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Filtering by Category: Regional Specialties

Caponata di Carciofi

Rosetta Costantino

Caponata di Carciofi (Sweet and sour artichokes stew)

A caponata featuring fresh artichokes, perfect to make in the spring when fresh artichokes are in season. Caponata is typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, at room temperature or cold.  Be sure to make the tomato sauce ahead of time.

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs small artichokes, 20 small artichokes about 1 – 1.5 oz each

One lemon

1/4 cup Olive oil

3 stalks celery, about 1 cup chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 1/2 cup tomato sauce (see attached recipe)

One tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well

1/ 4 cup chopped green olives

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper

Fill a bowl with cold water and squeeze the juice of a lemon into the water.

Clean the artichokes by removing the outer leaves, until you see pale yellow leaves.  Trim the stem and cut off the top of the artichoke and discard. Cut in quarters for small artichokes or slice about 1/4 inch thick lengthwise.  Place in the bowl of water and lemon juice.  Continue until all the artichokes have been cleaned.

Place two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy duty saucepan, add the drained artichokes and stir for few minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of warm water.  Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until the water is evaporated and the artichokes are tender, but not fully cooked. 

Remove the artichokes from the pot and set aside.  Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the celery and onion until soft and translucent, add the artichokes and salt to taste. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, capers and olives.  Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the artichokes are soft and fully cooked stirring occasionally.  Add the vinegar and sugar and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.  

The caponata should have a sweet and sour flavor.  Use more wine vinegar or sugar to adjust the balance.  Transfer to a bowl and let it cool.

Serve at room temperature or refrigerate overnight and serve cold.

Copyright 2015, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Friscatula con Cavolo Verzo (Calabrian polenta with Savoy Cabbage)

Rosetta

With the rain finally arriving in the Bay Area, it is starting to feel like winter, and thanks to the rain and cold we are able to make and cure our annual production of Calabrian sausage , that we typically produce in January when the weather conditions are ideal for curing sausage, cold and humid. In addition to the curing of sausage I love to prepare Friscatula, Calabrian polenta with savoy cabbage, during this time of the year. 

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Buccellato Siciliano (Christmas Fig and Nut Pastry Ring)

Rosetta

This year I would like to share with you a traditional dessert that is prepared in Palermo, Sicily for Christmas – Buccellato. Think of the Buccellato as a super-sized fig cookie. The smaller size of this pastry is called Cucciddati or Buccellatini. I think it is more impressive (and easier) for the Christmas table to prepare one Buccellato than a dozen small cookies. 

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Dolci di Noci (walnut cookies)

Rosetta

This is the first recipe that I am sharing with you from my new cookbook “Southern Italian Desserts”.  It has become one of my favorite cookies and it couldn’t be more simple to make.  Can you think of any other cookie that has only three ingredients?  It is so good that anybody that has one wants more and more.

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Name that dessert contest --- The winner is .....

Rosetta

Back in April I shared five photographs from my new cookbook "Southern Italian Desserts"  in a post and asked you to guess the name of the following desserts and the region they come from.   Everyone that named at least one dessert correctly (name of dessert and region) was entered into a drawing for a free autographed copy of "Southern Italian Desserts". 

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Eating our way through Calabria - Culinary Tour 2013

Rosetta

After spending a couple of weeks in Calabria and Sicily, I am back home.  During those weeks I spent 8 days with a fabulous group touring and eating our way through Calabria.   We had a great time and enjoyed many luscious meals. Take a look at some of the photos below and the remainder on Cooking with Rosetta Facebook Fan Page.

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Chiacchiere

Rosetta

Carnevale, or "Fat Tuesday", is coming up, so it is time to make chiacchiere. The word "chiacchere" translates into "chatter", "chit-chat", or "gossip", but in this context it is a strip of sweet pastry dough fried and coated with powdered sugar. These crispy strips of dough are made throughout Italy and are called by various names: I have heard them called bugie, cenci, crostoli, and frappe. Check this link for a list of all the names. "Chiacchiere" is what we call them in Calabria. Below are pictures and a short video to show you how to shape them.

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Tonno sott'olio: Tuna preserved under oil

Rosetta

Tuna preserved in olive oil is the pride of the Calabrian pantry. Most Calabrians that live near the Tyrrhenian coast preserve their own. My parents did not, since they lived inland, but were fortunate to be able to buy good tuna. At the end of every summer vacation we would spend in Calabria my son would have me pack as many jars as would fit in my suitcase.

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Cipolle di Tropea (The Sweet Red Onions of Tropea)

Rosetta

Calabria is famous for its sweet red onions named after the glamorous beach town of Tropea. During the month of May and June you can buy them freshly harvested at roadside farm stands.

Later, in June and July, they are sold at markets strung in a ristra.

The main growing area is south of Tropea, around Ricardi and Capo Vaticano. You will find these onions grown all over Calabria but the ones grown close to the sea are extremely sweet because of the sandy soil and the mild climate throughout the year. They come in two shapes, torpedo and flat round. I grow both types in my garden. If you want to grow them you can order the seeds online from Seeds from Italy or Garden Edibles and start them in early fall. You will then need to transplant them in October, and by June they'll be ready to eat. Here is what they look like in my garden right now:

In Calabria these red onions are eaten raw in salads; cooked in sauces; roasted or grilled; placed on top of pizza or in frittate; made into jam, and even added to ice cream!

Last year when I was in Calabria in May, right when they were being sold as young fresh red onions, I enjoyed them roasted under salt at Casa Janca in Pizzo. I never had them prepared this way and it was the most wonderful side dish of the evening. Signora Rita Callipo roasted them under a crust of salt and then served them with only a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I could have made an entire meal out of them. They were so good that when I got back home I pulled some young red onions from my garden and prepared them the same way. I just made them again last night and decided to share this simple recipe with you.

If you have never cooked under salt don't be afraid of the quantity required. The salt seals the food and keeps it moist, yet it doesn't get into the food. I roast whole fish under salt and it is truly the best way to prepare it. You can get my recipe for seabass under a crust of salt in my cookbook due out this fall.

Red onions just pulled from my garden:

Clean the fresh red onions by removing their roots and stems.

Mix 1.5 lbs of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (a half box) with enough water (about 1 cup) to make it the consistency of sand. Use only Diamond Crystal kosher salt; other brands are made by a different process, so the crystals have a different shape and are less absorbent.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, which will make cleaning easier, and make a bed of salt.

Lay the onions on top and cover them with the wet salt. Pat the salt down and make sure that no part of the onion is exposed.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Crack the salt crust.

Remove the onions and clean any salt that sticks to them. I also remove the outer layer of the onion.

Cut the onions in half and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a little sea salt if needed.

Give it a try.  They are so good!

Bocconotti calabresi

Rosetta

The Calabrian town of Mormanno is famous for sweet pastry tartlets called bocconotti, a word that literally means “small bites”, because they can be eaten in one bite. They are traditionally filled with grape jam or cherry preserves and covered with pastry dough. I baked a couple of them with grape jam (mostarda d’uva) so you can see what they look like.

Someone wrote to me last week saying that her relatives in Rende used to make bocconotti with an almond chocolate filling, and wondered if I had a recipe for them. I had never heard of this particular filling for them, so I promised her that I would do some research in my collection of Calabrian cookbooks and pamphlets. These books, by the way, are usually self-published, very small, and always have recipes for local food. You can usually find them in little stores and markets in Calabria.

I went through my collection and lo and behold, I found a recipe for bocconotti from Amantea, in the province of Cosenza, that are filled with almonds and chocolate. They sometimes have a bit of cinnamon and cloves when they are made at Christmas time. I also found other recipes for bocconotti with just an almond filling, like a frangipane.

Unfortunately a typical Italian cookbook usually gives you the ingredients but not all the amounts, so in a way I had to create my own recipe for the filling. I used my basic recipe for the pastry dough. I like the traditional bocconotti filled with jam but these are even better, a heavenly treat, especially when made with cocoa and good dark chocolate like Valhrona. I made them without a pastry cover as you see in some recipes, but you can add a cover of pastry dough to look like the traditional ones from Mormanno.

Make a batch of my pastry dough as follows in the recipe below. Take a small amount about the size of a ping pong ball and using your fingers press the dough into 1 1/2" tartlet forms (measured across the bottom). Trim the edges.

To make the filling, grind all the dry ingredients in a food processor.

Make sure you grind the whole almonds with the rest of the dry ingredients until very fine.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in the dry ingredients, about a quarter at a time. You should have a thick fluffy batter.

Spoon the batter into the dough-lined tartlet shells and bake for 15–18 minutes at 375 F.

Here are my beautiful bocconotti dusted with powdered sugar.

The bocconotti in the center are the traditional shape covered with pastry dough. If you prefer, you can fill them with any jam you like, or with Nutella. Below are the bocconotti with the chocolate almond filling.

If you make them let me know what you think.

Bocconotti Calabresi

Pastry dough:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled, cut into tablespoon-size pieces

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Filling:

1/2 cup almonds, about 3 ounces

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 ounces dark chocolate

1/4  cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make the dough: Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Pulse several times to blend. Add the butter and pulse four to five times, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and lemon zest. With the food processor running, add the egg mixture through the feed tube. Process just until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it gently, just until it comes together into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. If refrigerated for more than 1 hour, you will need to soften the dough slightly by removing it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to use it.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Make the filling:  Place all the dry ingredients in a food processor and grind them until you have a fine powder.  Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold in the dry ingredients in the egg whites, about ¼ at a time.  When all the dried ingredients are folded in the egg whites, add the vanilla and stir.

Take a small amount of dough, about the size of a ping pong ball, and using your fingers press it into the tartlet mold up against the edges.  Trim excess dough.  When all the tartlets are done, place a heaped tablespoon of filling in each tartlet.  Place all the filled tartlets on top a cookie sheet and bake at 375F for 15 to 18 minutes until the dough is lightly colored.

Cool on a rack. When cool remove the bocconotti from the tartlet forms.   Dust with powder sugar.

Makes 16 bocconotti

Copyright 2010, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Calabrian Easter bread

Rosetta

At Easter time, in my town of Verbicaro everybody baked a sweet bread that we called buccellati, also called cuzzupe, cuculi or cudduraci in other parts of Calabria. Thesesymbolic breads are decorated with whole eggs still in the shell. The eggs are nestled into the surface of the dough, held in place with criss-crossed strips of dough, representing the crucifix, and baked along with the bread. These decorative breads, symbols of Christ’s resurrection, are given to children, with boys receiving a braided loaf and girls a loaf in the shape of a doll.

My mom used to bake these breads every year when we lived in Calabria and I always looked forward to my “pupa" ("doll") at Easter time. For some reason she didn’t continue this tradition after we moved to California--I guess I was too old for a doll --and not having a written recipe she had forgotten the amounts of each ingredient. So this past week we started talking about this lost tradition and it fired me up to bake these breads for my kids. She made a call to a relative in San Francisco that still makes the buccellati every year and I quickly had a recipe that I slightly modified, adding my favorite flavorings: vanilla and grated lemon peel. The recipe below will make three large breads or two of each of the three shapes in the pictures

Buona Pasqua!

Dough after kneading, ready for first rise:

Shaping the dough into ropes to form the braided bread:

Breads in three shapes ready for second rise:

Breads ready for baking; you can sprinkle the breads with nonpareils if you like:

Buccellato di Pasqua

Easter Bread

1 cube butter (4 ounces)

2 cups milk

2 packages Rapid Rise yeast

3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks

2 cups sugar

one teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons anisette liqueur or brandy

One teaspoon vanilla

grated zest of one lemon

8 cups flour or more if needed

Whole Eggs in the shell, to bake in the bread

1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of sugar (for egg wash)

Nonpareils to decorate (optional)

Melt the butter with the milk.  Add the yeast in the warm milk (make sure it is not hot) and stir to dissolve the yeast.

In a large bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks with the sugar, salt, olive oil, anisette, vanilla and lemon peel.  Add the warm milk with butter and yeast to the egg mixture. Slowly add the flour and stir with a fork to incorporate all the flour.   Mix with your hands and add more flour if needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead it until you have a smooth dough.

With the dough placed in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

Shape the dough into ropes and braid into the various shapes.   Nestle the whole eggs in their shells in the braids and cover with thin ropes of dough.   Let the dough rise again for another hour.

After the second rise, brush the dough with the egg wash.  Decorate with nonpareils if you desired.

Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Our Annual Salumi-making

Rosetta

My parents used to raise a hog in Calabria every year and right after New Year's Day we would all get ready for the Annual Whole Hog Ritual. We don’t raise a pig in California, of course, but we still maintain the tradition of making our own salumi the old-fashioned way. When it gets cold here in the Bay Area and it is drizzling we buy lots of pork meat and make salsiccia, sopressata, capocollo, pancetta and prosciutto. This year we made our first batch right after Christmas and we started eating the cured sausage this past week, since it takes around three to four weeks to cure. There is nothing like the taste of homemade salumi!

It is actually very easy to make fresh homemade sausage. But the making of cured sausage I leave to my father, the expert salumiere, who knows what he's doing. Calabrians who make their own salumi at home use only salt and the perfect weather conditions to cure them. But all commercially-made sausage is required by government agencies to add preservatives and nitrates.

My cookbook will have the recipe for making fresh Calabrian sausage, but let me show you in pictures the basic method. We always use pork shoulder, and add more pork fat to raise the percentage to about 25%.  We then grind the meat and the fat using the grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer:

We season the ground meat with only the following ingredients: salt, wild fennel seeds, and pepe rosso dolce (sweet Calabrian paprika). We add peperoncino macinato (hot pepper powder) to some for the spicy version. Nothing else goes into the meat.

We make our own pepe rosso from the sweet peppers that we dried during the summer months and the hot pepper powder from our dried hot peppers. We forage for and harvest the wild fennel seeds, since it grows wild everywhere in California. If you want to give making the sausage a try you can buy the pepe rosso, the hot pepper powder and the wild fennel seeds online from these two sites that carry products imported from Calabria:

http://www.sausagedebauchery.com/

http://www.italianharvest.com/subcategory.php?prodID=1396&subcatID=17

The meat is mixed until it is a beautiful red color. My grandmother used to say that it wasn’t mixed well until your hands were colored red from the paprika.

The  meat is then stuffed into natural hog casings using my mom's old fashioned sausage stuffer. But back in Calabria she and her mother would spend the entire day stuffing casings with a funnel and their thumbs!

Sausages ready to be hung in my dad's wine cellar, where they will cure for three to four weeks:

A photo by Sara Remington of my dad in his wine cellar admiring his salumi:

We still have to make sopressata, but at least we are all done making this year's sweet and spicy sausage, pancetta and capocolli. That prosciutto in the photo above was made last year. Since we still have some left, we are skipping making prosciutto and instead we may make more capocolli.

A close-up of our cured Calabrian sausage attractively sliced and ready for eating:

Il Cenone: A Calabrian Christmas Eve Feast

Rosetta

Il cenone is the highlight of Christmastime at my house just as it is in Calabria. A Calabrian Christmas Eve dinner usually includes thirteen dishes, and is always centered around seafood. The fish is mandatory because the Roman Catholic Church made the day before Christmas (la vigiliа) a day of fasting and abstinence from meat, and some authors speculate that the thirteen dishes represented food for Jesus and his twelve disciples.

In the old days fresh fish wasn't available in rural areas and people could afford only baccala (salt cod),  stoccafisso (dried cod) and dishes like pasta with cured anchovies. These are humble dishes but are so delicious that people still continue to keep them on the menu, even with their new-found affluence. Today  they also use all the fresh fish available and make great seafood extravaganzas from them.

This morning I have started soaking the baccala so it will be ready on the 24th. On the morning of Christmas Eve I will make my run to the  fish market early in the morning and depending on what I find I will create my menu on whatever fish is available. I might prepare spaghetti con vongole (pasta with clams) or spaghetti with Dungeness crab or with swordfish. Following the pasta course, we  may have baccala (salted cod) either fried, braised with potatoes and dried sweet peppers, or in a salad with potatoes. I may also make a seafood salad that includes calamari, clams, and mussels, as well as lots of vegetable like cauliflower salad, broccoli rape sauted with garlic, and escarole salad.

My mom will be busy in the late afternoon making grispelle and cuddurieddi (fried leavened dough with potatoes), cannariculi and cicirata. (See my previous post for the photos.) I usually add some non-traditional desserts, such a tronchetto di Natale (chocolate Christmas log) or a semifreddo di torrone. (See below for the link to the recipe). Of course panettone is always on our table and this year as in the past two years my friend Fanny always brings a panettone made by Colavolpe in Calabria, which is studded with dried Calabrian figs and dark chocolate.

Below is a typical menu that would appear at my home on Christmas Eve. The highlighted dishes have links for recipes that were published in Sunset Magazine in December, 2007. For the others you will have to wait until my cookbook is published next fall 2010.

Wishing you all buon Natale!  Happy holidays and a great 2010!

Grispelle e Cuddurieddi

Tartine al Burro con Bottarga di Pizzo (Crostini with bottarga butter)

Spaghetti con Acciughe e Mollica (Spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs)

Involtini di Pesce Spada (Grilled stuffed swordfish rolls)

Baccalà alla Verbicarese (Salt Cod with sweet red peppers and potatoes)

Insalata ai frutti di mare (Mixed seafood salad)

Insalata di Baccalà con Patate (Salt cod and potato salad with red onion and capers)

Broccoli Rape (Sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic)

Insalata di Cavolfiore (Cauliflower salad)

Chinule (Sweet Christmas ravioli with chestnut filling)

Cannariculi e Cicirata (Fried ridged pastry with honey Glaze)

Panettone

Semifreddo al torrone (Semifreddo with Almond Nougat)

Frutta e dolci (Clementines, hazelnuts and walnuts, roasted chestnuts, chocolate coated figs and torrone)

Traditional Christmas Desserts of Calabria

Rosetta

December is the month for desserts in Calabria. Every year the season starts on December 13 with the festa di Santa Lucia. This is the day that many cooks start the fritture, the annual frying of yeasted dough for desserts. In some towns people prepare la cuccia, which is cooked wheat berries with nuts, mosto cotto and spices. In the area of Calabria in which I grew up, Christmas meant grispelle, yeasted dough-and-potato fritters, shaped long and drizzled with honey, and cuddureddi, which are ring-shaped and served plain or with honey. Up in the Sila area, especially in the town of San Giovanni in Fiore, you find the traditional pitta ‘mpigliata, baked pastry rosettes filled with walnuts, almonds, raisins, cinnamon, cloves and drizzled with honey.

Another Christmas dessert found in the Cosenza area are the scaliddi or scalille, meaning "little ladders".  These are fritters made with a sweet dough, but shaped either to resemble a ladder, with two long parallel sides and shorter cross bars, or a long spiral made by wrapping a rope of dough around the handle of a wooden spoon and then dipping the spoon into hot oil.

My two favorite desserts at Christmas were always the cannariculi (or cicirata) and chinule.  The cannariculi are a sweet fried dough shaped like gnocchi, fried and drizzled with honey:

The cicirata is the same dough but cut in the size of a chick pea and fried and coated with honey. Those of you who are Neapolitan know them as struffoli. In some towns the cannariculi are coated with mosto cotto. They are also known as turdilli or crustoli. The chinule are shaped like  a ravioli or half-moon turnover and filled with a puree of chestnuts, raisins, chocolate, cocoa powder and spices and then are fried and drizzled with honey.

As you go further south in the boot you will find many other types of traditional desserts at Christmas time, like petrali, half-moon shaped cookie dough filled with dried figs, nuts, chocolate, mosto cotto and cinnamon, and then baked and covered with a glaze. And there's the pignolata, tiny fritters covered with either a chocolate or lemon glaze.

I know that you are all waiting for the recipes for these desserts but unfortunately I can’t include them this year--all the ones that I mentioned are in my upcoming cookbook, and I am not allowed to give them out.  But I promise you that I will give them to you next Christmas!

All the photos in this post were taken by Sara Remington for my book. I will add more pictures to the blog as I begin my own fritture.

Peperoni Cruschi

Rosetta

December is a month of many celebrations, both religious and secular. Often each celebration is accompanied by the serving of a particular food or dish. December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic Church, and marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday season and its wonderful dishes in Calabria. My town also has a non-religious celebration that day, known as “Perciavutta” day. The word “percia” means “to make a hole” and “vutta” means“barrel”; therefore “put a hole in the barrel”, and as I remember it when I lived in Calabria, Perciavutta is the day when all the townspeople that made wine that year would go to each other's cellars and taste the new wine. Two snacks are traditionally served to the guests. One is grispelle, in which dried peppers are softened and folded in yeasted dough. I'll be writing more about this Calabrian specialty as the holiday season continues. The second snack that is brought to the wine cellars is peperoni cruschi, called pipi arruschkati in my dialect.

For peperoni cruschi, you need sun-dried sweet Italian peppers. Peperoni di Senise are ideal but any dried sweet Italian pepper will work. In future posts, you will see how we use these dried peppers in various dishes throughout the winter months.

To make peperoni cruschi, first remove the seeds and stems from the dried peppers and cut into pieces. Place the cut peppers with some extra virgin olive oil in a pan.  Toss to coat with the olive oil and place the pan over medium heat.

Keep on stirring them with a fork as the oil in the pan warms up. As soon as they puff up and become crispy you can remove them from the heat; be careful not to burn them.  Add a sprinkle of salt and you're done. They are sweet and smoky, unbelievable good and downright addictive!

If you have bought peperoni cruschi that are packaged and exported, you've wasted your money. They need to be eaten as soon as they are prepared, not months later out of a cellophane bag. So plan to dry some sweet Italian peppers next summer or buy the whole dried peppers and then make this easy dish yourself.

How to make mosto cotto

Rosetta

This past weekend we had our annual wine-making day. We buy Zinfandel grapes from a farmer (no, we don’t grow our own grapes here in the Bay Area) and then crush them in my dad's basement, which is where he makes and stores wine, and cures salumi.

My entire family works for a couple of hours until all the grapes are crushed. I then steal some of the juice to make mosto cotto.

The ancient Greeks in Calabria were the ones who began cooking grape juice and using it as a sweetener. In fact the original mostaccioli cookies were made with flour and mosto cotto. People in Calabria would even drizzle it on top of freshly fallen snow for a scirobetta. It is very sweet, with a concentrated grape flavor and a taste of caramel. Nowadays it has been replaced with honey. In other regions of Italy mostocotto is also known as sapa.

There are many traditional desserts still made in Calabria that use mosto cotto, most of them at Christmas time. People use it to sweeten cuccia, a porridge-like dessert of cooked wheat berries for Santa Lucia Day, December 13. It is also used in the filling of petrali, cookies filled with dried figs and nuts, as well as a tossing for turdilli, a sweet fried dough.

I think it's wonderful to drizzle on top of pecorino cheese and pears, or ice cream, or homemade ricotta. You can use it wherever you would use a dark honey.

To make mosto cotto you must buy wine grapes that are high in sugar, which means that ordinary table grapes won’t work. After crushing them, you get unfiltered grape juice:

You can see the seeds and skins still in the juice. After you filter it, bring the juice to a boil in a pot, then skim it:

Slowly cook it until it is reduced by 2/3 the original volume.

This will take close to 2 hours. Watch it carefully towards the end so you don’t over-reduce it or burn it. It should have the thickness of maple syrup:

Cool the syrup, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, and decant it into clean bottles with a cork or clasp seal. Store it in a cool, dark pantry or refrigerate. It will keep for at least a year.

I hope that some of you who have access to wine grapes will try this out; making it has become a lost art, even in Calabria.

Crazy about figs

Rosetta

When I lived in Calabria as a child I was surrounded by fig trees all around our farm, and I never could decide which type to pick from first. The best fig that is grown in Calabria is the "dottato" variety, known in this country as the "kadota" fig.  These have a green skin with a golden interior.  They are excellent fresh as well as great for drying, which is what my grandparents used to do with them.

When I moved to California as a teenager, my dad planted some cuttings from our friends' trees.  Then, when my husband and I built our house in the Oakland hills, the first thing we planted were two fig trees.  One was a black mission and the other was one that my dad grafted into two varieties, the "kadota" and the "adriatic".

Fig trees produce two crops a year.  Here in Northern California the first crop lasts from late June to July and the second crop from late August through the beginning of October.  The first crop is borne on the twigs grown the previous year and the second crop grows on the new wood. Here are photos of my figs:

Adriatic Figs

Kadota Figs. Note the drop of honey on the blossom end of the center fig. Perfection!

Black Mission Fig:

I have been picking my first crop of the Adriatic variety for the past two weeks. The black mission figs are just starting to ripen this week. My favorite way to eat them is right off the tree, fully ripe.

Most figs sold at the store are underripe, so try to go to a farmers' market to buy them.  A ripe fig is soft to the touch; you should see some cracks in the skin. If you see that little tear of syrup falling from the blossom end you have a perfectly sweet fig.

Calabrians don't really cook with figs unless they are making jam or using them in a dessert.  As for savory dishes, I will wrap some prosciutto around a cut fig, or slice them in a salad of arugula with some prosciutto.

The majority of the figs grown in Calabria are dried in the sun and are nowadays packaged in beautiful confectioneries.   My grandmother would braid the dried figs in various shapes: coroncine (wreaths) around stems of fragrant myrtle; spinapisci (fish spines) in which dried figs are threaded around a sharpened reed in the shape of a fish spine, one fig to the left and one to the right;  and crocette (crosses), in which two figs are split and stuffed with pieces of walnut or an almond and crossed in the form an "x".  These are then all baked.

There are two firms in Calabria around Belmonte Calabro and Amantea that do a beautiful job packaging dried figs: Colavolpe and Fratelli Marano. They shape them in the traditional forms, but also stuff them with almonds and a piece of candied orange peel, dipping them in dark chocolate, my favorite way to eat them dried.

If you can't find a tree-ripened fig in your area you can still enjoy the dried figs of Calabria that are now available in this country.  Here is a website where you can buy Calabrian fig confectioneries:  http://www.italianharvest.com/subcategory.php?subcatID=13

Pane calabrese (my family's everyday bread)

Rosetta

I spent the day helping my mom make bread.  We make it just as we did when we lived in Calabria; in fact, my mother brought the starter from Calabria in her purse when we moved to California! In Calabria my mother would make a large amount of bread, as much as 40 pounds, to last for a couple of weeks.  Nowadays she kneads only 25 pounds of flour at a time, all still by hand. (That's one reason why at 75 she still has great arms.) We eat some immediately, and freeze the rest. This lasts for a couple of weeks for both of our families.

We always save a small amount of bread dough from the previous batch in the refrigerator. So the night before we bake, my mom refreshes this "starter" by adding some flour and warm water to it.

The next morning she mixes the now sponge-like starter with the flour and warm salted water. She kneads it for as long as 45  minutes to an hour, using her two fists.   She then covers it and lets it rise for a few hours.  Here is a picture of the bread dough after the first rise:

The dough is then shaped in either a long  loaf (filone), a round (panetta) or a ring (cudduredda).

The bread is then allowed to rise for a second time for a couple of hours under warm blankets.

During the winter months and rainy days we bake the bread in my kitchen oven, but in spring and summer we bake it in my wood-burning oven on my deck.  I have a Mugnaini oven imported from Italy and I use it to bake pizza and bread, as well as to roast food.

We use oak wood and cuttings from my grapevines to fire it up. (Check out those arms!)

Once the oven is at the right temperature we shove the loaves inside with a pala, each loaf laid right next to the other.

The loaves bake for about an hour. And here's the finished product!

Some of the flat, ring-shaped loaves (see those in the front of the picture above) will be horizontally split in two after the first bake, and then are baked again at low temperature until they are fully dried.  These are Calabrian rusks, called friselle, and meant for long keeping.  Unfortunately they never stay for long in my home as it is my kids' favorite snack.

They love to eat friselle by just softening them with a little water and topping it with olive oil, oregano and garlic.  During the summer I love them topped with chopped fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil.

Our Calabrian bread  is sturdy, with a tight crumb, and faintly sour from the starter.

The detailed recipe for making our bread will be in my upcoming cookbook, My Calabria, to be published in 2010.

What is all the talk about ‘Nduja?

Rosetta

In the last month I've read many articles about 'nduja.  I am happy to see that people are finally discovering it. 'Nduja is a fiery, spreadable sausage of smoked pork that is unique to Calabria. The most famous is 'Nduja di Spilinga, which gets it name from the town in Vibo Valentia that has the largest production of this delicacy. It is now also produced by salumifici (salumi factories) in other areas of Calabria, but the people of Spilinga and all around the Monte Poro area will argue that their 'nduja is special. Why? Because the ingredients include the sweet and hot peppers grown only in the area.

'Nduja is prepared with the parts of the pig that will produce 40 to 50% fat.  The meat is ground very fine and then all that is added is salt, ground sweet pepper and ground hot pepper.  It is well mixed and stuffed inside a natural hog casing of the large intestine.  It is smoked for about a week and then dried for three weeks or longer, depending on the size of the casing.

This is what 'nduja from Calabria looks like:

It is one the most famous foods Calabria has to offer and can't be purchased as yet in this country.

Boccalone has started selling its own 'nduja as of last month. It is different from 'nduja from Calabria. It resembles the French rillette, with the texture of a pâté, and has a lot more ingredients, like orange peel, wine, sugar, and vinegar. In contrast, Calabrian 'nduja has only pork, sweet pepper, hot pepper, and salt.  Simple but heavenly! Also, the Calabrian 'nduja is coarser in texture, more intense in pepper flavor, and tastes much smokier.

So how do you eat it? I enjoy it just spread on bread or on a plate of fusilli (homemade pasta shaped around a knitting needle).  'Nduja is wonderful on top of pizza, added to beans and soups, or inside a pitta (the stuffedCalabrian pizza).

Here is a plate of homemade filei, as fusilli are called in the Monte Poro area, tossed with 'nduja and tomato sauce. I got to eat it last month right in the town of Spilinga:

If you want to try Calabrian 'nduja in America you can come to my cooking class in September, when we will toss it with homemade pasta. You can also join me this fall in my culinary tour to Calabria; we will use 'nduja in one of the cooking class held right in the area whereitis made.

Cheeses of Calabria

Rosetta Costantino

The picture above shows some of Calabria's best cheeses.

On the left we have fresh ricotta in the traditional baskets that were common when my dad used to make ricotta. These baskets are hand-woven from a weed that all Calabrian shepherds used just to hold ricotta until recent times, when they were forced to switch to plastic baskets in order to meet the "sanitation" requirements of the EU. It is sad for me to see that these beautiful baskets are no longer available. The art of making them is quickly disappearing. I had the shepherd place it some old baskets for nostalgia's sake.

The white cheese next to the ricotta is provola, made with cows' milk in the Sila plateau. The two cheeses to the right, which are made in the same place, are butirro and cacciocavallo silano.