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Southern Italian Desserts

I happened to discover Rosetta Costantino's "Southern Italian Desserts" while researching a trip to Southern Italy. Rosetta, a cooking instructor and author of My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy's Undiscovered South, has collected 75 desserts from Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily. Sure, you'll find cannoli and gelato here, but there are many other regional gems to discover in each chapter; desserts can vary not only from region to region but from town to town. Sicily offers so much more than cannoli; the divine biscotti Eureka (almond-and-blood-orange-marmalade-filled spirals), chocolate-hazelnut cake rolls, a gorgeous ricotta and pistachio mousse cake named for the 1958 novel Il Gattopardo, a baked ricotta tart, and several gelatos and puddings are all on display, including the elaborate watermelon pudding-filled tart on the book's cover. The illustrated primer on making the perfect cannoli (including shells) was very helpful as well; I've only worked with store-bought cannoli shells before, so having a detailed how-to was a lifesaver. Campania's offerings are rich with cherries, pears, and some lovely semolina-enhanced cakes and pastries. One of the more unusual offerings here is the eggplant layered with sweetened ricotta and chocolate sauce. Calabria contributes luscious odes to figs and clever peach-shaped cakes filled with ricotta cream. I fell hard for the chocolate-dipped dried figs filled with almonds and candied orange peel; one of my favorite treats around the holidays are chocolate-dipped figs from Spain, so I loved having the option to make them myself at home. I also fell for the ricotta-filled baked pears; a filling of crushed amaretti, almond paste, and candied orange peel fill ripe pears poached in wine. The elegant ricotta and pear cake was light and refreshing. Other recipes that have become favorites are the biscotti di ceglie (almond cookies with cherry preserves from Puglia). The flavor combination of toasted almonds, a touch of limoncello, honey and cherry preserves is addictive and fun to make; where else can you continually moisten your hands with limoncello instead of plain water? The barchiglia (chocolate-glazed almond tart with pear preserves) was another great find; the combination of pastry crust, pear marmalade, almond pastry cream, and chocolate is layered with flavor. A final chapter of master recipes provides a handy do-it-yourself guide to ricotta cream, nut pastes, fig and grape syrups, and candied orange peel and orange (or blood orange) marmalade, which is a much-appreciated touch as many of these are not available in regular supermarkets. The cookbook itself is beautiful, printed on high-quality matte paper (my preference, as there is less of an issue with glare when placed in a cookbook holder). Ingredients are listed in volume and metric, and a conversion chart is at the back. The font is easy to read and stands out on the page. Along the way, colorful notes on local ingredients, traditions and legends (including how a local pear variety takes its name from a story involving a statue of St. Anthony) share space with beautiful candid photos of cafes, churches, piazzas, Greek temple columns and inviting alleyways. Many of the recipes have full-page color photos, and the step-by-step photos for more complex recipes like the sfogliatelle ricce was extremely helpful in visualizing the technique described in the recipe. A list of sources, a bibliography, and conversion charts round out the book. "Southern Italian Desserts" is a beautiful (and delicious!) homage to the varied desserts of southern Italy that make the most of seasonal fruits and local ingredients, along with ample holiday sweets and traditions. The many master recipes for items that would otherwise be expensive or hard to find means that anyone is able to recreate authentic Italian desserts at home; whether you're looking for a simple three-ingredient walnut cookie or an elegant layered tart, you're sure to find something that tickles your sweet tooth in "Southern Italian Desserts!" (Review copy courtesy of Rosetta Costantino and publicist - grazie!)

#Italy #dolci #bakedgoods #candiedfruits #Sicily

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