Oh Italy, in all of your hazelnut glory... Hazelnut biscotti, hazelnut spread, fresh hazelnut from the tree, pralines, truffles, and how can I forget Italy's most popular hazelnut treat, the gelato. And what would the famous Bacio Perugina chocolate be without its signature hazelnut on top? Yes, indeed, Italy, the world's second largest producer of hazelnuts, does indeed have a love affair with this little nut.
Also known as a filbert, a hazelnut is well, the nut from the hazel tree. Harvested during mid-fall, the tree drops its delicious nut on the ground and is then harvested by farmers all over Italy. Sold during the fall at outdoor markets as well as large chain stores, shoppers stock up during the fall in preparation of the upcoming holiday baking season. Much of the hazelnuts are sold in the shells, although unshelled can be found at the larger chain supermarkets.
When I am not enjoying them in Italy, I tend to buy my hazelnuts in bulk at Whole Foods. They are shelled, so less work, fresh and delicious.
I have been making my walnut and pecan butterballs for many, many years. They are a favorite among my family members and guests. There's always a batch around in the month of December. Last year, I decided to play around with my recipe, as I always tend to do (!), and created hazelnut butterballs. And OMG!! I'm pretty humble when it comes to my baking. Even if something comes out delicious, I will find reason to critique it. But for these, I must say, I patted myself on the back! They were that good! Now, you got to know, if a cookie has the name "butterballs" in them, they are, well, buttery! These almost tasted like a truffle. They melt in your mouth! They are coated with sugar, crumbly, buttery, super crazy easy to prepare and perhaps my favorite cookie, ever! And look at the ingredient list... So short!
Do yourself a favor this upcoming holiday season, if you bake nothing else, bake some hazelnut butterballs! Since you will be thanking me about these for days, let me say "you're welcome" now.
Yields 36 – 40 cookies
1 1/2 cups whole hazelnuts
2 sticks butter (left at room temperature for several hours)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 cups powdered sugar for rolling & dusting
Preheat oven at 350 degrees
1) Using a food processor, pulse hazelnuts until they are very finely ground, almost resembling breadcrumbs, but do not over pulse into a paste. Set aside.
2) Using a stand or hand-held mixer, blend softened butter, salt, powdered sugar and vanilla until very well combined.
3) With the mixer on low, add the chopped hazelnuts and mix just until combined.
4) Slowly add the 2 cups of flour to the mixture until well blended.
5) Using a 1 inch cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop cookies and roll between your hands
6) Place rolled cookies on cookie sheets that have been lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 - 22 minutes. Rotating the sheets halfway through baking.
7) Gently remove cookies from the cookie sheets and let cool just slightly. While still warm, gently roll cookies in the additional cups of powdered sugar. If they break or crumble, allow cookies to cool for one more minute. (This step is done while the cookies are still warm so that the sugar adheres better.) Plate and serve.
Oh October.... The month in which my stand mixer comes out of hiding and back to its permanent location on my counter. I admit, it gets a few months' rest during the summer, mainly because I'm generally in Italy and frankly, I don't bake nearly as much in the summer. Summer is all about no-bake cheesecakes, nutella & mascarpone pie, semifreddi (a delicious concoction of frozen deliciousness) and puddings. But come October, and it's about the biscotti, the crostate and other cookies and cakes. Not to mention, it's time to start testing new holiday recipes!
And then there's pumpkin.... By late August, it's pumpkin lattes, pumpkin this, pumpkin that... Unless it's October, I'm not ready for pumpkin anything!
And just when I thought I couldn't tolerate one more pumpkin recipe, I get inspired to create pumpkin biscotti! I blame this in part to the pumpkin can, there's always some left over that goes to waste! I figured, how bad can these be, right? They go great with a latte, are super easy to make and last at least week in an airtight container, if you don't eat them all before, that is!
I started making these last year, when, you guessed it, I had left over pumpkin in the can. I started playing with a traditional biscotti recipe, and this is the result. I recently served these at a cooking class and the students loved them. Try making them yourself and a super easy treat that goes so great with coffee and tea!
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup canned pumpkin purée
2 cups all-purpose flour
coarse sugar for topping
As you might know already, the cuisine of Calabria, my native region, is very much influenced by its geographic location. As such, cucina marinara, or cuisine of the ocean is very prevalent. Rich in gifts from the surrounding oceans, seafood is a popular staple on Calabrian tables, not only regularly served in countless ways, but also enjoyed cured in locally produced olive oil. Swordfish and tuna are commonly prepared “sott’ olio;” a traditional curing process that is very popular in Southern Italy, not only with seafood but also with countless vegetables, olives and mushrooms. Anchovies, known as alici in Italy, salted cod; better known as baccala, sardines, mussels and clams are just a few of the favored seafood options found in Calabria. And while the anchovies are delicious simply floured and fried, pasta dishes with swordfish, mussels or clams are plentiful.
Pesce Spada al forno
While all seafood is prevalent in Italy, swordfish is very dominant and eaten frequently. Most often eaten simply grilled and lightly seasoned, it is also prepared with pasta, or other typical vegetables, such as eggplants and zucchini. While “alla brace” or grilled on charcoal is ideal, it is not always possible, thus baked in the oven is a wonderful alternative. It is imperative that you buy the freshest swordfish possible. This recipe serves 4 very nicely. Swordfish is fulfilling so about 5 ounces per portion should suffice.
4 swordfish steaks, 5 – 6 oz each, cut to about ½ inch in thickness
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
small bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley
1 garlic glove
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon mixed dry Italian herbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Prepare the swordfish washing it under cold running water. Dry the fish with clean paper towels and set on a clean cutting board.
Prepare the dressing by adding the olive oil to a small bowl. To the bowl, add several tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, one minced garlic glove, oregano and the juice of one lemon. Add salt to taste, about one teaspoon is average. Using a fork or small whisk, mix the ingredients well until you have a homogenous dressing.
Pour the dressing over the fish evenly. Bake fish in the oven for 13 – 15 minutes. Turn over and bake for an additional 15 minutes. (For additional flavor, you may wish to let dressed fish rest at room temperature for up to 30 minutes before baking.) Adjust baking time if your swordfish steak is thicker than ½ inch. Serve immediately.
For a crunchier version of this exact dish, bake it on a baking sheet instead of a baking dish, it will dry up faster and the corners will get crunchy and super tasty!
Pumpkin Lattes. Pumpkin Cookies. Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin everywhere this time of year! I must admit, I am not a fan of pumpkin lattes at all! Call me old fashioned, but I prefer coffee to taste of, well, coffee! I never understood the flavored coffee craze. It's just not me and I find it all kind of gross, really! I only go for espresso, cappuccinos and good old American coffee.
But this time of year, I just on the pumpkin bandwagon along with everyone else. But I can only deal with it so much. I don't like the pies but can tolerate the cookies. And risotto? Well, I've yet to meet a risotto I didn't like! Last year, I started making it with pumpkin. I had a half can of pure pumpkin puree left over in the fridge from making cookies. Inevitably, it always ends up in the trash. Always! Good thing it's only a few dollars, but still, I hate waste. So I took my usual risotto ritual and added some puree pumpkin pure to it. At first, I used far too much and it was far too sweet. After making it a few times, I got the proportions to the amount that I like. Play with the dosages below according to your liking. I find that with this, I use a bit more of the grated cheese than say my mushroom risotto. I think it cuts into the sweetness more. You can add some grated nutmeg, if you will, it will really add a nice fall flavor to it.
Enjoy some pumping risotto this fall, you will not regret it!
Approximately 5 – 6 cups of vegetable stock made from 1 large vegetarian bouillon cube
1 small or ½ medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 cup of Arborio rice
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
½ cup of dry white wine (any white wine that is not sweet)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
½ cup pumpkin puree (add another ¼ cup if you desire a stronger pumpkin flavor)
Salt to taste
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