Caggionetti are a fried Christmas cookie from the Abruzzo region of Italy. My paternal Grandmother, Leni, made them every year. Unfortunately, no one in the family ever got her recipe. They look like a fried ravioli, filled with a chestnut paste and dusted with sugar and spices. I've been making them the past few years, playing with ingredients, and I've finally have a recipe that I wish to share. This makes between 50 & 60 cookies
The dough is made with olive oil, white wine and flour. If you don't have a pasta machine to roll out thin, flat sheets of dough, won ton wrappers may be substituted.
4 to 4 & 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil - the fruitier the better
Mound the flour up on a [marble if you have it] pastry board, make a well in the center, add the olive oil, begin kneading the oil into the flour and add the white wine until you have a very stiff dough, similar to a pasta dough. Run it through your pasta machine at least twice until it is nice and thin.
Use a ravioli cutter, round cookie cutter or a glass to make 2 & 1/2 inch round circles of dough.
My grandmother made a filling of chestnut, cocoa, raisins, figs and hazelnuts. I've seen recipes using citron, walnuts, almonds, chocolate, or cicci instead of some or all of those ingredients, and ones with no cocoa or chocolate.
12 ounces of roasted chestnuts
1/4 cup of raisins soaked in the wine must before boiling or tawny port
1 pint of Grape or Wine must boiled down to about two ounces of syrup, if you can find it, or 1/2 cup of turbinado sugar and/or honey plus tawny port
1 cup of hazelnut meal
6 donatto figs done Melissese style with the tough stem removed, quartered length-wise and chopped coarsely
1/4 cup of fine quality, unsweetened cocoa
a few grinds of allspice
Mix all of these ingredients together.
Using two spoons, take a chestnut sized ball of the filling, and make it egg shaped by scraping it between the spoons, then place in the center of a dough circle. Rub water around the outside edge of the dough. Pull the dough up around the filling, press together at the watered edge, and then crimp with a fork, turn it over, and crimp the other side.
Heat a cast iron pan, add about a quarter-inch of olive oil. When hot, add enough cookies to the oil to fill the pan. Turn every two minutes until the dough is golden brown [usually about 8 minutes total]. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Allow to cool for a few minutes, and then dust with sugar and spice [I used nutmeg, but cinnamon, clove, allspice, cardamom, or any combination works too].
Mac'n'Cheese is a favourite dish, but the one place that I posted my recipe is gone now. Let's see if I can recreate it.
Inspired by an episode of Bones, I make my Mac'n'Cheese with leeks and pancetta now. For a vegetarian version, use your favourite vegie bacon, sprinkled with nutmeg and cinnamon while frying.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add a big handful of your favourite sea salt, and cook 1 pound of Rustichella d'Abruzzo penne for 8 minutes [two minutes less than the minimum recommended cooking time. Drain and set aside.
Clean by cutting off the roots and green part, and soaking the white part in salted cold water, and thinly slice two medium or one large leek(s) and sweat in 3 tablespoons sweet butter with freshly ground rainbow peppercorns until translucent. Salt to taste. Alternately, sweat in the pancetta grease or the fat in which you sautéed the vegie bacon.
Slowly add three flat tablespoons of flour and stir for two or three minutes to make a roux.
Slowly pour in three cups of milk to make a bechamel like sauce. Cube and then stir in one-half pound of [raw milk, if you can find it] asiago, one-half pound of fontinal [the Italian Fontinal, not the Danish Fontina] and on-half pound of monterey jack cheeses, until melted. Add one cup of heavy cream. Other variations may use a bit of mustard powder or seeds, Sierra Nevada mustard with stout, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce [remember it has anchovies], pesto, or any of a number of tapenades.
Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and pour into a buttered glass lasagna or casserole dish.
Grate one-quarter pound of good quality parmigiano reggiano, and mix with one-half cup of fresh bread crumbs and the sautéed pancetta or vegie bacon. For the bread crumbs, I often make tiny cubes of whatever left-over bread I have around, soak in milk, squeeze nearly dry, and then add the cheese and savory. Sprinkle over the mac'n'cheese and dot with more sweet butter.
Bake at ~350ºF for 30 minutes or more, until the sauce is bubbling up around the edges and the topping is lightly browned.
And remember, recipes are guidelines, not rules. Experiment. Try different cheeses, sharper, milder, mixed. Add other stuff. Make the dish yours.
I haven't posted a recipe in a while, but as Friday swung our weather from bright blue, warm days into chilly, rainy winter in a quick snap of the fingers, I thought it was time to make the first chili of the year. I've been building this chili recipe since high school, when I first added a block of unsweetened chocolate to the mix, into college when I first added dark beer. Now, the recipe contains hints of a molé sauce as well, and I make my spice mix in advance, to allow the flavours to blend. Oh, and open a bottle of your favorite dark beer, or two if you want to start drinking Set the beer aside to become flat.
While adding beans are optional, I'm planning to do so, and since I'll be using dried beans. This step has the longest lead time. First, I buy my dried beans at Phipps Country Store and Farm in Pescadero, CA. They are about an half-hour drive from me, and I'll visit them several times a year to replenish my supply of dried beans. They have an huge selection of dried beans. For red chili, I use a combination of black beans and one or more dried beans from the kidney family: Big Mexican Red Kidney, Cranberry, Pinto or Red beans. Cranberry are my favorite; they're a big, meaty bean, with a nutty flavour that compliments the creamy black bean nicely. Phipps now has an online store, so you can buy their great beans even if they aren't a convenient drive from you.
I'll use about two pounds of beans, one pound of dried black beans, and the second pound made up of whatever kidney varietals I'm using. As I said, Cranberry beans are my favorite for chili, and that's while I'll be using with the black beans today. Put the dried beans in a strainer, and rinse under cold water. Carefully check the beans, removing any discolored, withered or soft beans, as well as any foreign material such as stems or stones. Place the beans in a kettle and cover with enough cold water to top the beans by two inches. Remove any "floaters". Add a bay leaf. Do not add any salt or acids [tomato, vinegar, etc] as these will wrinkle the beans. You can let the beans soak overnight, or bring the kettle to a boil, simmer the beans for five minutes, and then let the beans soak in the hot water, covered, for an hour. After the hour soak, remove the beans, retaining about a cup of the water and the bay leaf. All of this just prepares the beans. They're not cooked and ready to eat yet.
Either in advance, or an hour before serving, put the prepared beans back into the kettle, add the reserved soaking liquor and bay leaf and a red [hot] or yellow [sweet] onion, peeled and studded with cloves. Do not add salt nor acids. Cover with enough cold water to just top the beans. Bring to a boil, place on simmering bricks, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the beans are tender.
This is the real "Chili" with Tex-Mex, "Texas Red", Chili con Carne, and Chili with Beans being stews based upon Chili. I start with about five pounds of tomatoes and five pounds of peppers. The tomatoes can be heirloom, cluster, or whatever you have in your garden or local store that are fresh, feel heavy for their size and are very ripe. If you use anything other than red tomatoes, your chili may have an odd colour, but the flavour will be great. I usually use an equal, by weight, combination of chili peppers and bell peppers. In California, at this time of year, there is a great selection of chilies: poblano, anaheim, astor, etc. I generally avoid green bell peppers, as I prefer the flavour of the red, orange and yellow ones. Today I'm using almost three pounds of poblano chilies and two pounds of red, orange and yellow bell peppers.
I start with the tomatoes, as they'll take awhile as well, and can also be prepared the day before, as the beans can. Bring a large pot or kettle of cold, salted water to a boil. While it's coming to a boil, using a very sharp knife, I use a "bird's beak" hooked knife, remove the stem end from each tomato, and score an "X" in the skin at the opposite end from the stem. Place the tomatoes into the boiling water. Once the pot has returned to a boil, after two minutes or so, the skin will begin to peel back from the scored end of the tomatoes. Remove the tomatoes, and place in a bowl to cool. As soon as you can handle them, remove the skin from the tomatoes. Cut each tomato in half, cross-wise, and remove the seeds with a small spoon. Place the peeled, cored tomatoes, cut-side down, into a colander, and allow to drain for at least an hour, but overnight in the refrigerator [over a bowl] is fine too. You'll be amazed how much water you'll collect. You can save this tomato juice, to use in place of water in stock or stews, or to thin this chili, if needed.
Next, rinse the peppers and fire-roast them, either over the flames on a gas-stove, under a broiler, or over a grill. Leave the peppers whole, and flame them until the skin is blackened all over each pepper. Place the peppers into a paper bag, or wrap in parchment paper - this traps enough steam to help loosen the skins, and allow them to cool. If the peppers are hot to the taste [such as an jalapeño chili], wear rubber gloves and a mask to avoid capsicum burns. Scrape as much skin as possible off of the peppers with a knife, core them, cut in half, lengthwise, and remove the white veins. Cut the peppers into strips, lengthwise.
Make a soffritto of one sliced large red onion, two crushed cloves of garlic, the peppers, your favorite chili powder and cilantro leaves that have been rinsed, dried and chopped. A soffritto is just a slowly cooked medley of vegetables, spices and herbs in olive oil. After an hour or two or three, chop those tomatoes that have been draining and add those and that bottle of beer that you were leaving to become flat, a block of very good dark, unsweetened chocolate, and two tablespoons of freshly ground, roasted, unsalted valencia [sweet, and what I prefer] or virginia [meatier tasting] peanuts. Stir it around, add a teaspoon each of coarse sea salt, Mexican oregano and cayenne pepper, and cook on the simmering bricks or in an oven on low, for about an hour. Add salt and seasonings to taste.
If you're going to make a chili con carne, take two pounds of cubed beef, and brown the cubes in bacon fat. Add the chili over the meat to cover, and let simmer another hour. Shred the meat cubes apart using two forks and return to the stew, or slice thinly. Add the cooked beans and serve.
Add the cooked beans to about a quart of the chili and serve.
Serve over a bowl of different grains, rather than rice: quinoa is a great choice, especially for the vegetarian version, soft polenta is another good choice, and you can check out many more suitable grains at Bob's Read Mill.
First and foremost, recipes are guidelines, not exact instructions that you must follow. Add more or less of anything. Consider every recipe a starting point for your own imagination and taste.
We already talked about the various beans you can use, as well as the variety of chilies. There are many more types, of course. Be adventurous.
Instead of beef, try other red or dark meats: venison, buffalo or beefalo, elk, duck, turkey thighs - especially from a wild turkey, or other game meat. Go wild.
Rather than cayenne pepper, use ground ancho [sweet and fruity] or chipotle [smoky] chilies.
Try chili verde. Use tomatillos rather than tomatoes, forget the chocolate and peanut butter. Use white beans rather than red, and white meats rather than red.
I make my own chili powder. I start by filling an old spice jar, 50/50 with cumin seeds and coriander, and shoving in a cinnamon stick. When I need chili powder, I take a teaspoon of the mixture, and toast the seeds. Allow the cumin and coriander to cool, then grind in a mortar and pestle, add a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice.
Il Panettone is a traditional Christmas bread. The best that I've found imported to the USA is La Loggia. Bauli is also good, but not as moist. Naturally leavened, it somehow survives months on a cargo ship and weeks in a refrigerator after opening, without preservatives. A tradition is to make French Toast out of the Panettone on the day after Christmas, or Boxing day. Here's my recipe. Preheat an oven, preferably with a baking stone in it, to 400ºF.
Note that there isn't any additional sugar. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, beat the egg yolks with the remaining ingredients, excepting the Panettone slices. Fold the seasoned egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. Butter a glass baking dish that is sufficiently large enough to hold all of the Panettone slices in one layer. Pour half the batter into the bottom of the baking dish, arrange the panettone slices in one layer in the baking dish, cover with the remaining batter. If possible, let it sit overnight, or at least for two hours in the refrigerator. Place the baking dish in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, then into another oven, or reduce the heat, at 225ºF for another 15 to 30 minutes. I also like to serve this dish with crisp bacon or pancetta. Cook thickly sliced bacon in a 225ºF oven for two hours. Drain the fat after the first half-hour and then arrange the bacon on paper towels and cover with more paper towels and cook for the remaining time. You might like powdered sugar over it or maple syrup. I like it plain.
The winter holidays are upon us, and it's time to cook and cook and cook. Of course, the holidays are all about people, but for me, only from the standpoint of them eating what I cook.
For Solstice, I made one of my favorite dishes, Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Abruzzo Polpettine, though I made it more of a ragù with the meatballs as the recipe says, veal shanks and pork baby back ribs. I made over three pounds of meatballs, as I'll be using them for Christmas supper as well. I served the veal shanks on Solstice, as that's what I like, and since it's also the day I turned 53, I figured what I like mattered. Dad likes the pork ribs, so, that's what I'll serve on Christmas Day.
I hunt the solstice shrub on this day, traditionally, but this year I went the day before, as it rained on the Solstice. I brought it up to the living room on the Solstice and set it up to be decorated later.
Friends and relatives from around the Bay Area to Carmel decided not to brave the wet weather that we're having this year. Bunkey is still in Iraq, though this is his last year. Without the big appetites that I was expecting this year, we're not doing the traditional seven fishes this year, just four. For four people. This year, we'll be having a soup of anchovies and white beans, Dad's making his tuna in marinara over spaghetti and I'm make a putanesca sauce to go with it. We're also having Chilean Sea Bass, brushed with olive oil and lemon, roasted in the oven and Shrimp Scampi. I'll be serving a latke type of side with those last made of four potatoes and two zucchinis, stripped in a mandolin (or the big holes in a cheese grater), squeezed dry, and mixed with two leeks, sliced thin and sautéed, and two eggs, patted into cakes and fried, then served with sour cream.
Part of the fun of Christmas Eve is decorating the solstice shrub and watching Hogswatch (the movie based upon the Terry Pratchett book, and my favorite winter holiday movie).
Four people again will be eating on Christmas Day, so nothing too elaborate. Dad is making Italian Wedding or Holiday soup (chicken stock, spinach, teeny-tiny meatballs and cubes of parsley frittata), and I'll be making spinach & cheese ravioli with the meatballs and pork rig ragù from the Solstice and a roast chicken basted with a rosemary twig dipped in olive oil & garlic, served with Brussels Sprouts & Chestnuts, as I make for Thanksgiving.
This year we're going to friends for a ham dinner on Boxing Day. I'm looking forward to eating and not cooking.
Three more winter holidays are coming, and don't forget that the 12 days start too. New Year's Eve is often crab cioppino, New Year's Day is often baby back ribs in sauerkraut, ham hocks and hopping john, and other fine stuff. I'll blog about these holidays later.
That's all of that. Enjoy your holidays, whatever your beliefs, and may Peace be upon the land.
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