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Bruschetta with Fresh Fava Beans

Rosetta

My garden is a little behind from last May. The weather has been unusual for California this year, with lots of rain and cold. We have planted all the tomatoes, eggplant and romano beans, but have not planted our peppers yet. Fresh peas are still on the vines because they were late coming out this year.

And of course we have been picking lots of fava beans on a daily basis.

Eating fava beans every day prompted me to write about them. We plant the variety of beans that we brought over from Calabria. The bean pods are very long compared to the ones that you find here at the farmers' market. Typically fava bean pods are about six inches long with 5 or 6 beans inside, but our variety is 10 to 12 inches long with 8 to 10 beans inside the pod. Each plant produces lots of pods.

Here are the beans inside the pod.

The beans themselves have an outer skin that most people here in the United States always remove, making for lots more work. Calabrians usually leave them on when making pasta or minestra with fava beans  but I do remove them for certain dishes. The recipe for a fava bean "spread" that I will show you is one of these. You can put it on top of bruschetta or serve it with grilled fish, toss it with pasta, or fold it into a risotto. It is so easy to make that you can just follow the photos below to make it at home.

To make enough for six people you will need about four pounds of fava bean pods. Shuck the beans from the pods,  blanch the beans in boiling water for about a minute, put them in cold water to stop cooking, drain them and then remove the outer skin.  Place them in a skillet with a good amount of olive oil, three cloves of  minced garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme.  Cook until soft for about  20 minutes, adding a little water if dry. Remove the thyme sprig and mash with a potato masher. Add some lemon juice to taste.  If the puree is still dry add some good extra virgin olive oil at the end.

While it is still warm spread it on top of bruschetta and top it with some shavings of ricotta salata or pecorino.

The next time you go to the farmers' market grab the fava beans because their season is short. Look for bright fresh pods. If they are wrinkly or brown don't buy them. And remember to buy lots of pods. Five pounds of pods give you only about 2 pounds of shelled beans.

P.S.  Here is a formal portrait of my chickens. They have finally lost their fear of open spaces and have become proper country chicks. This photo was as hard to take as one of kindergarten children (they just wont stand still). I managed to corral all four of them in one corner of the yard.  They love being outside and eating greens. Can't wait for that first egg!

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Bruschetta con Fave Fresche (Bruschetta topped with fresh fava bean spread)

Ingredients

4 pounds fava beans
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
One small sprig rosemary
One small sprig thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Six slices of grilled country-style bread

1. Shell the fava beans and discard the pods.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the shelled fava beans. Cook the beans for about one minute. Drain and place in a bowl of ice-cold water, to cool. Drain them again. Using your thumbnail, break the outer green skin and squeeze the pod between your thumb and forefinger - the bright green bean inside will pop right out. Discard the tough, outer skin.

3. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a medium size skillet. Add the fava beans, garlic, rosemary and thyme sprigs, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of water.

4. Cook over low heat until the fava beans are soft and absorb the flavors of the garlic and herbs, about 20 minutes. Add more water if the beans are drying out. Remove from the heat. Remove the herb sprigs and mash the mixture to a coarse puree or use a food processor and briefly process the mixture, if you prefer a smooth paste. Taste for salt and pepper. Add more olive oil and the lemon juice to taste. If the mixture seems dry, add more olive oil.

5. Spread the bean mixture on the grilled bruschetta. You can finish the bruschetta with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and topped with some shaved, fresh pecorino cheese or ricotta salata if you like.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

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.

Crema di Limoncello

Rosetta

What do you do when life gives you lemons? I make limoncello with the Meyer lemons from my tree.

Last week I made a batch of limoncello and crema di limoncello, which I learned to make from my cousins. In Calabria people make all types of liqueurs, infusing grain alcohol with different fruit, herbs, flowers, even hot peppers. (The most unusual liqueur I have ever tasted in Calabria was at Villa San Domenico in Morano Calabro where the owner had infused the alcohol with porcini mushrooms.) It is a custom to offer a bicchierino (little glass) of liqueur when someone comes by to visit. Most waiters in Calabria won’t leave you alone until you have a little glass of limoncello or other infused liqueur after dinner.

Limoncello is very easy to make: you just need some lemons that haven't been  sprayed or waxed, a bottle of Everclear and some sugar. Crema di limoncello, the recipe for which I give you below, has one extra ingredient: milk.

Wash your lemons and remove the peel with a very sharp peeler or knife, being careful to remove only the yellow part of the lemon.  You don’t want any of the white pith--this will make the limoncello bitter.

Place the peels with the alcohol in a  jar with a hermetic seal.  I use this jar that is large enough to hold the peels and the alcohol, and has a tight seal.  Leave the peels in the alcohol for a week.

After a week, strain the alcohol and add the cooled sugar syrup, made with either water for plain limoncello, or milk for crema di limoncello.  That is all there is to it. Leave it alone for a week and then enjoy a little glass as an after-dinner drink.

Crema di Limoncello (left) and Limoncello (right)

Crema di Limoncello

(Creamy lemon liqueur)

Ingredients:

Peeled zest of eight lemons

1 bottle of grain alcohol (750ml)  (Everclear 151 Proof)

6 cups of whole milk

4 cups of granulated sugar

1. Remove the peel of the lemons taking care to peel only the yellow part and none of the white.  If any white pith is left on the peel it will make the limoncello bitter.

2. Pour the alcohol in a bottling jar that will hold at least three quarts and add the lemon peels.  Close the jar with a tight fitting lid and leave to infuse for one week in a dark cool place.

3. After this time, place the milk and sugar in a pot over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled.  For making regular limoncello this is very important; if the sugar syrup is still a little bit hot the limoncello will turn out cloudy instead of clear. Remove the lemon peels from the alcohol and then add the cold milk syrup to the jar and mix well.

4. Pour the crema di limoncello through a fine sieve lined with clean cheese cloth and decant it into bottles.  Close the bottle with a cork or lid. Leave to rest for at least a week in the freezer before using it.

Crema di Limoncello is always served cold.  I keep it in the freezer once opened.

Limoncello Variation: If you wish to make limoncello, just replace the milk with water.  Boil the water and sugar and let it cool.  Follow the rest of the recipe.  Keep refrigerated or in the freezer once made.

Makes 3 quarts.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

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.

Zuppa di Zucca (Roasted Butternut Squash Soup)

Rosetta

As I promised you last week,  here is my recipe for butternut squash soup, a dish that always shows up on our table on Thanksgiving day. It is extremely simple to make because it has only a few ingredients. If you can, make your own chicken or vegetable broth for it; it will make a world of a difference in the taste. Cut the butternut squash in large chunks, removing the seeds. Place the cut-up pieces in a baking dish along with an unpeeled onion cut in half vertically and an unpeeled head of garlic, with its top cut off to expose the cloves.

Sprinkle with some fresh thyme and drizzle with olive oil

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 400 for 1 hour or more until soft.

Once cool, using a spoon remove the squash pulp from skin and place in a food processor with the onion (remove outer skin) and squeeze as many garlic cloves as you like into the bowl.

Puree until smooth.

Place in a pot and thin it out with 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth.

Sprinkle with a little bit of chopped parsley; or you can fry a few sage leaves and place them on top of the soup.

Enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving!

Zuppa di Zucca

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

2 pounds butternut squash, unpeeled, seeds removed, cut into 10 pieces

1 unpeeled garlic head

1 large onion, unpeeled cut in half, vertically

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 fresh thyme sprigs

2 cups (or more) chicken broth or vegetable broth

Minced fresh parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut 1/3 inch off the top of the garlic head, exposing the cloves.  Arrange the garlic, squash and onion cut side up in large baking dish.  Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil.  Scatter the thyme over the vegetables.

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.  Uncover the vegetables and cool for 10 minutes.

Scrape the squash from the skin into the processor work bowl.  Peel outer layers and trim root end from onion halves.  Add onion to processor.   Separate 6 garlic cloves from head and squeeze the garlic in the bowl.   Puree the vegetables until smooth.  Add more roasted garlic if desired.

Transfer the puree to heavy large pot.  Wisk in 2 cups of chicken broth.  Stir over medium heat until heated through, adding more broth if thinner consistency is desired.

Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley.  You can serve the soup with crostini (toasted bread) spread with the remaining roasted garlic.

Serves 6

Zucca con la menta (Butternut squash marinated with garlic and mint)

Rosetta

This is the time of the year when I have to buy some vegetables at the market. (My family lives off what we grow in our backyard until November.) All the summer vegetables are winding down in my garden, and I can start buying my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash. The easiest way to use butternut squash is to peel it, cut it in small cubes, and toss with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Then roast the cubes at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes until soft.

How do I love butternut squash? Let me count the ways: tossed in pasta or farro, added to a risotto, as a filling for stuffed pasta, tossed with arugula for a salad,  pureed  as side dish, or on top of pizza. Another of my favorite ways to use it is to make a simple roasted butternut squash soup for Thanksgiving. I will share this recipe with you next week in time for you to make it for the holidays.

Two of my most favorite methods of preparing butternut squash are the Calabrian, as zucca con la menta, and the Sicilian, as zucca in agrodolce. They can be served as a side dish or part of an appetizer buffet. I can’t give you the recipe for the Calabrian version word for word as it will be included in my upcoming cookbook, but I can show you with pictures and, it being a simple dish, you can make it right now rather than wait until next year!

Peel the butternut squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds from the lower half, and slice it into ¼ inch slices. You will get half moon slices from the upper section and C shapes from the lower section.

The slices are fried in olive oil until golden.

As you fry them, place them on a platter and sprinkle them with salt. Drizzle with red wine vinegar, and add some sliced garlic and fresh mint.  Continue this layering process until done.  Drizzle with additional olive oil if it seems dry. Let it marinate for at least a couple of hours.

If you want to make the Sicilian version, zucca in agrodolce,  meaning a dish that is sweet and sour, which my mother-in-law makes,  do the same layering processing by adding the garlic and the mint, but skip the vinegar on each layer and do the following instead:  keep two tablespoon of olive oil in the pan in which you fried the squash, and add 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar and three tablespoons of sugar.  Heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Pour over the fried pumpkin slices.

Crostone con i Funghi (Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese)

Rosetta

When I was growing up in Calabria my family never purchased cultivated mushrooms from the supermarket. My parents mastered the secrets of mushroom hunting at an early age. They knew where to look for them and which ones were edible and which were not. We foraged for porcini, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and many other varieties. Although we live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, my father still manages to find the same mushrooms. In Calabria we cooked wild mushrooms in many different ways. We grilled them, baked them with a sprinkling of fresh breadcrumbs and herbs, layered them with sliced potatoes, cooked them with tomatoes, and preserved them in oil. I can still taste my grandmother's wild porcini dish; she would slice them thickly and quickly sauté them with olive oil, garlic and parsley. It is still one of my favorite ways to cook wild mushrooms; I will give you a variation of this recipe below.

A couple of years ago a student asked me to teach a cooking class based entirely on wild mushrooms. The class was so successful that I now offer the class annually at the beginning of November called “A Feast of Wild Mushrooms”.   In this class I bring my favorites: porcini, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms. Here is a basket that I brought to class last week filled with these three types:

This is the only time of the year that they are available at the market, so try them now. For my all-mushroom class I like to purchase them at Monterey Market in Berkeley. They have an extensive selection of mushrooms foraged in California and Oregon.

And please please PLEASE--don’t venture out to pick mushrooms unless you are trained to identify them or are with a mycologist. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death.

Here are the porcini mushrooms:

...and some beautiful chanterelles:

...and wild oyster mushrooms that my dad foraged last week!

My cooking class features wild mushrooms from appetizer to dessert.  Well, not quite.  The dessert just looks like a truffle; but it is a dessert specialty of Calabria called “tartufo di Pizzo”. You will have to wait for the recipe for when my cook book comes out next year. In the meantime, I will share with you, the recipe for an appetizer from the class, that  I had in Rome many years ago at a “bruschetteria”, a restaurant where all they serve are large bruschettas and salads. The "appetizer" was an over-sized bruschetta called a “crostone” topped with melted taleggio cheese and mushrooms.  I created my own version by topping a bruschetta with wild mushrooms cooked the way my grandmother used to. With this simple technique you can create many dishes. You can toss the sauteed mushrooms in pasta or risotto, or eat them as a side dish with grilled meats.

To make the appetizer as a crostone I like to use Acme Bread pain au levain or as a bruschetta their Italian loaf. As a crostone it is great for a lunch with a nice salad of winter greens.

Brush the bread generously with olive oil and grill or broil on both sides.

Rub with garlic and top each toast with a slice of Taleggio:

Melt the cheese in the oven

Saute the wild mushrooms

and top the crostone with them:

Give it a try and enjoy it as an appetizer or as a light vegetarian meal!

Crostone con i Funghi

Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese

Four 3/4-inch-thick slices crusty Italian bread 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4 cloves garlic: 1 cut in half, 3 grated on Microplane or finely minced 4 ounces Taleggio, cut into four 1/8-inch-thick slices 1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, shiitake, oyster) cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat a charcoal, gas, or stovetop grill to high heat or preheat broiler with an oven rack positioned about 6 inches below the heat source.

Generously brush both sides of bread with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill until toasted with a little color on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet and rub both sides of toast with the cut garlic. Discard garlic. Top each toast with Taleggio and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. When oil is hot enough to sizzle a mushroom, add mushrooms and salt. Don't stir until steam starts rising from sides of pan. Sprinkle with grated/minced garlic and sauté quickly, stirring frequently, just until mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, stir, and taste for seasoning--add more salt, if necessary. Set aside. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)

Just before serving, place toast under broiler just until cheese melts. Transfer to individual dinner plates, top with mushrooms, and serve immediately with a knife and fork.

Serves 4

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Roasted peppers Casa Janca Style

Rosetta

Here is my newest favorite pepper recipe that escaped my mom's repertoire. I learned this recipe just last year when I was staying at Casa Janca, a rustic agriturismo near the fishing village of Pizzo, just northeast of Tropea. The owner, Rita Callipo, is a highly regarded cook that runs a restaurant out of her home. Eating there is like eating at my aunt’s house. She makes the best Calabrian dishes, and always bases her meals on what she finds that day at the market. Every time I am there I barge into the kitchen to see what she is cooking. I have included a few of her recipes in my book, My Calabria, but this one wastoo late to submit, so you can try it out now in anticipation of additional delicious recipes when the book is released next year. I watched her make this dish; she just sprinkled "a little of this and a little of that" of what was available in her kitchen. I took notes so that I could duplicate it at home and it has become a favorite at our house. It's very easy to prepare and has all the flavors of Calabria.

Peperoni ripieni della Casa Janca

(Roasted peppers Casa Janca style)

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (see note below)

1/4 cupgrated pecorino cheese

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, finely chopped

4 large red or yellow bell peppers

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon capers, chopped if using large capers

6 anchovy fillets cut in small pieces

18-20 small cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarter if large

In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese, garlic and parsley.

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the stem and seeds.

Coat a 9x13 baking dish with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and place the peppers cut side up. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt evenly over all the peppers. Add chopped capers, anchovy pieces, chopped tomatoes and a nice coating of the breadcrumb mixture inside each pepper.

Drizzle generously with the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil and bake at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or so, until the peppers are soft and fully roasted.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4

Note: to make fresh breadcrumbs use day-old bread (good Italian or French loaf), cut it up in cubes and place it in a blender. Puree until you have fine, even breadcrumbs.

Copyright 2009, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved

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.