April 30, 2014 |
Like all true Italians, we cherish and celebrate Mama all year round. But over the years, we’ve given and received some great Mother’s Day gifts. Here are some of our favorites:
A box of cookies just for her
Of course we have to start our list here. Who doesn’t love a cookie? Mama cooks and bakes for everyone else. We’ve created two Mother’s Day cookie assortments (gluten-free and regular) that feature some of our most popular and favorites so that Mama can enjoy a box of cookies all her own. Wedding cookies, nonna, biscotti, baci di dame, jelly-filled linzers: they are all there.
Italian breakfast in bed
What a luxury it is to have your children deliver a good fashion (Vogue Italia) or travel magazine (AFAR), coffee and something sweet to you in bed. What kind of something sweet? We have some ideas!
The farfalletti is our version of a breakfast cookie. It’s like a miniature croissant with a dab of jam filling: apricot, strawberry or raspberry. There’s no sugar added and the foundation of the cookie is a simple butter and cream cheese dough.
For gluten-free Moms, we are partial to a good biscottinni that dunks well.
An Italian picnic
May can be such a delicious time of the year: perfect for a picnic by the seaside, in the country or at a park. Pick up some good Italian prosciutto or salumi, an assortment of cheese (we’re partial to sweet Gorgonzola and fresh Asiago right now) and some olives. If you eat wheat, Grissini (Italian breadsticks) are a must. Figs, cherries and strawberries are all in season and require no preparation other than rinsing.
Here are two gluten-free recipes to make in advance:
Don’t forget the sparkling water and wine (a lightly sparkling Prosecco or a Pino Grigio) and of course the cookies! Our wedding cookies now come in gluten-free as well as regular and are a perfect picnic treat.
Pack it all off with a picnic blanket, some wine glasses, a bottle opener, plates, cutting board, cotton napkins and a knife for the cheese and fruit.
Italian garden gifts
When we grew up in Italy, everyone had a fruit or nut tree in the back yard. It was from these trees that Nonna would gather the flavors for her cookies: lemon, fig and apricot. You taste these flavors in many of our cookies: lemon nonna (gluten-free and regular), fig cuccidatis (gluten-free and regular) and jelly-filled Linzers (gluten-free and regular).
A potted Meyer lemon tree is great for the patio and can be brought inside during winter if you don’t live in a temperate climate. Rosemary, thyme and lavender are classic Italian herbs and also do well in pots.
Olivella olive oil skin care
Olive Oil soap is a centuries-old skin care secret of Mediterranean women. It naturally replenishes lost moisture, nourishes the skin, and fights the effects of free radicals. Olivella makes luxurious skin care products that are made of 100% pure Italian virgin olive oil and produced right where the olives are grown, in “the green heart of Italy.” We love them!
April 3, 2014 |
Easter (Pasqua in Italian) is one of the biggest holidays in Italy. It is a time to celebrate spring, sweetness and light. After weeks of Lent, when many Italians abstain from meat and dessert, Easter Sunday arrives in a burst of color and flavor. The day is spent eating, drinking and enjoying the arrival of spring with family. Italians also take Monday off for Pasquetta (“Little Easter”) which is a day for picnics with friends and more celebration.
To help you celebrate, we have put together several assortments of classic Italian Easter cookies (regular and gluten-free). We’re also delighted to share some of our favorite Easter traditions and recipes with you.
Eggs are a traditional symbol of Easter and spring. In Italy, children are given chocolate eggs with surprise gifts inside. We engaged in some serious negotiations with our siblings over who would get which chocolate egg.
Natural dyed eggs make a classic centerpiece at the Easter table. The practice of dying and decorating hard-boiled eggs for Easter began in Italy. In the old days, people used natural dyes made from food in the pantry. Some common dyes are:
- beets for red
- turmeric for yellow
- red cabbage for purple
- tea for brown
- spinach for green
- blueberry for blue
Rather than using artificial food coloring, try decorating your Easter eggs the old fashioned way. Here’s a simple recipe for natural dyed Easter eggs that describes the process. Be sure to use white eggs and when you’ve finished with the dyes, rub the shells with a bit of butter to give them a shine.
On Easter Sunday, Italians celebrate with a feast that stretches from brunch through dinnertime. Back when we were children in Monte Cassino, the eating began with an egg and fresh herb scramble after church. Then we grazed all day long on antipasti and chocolate while the lamb was braising.
The table would be laid out with fresh flowers and seasonal vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, chard, green beans, lettuce, etc. Of course there was plenty of wine and laughter. After Easter dinner, everyone took a promenade through the village. A few hours later we all would be eating again.
Easter falls late this year. Since winter has been so harsh and long for many in North America, we thought it would be nice to celebrate Spring and Easter with a picnic, Pasquetta-style. Here’s a simple menu that we’ve put together with love.
The starter: Young Pecorino, Fava Bean Salad and Salumi
Your local Italian grocer should have some good imported Italian cheese and salumi. We like pecorino for spring, because it has a light, sharp flavor. Fava beans will be in season. This simple recipe combines fava beans with lemon, mint and escarole for a light antipasti.
Main course: Easter Fritatta with a Spring Salad
Fritatta makes a perfect picnic item. It’s hearty, full of flavor and just as good at room temperature as when it is served hot. We like the look of this spinach potato fritatta paired with Luigi Carnacania’s Spring Salad, which features seasonal spring vegetables: asparagus, green beans and artichoke hearts.
Dessert: Lemon Ricotta Cassata
Lemon is a keynote flavor of spring. Cassata is a traditional sweet from Sicily. It consists of cake that is moistened with liqueur and layered with ricotta. In our adaption, the “cake” is made from our lemon nonna cookies (which are available in regular or gluten-free) and we build individual Cassata towers in mason jars.
Place a single layer of cake in the bottom of 4 glass mason jars, and spread with 1 ½ tablespoon of filling mixture. Repeat to create 3 or 4 layers, leaving ½ inch from the rim. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best. The next day, unwrap jar. Using two strong spatulas, top with whipped cream mixture and decorate, if desired with shaved chocolate, fresh berry or sliced almonds.
Choose your favorite Nonna cookies, slice them horizontally into 2 layers. Next, combine the rum (or Marsala) with the water. Use a pastry brush to brush the cookies slice on each side with the liquor mixture.
- 30 ounces whole-milk ricotta
- 2-1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 6 ounces semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- Zest of 2 lemons
Combine filling ingredients, except chips and lemon zest, with an electric mixer. Once smooth (it won’t totally be smooth due to the natural texture of the ricotta) hand stir in the chips and zest. Cover and refrigerate. You could refrigerate the filling overnight, if needed.
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon rum or Marsala
Whip the cream, powdered sugar and liquor until firm peaks are formed.