Category Archives: Recipes

Italian Christmas Cookies: Buon Natale!

December 13, 2014 | 2 Comments

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Christmas in Italy

In Italy, the focus of Christmas is on family and feasting. The recipes are traditional—everyone looks forward to enjoying the dishes that their families have made for generations. The real magic happens in the way everyone—Mama, Papa, aunts, children, siblings, cousins, etc.—joins together to share in the traditions.

Perhaps we’re biased, but we’ve always felt the most special part of Christmas dinner is when the cookies, Vin Santo and coffee come out. The work is all done, everyone is warm and full. What’s left but to do, but sit back, enjoy the sweetness and share stories?

Virtually every Italian town has its own traditional Christmas cookie. Many of the Cookies con Amore are actually Christmas cookies that can be enjoyed year round. Here are some of our favorite holiday classics and the stories behind them.

Traditional Italian Christmas Cookies

Cuccidati

cuccidati italian cookies

The Cuccidati is a fig-filled cookie that hails from Sicily. The star of this butter cookie is the filling: figs, dates, raisins and orange peel. It’s a traditional Christmas cookie.

Each Sicilian town has its own take on this delicious cookie. It is known by different a variety of names: cucciddatu, vurciddatu, purciddatu or’ucciddatu and buccellati. It also comes in a variety of shapes: wreaths, logs and even animal shapes.

The ingredients change slightly from town to town. Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda adds sweet Marsala wine to her filling, making for a classically Sicilian cookie. We bake both gluten-free and classico versions of the Cuccidati.

Order a box of Cuccidati (regular or gluten-free). They are also included in our Gluten-free Christmas Cookie assortment and the Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Ricciarelli

ricciarelli

The Ricciarelli is a traditional Tuscan cookie that is naturally gluten-free and combines orange with almond flavors. At Christmastime, you will find Ricciarelli in every bakery in Siena.

This cookie has an Arabic influence and dates back to the Crusades, when almonds were introduced to Italy by soldiers returning home. In the spirit of adaptation to local taste and flavors, Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda has also created a chocolate version of the Ricciarelli made with cocoa powder, “because who doesn’t love chocolate?”

Order a box of Ricciarelli cookies. They are also included in our Gluten-free Christmas Cookie assortment.

Raspberry Linzer

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One of our best loved gluten-free cookies is the Raspberry Linzer. It’s made with almond flour giving it a rich, nutty taste. We sandwich two cookies together with a tangy berry jam that complements the sweetness of the dough.

The Linzer is also known as the Occhi di Bue (eye of the bull) because the top cookie in the sandwich is traditionally made with a cutout circle in the center. The jelly that is revealed looks like a large eye. For the holiday assortments, we cut the Linzer in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Order a box of our naturally gluten-free Raspberry Linzer cookies. They are also included in our Gluten-free Christmas Cookie assortment and the Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Checkerboard

checkerboard

This delicate and crunchy shortbread cookie combines chocolate with orange flavors in a festive checkerboard design. No eggs are used in this buttery, rich batter. Because this cookie is labor-intensive, traditionally it is made only for special occasions such as Christmas.

Order a box of Checkerboard cookies. They are also included in our Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Ginger

ginger

Ginger is not a traditionally Italian flavor, but over our many years in the U.S., we developed a fondness for this traditional American Christmas cookie. When you bite into one of our Ginger Cookies you will find a soft, chewy texture. We combine molasses with ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and cloves to give these cookies a spicy flavor that will bring you back to Christmas morning. It’s included in our classico Christmas cookie assortment.

Order a box of Ginger cookies. They are also included in our Classico Italian Christmas Cookie assortment.

Pizzelle

pizzelle

Pizzelle are very traditional thin, crisp waffle cookies that can be enjoyed on their own or sandwiched together with cannoli cream, hazelnut-chocolate spread or other decadent fillings. The name for these cookies comes from the Italian word “pizze” for round and flat.

In the old days every wealthy family in Italy had its own Pizzelle iron which would press a waffle-like design featuring their family crest onto the cookies. We make our Pizzelle cookies the old fashioned way, entirely by hand with traditional irons.

Order a box of Pizzelle cookies for Christmas.

Crostoli

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Crostoli, or little crusts, are rectangular paper-thin pastries fried in palm oil then dusted with confectioner’s sugar to form light, delicately crisp treats that are not overly sweet. 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.

This is one of our family’s trademark Christmas cookies. Long before we started Cookies con Amore, we would spend the entire holiday season baking batch after batch of crostoli for our friends and family. In some ways it’s what inspired us to start the company.

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!

Order a box of Crostoli.

Recipe: Crostoli con Ricotta

Ingredients

  • 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 Gluten-Free Italian Table: Summer Delights

August 1, 2014 | Leave a comment

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Chef Fernanda’s Summer Farm-to-Table Delights

gluten-free cookies chef

Cookies con Amore Head Chef Fernanda Capraro

I’m a mostly gluten-free Italian who loves to share great food with the people I love. I first got interested in a gluten-free diet when a friend of the family told us that she was gluten-intolerant. Out of curiosity, I tried a cutting out gluten and noticed that I generally felt better. That made me a true believer.

I’m willing to give up wheat, but I’m not willing to give up on great taste. It’s my palate that guides me when making our Glutenetto cookies. The taste and texture have to be so good that you don’t miss the gluten. It’s also what guides me when I’m at the Farmer’s Market as I think about what I’ll prepare for dinner.

Fresh, seasonal produce is at the heart of Italian cuisine. Italian food isn’t just about pasta, and if you are gluten-free that’s a great thing. While there are plenty of gluten-free pasta products on the market, and you can always substitute with rice or gnocchi, I like to use vegetables in place of pasta when I can.

Roma Beans

For example, last week, I picked up some Roma beans at the Farmer’s Market. These long flat beans are sweet, tender and meaty which makes them a great substitute for pasta with fresh tomato sauce. I blanched the beans, added them to a pot of fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil and served it with a dusting of parmagiano and a side of chicken. No one in the family missed the pasta one bit.

Recipe: Italian Summer Vegetable Saute

Zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper and tomatoes are bountiful at the Farmer’s Market right now: perfect ingredients for an Italian version of Ratatoulle, the Provencal French summer vegetable stew. Rather than stewing all the vegetables together in one pot, I fire them up on the grill with their skins on (for better nutrition and a nice texture), and then sauté them together with some olive oil, garlic and fresh basil. It’s like a garden on your plate!

Ingredients

  • 2 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 eggplant, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 to 5 ripe roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Roast the tomatoes whole and dice them.
  2. Chop the zucchini, eggplant and bell pepper into bite-sized portions. I prefer to keep the skin on because it adds a nice texture and there’s lots of good nutrition in the skin. Arrange them on skewers, brush them with olive oil and grill till brown.
  3. Add a bit of olive oil to a saute pan and combine the grilled vegetables, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Saute for 10 minutes so the flavors meld together. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm!

Celebrate Easter with Naturally Dyed Eggs and an Italian Picnic

April 3, 2014 | Leave a comment

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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.

Easter Eggs

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.

Mangia!

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

Cassata Recipe | Cookies con Amore
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.

Cassata towers

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.
Cassata Recipe Ingredients | Cookies con Amore

Cake:

Ingredients:
Preparation:

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.

Filling:

Ingredients:
  • 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
Preparation:

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.

Frosting

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rum or Marsala
Preparation:

Whip the cream, powdered sugar and liquor until firm peaks are formed.

Carnevale recipe: crostoli con ricotta

February 25, 2014 | Leave a comment

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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

Ingredients

  • 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.

How to make a Romantic Valentine’s Day, Italian Style

February 7, 2014 | Leave a comment

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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.

Mangia!

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

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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

parfait-receipe-ingredients-blog

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!