Saturday, June 14, 2014

Recipe for torta della nonna, or Tuscan ricotta cake with pinenuts or almonds

Case Vecchie, Sicily

I am still in Sicily, still enjoying the hospitality of Anna Tasca Lanza’s cookery school in Case Vecchie, near Vallelunga. I’ve just got back from the most amazing garden party I’ve ever attended - just under 200 guests seated around a huge long table, set under an elegant makeshift canopy built in the middle of a vegetable patch :) 

Who knows, we may have lingered at the table for another few hours, sipping one of the extremely “quaffable” wines from Tasca d’Almerita, if it weren’t for the thunder and rain that suddenly appeared. Not really out of nowhere - the skies were threatening with rain already yesterday - but apparently heavy showers are pretty much unusual in this part of Sicily in this part of the year. In any case, I use the thunderstorm as an excuse to retreat to my room for a short while and finish another blog post. Being in the company of all those bloggers mentioned yesterday - David, Rachel and Johanna - as well as some others I met today (Elizabeth, Elisia, Alec, Anissa, Linda) - has certainly been very inspiring :)

Filippo and his ricotta.

We arrived at Case Vecchie on Wednesday evening, just in time to have dinner overlooking Fabrizia’s (she’s the owner of the cooking school) gorgeous herb garden. On Thursday morning, just after the breakfast, we ventured out to visit a local shepherd, Filippo at Azienda Agricola Rivitera. We were shown his sheep - 400 in total, milked by hand twice a day, to produce about 800 litres of sheep’s milk during peak times (winter, usually). The milk is turned into wonderfully tasty and fresh ricotta and flavoursome picurinu sicilianu or pecorino siciliano right there, at the small dairy at the premises. We were privileged to watch Filippo making the cheese, and get to taste freshly made tuma and ricotta.

Just before dinner at the courtyard of Case Vecchie (Instagram)

Back at the Case Vecchie, the location for the Anna Tasca Lanza’s cooking school, we perused some of the wonderful products at the Natura in Tasca’s produce range. I chose to bake a cake from my latest cookbook, Torta della Nonna. It’s a typical cake from Tuscany, and while the pâtisseries would fill the cake with thick custard, then at homes the grandmothers (nonna stands for grandmother in Italian :)) would use ricotta cheese. I couldn’t resist the chance to bake this cake with sheep’s milk ricotta, as it’s supposed to be. Back at home in Estonia, I’ve made it with cow’s milk ricotta or goat’s milk ricotta. It’s still lovely, though much milder in flavour. 

The Tuscan ricotta cake I baked at the Case Vecchie (Instagram)

Torta della Nonna or Tuscan ricotta cake
(Toscana ricotta-kook)

Serves eight to ten

100 g butter, at room temperature
85 g caster sugar (100 ml/7 Tbsp)
1 large egg
180 g all-purpose flour (300 ml/1 cup + 3 heapedTbsp)
0,5 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt

500 g fresh ricotta 
85 g caster sugar (100 ml/7 Tbsp)
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
75 g pinenuts or almonds

Butter a 24 or 26 cm (9 or 10 inch) springform pan and/or line with a parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 180 C/375 F. 

First, prepare the pastry. Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and cream with a wooden spoon or a mixer fitted with the blade. Add the egg, then the dry ingredients (mix these first). Spoon the dough into the springform pan and using your hands, spread the dough at the bottom and halfway up the sides - the dough is pretty soft and sticky, so you’re almost pasting it to the bottom and sides. (You may be tempted to add more flour - go ahead, if you wish, but the cake base will be somewhat denser and harder then). 

Place the springform pan into the fridge to wait, while you make the filling

(You may use the same bowl you made the dough in). Mix the ricotta, sugar, the juice and finely grated rind of the lemon, flour and eggs in a bowl until combined. Stir in about two-thirds of the pine nuts or almonds. 

Take the cake pan out of the fridge, pour in the ricotta filling. Sprinkle the remaining pine nuts or almonds on top.

Carefully transfer the pan to the pre-heated oven and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the cake is lovely golden brown on top. 

Take out of the oven, and let it cool till room temperature before cutting into slices and serving. 

Torta della Nonna and ricciarelli cookies. Photo by Juta Kübarsepp for Nami-Nami. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Recipe for ricciarelli, delicious gluten-free almond cookies from Siena, Tuscany

TOSKAANA: torta della nonna & ricciarelli
This photo was taken by Juta Kübarsepp for Nami-Nami, the rest are by me or my husband.  

I’m writing this post in Sicily. I’m in a lovely company of David, Rachel and Johanna, enjoying the delicious hospitality of Anna Tasca Lanza Cookery School. La dolce vita, but more about all that in future posts. I do mention that some very nice cookies were baked here yesterday, which reminded me of a lovely Italian cookie recipe I’ve got in my latest cookbook. 

San Gimignano: Agriturismo Montegonfoli

Just over a year ago, in April 2013, I had a lovely holiday in Tuscany with my dear partner and our three small kids - the youngest was just under 6 months back then. We began our family holiday in Florence, then staying in various agriturismos near San Gimignano. On my birthday we took a day trip to Siena. Everybody said that we’d love Siena, but the truth is, we were not so impressed at all - San Gimignano, Volterra, Lucca, Certaldo and the old parts of Colle di Val d'Elsa had been more charming, more real. However, we did love the ricciarelli, the famous almond cookies from Siena. They are light and soft, yet chewy, just a wee bit resistant. If you love marzipan, then you’ll love these!

Certaldo: Osteria del Vicario

Ricciarelli are wonderful with a cup of strong coffee or tea, if you’re not a coffee drinker. In Toscana, they’re a festive food, baked and eaten especially during Christmas, and dipped into a glass of Vin Santo. 

They’re gluten-free. 

Ricciarelli cookies
(Siena mandliküpsised)

300 g ground almonds/almond meal
280 g caster sugar
100 g icing sugar/confectioner’s sugar 
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 orange, finely zested
2 egg whites 
2 tsp almond extract (optional)

For dusting:
icing sugar/confectioner’s sugar

Mix ground almonds, caster sugar, icing sugar, baking powder, salt and the finely grated orange zest in a bowl. 

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the almond mixture, folding gently to combine. You’ll have a rather sticky mixture. (Add the almond extract now, if using). 

Using a teaspoon, take about 20 to 30 grams (about an ounce or so) of the mixture and form into oval/oblong patties, flattening them lightly between your palms. Place onto a cookie sheet, covered with parchment/baking paper, leaving some space between the cookies. They won’t spread a lot, but it’s better to be safe. 

Once you’ve formed all the cookies and arranged them onto the cookie sheet, dust them generously with icing sugar. Leave to dry them out at the room temperature for 1-3 hours - the bigger the cookies, the more time they need to dry. 

Bake in a pre-heated 150C oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cookies are just a little bit golden and hardened at the edges - you don’t want them golden brown, or they’ll be too crispy when they cool. You want your ricciarelli to remain soft and chewy inside!

Cool completely. These will keep for a week in an airtight container.  


More ricciarelli recipes:
Divina Cucina
Jul's Kitchen
Lemons and Anchovies
Cook's Hideout
The Curious Baker

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Equal rhubarb cake

I've got a new favourite to-go rhubarb cake recipe. Just because it's one that can be memorized in seconds. Actually you just need kitchen scales and the list of ingredients. No amounts, imagine :)

Here's how it works. I call it equal rhubarb cake, because you need equal weighed amounts of all the main ingredients. I usually take four eggs, chicken or duck, to make this cake. 

Rhubarb sheet cake

butter, at room temperature*
caster sugar 
all-purpose flour
rhubarb, thinly sliced 

demerara sugar and cardamom

Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper/baking paper (if the eggs are large, you can use a large baking sheet, say 35x40 cm, if the eggs are smaller, I tend to use 25x35 cm).  Put aside. 

Put a bowl onto your kitchen scales, switch the scales on and break eggs into the bowl. Weigh the eggs - and remember the number. Put the eggs aside, take another bowl. 

Now, remember the weight of eggs? Add the same amount of butter into the mixing bowl, then the same amount of sugar. Mix the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.

Now add the eggs, one at a time, and mixing thoroughly after each egg. Fold in the same amount of flour. 

(So if your eggs weighted, say, 250 grams, you'll also need 250 g butter, 250 g sugar, 250 g flour and about 250 g rhubarb). 

Now spread the dough mixture onto the baking sheet. Spread the rhubarb evenly across the cake, then sprinkle with demerara sugar and ground cardamom. 

Now bake at 200 C/400 F for about 20 minutes, until cooked and nicely golden. Let cool a little, then cut into squares, dust with icing sugar and serve. 

Keeps well for a day or two, covered.