Pour the alcohol in a glass jar with lid that can be closed tightly. Add the lemon peel, seal and then keep in a cool dark place for 5 days if using a vodka or grappa base, and half the amount of time for pure alcohol. The aromatic oils will gradually dissolve in the alcohol, which will turn yellow and fragrant.

Prepare the sugar syrup (according to alcohol base quantities given above) by bringing together the water and sugar and heat gently until dissolved, then let it cool off. Filter the alcohol to remove the macerated peel, and then add it to the syrup. Pour the mix of syrup and flavoured alcohol in a favourite glass bottle and seal. 

Limonello is served chilled, and can be kept for up to 2 years in the fridge or even longer in the freezer as the high percentage of alcohol will prevent it from freezing. There are several recipes for aperitivi I have also come across using limoncello such as the Cocktail - Limoncello & Prosecco that I'll be trying during the summer months ahead. But before we drink a toast (fare un brindisi), there are some limoncetti sweets that also deserve a mention below.

Limoncetti

Limoncello was used as one of the ingredients in making these amaretti – technically no longer amaretti as the name suggests, as the bitter almond essence was replaced with the limoncello and grated lemon peel.   This is an adaptation of my mother in laws amaretti recipe.  Makes 30

Ingredients:
  •  250 g almond meal
  •  150 g caster sugar
  •  2 egg whites
  •  ½ liqueur glass of limoncello
  •  grated zest of one lemon
  •  icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180 C (160 C fan forced) and line tray with baking paper. In a bowl, mix together almond meal, caster sugar and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add the limoncello and mix through. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with the egg whites until combined.  The mixture should be firm but of a sticky consistency.

Add icing sugar in a separate bowl. Roll walnut sized amount of mixture into balls and coat in the icing sugar.

Place each ball on the tray, leaving some space between. They will not grow in size when baked, but will slightly puff and cracks will appear on the surface.

Bake for 10 minutes until just lightly coloured. They should not be overcooked as this will harden them. They should be slightly crusty on the outside and moist in the centre when cooled.

Join the rest of my fellow bloggers and check out their suggested aperitivi. Rosemary at Turin Mamma will share two respective recipes for negroni - the true and the less alcoholic cocktail drink known as the negroni sbagliato, while Francesca at Pancakes and Biscotti will make her polpette di melanzane as an aperitivo snack. Daniela at La Dani Gourmet will pair a glass of Bolgheri Rosato wine with some delicious marinated anchovies known as acchiughe alla povera, while Lisa at Italian Kiwi will make some mouth watering crostini with ricotta, figs and prosciutto; and Marialuisa at Marmellata di Cipolle will surprise us with some delicious finger food and talk about a prosecco made in Calabria.

Cin cin!




Monday, 31 July 2017

Wild Harvest: Fritelle di Cardone (cardoon fritters)


This post has been long overdue, attributed to the fact that this wild green is not easily accessible unless you happen to have some growing nearby along a railway line, on the outskirts of Melbourne’s country roadside or on your farm.  There have been a few sightings and opportunities to gather, however I’ve been very reluctant fearing that this wild green considered by the council as a weed may be sprayed.  What am I referring to you may ask?  Well, many Italians would know this wild plant as cardoni or cardi. This thistle like plant is known by its botanical name as cynara cardunculus or more commonly known as cardoons.  It is related to the globe artichoke and very similar in appearance with the addition of spikes on the end of its leaves. It has a more delicate flavour, a bit like a Jerusalem artichoke.  The Romans used to eat the stalks in salads, and even today many Italians cultivate the stalks of this wild plant and enjoy its slight bitter taste knowing its medicinal value of improving liver and gall bladder functions as well as lowering the levels of blood cholesterol.  Here in the southern hemisphere they are best harvested between June to August as this is when the plant is young and tender. Below you can see photos of the wild variety, that my husband took growing along a country road just outside of Melbourne, and the other taken by Ben on his farm. The last photo is of the artichoke plant whose stalks I cooked with.




Cardoni were very much enjoyed by my husband’s parents and picked around roadsides.  I was told that they even planted the seeds at the holiday house at Phillip Island, so that they were guaranteed their own harvest.  The stalks are cut off at ground level and trimmed of its leaves. They are then soaked in water mixed with lemon juice.  This prevents them turning brown when exposed to the air. They are then pre-cooked in boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes until tender before serving them as you would a cooked vegetable or proceeding with  additional steps. My mother in-law would simply prepare them by boiling first until tender, and then dipped in egg, coated with breadcrumbs and parmigiano cheese and shallow fried. Ben who kindly gave me the artichoke stems from his farm as the cardoon plant was too small to harvest, suggested a simpler recipe his mother uses.  After the initial preparation, she would infuse the olive oil by frying a clove of garlic, and then saute` the cardoons with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs to coat.   

I chose to cook my few stalks using a recipe adapted from Rosa Mitchell’s Sicilian cookbook My Cousin Rosa Rosa, wanting to make these fritters for some time.  As mentioned, I used the artichoke stems instead and did cut back the quantities the recipe suggested, as I didn’t have the amount of cardoon stems listed.  With barely 8 stems, I endeavoured to include all the ingredients but used my discretion with quantities and as a typical Italian, cooked all’ occhio.  It made a total of 6 fritters which could serve 2 for an entre` or better still 1 (essentially me) for lunch.  I also chose to use plain flour instead of the self-raising, balancing the ratio of batter to vegetable, and therefore they don't puff up as much.  I have included the full recipe that Rosa has provided and note that if you cannot obtain cardoons, the stalks of the artichoke plant I used work just as well.


Fritelle di Cardone (cardoon fritters)
Makes 15 – 20 fritters

Ingredients:
  • 1 kg (2 lb / 4 oz) cardoon stems, cut into 8 cm (3 inch) pieces, then halved length ways
  • 225 g (8 oz / 1 ½ cups) self-raising flour (NB: I used plain flour)
  • 100 g (3 ½ oz / 1 cup) grated parmigiano cheese 
  • garlic clove, crushed 
  • tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • eggs, lightly beaten
  • olive oil, for frying

In preparing the cardoons, with your knife run along the edges of the stems and take off the leaves.  The stems should be tender, so if they are at all fibrous, discard them. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the cardoons and cook until tender – 20 -30 minutes.  Duration of cooking will depend upon their initial tenderness.  You want to be able to push a fork through them easily.  I cooked mine for 20 minutes.  Drain and cool in a bowl.  I further cut them into small pieces once cooked to allow for full coating in batter.  Add the flour, cheese, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper and mix lightly.  Add the beaten eggs and mix again.  If the mixture appears too dry add a little water to bring it together.

Heat enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan over medium heat.  When hot, add tablespoons of the mixture and cook for about 4 minutes until golden.  Turn over and flatten slightly with a fork.  Cook on the other side until golden and cooked through to the centre.  Serve hot or at room temperature.  Enjoy!





Sunday, 23 July 2017

Cucina Conversations: Calamari Ripieni al Sugo (Stuffed Squid)


Long summer days on end holidaying at the beach is not something I can say we grew up doing except on occasional weekends, however my husband and his extended family did.  Every Christmas and Easter holidays were spent at the seaside at Cowes, Phillip Island since a very young age.  San Remo is the last southern coast mainland town before the bridge takes holiday makers to the island. The islands towns, Newhaven and Ryll hold much fishing history and are also lovely to visit during the colder months. So knowing that July’s Cucina Conversations topic was going to be seafood, I timed our short getaway last month to East Gippsland with a day trip to Phillip Island to the fishing village of Newhaven. I looked forward to buying some fresh calamari and cooking this dish (which I hadn't made for years) in the quaint fully equipped kitchen at Marges Cottage.





On our early morning drive up, I heard many stories of my father in law spending hours out near the pier using a bucket he had cut the bottom out of and replaced with glass so he could look through to spot and retrieve abalone. In Italian they are known as orecchie di mare, and buckets were filled (which is totally prohibited now) to then be brought back for the family to prepare and enjoy as thin crumbed cutlets pan fried.  Crumbed and fried sardines were another specialty enjoyed by this Sicilian family.  We on the other hand ate fish only on Fridays and mamma would cook the type papa` generally preferred to eat such as garfish lightly floured and fried or salted cod two ways - baccala` con peperoni cruschi (fried with crispy peppers) or baccala con le patate e olive (with tomatoes, potatoes & olives).  Occasionally she would make stuffed calamari as a treat which I absolutely love. This dish of calamari ripieni is cooked in a simple tomato sauce and only requires a few staple ingredients.  In search of calamari and missing the early morning rush to the fish monger at Bass Strait Direct, I had to content myself with squid instead. This soon became my lesson on the difference between arrow squid and southern calamari.  There is definitely a difference in price, with calamari being far more expensive but assured that there wasn’t much difference in flavour or texture of the fish as the squid on offer was small in size.







You can identify squid from calamari by the fins that form an arrow shape on the end of the squid's hood. The fins of calamari extend almost all the way down the hood. The fishmonger informed me that the squid is just as tasty and tender if cooked correctly and calamari are just overrated and therefore more pricey.  It was suggested I prepare the squid by chopping up their fins and tentacles and stuffing these back into the hood with fresh breadcrumbs and slowly cooked in a tomato and garlic sauce and the slow cooking tenderises the squid's flesh.  Exactly what I wanted to hear as this is how I’ve known them to be cooked by mamma and the way I’ve enjoyed them most.  For this dish, do avoid buying the calamari tubes, which are large and inferior in quality and aim to buy fresh squid or whole calamari which your fish monger can clean for you if you are reluctant to do so yourself.  I have to admit that I did take advantage of this service remembering I was on holidays after all.




Calamari Ripieni al Sugo (Stuffed Squid)
This recipe serves 6

This dish can be cooked and served as a main, or the Italian way – by doubling the amount of chopped tomatoes and serving the sauce on some pasta as a primo (starter) and then the squid with a serving of salad as a secondo (main).  I didn’t follow any particular recipe, but remembered how mamma would cook them and used the basic ingredients I had on hand.  

Ingredients:
  • 6 small squid, each about 15 cm long
  • 185 ml (3/4 cup) olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 120 g (2 cups) fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tblsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 tblsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) white wine
  • 400 g tin chopped tomatoes (2 cans if you wish to increase the sauce for use on pasta)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
If you ask your fishmonger to clean the squid or calamari, then the rest of the process is a breeze.  Cleaning them however isn’t at all difficult and this youtube clip shows you how.Once cleaned and rinsed, chop the wings and half of the tentacles for the stuffing and set aside.  I kept the other half of the tentacles whole as I like the look of them on the plate. 

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat, add the chopped onion and cook until translucent but not browned.  Add the chopped squid and garlic.  Turn the heat down and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring constantly.  Turn off the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs. Set aside to cool down completely. Once cooled, add the egg, parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.



Use a spoon to stuff the hood of the squid with the mixture, about three-quarters full.  Do not over fill as the body will shrink when cooked. Securely close the opening of the squid with a toothpick. I only filled four of them as two of the hoods were punctured when cleaned and I didn't want to risk them bursting into the sauce.

In a large pan, heat the remainder of the oil, and in a single layer brown the squid on all sides. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine and cook for 3 minutes, turning the squid several times.  Add the tomatoes and season to taste.  Turn the heat on low, cover with a lid and cook for 40 - 50 minutes, depending on the size of the squid.  I cooked mine for 40 minutes.  Turn them occasionally during the cooking and if the sauce dries out, add a little hot water. The squid are cooked when they feel tender if pricked by a fork.  

Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.  I like to slice them and spoon a little of the sauce over each one.  If you increase the quantity of tomato, it makes a lovely sauce over some spaghetti or linguini pasta.  This dish was enjoyed with the perfect country sunset and a few glasses of rose. Thank you Cheryl for the use of your lovely kitchen and the bottle of wine.

Don't forget to read my fellow bloggers posts for their delicious seafood dishes:







































Sunday, 25 June 2017

Cucina Conversations: Semifreddo al Vin cotto


Shiraz grapes are used by papa` to make his vino every wine season and chosen for its high sugar content and flavour with touches of berry, coffee, chocolate, black pepper and violets.  He claims it makes the best home-made red wine and we tend to agree with that point of view. It has been his passion for over 40 years and winemaking in our family goes back a few generations; my recount of this can be found here.  So when the Cucina Conversations ladies decided that this month’s topic was going to evolve around drinks or creating a dish using a drink of some sort, my thoughts automatically went to papa`’s wine and of course the vin cotto mamma cooks down from the grape must every wine season.  I have cooked and shared many family sweet recipes using vin cotto on the blog, and while researching I continue to find many more wonderful recipes incorporating this amazing syrup that I call 'liquid gold'. This recipe for semifreddo will surely please and if you haven't cooked with vin cotto before, this will be a great introduction.

Grape juice was highly regarded by ancient Greeks and Romans in its use to sweeten wines long before sugar cane was introduced.  They even experimented with wine in different stages of making and in their cuisine.   According to the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, vin cotto (also known as vino cotto or mosto cotto) differed by concentration and type of red grape used and was referred to back then by its Latin names - defrutum (one-half of its reduced volumn) or sapa (one-third of its reduced volumn). Essentially concentrated grape syrup was used for preserving fruits such as quince, to sweeten and add flavouring to sauces and added to different types of vegetable and meat dishes. Athenaeus, the Greek grammarian and author of Deipnosophistai (The Gastronomers) makes one mention of a fish tinged with grape must, which he recounts as a paradigm of the art of cooking; noting that such creations were what saved man from cannibalism! Its use over time has extended itself to many sweet and savoury dishes including breads; and more recently been known to be drizzled on top of freshly fallen snow for a scirobetta also known as granita, and mixed with soda water for a refreshing drink suitable for all ages.


The making of vin cotto has not changed over the centuries and is very simple to produce at home as it doesn't require any specialized equipment. The selection of wine grapes however is paramount and only a variety that is high in sugar should be used. After pressing the grapes, the must which is freshly pressed grape juice not yet a product of fermentation is obtained. The filtered grape juice is brought to a gentle boil during which time it is allowed to simmer for an hour and skimmed of any impurities that come to the surface and allowed to slowly cook down  until reduced in volume. Mamma cooks it until it is reduced by 1/2 the original volume. This can take close to 3 hours depending on the quantity and should be watched carefully towards the end to ensure that it doesn't over-reduce or burn. The vin cotto should be condensed and caramelized to have the thickness of maple syrup. The syrup is then cooled and poured into clean bottles sealed with a cork top or clasp seal. It is best stored in a cool dark pantry or refrigerated and can keep up to a year; well only if you can resist temptation.

Papa` loves ice-cream all year round and happy to try a new flavour, so I thought this semifreddo, which is a light semi-frozen desert would please his taste buds especially seeing his favourite grape variety - shiraz and his vin cotto is incorporated. With the addition of chocolate, cherries and hazelnuts this desert is absolutely moreish.  I had frozen some summer red plump cherries especially for this, but other frozen berries of choice would work just as well.    I also love the idea of replacing the cherries during the winter season with either sultanas or dried shiraz grapes soaked in liqueur; and along with the hazelnuts it could be considered a true autumn/winter desert! This recipe has been adapted from Il Baronello. This company along with Maccora Vinocotto produce their own vin cotto whose recipe has also been passed down from generations. Their websites include many varied recipe ideas and both these products are the closest to the 'home made' vin cotto and Australian made - in keeping with my philosophy on buying local. 


Semifreddo al Vincotto
This semifreddo was made with our family’s vin cotto. Unless you make your own, you will need to purchase commercially produced vin cotto and will find it in stores as well as the two websites mentioned above. This desert does not require an ice-cream maker and can be made a few weeks in advance making it perfect for entertaining. It can be kept frozen for up to 3 weeks. 

Ingredients:
·         600 ml double cream
·         150 g caster sugar
·         50 g cocoa powder, sifted
·         4 eggs, separated
·         3 tablespoons flavoured liqueur ,ie: Frangelico or Tia Maria
·         3 tablespoons icing sugar
·         150 ml vin cotto, plus extra for serving 
·         80 g roasted hazelnuts, skin removed and roughly chopped
·         2 cups dark cherries, stoned and cut in half (or use frozen cherries)
·         White chocolate shavings to decorate (optional)

Method:
Grease a 23 cm x 8 cm loaf pan (I used 2, 26 cm x 9 cm loaf pans) and line with baking paper allowing sides to overhang.

Preparation for custard:
Pour 200 ml of cream in a small saucepan and bring just to the boil. In a heatproof bowl, whisk the caster sugar, cocoa powder and egg yolks. Pour the hot cream over the egg mixture, whisking continuously until combined. Pour mixture back into saucepan and cook over a low heat and whisk continuously until it thickens (3-4 minutes) or coats the back of a spoon.  Do not let it come to a boil.  Remove from heat and place over a bowl of iced water to cool. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying and allow cooling for 40 minutes.

In a dry bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whip the remaining cream until soft peaks form.  Add in the liqueur and icing sugar and continue to whip. Gently fold the cooled chocolate custard into the whipped cream and then lightly fold in the whisked egg whites. 

Gently fold in the cherries and hazelnuts. Then gently add in the vin cotto so that there are swirls in the mixture. Pour into the lined tin and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze until firm (6 hours or overnight).

To Serve:
Remove the semifreddo out of the freezer and set aside for a few minutes.  Turn the desert out onto a serving platter and decorate with extra cherries or roasted hazelnuts. Slice portions and finally drizzle some extra vin cotto. Serve.






















There are other sweets in my recipe index that use vin cotto, and I look forward to extending its use to savoury dishes over time.  Meanwhile, remember to also visit my fellow bloggers posts and read about their chosen recipes:
  • Marialuisa from Marmellata di Cipolle is excited to share her love of a cocktail using Pimm's
  • Lisa from Italian Kiwi will prepare a stiff drink that goes by the name Gamba di Legno
  • Daniela from La Dani Gourmet will make a light desert using melon called Gelo di Melone;
  • Rosemarie from Turin Mamma will prepare a refreshing coffee and granita delight called Sicilian Mezzo Freddo; and
  • Francesca, from Pancakes and Biscotti will make an aperitif called Prosecco all'Anguria.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Mostaccioli


At the end of every wine making season, there are two bi-products I make sure I have in my pantry; one is a few bunches of dried shiraz grapes (a variety papa` uses for his wine making) for my cheese board and biscuits, and the other is our vin cotto.  The drying of the fruit has only recently become a passion as I love this small variety of grapes used that contains all those typical flavours found in shiraz wine – touches of berry, coffee, chocolate, black pepper and violets.  The making of vin cotto however has been a family practice passed down from generations.  It is known by regional names such as vinocotto, saba or mosto cotto.  Essentially vin cotto means 'cooked wine' though made from un-fermented grape juice or must and contains no alcohol. I will share our family vin cotto making recipe along with a moreish semifreddo desert as part of my Cucina Conversations edition later this month.

This light agrodolce (sweet & sour) syrup is the perfect balance for sweet and savoury dishes.  Although this ingredient has been utilised by my family for a very long time, in more recent times it has only ever been included  in sweet dishes such as lagana chiapputapanzarotti, ciambelline al vincotto and mamma often uses it within a remedial brew with other wild herbs for a chest cold.  Papa` often talks about nonna's rustic mostaccioli biscuits, known as mustazzuli in their dialect.  Unfortunately this family recipe was never documented, but from my understanding it was very similar to the original ancient base recipe consisting of flour, vin cotto, olive oil and some spices.  If one was fortunate to have access to other ingredients which my grandmother was as they ran a general store, then they were added along with honey.  The more ingredients you add the richer the outcome; and in my search for a recipe from the Lucania (Basilicata) region of Italy, I was able to find several recipes that made reference to similar ingredients.  Some suggested adding almonds while others have also included honey, chocolate and/or mocha coffee. The recipe I share with you here is the closest I could find that fits the description given by papa`.  This recipe has been adapted to include papa`s list of must have ingredients, but mention goes to Il Baronello as I was also inspired by the shaping of Angela's mostaccioli which I totally had fun making.  The traditional shape of mostaccioli in the Lucania region is a slab rolled out to approximately 1 ½ cm in thickness and then cut into diamonds or rectangles, and the way mamma makes them.



Mostaccioli
Makes about 40 biscuits depending on size and shape

Ingredients:
·         160 g whole un roasted almonds (125 g or 1 cup finely ground after roasting)   
·         ½ cup sugar
·         ½ cup honey
·         3/4 cup vin cotto *(refer to note below)
·         1/8 cup vegetable oil
·         3 eggs
·         2 tsp baking powder
·         1 tsp cinnamon
·         1 tsp all spice
·         ½ tsp vanilla extract
·         Finely grated rind of ½ orange
·         Finely grated rind of ½ lemon
·        All-purpose flour (as much as needed) I used 5 cups, and dependant on the size of your       eggs)

*I generally don’t promote products, and as mentioned I made these mostaccioli with our family’s vin cotto; however in order for you to try this recipe you will need to purchase commercially produced vin cotto (unless you also make your own). Below are 2 I recommend as they are the closest to the 'home made' product and are Australian made, in keeping with my philosophy on buying local. As I have not cooked with these products before, I  don’t feel confident highlighting one over the other. Click on their link:

Method:

Pre- heat oven at 180 C degrees

Spread 160 g almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for approximately 15-20 minutes in a moderate oven, being careful not to burn them.  Allow to fully cool down before grinding finely and weigh out 125 g.

In a bowl sift flour and baking powder and set aside. In a separate bowl, add eggs and beat with an electric beater.  Add vegetable oil, honey and vin cotto to the egg mixture and mix well.  Then add the sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, all spice and mix well. Finally add the ground roasted almonds, finely grated zest of half an orange and half a lemon and mix through.

Add the flour and baking powder one cup at a time mixing with a wooden spoon, until you have a consistency of a cookie dough that can easily be rolled out. Knead the dough until all the flour is thoroughly combined. Roll into a ball and place in a bowl covering with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for about ½ an hour.

Divide the dough into quarters, working with one quarter at a time while covering the rest. Dust your work bench with a little flour and roll out the first quarter of the dough to about a 1 ½ cm thick rod.  Cut to desired length and shape into an ‘S’ shape or cut into the ends and twirl them out.  Lots of creative freedom is given here!


Place the mostaccioli on a line tray and bake for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until they are golden in colour.  They will harden as they cool down.  Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Enjoy!