First an introduction and bit of history. My mother was born and raised in Cassino, Italy. Best-known for it's Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of Montecassino, which was demolished by Allied troops during WWII (as was the city my mother's family lived it--she was about 3 at the time) and then completely rebuilt, it should be famous for it's food as well. (Here's a nice Google map of the city and monastery.) Or at least for its cooks!
My mother excels at Italian fare, so it's always a treat to have dinner at her house. We'll start with something really basic--gnocchi! (Pronounced nyohc-key.) It seems like it would be harder to make than it actually is. Emily and Nonna (Anna Maria) are rolling out the dough to cut and pinch, in this picture:
The recipe is straight-forward:
3 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached white flour, or as needed
Boil potatoes until tender, do not overcook. Drain and cool. Peel and pass through a potato ricer. When cool, add salt and some of the flour, and mix lightly with hands, until it forms a smooth, but slightly sticky dough. Do not overwork the dough. Form it into a ball and let it sit on the counter, on top of a thin layer of flour.
Divide the dough into 4 - 5 pieces, than take each piece and form a rope, approximately ½ inch thick. Use a knife to cut the rope into one-inch-long pieces. As you finish cutting each rope, roll each small piece of dough under your finger, to form an indentation; you have now made a gnocco (sing. of gnocchi). Set the finished gnocchi on a platter or cookie sheet, which has been covered with a thin layer of flour. Repeat until all dough has been used.
While making the gnocchi, bring to a boil a large pot of salted water, drop no more than 15 gnocchi in the water at a time, cook for one minute. As soon as the gnocchi come up to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon to a platter, add some butter or tomato sauce, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on them. Keep going till they're all cooked.
Next we move to a very typical food--the calzone (pronounced cal-zone-eh): This particular calzone is made with hard salami, but you could stuff it with almost anything that you'd put on a pizza.
Anna Maria’s Italian Calzone Recipe
· 1 recipe pizza dough. I substitute 1/3 of whole wheat flour for the unbleached white flour.
· 1½ cups part skim ricotta
· ½ cup Auricchio sharp provolone cheese , grated
· ½ lb. cubed mozzarella, skim is fine
· 5-6 thick slices Italian hard salami, like Abruzzese, cut in strips
· 2 eggs beaten
· ¼ tsp sea salt
· 2-3 tbsp fresh parsley, minced (optional)
For the filling, mix all ingredients and set aside.
Roll dough into 4 circles. Put a good amount of filling on one half of circle. Fold other half over, to form a half moon. Pinch all around to seal. Repeat to use the rest of the dough. Put calzone on a baking stone or a cookie sheet. Brush calzoni with olive oil.
Bake in 450 to 475 degree oven, according to your oven. Bake for 15 to 20 min., until golden brown on top. Be sure to keep an eye on the oven, the first time, to be sure that the calzone does not burn and adjust oven accordingly.
Zia Wanda’s TIRAMISU’ (my aunt)
24 Lady’s Fingers (crunchy type)
1 rectangular Pyrex container, or similar
2 CUPS ESPRESSO or more (about 4 oz.) (cups here meaning espresso shots, not 8 oz cups!)
Small amount of brandy or cognac (about 1 oz.)
To make crema:
8 tbsp. flour
8 tbsp. sugar
4 egg yolks
1 quart milk (pre-heated in the microwave, to shorten stirring time)
2-3 strips of lemon rind
In saucepan combine first three ingredients and with wooden spoon mix well, until it forms a homogeneous paste. Add milk and lemon rind, and bring to a boil stirring continuously.
When crema comes to a boil, lower heat and stir for one-two minutes longer. Remove from heat, remove lemon rinds. Let cool a little.
Place a layer of ladyfingers in Pyrex dish. Wet with coffee and brandy. Pour crema over it. Repeat a second layer, topping with the crema.
Sprinkle top of crema with bitter cocoa powder.
Refrigerate until very cold. Guaranteed delicious!