February 25, 2014 |
Carnevale is Italy’s version of Mardi Gras, the big blow-out before the restrictions of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday. It’s a winter festival celebrated throughout the country with parades, music, masks, masquerade and (of course) special cookies. Easter is a bigger deal in Italy than Christmas. Likewise, Carnevale beats New Year’s in terms of festivities.
Venice, Viareggio on the Tuscany Coast and Cento in Emilia Romagna host the most extravagant and famous Carnevale festivals. But even our little village in Southern Italy celebrated in style. Both Angelo and Fernanda have fond childhood memories of throwing confetti at the Carnevale parade and eating Crostoli cookies with family and friends. We’ve continued to celebrate Carnevale in America by cooking a big, festive meal and sharing crostoli with our family and friends.
Crostoli, the crispy Carnevale cookie
Crostoli is the classic dolci for the winter festival of Carnevale. These “little crusts” are rectangular, paper-thin pastries fried in palm oil then dusted with confectioner’s sugar to form light, crispy treats. In Italy, every town has its own special name for them: Crostoli (little crusts), Cenci (rags), Nastri (ribbons), Bugie (lies), and Chiacchere (the sounds of patter or gossip) to name a few.
You can serve Crostoli with ice cream (hazelnut is particularly good), but our family tradition is to serve crostoli alongside a generous bowl of ricotta spread. This Italian take on chips and dip gives you bites of cannoli without the mess. Because the recipe is not too sweet, it can be served as either an appetizer or dessert. It’s easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time. Don’t expect to have any leftovers. Mangia!
Recipe: Crostoli con Ricotta
- 2 packages of crostoli
- 2 lbs. whole milk ricotta
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- mini chocolate chips (as much as desired)
- zest of one whole orange
- zest of one whole lemon
Whip ricotta, powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extract with an electric mixer until smooth and light. Fold in chocolate chips and the lemon and orange zest.
Refrigerate. Remove when ready to be served.
The tradition of Crostoli cookies
These light, semi-sweet festival cookies are one of our favorites. We serve them throughout the Carnevale season as well as at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But we also enjoy them throughout the year whenever there’s a gathering of family or friends. They are a simple and traditional “get together” cookies. If there’s a card game on, you can expect a bowl of Crostoli at hand.
Crostoli can be paired with cappuccino, espresso, coffee, tea, milk or wine. The sweetness of dessert wines such as Vin Santo, Asti Spumante, Sherry or Port brings out the flavor of the cookies.
February 7, 2014 |
Italy has a rich tradition of love and romance. We gave the world Romeo and Juliette. Dante and Beatrice. Paolo and Francesca. At Cookies con Amore, we are Italian! We are romantics! We bake desserts from and for the heart! And so, from time to time, we’re asked how Italians celebrate Valentine’s Day.
The truth is that the holiday isn’t celebrated as much in Italy as America. But in our years in California, we have grown to love this holiday and can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to share a simple, home-cooked dinner (and some Valentine’s cookies, of course) with our sweetheart. Here’s our three-step recipe for a sweet and romantic Valentine’s Day, Italian Style.
Cue the romantic Italian music
When we owned our restaurant in Laguna Beach, Angelo would grab the microphone a few nights a week and delight our patrons with a few songs from the heart. He’s both a romantic and an Italian music lover. Here are some of his music choices for Valentine’s Day that you can easily download from iTunes or Amazon.
Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year. Here’s a delicious and special, yet simple menu that is easy to prepare for your sweetheart after a long week of work, but that is also fun to prepare together.
The starter: cheese, prosciutto, strawberries and flatbread crackers
We’re seeing strawberries on special in our local Whole Foods grocery store. It’s a perfect fruit to pair with a mild cheese such as Fontina and some thinly sliced prosciutto, which will balance the sweetness of the strawberries with a bit of salty goodness. Hit up your local Italian grocery for an imported prosciutto.
The main course: risotto and arugula salad
As it’s winter, we would go for something to warms us up from the inside. Perhaps a porcini risotto paired with an arugula salad. Serve with a dry white wine such as Gavi di Gavi.
The dessert: Cookies con Amore Valentine Parfait for Two
In matters of love and dessert, the Italian tradition is to temper the sweetness to provide a layered experience that can be savored. We developed this recipe just for Valentine’s Day.
- 2 to 3 Cookies con Amore chocolate biscotti (also available as gluten-free biscotti) crushed or crumbled as you prefer
- ½ lb Mascarpone
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 8 oz fresh raspberries ( set aside 4 raspberries )
- juice of ½ lemon
- 4 tbsp of brandy or Nonna’s favorite, Vin Santo
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- mint leaves
- chocolate shaving or curls
Place raspberries into a small bowl, add the brown sugar and juice of ½ lemon along with the brandy or Vin Santo mix together and lightly crush. Set aside.
In another bowl add mascarpone, brandy, powdered sugar, gently wisk together until incorporated. Beat the heavy cream to a soft peek and fold into the mascarpone mixture .
In two 8 oz glass jelly jars bottom layer first place half of the crumbled chocolate biscotti into each glass. Then on top of biscotti place half of of the raspberry mixture into each glass. On top of raspberry mixture add half of the mascarpone mixture into each glass. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Top each glass with chocolate curls or shaving cocoa powder, fresh whole raspberries and mint leaf and serve.
Serve with a side of Vin Santo.
Make An Italian Valentine
Wrap everything up with note written from the heart. Italians save “Ti amo” (I love you) for our most special sweethearts. A classic term of endearment is “Ti voglio bene” which means “I want all the best things for you” and it’s spoken between parents and children as well as boyfriends and girlfriends. These days, I hear that teenage lovebirds sign off their texts with TVTB for “ti voglio tanto been” (I love you so much).
To keep the amore beating strong for a couple of week, you might want to give your sweetheart one of our special assortment of Valentine’s cookies, also available for gluten-free Valentines.
Hope you and your special someone enjoy the holiday. We’d love to hear your suggestions and recipes for a sweet Valentines Day. Let us know how it goes … Ciao!