Lately, I have fallen in love with the delicious Sicilian pastries from Dolcetti made by Marianna Di Bartolo.
DOLCETTI, handmade sweet things (223 Victoria St, West Melbourne).
Dolcetti means little sweets in Italian (it implies exquisite little morsels) and my frequent visits to this pasticceria has revived my desire for that distinctive, strong citrus taste present in many Sicilian desserts.
Sicilians produce a large range and quantities of citrus. One of the citrus is the cedro (citron). Cedri (plural) look like very large lemons and they have very thick skins. Sicilians use them fresh to make a salad (dressed with salt, extra virgin olive oil), but most of all they are candied (used for making cassata) or made into a sweet conserva (conserve/ jam/marmalade), especially common for flavouring desserts and placing in the centre of almond pastries.
Marianna also sells beautiful preserves in her pasticceria, but I have not seen a lemon one.
These may not be cedri, but the size and amount of pith on these lemons is comparable (each lemon weighed approx. 700g each). I decided to treat the lemons like cedri and make a conserva.
Finding a recipe can be an interesting process. I do not think that I have ever followed a recipe from start to finish; I always enjoy finding and comparing recipes in the various publications, adding what I know and then modifying it to suit my tastes.
Each of the numerous times I have visited Sicily (and Italy), I have bought cookery books – not only by the greats of Sicilian cuisine and highly recognized writers and publications (Coria, Correnti, Taylor Simeti, Tasca Lanza, ….I could go on), but also by the less known ones (Maria Consoli Sardo, Di Leo, D’Alba,….I could go on).
The variations in the recipes (quantities and methods) I found in the different publications for making this preserve were many. Some recipes directed peeling the fruit first, others boiled the peel several times and discarded the water and some added sugar after boiling the pulp; there were almost as many variations for making marmalade as I found in my old Australian publications (for example The older South Australians may remember the Green and Gold Cookery book).
The two recipes I ended up liking the most were: Marmellata di Limone (in Bitter Almonds, Maria Grammatico and Mary Taylor Simeti) and Conserva di Citru (in Profumi di Sicilia, Giuseppe Coria).
Maria Grammatico and Mary Taylor Simeti suggested pricking all of the lemons with a fork, putting them in water and letting them soak for 5 days, changing the water every day.
In Coria’s recipe the lemons were soaked (un-pricked) for 24 hours.
One recipe suggested mincing, the other grating the fruit.
Grammatico / Taylor Simeti suggested weighing the pulp and using 1¼ their weight in sugar. Coria suggested adding 2 kilo of sugar for every 3 kilo of pulp and 1 cup of water, but what I liked about his recipe was the addition of a cinnamon stick which was also mentioned in many other of my older Italian publications (most that do not include amounts of ingredients).
- pricked the lemons and soaked them for 3 days. I thought that pricking the lemons would soften the skins and it did
- used a mandoline to slice the lemons into medium sized julienne pieces – I decided I liked texture
- reduced the amount of sugar to 1kilo of sugar to 2 kilo of pulp, added 3 cinnamon sticks and no water
- cooked the pulp until set – mine took about 40 minutes. (You know the old trick about testing jam/ marmalade by placing a little on a cold saucer, cooling it, and if adequately set it should wrinkle and feel firm)
- placed the conserva into hot sterilized jars.
The flavour of my conserve is very intense and very lemony, but the texture is a little rubbery (maybe I cooked it too long). I am also disappointed that I am unable to taste the cinnamon and noticed that the sticks also break up during the cooking. I expected the conserve to be a lighter colour – the cinnamon may have contributed to the darker shade .
I wanted my conserva to be perfect and I was going to give a jar of it to Marianna. It seemed a fair exchange – my labour of love, for many of hers.