Passover Almond Custards – Scodelline

6250 Scodelline

6250 Scodelline

While eating matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover is a commandment, eating too much of it could turn into a curse. I won’t go into details here, but by the time you serve dessert at the end of the seder, you will be praying for a break. I will always be thankful for the fact that most Italian Passover sweets are not made with matzah meal (ground matzah).

These lovely almond custards from Leghorn, in Tuscany, are called “Scodelline” (little bowls) or “Tazzine” (little coffee cups) because of how they are served in individual portions. They are small and elegant, just what you need to end a holiday meal on a sweet note without overdoing it. They are also gluten-free, and easy to prepare with wholesome ingredients (isn’t it nice, when you are having all this sugar, to know that there is something nutritious mixed with it, like almond and eggs?) The Jews of Leghorn, drawing from their Spanish-Portuguese origins, make several interesting sweets with these, including the elaborate Monte Sinai, a macaroon-like almond cake covered with egg threads fried in syrup.

For the recipe, I turned to my friends Lea and Anna Orefice, mother and daughter, two inspiring generations of fabulous cooks. From her kitchen in Leghorn, Lea – who is 92 and still in charge of making dessert for the family seder – answered all my questions via email in real time while I was stirring my custard in New York City.  Here is the result, and the detailed recipe, including Anna’s microwave version in case you are in a hurry…..

6244 Scodelline

Passover Almond Custards – Scodelline

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

40 minutes

serves 8-10

serves full espresso cup or half-full tea cup

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks, room temperature
  • a little over 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom or rosewater, OR fresh lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup water (less if using the microwave)
  • grated cinnamon to decorate, if liked

Directions

Place the sugar in a small pot, barely covered by water (more or less the same amount of water and sugar). Cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until it starts simmering and turns into a dense syrup. Do not allow it to brown and turn into caramel: as soon as it melts and thickens into a thick syrup, add the almonds and the flower water (or lemon zest), stir a couple more times and remove from the heat. In a separate bowl (I like to use pyrex) whisk the yolks until frothy. It will be easier with an electric whisk or mixer. Slowly pour the whipped egg yolks into the syrup until the mixture is smooth. Cook the mixture on very low heat in a double boiler (you can use the pyrex bowl on top of a pot filled with some water), stirring continuously until it begins to thicken (about 20 minutes) and the surface turns shiny, almost glaze-like. To save time, Lea’s daughter Anna uses a microwave instead of the double boiler: use about 25% less water; once everything is combined, place the pyrex bowl with the mixture in the microwave, and cook on medium for 4 minutes uncovered. Stir, and cook for 3 more minutes. Whether you used the double broiler or the microwave method, once the custard is cooked allow it to cool down, stirring occasionally, and once it’s lukewarm pour it into individual espresso cups (full) or tea cups (half full), and dust the top with some grated cinnamon. Serve accompanied by some fresh fruit. Using 6 yolks, you will make about 8-10 espresso-cup sized "scodelline"

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/19/passover-almond-custards-scodelline/

Vintage pictures of the old synagogue of Leghorn (destroyed in WWII and replaced by a new one)

My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet and some history

The Mount Sinai Cake with threaded eggs

Emiko’s Chickpea Cake, Leghorn’s beloved Street-Food

Tomato Sauce, and My Pet Peeves

Tomato Sauce, and my Pet Peeves

5857 salsa di pomodoro

For a while I resisted the idea of writing about tomato sauce. In fact, as a typical Italian living in the US, I’m often annoyed when Italian cuisine is identified exclusively with tomato and cheese-laden dishes. But then the spring arrived, persuading me to break the ice, and to use this post as an opportunity to dispel some myths!

Tomatoes first arrived in Italy for the first time during the 1500s. They were brought by the  the Spanish, who had encounterd them in the Americas. In particular, Jewish or conversos merchants of Spanish or Portuguese origins brought them to Livorno (Leighorn), and from there to the rest of Europe. However, at the beginning tomatoes were met with suspicion: after all, even in the Americas they were still considered poisonous, and enjoyed solely as a decorative plant. It’s not clear how long it took for people to realize what they were missing on: all we know is that for a while these myths about the poison lingered, or were replaced by others about magical or aphrodisiac powers. But without a doubt, nobody yet was thinking of pizza margherita!

The fact that in Italy the local Jews, always adventurous with vegetables, were among the first to bite into this forbidden fruit is suggested by the fact that many traditional Livornese recipes with tomato are named  “alla mosaica” (Moses-style) or “alla giudia” (Jewish-style). Meanwhile, the general population was also starting to experiment with the “pomidoro” (from the Latin “golden apples”), at least in some regions, and with the exception of the aristocracy, which waited much longer. (In France, au contraire, tomatoes were served at the Royal Court). In any case, it took a while to arrive at today’s dishes: the first written record of a recipe for pasta with tomato sauce only dates back to 1837!

Historical digressions aside, one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to write this post is to state clearly that pasta sauce is a dish, not an ingredient. It’s something that you can make easily and quickly to dress your pasta. It should not be used to add flavor to your brisket, or (my pet peeve!) to pizza. You are going to cook/bake your brisket and pizza anyway, so what’s the point exactly of adding a pre-cooked sauce? Use simple strained tomatoes and they will cook with the food. Trust me, nobody in Italy would ever put jarred marinara sauce on their pizza. For a realistic, minimalistic and perfect version of pizza margherita, check out the recipe and video by Mario Grazia for Academia Barilla.

And now on to the pasta sauce, in a couple of variations. You will notice that I use canned tomatoes. That’s because I live in Manhattan, and I find that the varieties that are sold here tend to be quite firm and have a lot of seeds: they are much more suitable for salads than sauces. Even when I was growing up in Venice we used canned tomatoes imported from the San Marzano area near Naples. However, if you are lucky to live in an area where the tomatoes are soft and juicy, go ahead and use fresh!

5878 Salsa di pomodoro

Quick Tomato Sauce - SouthernItalian Style

Ingredients

  • 1 large can strained tomatoes (simple pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 whole cloves garlic
  • 4 basil leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1large pinch baking soda (or sugar) to reduce the acidity
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Heat the oil, add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes stirring.

Add the tomato, the basil, salt, sugar or baking soda, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with pepper, discard the garlic and dress your pasta, which should be ready by now!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/30/tomato-sauce-and-my-pet-peeves/

Slow-Cooked Tuscan Pommarola

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs fresh plum tomatoes, cored and cut into pieces, OR 1 large can peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • fresh basil or fresh parsley to taste, chopped
  • sea salt, about 1 ½ tsp or to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 to 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

Directions

Place the olive oil in a large, non-reactive heavy pot. Add salt and basil or parsley. Cook covered on medium heat stirring occasionally until the vegetables and tomatoes fall apart (this should take about 1 ½ hr with fresh peeled tomatoes and at least 1 hr with canned tomatoes).

Remove the pot from the stove and pass through a food mill, discarding the skin and seeds. It should be nice and thick (if too liquid, cook uncovered for about 15 more minutes). Adjust the salt and pepper, and enjoy!

You can pasteurize both types of sauce and store in clean mason jars for up to 1 year.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/30/tomato-sauce-and-my-pet-peeves/

Tomato-lovers should also check out:

My Pappa col Pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato Soup)

My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet

Silvia’s Pizza

Frank’s How To Buy canned Tomatoes

Smitten Kitchen’s Slow-roasted Tomatoes

Academia barilla’s Tomato Focaccia