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Pignoccata al Miele (Honey Cookies)

Calabria

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

This week, I stepped away from the middle of the list back toward the beginning, to Calabria, for this sweet treat, Pignoccata al Miele, or Honey Cookies.

As usual, I made some adjustments to the ingredients (for example, I substituted butter for the called-for lard) and the instructions. Most particularly, the original recipe instructed to roll out the dough ½ inch thick. I found this to be too thick when cooked. Not only did the outside cook far too quickly while the inside remained raw, it also resulted in a denser, heavier cookie. So I would go with ¼ inch thick on the dough. At ½ inch thick, it yielded 64 cookies; it will, of course, yield more if you roll it out at ¼ inch.

In the end, these treats reminded me a lot of struffoli, except that they’re square instead of round. The cooking process is the same, the flavor profile is the same, and the texture is the same. (If you don’t know what struffoli are, they’re a traditional holiday treat made up of dough cut up into little balls or nuggets and dropped in oil. Then they’re drizzled with honey and decorated with sprinkles and/or candied fruit.)

Two things I want to note: I thought these cookies were a little too sweet. If that’s your thing, fine. But if, like me, you prefer things not cloying, eliminate the sugar in the honey mixture.

Enjoy.

Pignoccata al Miele

Honey Cookies

2 oranges
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
½ cup orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Cooking oil
3 tablespoons honey

Grate the zest of one orange. Peel the second orange and cut the peel into strips about ½ inch thick. (Use the flesh of the oranges for something else, or eat it!)

Whisk together the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. Add the liqueur and grated zest. Whisk these together to blend. With an electric mixer, combine this mixture with the eggs, melted butter, and softened butter until a dough forms.

Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the dough rise for 1 hour.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Roll it out into a sheet (I recommend ¼ inch thick), then cut it into 1-inch squares.Heat about 3 inches of cooking oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Line a platter with paper towels and set it by the stove.When the oil is very hot, place a few of the squares into the oil and fry until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on the paper towels. Repeat this until all the cookies are cooked.Heat the honey with 1 tablespoon sugar (if using) and orange peel in a large skillet. Add the fried squares and stir them around to soak up the honey (do this in multiple batches if necessary).Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

 


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Sformato di Ortaggi in Teglia

Calabria

Welcome back to my 20 regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

This week on my journey, I’m taking a step back in the alphabet (last time, I was in Emilia-Romagna) and going to Calabria for Sformato di Ortaggi in Teglia, or Vegetable Timbale. The English translation they give (timbale) may not be helpful to you if you’re not deeply familiar with Italian cuisine because that word isn’t English at all. A timbale is a dish that’s baked in a baking pan or casserole dish.

This timbale turned out pretty good and I really enjoyed it. The only issue I had with the recipe was the listing for bread. The original called for “1 cup roughly cubed homemade bread crumbs.” Well, which is it? Cubes or crumbs? These are 2 different things. They are not interchangeable and never shall the twain meet. I decided to use cubes just for the hell of it, but it would probably work just as well with crumbs.

Sformato di Ortaggi in Teglia

Vegetable Timbale

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup bread cubes (made from anything but sliced white bread)
½ cup grated pecorino
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely chopped*
4 large potatoes, peeled, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
½ cup basil leaves
Salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 1½- to 2-quart casserole dish or baking pan with a little olive oil and set it aside.

In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, pecorino, oregano, and red pepper flakes.Cover the bottom of the casserole with half the tomatoes. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Then form of layer of potatoes, close together but not overlapping. Spread half the onion over the potatoes, then half the bread.

Lay a few basil leaves over this, then drizzle with a little olive oil.Make another layer of tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, potatoes, onion, bread crumbs, and olive oil (skip the basil). If the tomatoes released juices, pour it in slowly from the side. If there are no juices (or not much), add ¼ cup water.

Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until a golden crust forms on the surface. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover it with foil.Serve hot or cold.

*To prep the tomatoes, wash them and cut an “X” into the bottom of each. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes for about 30 seconds, or until you see the skin start to separate from the flesh. Scoop them out and set them aside to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin (they should slip right off, or use a paring knife to help you). Cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Chop them finely and place them in a bowl.