Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Southern Italian Desserts by Rosetta Costantino

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If you happen to walk by a copy of Southern Italian Desserts, I challenge you to keep on moving. Yeah, don’t stop. Just ignore that cover. Go on, take the next step. No, wait. Oh.

If you are human, if you are a foodie, then that cover is going to make you pause. It certainly did me. A pastry top, sugar, pistachios, and something deeply red inside. What, I asked myself, is this?

It is the Crostata al Gelo di Mellone, a watermelon pudding tart from Sicily. A short crust pastry is the home for a watermelon pudding that is cooked, not on the stove, but inside the lattice-topped pastry. Exceptionally beautiful, Suzen and I have this on our “make when the watermelons finally arrive” list.

Author Rosetta Costantino was born in Calabria but raised in Oakland from age fourteen. She earned a chemical engineering degree at Berkeley and had a successful professional engineer. But, it was the draw of another kind of chemistry that finally won her heart. Today, with her mother, she teaches Southern Italian cooking and writes very successful cookbooks [My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South].

 

This new book features dessert delicacies from across Southern Italy: Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily. Southern Italy is often described as poor, but I think it is fairer to describe it as more traditional and more bound to the earth than the “richer” Northern Italy.

I’ve driven the Po valley up north, past the miles and miles of factories with the same metal chimneys and polished glass headquarters buildings. In the south, I’ve simply walked two lane roads, basked in the heat, and smelled the rocket arugula that is a “weed” on the side of the road. I like the South.

We often write about a country having regional foods. Italy is the benchmark. It’s not just “regional” in the sense of Sicily versus Tuscany. You can be a village and find two “better” ways of cooking a dish on the opposite ends of the only road that passes from thru. There is variety in abundance in Italy and surely in Southern Italy.

Which is why Southern Italian Desserts is so important. In the south, traditions — often coupled to annual religious feasts — have kept a dessert heritage alive. This heritage — threatened by modern manufactured food and demographic trends — is a world culinary treasure. This book is major step to saving that heritage and promoting it. Rosetta has traveled extensively throughout Southern Italy, eaten the original dishes, befriended professional chefs and local food experts, and compiled this encyclopedia with meticulous authenticity. The recipes come with one or two or more pages of instructions to take you through every twist and turn and filling step. It’s all deliciously doable.

You will find here combinations that, unless you’ve walked those southern streets, you will not have experienced:

  • Ricotta and Pear Tart
  • Ricotta and Pistachio Mousse Cake
  • Strawberries with Limoncello
  • Italian Sponge Cake Filled with Pastry Cream and Strawberries
  • Mandarin Orange Pudding
  • Eggplant Layered with Sweetened Ricotta and Chocolate Sauce

Yes, that last idea really is an eggplant-based dessert. The picture in the book can only be describe as enticing. No, it doesn’t look like eggplant. Suzen and I will be making this dish and we’ll happily report on the results. If you think the idea is still too weird, I can assure you that the addition of sugar, ricotta, almonds, crushed amaretti cookies, and lots of orange peel is certain to generate a flavor profile that is not “vegetable.”

If you page through Southern Italian Desserts, you are going to be captivated. Like me in the picture above, you’ll find yourself putting little stickies on page after page. The only decision is where to begin. My vote is for the Almond Filled Spiral Cookies: a simple nut pastry is rolled out flat, topped with a layer of almonds and orange marmalade and candied orange peel and honey, then rolled up and sliced.

If you need desserts that are gluten free, then you will discover that Southern Italians have employed that option with gusto. Here you’ll find Pistachio Cake and Flourless Almond Cookies with Cherry Preserves.

No matter your dessert passion — cake, cookie, pie or pudding — Southern Italian Desserts will expand your options in delightfully tasteful ways.

Pistachio and Lemon Cake from World Class Cakes

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From the back of the book, you learn that Roger Pizey is a renowned baker and patissier. His experiences in Great Britain, in top restaurants and television food shows, have given him eminent skills.

But as you turn the pages of World Class Cakes, his latest book, none of that matters. All that you will care about is how quickly you can get to baking yourself.

Tomorrow, I’ll post an overview of this powerfully packed book with recipes that are, truly, from around the world. In a tribute to Turkish ingredients, Roger has created this cake filled with lemon flavor and pistachio crunch. The cake is spectacularly beautiful.  As you turn pages of World Class Cakes, you’ll stop on many pages, but this one captured my attention and Suzen’s. She likes lemons, but pistachios are a passion for her.

Roger is British. So the temperature and dimensions you’ll see below may not match your oven settings or the cake rounds on your shelf. We did 325°F and a 7-inch round. No problem.

Pistachio and Lemon Cake

Yield: serves 8

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • ½ cup [1 stick] utter, soft
  • ¾ cup superfine sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ cup good quality pistachios, chopped
  • Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lime

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 310°F, and grease and line a 6 ¼ inch round and 2 1/ inch deep cake pan with parchment paper.

Make a sugar syrup by heat the ½ cup super fine sugar and ½ cup of water in a pan. Cook over low heat until clear, stirring continuously, then boil for a minute or so. Pass the liquid through a strainer. Removed from the heat and let cool.

Place lemon and the lime slices and sugar syrup in a pan and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, and add the eggs on at a time.

Sift in the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add two-thirds of the pistachios, the lemon and lime zests, and the lemon juice. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, place the fruit slices on top and sprinkle over the remaining pistachios. Bake in a preheated oven 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clear.

Removed from the oven and let cool for 15minutes in the pan. Then turn the cake out onto a wire rack and strip off the parchment.

Ideally, serve with a glass of aromatic Turkish tea.

Source: World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey

Photo Information [top picture]: Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/2.8 for 1/25th second at ISO-3200