Tag Archives: Dessert

ALMOND AND RICOTTA CAKE (Torta di mandorle e ricotta)

One of my friends made this cake and it is called a Rich Almond and Ricotta Cake.

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The recipe was a photocopy from a magazine of a couple of years ago. She has made the cake a few times and it has always been successful.

The cake is nice eaten on its own but just to remind us that it is winter, we enjoyed eating it like a dessert with warm stewed quinces and cream. With a cup of tea for morning or afternoon it is just as nice.

Because she decorated her cake with lavender from her garden we discussed how a lavender custard would also be an excellent accompaniment for this cake. I have included a recipe for this as well.

250g ricotta cheese
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp almond extract
175g caster sugar
250g almond meal
finely grated rind of 1 lime
1/4 cup flaked almonds
Icing sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 150C
Beat together the ricotta, egg yolks, almond extract and sugar in an electric mixer until smooth. Stir in the almond meal and lime zest.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until soft peaks. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture to loosen, then fold in the remaining. Spread into the tin and bake for 35 minutes. Sprinkle with the almonds and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden and a skewer comes out clean.
Cool slightly, then turn on to a wire rack. Cool completely then dust with icing sugar to serve.

Lavender custard

2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
6 fresh lavender flowers, without stems
Beat the egg yolks and sugar until creamy. Heat the milk until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan ( well before boiling point).
Pour a little of the egg mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan and whisk steadily. Keep on adding dribbles of the egg mixture slowly into the saucepan, and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.
Remove from the heat and add the lavender flowers. Pour the custard into a jug; place a piece of baking paper directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Leave to steep in the fridge overnight. Remove the flowers before serving.

 

On the same weekend another friend gave me a present. She crocheted this extraordinary tea cosy for me. If only I had this fabulous creation when we ate our cake!

The Rich Almond and Ricotta Cake recipe reminded me of a different almond cake I used to make  – one of those flourless moist cakes that Claudia Roden made very popular and that has Sicilian flavours and ingredients. The almonds are toasted beforehand and then half of them are ground to a meal and the other half are coarsely ground before they are added to the cake mixture. This adds crunch as well as a more pronounced taste of almonds throughout the cake rather than just on top.

I am not saying that one cake is better than the other. They are both a variation on a theme. In Sicily the ricotta would be made from sheep’s milk – more delicate and sweeter.

Torta di Mandorle e Ricotta

Although it is called a torta (cake) it doubles up as being one of those moist desserts that I prefer to eat warm accompanied by some stewed winter or summer fruit or fresh strawberries. A dollop of cream does not go astray but this is not a common Italian custom.

250 grams of almonds
250 g ricotta, drained (the one sold in the tub is usually too moist and not suitable)
100 grams of sugar
4 eggs
finely grated rind of 1 lemon or orange

Blanch the almonds and then toast in the oven (160 degrees) till golden. Beat the ricotta and sugar, add  rind, the eggs one at a time then mix in the almonds. Mix everything well. Pour into a cake pan lined with baking paper and bake at 160 C  for 45 minutes. Serve it warm.

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SICILIAN CASSATA and MARZIPAN AT EASTER (Food and Culture in Sicily, La Trobe University)

I usually coat my cassata with marzipan and every time I do this people tell me how much they have enjoyed eating the marzipan and how it compliments the flavours of the cassata.

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The last time I made cassata with marzipan was Saturday 23 March at Food And Culture In Sicily: Easter Cookery Workshop offered by La Trobe University and once again the people who attended the session liked the marzipan and said that they had never enjoyed eating it in the past.

The session began with a very interesting lecture on the history of food and feasting in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean.  Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University. During her lecture she focused on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world.

The lecture was followed with a food workshop and cooking demonstration that reflected the ways Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by the dominant cultures of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day, which includes Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures.

The cassata was very appropriate for this session, not just because of its derivation, but also because it was essentially and still is an Easter dessert. In time it has also become popular for Christmas.

Sicily produces large quantities of almonds and almond meal is used extensively for making traditional almond sweets and pastries. Marzipan fruit originate from Sicily and Sicilian pastry cooks are esteemed and employed all over Italy.

Marzipan when made in the traditional method is made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped.

The modern and easiest way is to make it with almond meal, icing sugar and water. It is still kneaded and rolled with a rolling pin. Unless you can buy fresh almond meal it is best to blanch the almonds and grind them yourself.

Over the years I have been making marzipan and adapting a recipe from Bitter Almonds, Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian girlhood. Maria Grammatico has a very famous pastry shop in Erice in Sicily and her recipes have been recorded by Mary Taylor Simeti.

This is the original recipe:
2 cups (300 g) whole blanched almonds
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar *
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
In a food processor, grind the almonds with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar until very fine, almost powdery.
In a food processor or in an electric mixer, combine the nuts, the rest of the sugar, the water, vanilla, and the almond extract.
Process or mix until the paste is very smooth. Remove to a marble slab or other cold work surface dusted with confectioners’ sugar and knead briefly by hand.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Marzipan will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.

****This is what I do: I use 2 cups of ground almonds and 1 and ½ cups of pure icing sugar combined with ½ cup of caster sugar – this adds the crunchy texture that compliments the ground almonds.

I really like the taste of natural almonds and if I am using fresh almonds I see no necessity to use vanilla or almond extract.

I usually mix the sugars and almond meal with my fingers and add the water slowly. I am cautious with water because if the mixture is too wet I may need to add more almonds and sugar. I knead it as if I am making bread and if it needs more water I add it to make the mixture pliable.

This is not the first time that I have written about Cassata or Easter or Marzipan and there are many other posts about these three topics on this blog.

This post has the recipe for making cassata:

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CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED – a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

When my children were young they used to refer to me as the food police; everything had to be just right and particularly when we went to a restaurant I often seemed to find fault.

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I cannot always be a purist. Sometimes I take shortcuts and this shortcut did not look or taste too bad.

I used sponge fingers, dipped in Cointreau. These formed the casing of the sweet – the  bottom and top layers. In between I used a sweet ricotta filling, in fact it a similar ricotta filling that I use when making a cassata. I then covered the top layer of sponge fingers with a whipped cream with a little ricotta, topped it with summer strawberries and leaves made from marzipan. The result is very much like a summer cassata and very suitable for the Christmas season.

The flavours and process of dipping sponge fingers or sponge cake in liqueur and layering with a cream filling are very much Italian. After all, I have been making cassata, zuppa inglese and tiramisu for years.

I have maintained the Italian colours.The only problem is what do I call this dessert?

The marzipan can be made days beforehand, wrapped in cling wrap and left in the fridge. The leaves can also be made beforehand and placed in a sealed container with baking paper in between each leaf.

This dessert fed 6-8 people – the strawberries were huge and because of their large size they give a wrong sense of scale.

INGREDIENTS
500 g fresh ricotta,
100 g caster sugar,
1 cup Cointreau or to taste
50g of chopped blanched almonds
vanilla concentrate
some orange and citron peel previously soaked in Cointreau for at least 1 hour
small pieces of dark chocolate
cream to cover the dessert, add as much as you like

PROCESSES
Arrange sponge biscuits in a square container lined with cling wrap. Sprinkle them with orange flavoured liqueur.
Beat 450g ricotta with a dash of cream, sugar and vanilla. The mixture should be creamy but stiff.
Fold in nuts, chocolate, and drained peel. Reserve the Cointreau.
Place this on the layer of sponge fingers and finish off with a top layer which you have sprinkled with more Cointreau – I used what I drained off the peel.
Leave it for at least 5 hours.
Close to serving, (I did this an hour before my guests arrived) decorate it with the whipped cream (mixed with a little vanilla, 50g of whipped ricotta and a little caster sugar to taste).
Place strawberries on top and decorate with leaves.

Marzipan leaves:
100g blanched almond meal
100g g icing sugar
1 egg white
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 drop green food dye

Mix contents together and use your fingers to knead the mixture; add more sugar of meal if the mixture is too wet.
Place the marzipan in between two sheets of baking paper and roll it out thinly. Cut it into shapes of leaves.

One of  the cassate (plural of cassata )I have made covered with green marzipan.

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BUDINO DI PANE, An Italian version of Bread And Butter Pudding

My partner loves bread and butter pudding. Most of the time he makes it with a good quality fruit loaf – sourdough with plenty of fruit.
I found two small ponettoni (plural) in my cupboard (90g each). These are uneaten presents from Christmas and need to be used up and were used for this pudding. The characteristic smell of panettone brings back many memories for me – as a child I used to dunk it into hot chocolate.

It is a simple recipe and pretty standard in the UK and Australia. Sometimes  he makes it with bread and he also adds a little vanilla and some good home made jam between the layers of bread.

 

INGREDIENTS
panettone, 180g cut into slices
butter, 50g spread on the panettone slices
milk, 1 litre (full cream)
eggs, 3
sugar, 2 tablespoons
PROCESSES
Preheat the oven to 160C
Grease a casserole dish with a little butter. Layer the slices of pannettonein the casserole dish.
Mix together the eggs, milk and sugar with a fork – use a jug.
Pour the liquid mixture evenly over the layers of panettone.
Bake for 30- 35 minutes until set.
Budino Di Pane

I inherited a recipe book called Millericette from my mother (A thousand recipes Aldo Garzanti editore, published 1965). I found a recipe for budino di pane – literally translated aspudding of bread.
INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES
Use 400g soft bread crumbs; soak in 1 litre of milk. After a couple of hours rub through a sieve, add 250g of sugar, 6 beaten eggs, 500g of sultanas and raisins, 1 cup full of orange peel chopped finely and 1 glass of rum.  Mix well.
Transfer contents to a well buttered mold or one lined with buttered paper. Bake in a moderate oven for 30 mins.
Serve with orange sauce.
 
Notice that there is no butter in the Italian recipe. ( I think that I would add 50- 75g.)
 
Orange sauce:
Use orange jam (sweet orange marmalade), press the jam through a sieve, add a couple of spoon fulls of boiled water and sugar, add gin or Grand Marnier and mix well.


Italians do like their alcohol in sweets!!

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SBRISOLONA, SBRISOLOSA OR SBRISOLINA (Biscuit- like crumble cake)

This has to be one of the easiest and fun desserts that I have made in a long time.
It is so incredibly simple and you can make it with your fingers if you want to. It reminds me of making shortbread, simply and gently combining the basic ingredients of flour, butter and sugar and gently pressing it into shape. Sbrisolona has polenta in it as well, and it was once made with lard instead of butter. Modern recipes like this one, include egg yolk, lemon peel and coarsely chopped almonds. I am liking the new season’s Victorian walnuts and used these instead.
When you hear or see the word polenta you know that this means Northern Italy and in fact we are talking about peasant food of Montova and Cremona.
What I like about it is that it is not cut, it is broken into pieces so it becomes a talking point at the table.

 

Sbrisolona, Sbrisolosa or Sbrisolina is all the same thing, just different names and written in dialect. Sbriciola is the Italian word and it comes from sbriciolare, to crumb.
INGREDIENTS
finely ground polenta/ cornmeal, 1 cup
plain flour, 2 cups
sugar, 1 cup
butter, 225 g
almonds are traditional, I used walnuts , coarsley chopped, 1 cup
egg yolks, 2 large
grated lemon zest from 1 large lemon
salt, ½ teaspoon (if using unsalted butter)
pure vanilla extract, to taste
PROCESSES
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Butter a 28 cm springform pan or line it with baking paper – the paper will make it easier to remove from the tin and help it not to break.
Combine flour, cornmeal and salt.
Rub in butter, either by hand or in a food processor/ with pastry hook.
Add sugar and mix through.
Mix the egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla together and add it to the dry mixture. Combine it gently; it will resemble coarse meal. Do not to over mix.
Add the chopped nuts.
Place the crumbs loosely into the baking tin and help it to stick together mostly around the edges by pressing it very gently.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
Transfer to a rack and cool completely before taking it out of the tin. Handle carefully, but if it breaks just reshape it.
It not cut like a cake. Break it into serving pieces or guests can break it into pieces themselves.
It’s pretty good served with a glass of liqueur or sweet wine.

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CASTAGNACCIO (A Tuscan sweetened bread made with chestnut flour)

Castagnaccio is made with chestnut flour – an ingredient that is easily obtained from stores that sell a large range of Italian produce.

There are other versions made with fresh chestnuts, but they have to be boiled first, removed from their shells, mashed and then combined with the ingredients in the recipe – I cannot see how it can taste the same.

 

Castagnaccio is a rustic Tuscan dish – it is neither bread not cake and it is eaten as a snack at any time of day. I first ate castagnaccio many years ago when I ventured out of my base in Florence to nearby Pisa, Gubbio and Assissi.  It was a particularly cold and wet time of year and in bars I visited in the three locations I consumed slices of panforte  and castagnaccio – my excuse was that I was interested to compare how different these tasted in each bar.  I remember that I accompanied these Tuscan specialities with cups of thick, hot chocolate and took the opportunity to sample the local amari (liquers- digestives) at the same time.

Chestnut flour is not uncommon; it has been/is still used to make bread and pasta in various parts of Italy, and in fact I ate some excellent bread made with chestnut flour last time I visited Calabria. In Adelaide and in Melbourne I have purchased chestnut flour that has been packed by different Italian companies – most have a recipe for castagnaccio on the packet and as we all know there can be many variations for the same recipe in all Italian cuisine .

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The recipe is easy and is like making a pancake mixture – it should be as smooth and be as thick (raw mixture above).  I do not always add sugar because the raisins and the flour provide some sweetness. Rather than soaking the raisins or good quality sultanas in water I soak them in marsala or port.

INGREDIENTS
chestnut flour, 250 g
water, 2 cups and perhaps a little more
sugar, 1-2  tbsp
pine nuts,100 g
raisins,100 g (pre-softened in a little water)
walnuts, 50 g
rosemary, fresh, sprigs
extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbs for the mixture and an extra tablespoon to sprinkle on top at the end of cooking on top
salt, a pinch
lemon peel, 2 tablespoons grated (optional)
cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (optional)
PROCESSES
Mix the chestnut flour with a little water. Add the salt and sugar and more water. Do this gradually to form a smooth paste (I begin with a spoon and continue with a whisk and a spoon).
Add 2 tbs olive oil. Mix until smooth.
Add to it the lemon peel, cinnamon and raisins and half of the pine nuts and walnuts.
Pour mixture into a large oven pan into which you have poured about 2 tbs of olive oil (the mixture should not be more than 2cm high). Spread it evenly.
Sprinkle with the rest of the pine nuts and walnuts and the rosemary leaves.
Sprinkle onto the top about 1 tablespoons of olive oil.
Place into a pre- warmed oven (180C). Cook until a thin crust forms on top and there are cracks throughout the surface (about 30-40 minutes). The inside should be soft and moist. 

When I take the castagnaccio out of the oven, I like to sprinkle a few drops of sweet wine (late picked, dessert wine) on top – the crust will soften slightly , but the aroma and flavours will be worth it.

Eat warm. A bit of whipped cream on top does turn it into a very pleasant dessert.

July 2012

Just recently I bought some chestnut flour made from 100% Australian chestnuts.

The local flour is a little darker, seems to absorb much more liquid and tastes sweeter than the imported flour.

It comes in 250gm packets, is  freeze dried  but is more than twice the price. The 500g packets of Italian imported flour does not contain information about how the flour is made.

Whatever flour you purchase, make a smooth and thick batter and you should be able to pour it into the baking tin.

2017

I am still making castagnaccio  as I like to introduce different regional specialties to friends.  I also have a friend who is gluten intolerant – perfect.

Mercato in Campbelltown South Australia and Enoteca Sileno sell Cheznuts Australian Chestnut flour.

This flour is made from Australian grown organic chestnuts which have been dried in the traditional Italian way using very low heat over many days. Drying nuts in-shell imparts a nutty roasted chestnut flavour and makes the nuts sweet and delicious. The dried nuts are then peeled and milled to produce a fine flour that is full of flavour. Chestnut flour is gluten free.

Niki Mihas from Mercato has provided some information about the processes used to make Chestnut flour.

 

CHESTNUT FLOUR

Chestnut flour is used in Europe, and especially in Italy for many beautiful cakes and sweets.  The traditional method of drying chestnuts is in a small hut with a slat floor.  The fresh nuts are placed in the top section on top of the slatted floor and a fire is lit in the lower level to create heat to dry the nuts.  Once the chestnuts are dried they are peeled and milled into flour.

Often the Italian chestnut flour will taste slightly smokey due to this process and the flour will be light brown colour which reflects the presence of the inner skin that could not be fully removed prior to milling.

The Australian chestnut flour is tastier because they freeze dry their peeled chestnuts.  They take these freeze dried nuts and mill them into chestnut flour.  This flour has an intense pure fresh chestnut flavour.  As it’s made using peeled chestnuts, there is no contamination form the inner skin of the chestnut & not smokey taste.

Chestnut flour is gluten free!  It’s high in Vitamin C as the chestnut isn’t compromised as there is not heat involved during the drying process.

At Mercato we have the Cheznuts Australian Chestnut Flour available in 250g packs.

 

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

I use Alchermes (or Alkermes) to make the famous Italian dessert zuppa inglese (literally translated as English soup). 

Zuppa Inglese is the Italian version of the English trifle generally made with sponge cake, moistened with fruit syrup or/and sweet sherry, layered with cream/and or custard, jam, and most times red coloured jelly made with jelly crystals.

Trifle is still being made in UK and countries like Australia (that initially inherited much of the British cuisine). Over time there have been some little variations to the recipe, for example I have often eaten trifle in Australian homes that included preserved fruit – particularly canned peaches. Recently fresh fruit has become a popular edition, particularly strawberries, that in Australia can be purchased cheaply and all year round.

There are many stories about how this English dessert came to be part of Italian cuisine. Some say that perhaps Italian diplomats tasted trifle on a visit to London and this may have been their interpretation of this dessert. Others say that it probably eventuated in the kitchens of the well-off English; there were many living in Florence in the late 1800’s till the lead up of the Second World War.  Most of them employed Italian staff; perhaps some signori inglesi missed some of their cooking from home and this was what their Italian kitchen maids prepared as trifle. They had to use Italian ingredients – savoiardi (sponge fingers – mostly used in layered Italian desserts) and Alchermes the ancient Florentine, red liqueur commonly used to moisten and flavour cakes. Fresh cream was (and is) rarely used in cakes in Italy, but pastry cream called crema pasticcera (also crema inglesecrème anglaise) is very common. And it is easy to see how this sloppy mess could be calledsoup”(zuppa).

I have seen modern Italian versions of recipes for zuppa inglese, which include red fruit (like berries) and many include chocolate. My mother’s version sometimes included grated dark chocolate on the top; I think that this was partly for decoration, but chocolate was never part of the dessert. Other modern versions may have a sprinkling of coffee beans and I wonder if the makers are getting confused with tiramisu, which because it contains coffee is often decorated with coffee beans.

I often make zuppa inglese especially when I am stuck for ideas, or have little time to prepare a dessert; it is so easy to prepare and never fails to impress.

I still use the traditional way to make it. I always assemble it in layers: sponge fingers moistened with Alchermes (either homemade or purchased at a good wine shop), cover these with crema pasticcera, repeat x 2-3 layers finishing with a layer of sponge fingers.

I use a large glass bowl to assemble the layers of ingredients (it is a pretty dessert) and keep the zuppa inglese, in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight before I intend to present it – it gives the dessert time to settle and the flavours to develop.  I finally cover it with a layer or tuffs of panna montata (literally meaning cream made into mountains – isn’t the Italian language marvellous!). it is also known as Chantilly cream, whipped cream with a little caster sugar flavoured with vanilla bean –Italians would never think about using plain cream in cakes.

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In the Zuppa Inglese above I have placed a sprinkling of crushed pistacchio nuts and chioccolate on top .

At some stage during my research about Alchermes I found out that the name is likely to have been derived from the Arabic “al” (a) and “qirmiz” (worm). This is because it contains cochineal, which gives the liqueur its red colour. Cochineal used to be made with a particular insect which was crushed and dried, this produced a rich, red dye.

In the photo I have included a bottle of purchased Alchermes (32% volume). I also make my own and there is a recipe on a previous post. I usually purchase the savoiardi but in the photo are savoiardi courtesy of a friend’s neighbour (her version as the shop bought variety are not usually ribbed) .The only recipe for this dessert is for the crema pasticcera:

INGREDIENTS

3 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons caster sugar infused with a vanilla bean, a pinch of salt 3 tablespoons of cornflour, 1 litre of milk, rind of 1 lemon, and a cinnamon stick.

 

PROCESSES

In a saucepan, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and slowly add the flour, salt and a little milk to make a smooth paste – a whisk could be useful. If you do not have sugar that has been infused with a vanilla bean, use a little vanilla (not artificial).
Add the rest of the milk and incorporate to dilute the mixture evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler remove the rind in one piece from ½ lemon. Add this to the milk mixture. Add the cinnamon stick.
Use low – medium heat, stir it constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon and slowly bring it to the boil- the custard should have thickened. Cool before using. To prevent a skin from forming, I place a piece of baking paper or butter paper on its surface.

 

GELLO DI LIMONE (Sicilian Jellied Lemon)

As well as gello di mellone (made with watermelon juice), Sicilians make gello do mandorla (made with almond milk), gello di cannella ( made with cinnamon and water) and gello di limone ( made with lemon juice).

It is thickened with corn flour and stirred like custard till it solidifies. There is nothing to it but surprisingly it turns out to be quite delicious.

This photo is of a gello di limone made by Barbera, wife of Corrado, the son of my cousin Franca. They all live in Ragusa, Sicily and it was one of the many things Barbara prepared for me when I was invited to dine with them (all the relatives go out of their way to cook Sicilian specialties for me when I visit them).

 

Now that you have the credentials, it is time for the recipe.

500ml fresh lemon juice
500ml of water and the peel of the lemons soaked in the water for 24 hours
300g sugar
4 level tablespoons arrowroot or corn flour
2-3tbsp limoncello (optional)
Mix the corn flour with a little water and make a smooth paste.
Mix all of the other ingredients together in a small saucepan and heat gently – keep on stirring until it thickens.
Remove from the heat, add the limoncello and pour into a wetted mould (or individual serving glasses)
Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge for several hours.
Sicilians eat it plain but it is a nice accompaniment to strawberries or poached cumquats (sugar syrup).

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CASSATA ( Post no. 2) Calls for a celebration!!!

One of my readers has made the cassata (following the recipe on the blog) and has attached photos of it – it was the celebratory cake on New Years Eve.

She also made the mazipan fruit (following the recipe on the blog) and used them to decorate the cassata. She has sent me some photos. Doesn’t it look wonderful!!!

She writes:
Your recipe works a treat and it is a great celebratory dessert. Everyone on new years eve thought it was very special! Some even ate the marzipan fruit!

With more time I would have created a fancy edging with small leaf shapes. Your sponge recipe was most successful! The cake was delicious and I was generous with Cointreau. Everybody was delighted with the cassata – it was the highlight of the meal.
I followed your recipe closely but added more couverture choc (which isn’t so sweet) and glace orange and citron to the ricotta. The glace orange doesn’t have the intense flavour of candied orange peel so you need a bit more of that. I would be inclined to bump up the use of Cointreau next time to make the sponge even moister and to bring out the lovely orange liqueur flavour even more.

Could you also try adding honey to replace some of the sugar in the ricotta mix? It could make the ricotta a little moister too but wouldn’t make it too sloppy as it is stored in the fridge (the honey becomes more viscous when cooled). It has stored well in the fridge (hasn’t gone weepy at all). We had some for morning tea today with friends and it was greatly enjoyed.

 

THE CHARLESTON Restaurant in Mondello (near Palermo)


Having been there on a previous trip to Sicily, we finally made it back to the famous Charleston Restaurant on the beach at Mondello. We did not enjoy our food as much as we expected.

However I did find the conversation that I had at the end of the meal with the waiter very interesting. I’ll get back to that.

The restaurant has changed hands in the last two years and the owner has decided that the Charleston’s menu of enduring, traditional favourites, needed refreshing. So alongside the menu Tradizionale, there is now a selection of dishes labelled Innovazione (Innovation).

Allowing ourselves to be rushed into ordering – fatal mistake – we thought we would honour the experiment and chose from the menu Innovazione. This after all was 2009 and I was ready for Innovation having appreciated the traditional food at this restaurant  at an earlier visit.

Good waiters recommend and advise – but maybe we looked too much like tourists who did not belong . We should not have been intimidated by the waiter standing at attention, pen poised over the pad, waiting to write our order. He looked impatient.

This is first of the innovative dishes I ate. It is called a Tououlet Con Verdure.
It is a small sformato (mould) of couscous topped with slices of very young squid (lightly pan fried) Surrounding it was a strong reduced fish sauce with some balsamic reduction for effect. The red blobs on the corners of the plate were the verdure (vegetables) and these were just sliced unseasoned tomatoes, which were not particularly tasty. It was a modern take on the traditional cous cous – the fish, the couscous, the concentrated fish stock – I had eaten an excellent the night before on the waterfront at Castellammare del Golfo. ( Broth, couscous and fish presented separately- traditional).

The rest of the food we ordered was just as unappealing. Where was the innovation?

The waiter who gave us the bill at the Charleston (there were several standing around and each had a different function but I have to say, little to do), when questioned about the quality of the food, admonished us for ordering from the menu Innovazione, as much to say we got what we deserved/ what did you expect. He explained the new owner’s demand for change, but said the menu Tradizionale was still the thing to eat at the Charleston, and that it was going to take the chefs another couple of years to get the innovations right .

Sicilians are good at cooking traditional dishes and these are what Sicilians like to eat. The menu in some restaurants may not look very exciting, but cooked well, the simple becomes a masterpiece. True…. and especially on this occasion.

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