About This Book
I have organized the desserts of Southern Italy by region, with each chapter showcasing my favorites from among the area’s typical desserts and, occasionally, modern interpretations now found there. Representing the broad expanse of what you would find traveling through Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Puglia, and Basilicata, the recipes range from simple home desserts to the cutting-edge creations of Southern Italy’s finest restaurants and pastry shops. I’ve included desserts already well known and loved in America, such as gelato and cannoli, as well as regional specialties virtually unknown in this country and rarely, if ever, found in books, magazines, or online. The almond cookies filled with cherry preserves called Biscotti di Ceglie, a typical sweet in one of Puglia’s oldest towns, or the ricotta and semolina cake made for Carnevale in Naples called Il Migliaccio may be found in Italian cookbooks and on Italian websites, but to my knowledge these have not been heretofore available in English. Others, such as the Biscotti Eureka, Africano, and Foglie da Te’, I found in pastry shops while traveling through the region, returning to decipher cryptic advice from pastry chefs to reproduce them. These have been some of my favorites to develop, crowned by the satisfaction of creating something that looks and tastes utterly authentic, or even better than the original.
I have shared here only a small sample of the thousands of recipes enjoyed in Southern Italy. My dearest hope is that not only will you make and enjoy them in your home, but that you might consider visiting and falling in love with this magical area that offers my most cherished sweets (and savory foods, as well). The desserts found in homes, pastry shops, gelaterie, and restaurants still surprise and delight me, and I find something both comforting and familiar, yet new and exciting, each time I return. This book is meant to bring these desserts-many of which are found in the United States primarily among Italian populations, if at all-into our common lexicon, preserving them for future generations. It is my invitation to you to share in the sweetness of my favorite desserts.
Pasticcini di Mandorla
-soft almond cookies
Makes about 36 small cookies
These little almond cookies are found all over Sicily and often in other parts of Southern Italy as well. They are pretty piped with a star tip into rosettes or into “S” shapes, but you needn’t be adept at piping; more often they are simply formed into balls and rolled either in confectioners’ sugar or chopped nuts before baking, as I have done here.
1 2/3 cups (250 g) blanched almonds (page 189)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons mild-flavored honey, such as clover or orange blossom
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
Confectioners’ sugar, finely chopped pistachios or hazelnuts, sliced almonds, or whole pine nuts, for coating
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Combine the almonds and granulated sugar in a food processor and process until they have the texture of fine meal, scraping the bowl down occasionally to evenly grind the nuts. Transfer the almonds to a bowl and use a spatula to mix in the egg whites, honey, and almond extract until evenly combined.
You can coat the cookies all in confectioners’ sugar or a single type of nut, or make an assortment by using several different coatings. Whichever you choose, place each coating in a separate shallow bowl.
Use a tablespoon measure to scoop out level tablespoons of the dough, making thirty-six cookies in total. Roll each dough piece between your palms to form a ball.
To coat the cookies, roll one ball in a topping (confectioners’ sugar or nuts), firmly pressing the nuts into the dough with your hands. Continue to coat all the cookies, transferring them to the prepared baking sheet as you form them, allowing 1 inch all around each cookie for spreading.
Bake the cookies until they are light golden and still soft to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.