The verb “sformare” in Italian means “to turn out, to remove from the mold”. A Sformato is a kind of savory custard that is thick enough to retain its shape when turned out on a platter, thus making a crust unnecessary. Traditional Sformati are made with béchamel sauce (read: lots of butter!), but you can obtain similar results without wracking your diet if you use ricotta. As filling and creamy as a quiche, at a fraction of the calories, this is basically a savory variant of the Jewish Roman Cassola which I posted in December (I also wrote about it in The Forward) . Ricotta is not technically a cheese, but a by-product of cheese-making: that’s why whole milk ricotta is naturally very low-fat, containing only 5% fat (as opposed to 90% in cream cheese!): no need to go with the low-fat or fat-free varieties, which contain additives and taste bad. Pumpkin is also very interesting from a nutritional point of view, because it’s filling and sweet but very low in calories and sugar, and fat-free. It also contains high quantities of carotene, calcium and phosphorus. Enjoy!
Before the advent of industrial baking products, many of the treats that our grandmothers served during the week included fruit. Compotes and baked fruit are a delicious way to indulge our sweet tooth without overdoing the sugar and the calories, and actually adding nutrients to our diet. Baked fruit, in particular, is easy to make and very comforting in the frosty fall and winter days.
I’m going to let you in on an Italian secret: while gelatois delicious, we don’t eat it every night after dinner! Our sweet treat after a meal is usually just fresh fruit, especially if the main courses are rich.
When we have guests we often serve Macedonia, a simple salad made with a variety of fruit cut into small pieces, so that when you put a spoonful into your mouth you can taste a combination of different flavors. Macedonia is dressed very simply with fresh sugar and lemon juice…. or Prosecco if no children are present! I know that someone is going to ask me if they can substitute Splenda: of course you can (but do you need to? What’s a spoonful of sugar compared to a large slice of cake?).
This is just a sample recipe, but the possibilities are endless – just pick your favorite fruit! Make sure you sprinkle with fresh lemon juice right after slicing, or bananas and pears will oxidize quickly.
I prefer not to use apples, because their texture is much crunchier than most other fruit.
My first encounter with this concept was in Giuliana Ascoli-Norsa’s beautiful collection “La Cucina nella Tradizione Ebraica”: I immediately loved it for its uniqueness, and because I was already partial to carrot cake. However, the original recipe used more than a pound of spinach and no potato starch or liqueur, and the result was disappointing. It wasn’t until several decades later, after I moved to the US and tried zucchini muffins, that I remembered this unusual combination and decided to try my hand at it again. This time I emailed all my friends from Tuscany (the area where this Passover dessert is supposed to have originated) to see if they could offer any variations. Unfortunately the spinach cake turned out to be a sort of culinary chimera, a mythical dessert that everybody had heard about but nobody had tasted or knew how to make (on the other hand, I did gather top-notch instructions for spinach fritters, and a sweet spinach and ricotta tart). At this point, though, I had become obsessed and decided to bring out the big guns: for four days I baked two spinach cakes a day, tweaking and fine-tuning, until I was finally happy with the result. And here you go! You might still want to keep the main ingredient a secret if your kids are picky eaters: they’d probably rather think it’s a colorant…
Chestnuts were central to the traditional Italian diet, especially in the mountains and among the poor. This simple soup is extremely satisfying when it’s cold outside, especially if you accompany it with a nice glass of a dry, fruity white wine. For an ever richer soup, you can substitute half the vegetable stock with milk.