A Fennel Orange Salad

from my Cookbook

'Naturally Vegetarian'

Gatherings: A Bruschetta Feast

bruschetta Ingredients

Bruschetta has a heartwarming meaning for every Italian:
It means gatherings.

What is simpler, tastier and more versatile than bruschetta, to open the way to a party between friends or relatives, and to a wonderful time together?

Whenever we’d host dinners at our place, everybody was involved in the preparation, and everyone was more than pleased to help. Every Christmas and New year’s Eve with friends, bruschette prepared together were the yearly appojnment that accompanied our meals. Bruschetta, much like fresh pasta (albeit infinitely simpler), is one of those foods that mean quality time spent with your loved ones.
This is why I would like to give life to a new category – Gatherings, wth this post: to talk about all those dishes that fed the crowds of my life.

Now that we are diving into the festive season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas in clear sight, I thought that sharing ideas for a nice board of Bruschetta would be a great way to start planning our holiday meals.
The variations are endless. Some of the advantages of bruschetta are:

  • They are foolproof and quick to make: slice bread, toast, top, serve.
  • They can be very cheap: One of the points of bruschetta is to use up day-old bread, as it turns soft again when toasted. If you don’t want to delve into fancy toppings, some of the tastiest slices are made by simply rubbing with garlic and sprinkling extra virgin olive oil.
  • They are infinitely adaptable: pick your toppings according to season, choose amongst many kinds of bread, cheeses, spreads  and according to how much you can spend. There can be savory or sweet versions, vegetarian, vegan and non-vegetarian versions and there is very likely a perfect wine that will go wonderfully with each choice.
Artichoke bruschetta

Artichoke bruschetta

My smorgasbord of bruschette (or ‘Tagliere’ as we’d call it in Italian) is following a pattern that goes along with the upcoming month of November. Seasoned cheeses, mushrooms and toppings with a decisive taste find their home on our fall / winter table.

Here’s a few pointers for a fall bruschetta assembly:

  • The bread: There are so many kinds of bread to choose from! Even though it would be even better to make your own (instructions coming soon!), any kind of crusty bread will make wonderful bruschetta. Since the word bruschetta comes from ‘bruscare’ which means ‘to toast’, any kind of toasted italian bread will essentially make bruschetta, but if you use white toast bread of the pullman kind it’s not bruschetta anymore: it’s a tartina. I encourage you to use whole wheat or rye bread, not only because they’re better nutritionally, but I also find that they add a lot to the overall taste with their nutty flavor. My favorite kinds are Pugliese bread and Campagne.
  • The toppings: Although they change from region to region, us people who are in the middle have the privilege of getting a little bit of everything. Generally speaking, aside from the ingredients themselves, we tend to adjust the condiments according to season: for the summer, we will probably prefer fresh cheeses like ricotta or mozzarella, and summer vegetables like tomatoes, grilled eggplants and zucchini or roasted peppers. Winter will have a prevalence of seasoned cheeses that melt wonderfully – like Gorgonzola, Taleggio or Pecorino, and definitely an increased use of meats like sausage or Speck. vegetables of choice can include mushrooms, Radicchio and other vegetables that will likely be consumed cooked. A mix of cheeses, honey and preserves are a timeless favorite, as well as the garlic and olive oil combo. So are any kind of vegetables preserved in olive oil, which means that you could make brusketta by just looking into your pantry if you can’t be bothered to shop for it.
  • The oil: The oil will probably make or break your bruschetta, so it is extremely important that the oil you use is Extra Virgin and quite flavorful. Since its taste will be so present, definitely pick your favorite. You don’t need much, but make sure that the little oil you use makes a statement, especially with simple condiments like raw vegetables.
  • The cheeses: As I said above, fresh cheeses will be predominant in the summer, while savory cheeses are preferred in the cold season. Parmigiano and Grana Padano are an all-time favorite. Fresh cheeses are also best paired with vegetables that will be consumed raw and garnished with olive oil, vinegar and salt (like cherry tomatoes, arugula and red onion). Some examples are Mozzarella, Mozzarella di Bufala, Burrata, Ricotta, Robiola, Chévres and, if you’re lucky enough to find it, Stracchino. Some well seasoned, winter cheeses include Pecorino, Formaggio di Fossa, Taleggio, Gorgonzola and Blue cheeses in general. There are many others, but someone who’s not in Italy can also take advantage of the availability of other cheeses, like Gouda, french cheeses in general and, well, whatever fits your bill. One cheese I’d personally never use for bruschetta? cream cheese. I like it, but it just doesn’t mingle. Sorry, New York.
  • The wine: The rule is that red meats and game go with red wine, and salads, white meats and fish go with white wine. This might not always be the case, but it’s not much different for vegetarian bruschetta: if you’re using ingredients that make a statement go with red, and for lighter, summery options go with white. A light bodied, sweet red could go well with lighter fare, too.

In my board for tonight’s gathering I picked some of the most common fall pairings. A delicate artichoke pate, the most classic truffle and Porcini mushrooms, and Taleggio with honey. Both Porcini and truffle are in season now, and the hills in northern Marche, around the village of Acqualagna, are teeming with delicious fungi of all kinds. This year there has been a lucky overflow of white truffles, as well.
But more of this in another post.

Mushrooms porcini chanterelles pioppini

From the left: Porcini, Chanterelles (Finferli) and Pioppini.

All the measurements here are kind of approximate, as everything largely depends on how many pieces you slice your bread into. But any of these condiments will be enough for 6-8 people or so. With bruschetta you can just eye it!

Porcini and Truffle Bruschetta

  • One cap of Porcini mushrooms or, alternatively, a handful of dried Porcini, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes;
  • Two or three Champignons;
  • A scant teaspoon truffle paste, or a few truffle slivers.
  • Olive oil, garlic, parsley, a splash of white wine (extra) and salt.

Slice the Porcini cap in half, then slice it not too thick. Sauté in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil (you could add a bit of butter if you wish), a crushed clove of garlic (or minced if you prefer)and a bit of chopped parsley. Add a pinch of salt and cook through, for about 10 mins. Lastly, add the truffle paste and spread on the toasted slices. If using fresh truffle, slice on top of the bruschetta at the very end.

Truffle and cheese variation: Add a slice of Taleggio or Blue cheese on your pre-toasted slices, and broil until melted. Add fresh truffle, truffle paste or truffle oil before serving.

Other serving options: Put everything in a blender and blitz into a paste! You could add a bit of cream if you wish, to bind everything together.

 

Artichoke Pesto Bruschetta

  • 150g Artichokes hearts preserved in Olive Oil;
  • A fat clove of Garlic;
  • A few sprigs of Parsley;
  • Salt;
  • A squeeze of lemon;
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil as needed.
  • (Extra) A tablespoon of Parmigiano.

Add all the ingredients to a (small) food processor and process until you get a smooth paste, adding the oil a bit at a time. Start with less garlic, parsley and lemon, and taste to make sure you don’t add too much. Adjust at the end.

 

Gorgonzola and Mushroom Bruschetta

  • Gorgonzola, or other nice blue cheese;
  • 2 cups of mixed mushrooms like Porcini, Button, Champignon and Chanterelles.
  • Olive oil, garlic, parsley, a splash of white wine (extra) and salt.

Sauté your mix of mushrooms as described above. Add some cheese slices to your toasted bread, and top with the mushroom mix. Drizzle with truffle oil if you wish.

Radicchio variation: Instead of mushrooms you can use sautéed Radicchio, which is also delicious. Use onion instead of garlic and skip the parsley. Radicchio, just like mushrooms, will release a lot of water. Using a wok for quickly sautéing it would be great.

Some other delicious and non-vegetarian pairings
– Taleggio and Speck
– Prosciutto Crudo, Parmigiano and Balsamic Glaze
– Just plain, top quality Pancetta
– Mushrooms, Sausage and Mozzarella
– Anchovy and butter

 Some Sweet combinations
– Taleggio or other well seasoned cheese with Acacia honey
– Parmigiano with caramelized figs and balsamic glaze
– Pecorino or Formaggio di Fossa with Orange blossom honey
– Ricotta with walnuts and honey
– Gorgonzola or blue cheese with Berry compote (yes, really)
-Any cheese with caramelized onions in balsamic vinegar.
Whatever the occasion, it is up to you to create delicious bruschetta. Get in the kitchen (or in your pantry) and get creative!
bruschette-board

Dolcetti al Vin Santo, per il Giorno dei Santi

Ho trovato questa scartoffia tra gli appunti di mia madre, in un’agenda ereditata da mia nonna. La mia speranza era di trovare una ricetta per le Fave dei Morti, dal momento che il primo di novembre si avvicinava al presente come i vecchi al forno.
Invece, ho trovato tutt’altro.

Questi dolcetti al vin santo sono composti dai piú classici ingredienti della tradizione autunnale italiana, raccolti dai contadini nel timido tentativo di adornare una povertá scarna e spossata. Non ci sono uova o burro, poiché questi sarebbero giá stati una spinta troppo impertinente verso un lusso che non gli apparteneva. Frutta secca, farina di castagne, integrale e pane secco presenziavano nella dispensa, e poco altro faceva loro compagnia. Ma il vino c’era. Il vino c’era sempre, a scaldare le giornate di novembre quando, nelle loro stanze senza vetri, la mattina raschiavano dal lenzuolo il loro respiro trasformatosi in ghiaccio sulla stoffa.

E non é splendido trovare queste vecchie carte, scritte nella calligrafia bambinesca di una donna che ha fatto del suo meglio per andare a scuola, nonostante sia rimasta prossima all’analfabetismo? Tutti i vecchi d’italia acquistano questi dolci perché é tradizione, perché la tradizione sono loro stessi e perché, ora piú che mai, della morte loro hanno paura.
Ma la conoscenza é immortale. Con la conoscenza, non temeremo i morti.

vinsanto3vinsanto10

Ecco quindi la ricetta per questi biscotti, da mangiarsi in questi giorni di inizio novembre. Sono pieni di sapori autunnali quali farina di castagne, uvetta e pinoli, ma perché non sperimentare con qualche altro ingrediente? Si potrebbero provare altri tipi di frutta secca, gocce di cioccolato, oppure sostituire lo succhero vanigliato con zucchero alla cannella. Fate vobis!

Nonostante sia convinta che una versione senza glutine di questi cosini riuscirebbe alla perfezione, non ho testato ancora niente e non posso garantire. Proveró una versione gluten-free quanto prima! La farina di castagne é giá GF, e si potrebbe provare a sostituire le altre farine con farina d’avena GF e magari un’altra farina a scelta.
Si dá peró il caso che questi dolcetti siano fattibilissimi in versione vegan! Inoltre, sono alla portata dei piú inesperti in cucina. Io li ho fatti delle dimensioni della ricetta, ma credo sia una buona idea rimpicciolirli in modo da ottenerne 16 anziché 8. Saranno davvero graziosi e molto meno pesanti.

Dolcetti al Vin Santo
Per 8 biscotti di circa 5 cm
NOTA: Si puó dimezzare la dose e ottenere 16 biscottini.

Per le uvette al Rum

  • 100g di Uvetta
  • 1125 ml Acqua calda (lo stesso volume in acqua delle uvette)
  • Due generose cucchiaiate di Rum

Due ore prima della preparazione, mettete a bagno l’uvetta. Non lasciarla per meno di un’ora. Una volta pronta, strizzarla bene. Faccio presente che questa quantitá é piuttosto abbondante, quindi se li preferite con meno uvetta lasciatene indietro una parte.

 

Per i dolcetti

  • 100g Farina integrale
  • 80g Farina di farro
  • 70g Farina di castagne
  • 70g Zucchero di canna*
  • 2 belle cucchiaiate di miele o sciroppo di Agave
  • 50g Vin Santo + due belle cucchiaiate di rum
  • 40g Latte (vaccino, caprino o vegetale)
  • 50g olio vegetale**
  • 40g Pinoli, o un mix di pinoli e nocciole tostate
  • 2 cucchiaini di lievito (meglio se vaniglinato)
  • Un pizzico di sale
  • Aromi come vaniglia e cannella, a piacere
  • Le uvette al rum

* Questi dolcetti non sono dolcissimi – il rum, il vino e le uvette contribuiscono parecchio alla dolcezza, quindi non userei piú zucchero di cosí. Ma aggiungete un’altra cucchiaiata di miele o sciroppo se amate il dolce.

** Questi biscotti non sono certo asciutti – dovrebbero peró avvicinarsi alla consistenza un po’ farinosa dei frollini classici. Si seccheranno leggermente di piú il giorno dopo, diventando perfetti per il latte o il té. Se li preferite piú umidi, aggiungete una cucchiaiata o due di olio in piú, ma c’é un limite alla quantitá di grasso che la pasta riuscirá ad assorbire. Idealmente, non dovreste vedere olio separato dalla pasta nella ciotola.

 

Riscaldate il forno a 180 C˚ e preparate della carta da forno su un vassoio.
Mescolate tutti gli ingredienti in una ciotola o nel mixer, incorporandoli bene. Dovreste ottenere una pasta compatta e appiccicosa. Se non riuscite ad incorporare tutta la farina, unite un’altra cucchiaiata di liquido.
Usando cucchiaio e cucchiaino (o, molto meglio, le vostre mani, volendocene fregare di insozzarci), formate delle palline che sistemerete sulla carta da forno, un po’ distanziate tra di loro, poiché si allargheranno in cottura. Cuocete per 15 minuti, e abbassate il forno se minacciano di scurirsi troppo in fretta.
Potrebbero sembrare pronte ma troppo molli – nessun problema! Si asciugheranno raffreddandosi e si compatteranno bene. Lasciateli raffreddare e spolverizzateli con zucchero a velo aromatizzato.
Inzuppateli nel latte o, ancora meglio, nel Vin Santo o in qualche buon vino dolce.
Adoro servire i biscotti in qualche scatola vintage. Si presentano anche molto bene come regalo.

 

E godeteveli, poiché ogni festa, anche se intesa per i morti, appartiene sempre ai vivi.

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Informazioni nutrizionali:

Per 8 dolcetti:

290kcal
44 g Carbidrati
  – 4 g Fibre
5 g Proteine
9 g Grassi

Per 16 biscottini:

145 kcal
21 g Carboidrati
– 2 g Fibre
2.5 g Proteine
4.5 g Grassi

vinsanto8vinsanto5 copy

Vin Santo Cookies, for the Day of the Saints

I found this scrap of paper amongst my mom’s notes, in a notebook she took from my grandma. I was hoping to find a recipe for the Fave dei Morti, as the 1st of November was approaching and the elderly of my family are used to buy various kinds of baked goods for the day of the dead. I found these instead.

Italian November sweets all follow a pattern of very simple ingredients, and all the sweets for the holidays were assembled with humble, simple ingredients that farmers were likely to have at home. There are no eggs and no butter, as that would have been too much of a luxury. Dried fruits, flours, stale bread and wine adorned their otherwise barren pantry. And wine, the wine that was always present at every table as the only consolation against poverty, the only real heat source when in the cold of november they had no glass on their windows and they’d wake up with a thin layer of ice over their blankets.

And isn’t it wonderful to find these old papers, written in the staggering calligraphy of a woman who could not go to school but tried her best to learn anything she could from life? All the Italian elderly buy these sweets because it’s tradition, and because – now more than ever, they are scared of death. But isn’t it wonderful, when you can find these modest remainders of life tucked in a book and bring it back to life again?
Knowledge is immortal. With past knowledge, we shall not fear the dead.

Vin Santo Cookies - preparation

Dolcetti al Vin Santo - Vin Santo Cookies

So here is the recipe for these cookies, to be enjoyed today’s afternoon. Everybody loved them. They are packed with Italian fall fare: chestnuts, pine nuts, raisins and wine. But why not play around with the garnishes? Try chocolate chips or other kinds of nuts, and try topping them with cinnamon sugar instead of vanilla sugar. Customization is always the best.

Although I am positive these would work pefectly with gluten free flour, I have not tested anything yet so I can’t give you any guarantees. I will try a GF version for sure, but I can’t see why they shouldn’t work. Chestnut flour is already gluten free, and you could substitute spelt and whole wheat flours with GF oat flour and another tasty, nutty flour you like.
Oh, and these guys also happen to be a perfect vegan treat.
In any case, these guys are super easy to put together and very apt for the inexperienced baker. Make them smaller if you so wish. They will be cuter and less heavy.

 

Dolcetti al Vin Santo – Vin Santo Cookies
Makes 8 3″ cookies
NOTE: You can also halve the size, and get 16 smaller, more manageable cookies.

For the Rum Raisins

  • 100g (1/2 cup) Raisins
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • A couple tablespoons dark Rum

Two hours prior to preparing your cookies, soak the raisins. Do not leave them for less than one hour. When ready, squeeze and drain. Note that this is quite a lot of raisins for this recipe, so feel free to cut down a bit if you want.

 

For the Cookie dough

  • 100g Flour
  • 80g Farro (Spelt) flour
  • 70g Chestnut flour
  • 70g Brown sugar*
  • 2 heaping tbsps Honey or Agave syrup
  • 50g Vin Santo + A couple tablespoons Rum
  • 40g Milk (regular or plant)
  • 50g Vegetable oil**
  • 40g Pine nuts, or a mix of toasted hazelnuts and pine nuts
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • A pinch of Salt
  • Flavorings like a teaspoon of vanilla or a dash of cinnamon
  • Rum Soaked Raisins

* These cakes are not overly sweet – the rum, wine and raisins provide a nice kick of sweetness of their own, so i wouldn’t recommend increasing the amount of sugar, but add a tablespoon more honey or syrup if you have a very sweet tooth.

* These cookies are not dry, but they aren’t the standard american cookie, either. The have a nice, soft texture, which turns more crumbly the next day, but not hard at all. If you’d like a moist cookie, add a tablespoon or two more oil – though the dough can absorb no more than a certain amount of fat.

Preheat the oven to 180 C˚ (350 F˚) and line a baking tray with some parchment paper.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and stir well to incorporate. You should have a sticky dough. If you can’t incorporate all the flour, add a splash more liquid.
Using a spoon and a teaspoon (or -much easier, your hands if you don’t care about getting dirty), shape balls of batter on the paper. Make sure they are not too close to each other, as they will raise a bit while cooking. Bake for about 15 minutes, and lower the oven if they threaten to brown too quickly.
They might look ready but seem too soft – worry not! They will dry out slightly as they cool and hold together perfectly. Let cool completely, and sprinkle over them a dusting of vanilla icing sugar.
Savor with milk or, even better, dipped in Vin Santo or any sirupy wine you like!
I love to serve these cookies in a vintage box, which also works wonderfully for a gift.

 

And enjoy – as every celebration, even when intended for those who passed, is a celebration of the living.

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Nutrition:

If making 8 cakes:
290kcal
44 g Carbohydrate
  – 4 g Fiber
5 g Protein
9 g Fat

If making 16 cookies:

145 kcal
21 g Carbohydrate
– 2 g Fiber
2.5 g Protein
4.5 g Fat

Vin Santo Cookies - Dolcetti al Vin Santo

Vin Santo Cookies fot the dead - Dolcetti per i Morti al Vin Santo

 

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