Grappa is an unaged Italian brandy. Traditionally distilled from the leftover (and not necessarily fresh or first-quality) juice left on the skins after pressing grapes to make wine, grappa bore some resemblance to our moonshine. Today, fine sipping-quality grappas are made from fresh grape skins reserved for the purpose. Some producers even make varietal grappas.
For the most chocolate flavor, make the cake one day ahead. At passover, substitute matzoh cake meal for the semolina flour and margarine for the butter. Voilà!
¼ cup grappa
⅓ cup (1⅔ ounces/50 grams) dried currants
¼ cup (1 ounce/35 grams) blanched or unblanched whole almonds
¼ cup (40 grams) semolina flour
9 ounces (255 grams) 70% to 72% chocolate, coarsely chopped (see Chocolate Notes)
14 tablespoons (200 grams/1¾ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons (20 grams) pine nuts
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Unless you are planning to serve the cake on the pan bottom, line the bottom of the cake pan with a circle of parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, combine the grappa and currants. Set aside.
3. In a food processor, pulse the almonds and semolina flour until the almonds are very finely ground. Set aside.
4. Place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir until melted and smooth. Or microwave on Medium (50%) power for 2½ to 3 minutes. Stir until completely melted and smooth.
5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with ⅔ cup (133 grams) of the sugar and the salt until pale and thick. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and the grappa and currants. Set aside.
6. In a large clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer at medium speed until white and foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining ⅓ cup (67 grams) sugar, beating at high speed until almost stiff. Scrape about one-quarter of the egg whites onto the chocolate mixture, sprinkle all of the almond mixture over the top, and fold together. Fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
7. Sprinkle the top with the pine nuts.
8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake about 1½ inches from the edge comes out clean. The center of the cake should still jiggle slightly when the pan is jostled and still be gooey if tested. Set the cake on a rack to cool completely; the surface of the cake will crack and fall as it cools. (The cooled cake can be covered tightly, or removed from the pan and wrapped well, and stored at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
9. To serve, slide a slim knife around the sides of the cake to loosen the cake. Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake, on the pan bottom, to a platter, or invert the cake onto a rack or tray, remove the bottom and the paper liner, and invert onto a platter. Using a fine-mesh strainer, sift a little powdered sugar over the top of the cake before serving, if desired.
You can use any chocolate from 54% to 72% here, but the higher end of the range balances the grappa. If you serve the torte warm—which is an especially voluptuous experience—be prepared for it to be very boozy. As the torte cools and ages overnight, the chocolate flavor becomes richer and more intense—and the booze recedes.
If you use a chocolate at the low end of the cacao range, bake a day ahead of serving so the chocolate is not overwhelmed by the grappa, or use less grappa. Note that the torte made with chocolate at the low end of the range may require up to 10 minutes longer in the oven before it tests done.
It's not because recipe below is 'traditional Christmas dessert in Puglia and Basilicata' that it's too late to share this first excerpt from Southern Italian Desserts,Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily (Ten Speed Press, 2013) by Rosetta Costantino with Jennie Schacht.
Cartellate, Fried pastry rosettes bathed in mosto cotto
Makes about 20 Cartellate
Cartellate or carteddate is the traditional Christmas dessert in Puglia and Basilicata, made by rolling dough until it is very thin and forming it into fluted rings with small pockets, then frying and coating them in mosto cotto or honey. I could find no consistent story about the name, but some believe the shape is meant to represent the halo around the baby Jesus or the swaddling cloth used to wrap him, while others contend that it mimics the crown of thorns placed atop his head at his crucifixion.
There are as many variations of the dough as there are families in Puglia, with some adding only wine and oil to the flour, others incorporating water or an egg, and some including a bit of sugar. One thing on which all in Puglia agree: The fried dough must be thin and crispy.
Traditionally, the fried sweets were bathed in warm vino cotto or mosto cotto (page 197) or with cotto di fichi (fig syrup, similar to miele di fichi, page 198). Nowadays, honey often takes their place, as many have abandoned making these syrups at home. Some people will sprinkle cinnamon or confectioners’ sugar over the cookies, or top them with chopped toasted walnuts, almonds, or multicolor sprinkles. My preference: a simple coating of mosto cotto.
2 cups (264 g) all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1/3 cup (80 ml) white wine 1 large egg 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying 11/2 to 2 cups (360 to 480 ml) mosto cotto (page 197) or honey, for coating Chopped toasted walnuts (optional) Rainbow diavoletti (sprinkles) (optional)
Stir the flour and sugar with a fork in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the wine, egg, and oil. Mix the wet ingredients with the fork, then begin incorporating the flour mixture until it is completely incorporated. Finish the mixing using your hands.
Transfer the dough to a flat surface and knead for several minutes to form a smooth, elastic dough that springs back when you poke it with your finger. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.
To form the cartellate, line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel. Divide the dough into six pieces. Working with one piece at a time and leaving the others covered to avoid drying the dough, roll the dough with a pasta machine. Flatten the piece of dough and run it through the machine at the widest setting, then fold it in half and run it through again at the same setting. Continue to run the dough through the machine (without folding) twice at each setting until you reach the setting before last (#6 on my Atlas pasta machine). Roll the dough only once at the second-to-last setting. It should be about 1/16 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a flat surface and trim it with a fluted cutter into a 12-inch by 4-inch rectangle. (Alternatively, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 12-inch by 4-inch rectangle about 1/16 inch thick.) Cut the dough the long way with the fluted cutter into three strips, each 11/4 inches wide. (Collect and cover scraps as you go to make additional cartellate.)
Pick up one of the strips and, starting about an inch from one end, pull up the two sides as if you were folding the dough in half the long way and pinch them tightly together. Continue to pull up and tightly pinch the dough at about 1-inch intervals to form about six little pockets along the length of the dough, leaving the ends open. To form the rosette, starting at one end, pick up the dough and wrap it around to meet the strip between the first and second pockets; pinch to attach. This will form the center of the rosette. Now, working from the opposite end, bring the strip all the way around to encircle the first fold; pinch to attach, then continue to wrap and pinch to form a spiral, or rosette, taking care to leave the pockets open. Some leave the end open while others pinch it closed; either will work. Move the rosette to one end of the baking sheet. Continue to form the rosettes until you have used all of the dough, including the last piece made up of scraps. (If you need additional work space, lay a kitchen towel on a flat surface as a work area.) Let the rosettes dry, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, or up to 8 hours.
To fry the cartellate, have ready a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, wide (4- to 6-quart) saucepan over medium-high heat to 375°F (190°C). When it is ready, use a metal skimmer or large slotted spoon to carefully transfer the rosettes to the oil, three or four at a time to avoid crowding them. Use the skimmer to keep turning and pushing the rosettes down into the oil until they are golden all over, 2 to 3 minutes. As they are ready, transfer the rosettes to the baking sheet, inverting them over the pot of oil before transferring them to allow the oil to drain from the pockets. Continue until you have fried all of the rosettes.
To coat the cartellate, pour 1/2 inch of mosto cotto or honey into a large skillet and warm it over medium heat just until it flows. Remove from the heat and place three to five rosettes into the syrup, or as many as can easily fit in a single layer. Use a spoon to baste the rosettes with the syrup, turning them over to generously cover all sides. The pockets will fill as you baste, but before removing them from the pan, invert the cartellate to let most of the syrup drain from the pockets. Transfer the cartellate right side up to a serving platter as you finish them. Continue to coat the remaining pastries. Sprinkle the tops with chopped nuts or diavoletti if you wish, then let cool completely.
Serve the cartellate at room temperature, storing leftovers, uncovered, for up to 24 hours.
Mosto Cotto or Vino Cotto, Grape must or Wine syrup
Makes about 3 cups (720 ml) | Gluten Free
Before sugar was widely available in Southern Italy, most families made their own sweetener by cooking grape must—the freshly pressed juice of wine grapes—into a thick syrup that added complex flavor as well as sweetness to their desserts. Because it is time consuming and expensive to produce, it is now difficult to find, even in Italy. Mosto cotto is sometimes incorrectly labeled as vino cotto, a similar syrup made from wine. In some regions of Italy, mosto cotto is known as sapa.
Whether made from grape must or wine, the syrup is thick and pourable, with flavors of fig, raisin, caramel, and spice, depending on the grapes used. It is perfect for drizzling over ice cream, fruit, or cheese, or for using in desserts, as is common throughout Southern Italy. Before the days of commercial ice cream, when fresh snow fell, Calabrians would pack it into a cup and drizzle it with the syrup for a treat known as scirobetta.
I make mosto cotto once a year, when we press grapes for making wine, and use it all year round. This recipe should leave you with enough for your own use, as well as some to package in small bottles to give as holiday gifts.
If you don’t have access to fresh grape must from ripe, super-sweet wine grapes, or to juice bottled by a winery with no additives, make vino cotto instead: Mix a (750-ml) bottle of a fruity red wine, such as zinfandel, with 1 cup granulated sugar and follow the method below to cook and reduce the syrup to about 1 cup.
91/2 cups (2.25 L) grape must
Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer into a large (6- to 8-quart) soup pot. Bring the juice to a boil over medium heat, skimming away any foam with a metal skimmer or spoon. Reduce to a lively simmer and cook, occasionally skimming off the foam, until dark amber and syrupy, about 21/2 hours, reducing the heat and watching carefully toward the end to avoid scorching. Cool the syrup completely. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer, then use a funnel to decant it into sterile bottles and seal. Store the mosto cotto in a cool, dark pantry, or refrigerate, for up to 1 year.
In this case an Italian white preferably an Orvieto.
Fettuccine with vodka and lemon
• 6 servings •
One of the greatest hits from my Trattoria cookbook was Penne with Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce, or what is generally known as vodka pasta, a dish inspired by one served at a trattoria in Florence. This is a clear variation on the theme, made with nests of fettuccine and a nice hit of citrus. It’s a real go-to weeknight pasta in our house.
Equipment: A 10-quart (10 l) pasta pot fitted with a colander; a large skillet with a lid; 6 warmed, shallow soup bowls.
1 pound (500 g) dried Italian fettuccine 3 tablespoons coarse sea salt 1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon vodka 1 cup (250 ml) light cream or half-and-half 1/2 cup (35 g) freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese Grated zest of 2 lemons, preferably organic Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
1. In the pasta pot, bring 8 quarts (8 l) of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the fettuccine and salt, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook until tender but firm to the bite, about 6 minutes. While the pasta cooks, warm the lemon juice, vodka, and cream in the large skillet.
2. When the pasta is al dente, remove the pot from the heat. Remove the colander and drain the pasta over the sink, shaking to get rid of the excess water. Reserve some of the cooking water for the sauce.
3. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to evenly coat the fettuccine. If the pasta is dry, add pasta cooking water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the pasta is moist. Add half of the cheese and toss once more. Taste for seasoning. Cover and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the pasta to thoroughly absorb the sauce. Toss again. Taste for seasoning.
4. Transfer the pasta to the individual soup bowls. Season with the lemon zest and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately, passing the remaining cheese and a pepper mill at the table.
The secret : The secret here is not to burn off the alcohol by reducing the vodka. Even though vodka is a neutral spirit, it is not flavorless. The key is that the flavor is in the alcohol, so burn off the alcohol, burn off the flavor.
Wine suggestion : A lovely Italian white is my choice here. For some reason this dish takes me back to the charming town of Orvieto, so I’ll suggest the Argillae Orvieto from Umbria.
(* Recipe excerpted from 'The French Kitchen Cookbook' by Patricia Wells- published by William Morrow, October 2013- Photographs byJeff Kauck, all rights reserved)