Up to 1963 the proud region of Abruzzo was not a region in its own right, but cohabited with Molise, even if Frederick of Swabia had already, in 1233...
To the east of Rome lies Abruzzo, one of the hidden gems among the patchwork that is Italy. A sparsely populated land of stunning natural beauty and ancient customs, the motto of Abruzzo is Forte e gentile, a strong land and kind people.
Bordered by the towering Apennine mountains on the west and sloping down to the Adriatic Sea on the east, this region holds a treasure trove of travel adventures and gustatory delights. For nine days this June and again in September cookbook author Domenica Marchetti will lead small groups of travelers on culinary tours to this rugged, yet breathtakingly beautiful land, hosted by Nancy and Michael of Abruzzo Presto (www.abruzzopresto.com/tours/culinary-tour/). Castles, churches and bucolic villages will provide a backdrop for learning about Abruzzo’s culinary delights.
The region boasts a tradition of viticulture stretching back to before the birth of Christ. Mountain slopes provide ideal growing conditions, and more wine is produced here than in some other better known regions of Italy. Under the shadow of the Maiella Mountains, near the glistening Adriatic small tour groups will enjoy a private wine tour and tasting.
Majestic Gran Sasso will provide the setting for a picnic feast of Abruzzo’s famous arrosticini, succulent skewers of roasted lamb. There will be truffle hunting and a visit to the Navelli plain where, under the watch of the medieval city of Navelli, saffron, the world’s most expensive spice has been cultivated since the thirteenth century. With artisans from CantinArte, travelers will taste and learn about the production of extra virgin olive oil.
From delectably tender slow-roasted porchetta, to pizza making in a three hundred year old wood burning oven, and tasting artisan sheep’s milk cheeses, travelers will sample the best Abruzzo has to offer. Hands-on cooking classes led by Ms. Marchetti and a cache of authentic recipes will enable them to share newfound knowledge with friends and family at home. Abruzzo’s breathtaking beauty and living history offer endless opportunities for the traveler and food lover alike.
Soffioni di Ricotta allo Zafferano (Sweet Ricotta Tarts with Saffron)
These golden mini-tarts are served throughout Abruzzo during the Easter holiday. The word ‘soffioni’ refers to the puffed appearance the tarts take on as they rise in the oven. Saffron from Abruzzo’s Navelli plain is famous for its deep red-gold color and alluring, earthy flavor. It’s expensive but well worth the occasional indulgence, especially for a traditional holiday sweet such as this one.
Makes 18 to 24 mini tarts
For the dough:
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
⅓ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large eggs
For the filling:
Generous pinch of saffron threads, preferably from Navelli (may substitute Spanish saffron)
4 large eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
2 cups sheep’s milk ricotta or well-drained cow’s milk ricotta
Finely grated zest of 1 small organic lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 small organic orange
Large pinch of salt
Cooking spray or vegetable oil for coating muffin tins
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Make the dough:
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Drizzle in the oil and pulse to combine. Add the eggs and pulse just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature while you make the filling.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the filling:
In a small bowl, crush the saffron threads with your fingertips. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light. Add the saffron, ricotta and lemon and orange zests. Beat until well combined and fluffy. Set aside. Wash and dry the whisk attachment and reattach.
In a clean mixing bowl, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with a large pinch of salt until light and billowy. Carefully fold the egg whites into the egg yolk and ricotta mixture until well blended.
Unwrap the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half into a square about 14 inches by 14 inches. With a fluted pastry cutter, trim the edges. Cut the square evenly into 9 (4-inch by 4-inch) squares. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Reroll any scraps and cut out more squares. You should end up with 18 to 24 squares.
Coat two (12-cup) muffin tins with cooking spray or vegetable oil and coat with flour, tapping out the excess. Press the pastry squares into the muffin cups, taking care to leave the four corners as an overhang. Spoon the filling into the cups, taking care not to overfill, and fold the four corners of pastry squares over the filling to partially enclose it.
Bake the tarts for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is puffed and set and the pastry is golden. Transfer the muffin tins to racks and let cool to room temperature. Carefully remove the tarts from the muffin tins and set them on a decorative platter. Dust with confectioners’ sugar right before serving.
Tour dates are June 22-30, 2013 and September 21-29, 2013. For information go to www.domenicacooks.com/tours
Questions? Contact: Domenica@DomenicaCooks.com