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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Year from the Mountains of Abruzzo

(copyright, Maria Liberati 2007)
Here's wishing that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you were able to include some of the special recipes we have included this past month.
I am writing from my office in Italy- high in the mountains of Abruzzo.
The Holiday season still goes on here. While you are waiting to ring in the New Year as we are here as well, we will be celebrating until the 6th of January. This last Holiday is the Epiphany or La Befana and marks the end of the Christmas Holidays.
Here the Holidays are the topic of conversation for everyone for at least 4-6 weeks. I was really tired and not too awake when we landed in Rome. But I really realized I was here when I had to stop at customs to show my passport. No, showing my passport didn't wake me up. The customs officers- there were 3- that had to look at my passport were discussing a recipe that they had for Christmas Eve dinner (Vigilia) as they glanced at my passport- paying more attention to the details of the recipe than the looking over of passports. And unfortunately I did not hear the entire recipe. Although as tempted as I was to ask, I decided it was best not to ask.
Besides, I knew that the sooner I left the airport the sooner we would be having a cappuccino and cornetti at Palombini-in EUR (a neighborhood in Rome) right in front of the 'square coliseum'-that alone is sight for sore tired eyes.
And as I have been continuing this series, here is an excerpt from my upcoming book- The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays and Special Occasions (to be released in late 2008). This chapter is about our New Year's Eve last year -to bring in 2007.
(excerpt from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays & Special Occasions
copyright, Maria Liberati 2007, art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc.)
Never plan for anything..As all the highways were closed because of icy conditions and two terrible accidents on the A24 highway (the highway that goes from Abruzzo to Rome)–we had to quickly think on our feet to save the festivities for New Year’s Eve. Which we did….
As luck has it we found out this morning that we could not get out of town safely so we had just enough time to grab all of the ingredients we needed to make a 7 course New Year’s Eve fest fit for a king.. for 25 people….

Primi (first course)
Spaghetti lightly tossed with fresh shrimp and calamari in an ‘aglio e olio’ (garlic and oil) topped at the end with fresh parsley.

Secondi (second course)
Zuppa di lenticchie (lentil soup) with freshly made crostini (croutons)
Served with Cotechino (a type of ham)

Terzo (third course)
Fresh baked salmone

Quarto (fourth course)
Frittata made with fresh escarole and grated parmigiano cheese

Contorni (side dishes)
*Fresh swiss chard- cooked and lightly tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice
*Fresh mozzarella

All of this was served with Vino Novello. This is the new wine that comes out about this time of the year. It is called vino novello (new wine) because it is only aged for 3 months versus aging for at least 1 year.

Dolci (desserts)
*Torte di panettone (see recipe in my next blog later this week)
*Artisanal chocolate torrone made here in Abruzzo. (It contains 80% cocoa and hazelnuts grown locally. This is a specialty here in the province of Abruzzo).

Fruit course
Fresh grapes (you must eat at least 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve for good luck).
Fresh apples

To bring in the New Year, Braccchetto D’Acqui was served. It is a sparkling red wine that is delicate and with just a hint of sweetness

Torte di panettone recipe
(Copyright 2005- Maria Liberati)
Many of you who have been at my book signings have savored this torte (cake). We make it around Christmas time because it is made with panettone (an Italian sweet bread made for Christmas). We usually have so much panettone left over and try to think of creative things to do with it. So I came up with this recipe with a friend of mine that is a pastry chef here in Abruzzo. It is really very easy to make but is so yummy they will think you were baking all day.

And as I always recommend in all of my cookbooks- use only the best ingredients you can find for this torte. Since there are only a few ingredients each and everyone is important.

*1/3 to ½ of a pannettone (most gourmet stores carry these now, if you are lucky you may be able to find a fresh baked one as well).
*1- 4 ounce chocolate bar (must be 70-80% cocoa)
*4 large dried figs
*2 cups whole milk
*1/2 cup sugar
*¼ tsp vanilla
*2 whole eggs
Baking paper
1- 8” shallow cake pan
Small piece of solid chocolate to shave into chocolate curls on top
Confectioner’s Sugar

If panettone is a few days old it should be dry. If it is not dry, tear panettone into small cubes, preheat oven to 375-400 degrees. When oven is preheated place panettone cubes on flat baking sheet and bake till begins to turn golden and becomes dry.

Line shallow cake pan with baking paper. Chop 4 ounces of dark chocolate into small pieces. Chop four figs into small pieces. Set these aside.

Cover pan with one layer of panettone cubes. Press cubes gently to fit form of pan. Sprinkle chopped chocolate and figs on panettone cubes. Place another layer of panettone cubes on top, again press gently to cover the first layer and to fit form of pan.

With wire whisk, whisk together 2 cups milk and 2 eggs. Then little by little add in the sugar and whisk and then add in vanilla and whisk for 1 minute or until well blended.

With soup ladle gently pour this mixture over panettone cubes and then gently press down to form panettone and mixture to pan and then let
sit for 10 minutes so all is absorbed. Then place in oven preheated to 375 degrees for 40 -50 minutes.

Top should be golden and all liquid should be absorbed.

When cool, take out of pan by edges of baking paper. Garnish top with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls shaved from chocolate bar.

Should be kept in refrigerator and best if made the night before.

Serve with Bracchetto D’Acqui sparkling wine.

Tanti Auguri for a safe and Happy 2008!

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