Passover and Easter Recipes – Arthur Schwartz

I may think I have an easy web-site to navigate. But, a couple of weeks ago, I realized how hard it is for some people to find what they are looking for when I was making a personal appearance at Bloomingdale’s in Short Hills, New Jersey. A listener came by to scold me that I had not, as I said I would, put Suzanne Hamlin’s macaroni and cheese recipe in The Maven’s Diary. I knew I had. I knew it was there. Yet he insisted that I had not, and he walked off in a huff.

I hope the new recipe indexes I am working on now will help those of you who can’t find recipes I say are here. Unfortunately, the search engine software I use comes through only once a week (on Fridays I believe) so that the search box on the upper left side of any page with the red border will work only for recipes on the site for more than a week.

Meanwhile, let me point out that there are several recipes archived in The Maven’s Diary that are appropriate to Passover and Easter. With spring coming tomorrow, I know those holidays are beginning to be on your mind. You can find all the following recipes by going to The Maven’s Diary and clicking on Archive 2000. Once there, you will see the year divided into months. Click on the entry you want. (Sorry, but there are year 2001 entries mixed in with the March 2000 entries. My webmaster is working on that to correct it.)

Abe Lebewohl’s Matzoh Balls, from the famous and dear late owner of the Second Avenue Deli, appeared in the Maven’s Diary on April 16, 2000.

Matzoh Buttercrunch, the delicious candy from Montreal-based maven Marcy Goldman (www.betterbaking.com) that caused a sensation among my Jewish listeners last year, appeared on April 5, 2000.

My Family’s Passover Walnut Cake, which I intend to try with hazelnuts this year, appeared on March 15, 2000. Please read the whole entry, not just the recipe, before baking the cake. You’ll see what I mean when you do.

Ann Nurse’s Famous Easter Ham, which she is making again this year for her perpetually sold-out James Beard Foundation Easter Brunch, was in the diary item dated April 27, 2000.

Pastiera Rustica di Tagliolini, a recipe from my book Naples At Table, is one of my favorite dishes to make for a buffet (as in Easter brunch buffet) and it ran in the Diary on April 10, 2000.

Migliaccio: Aunt Loretta’s Cheesecake – Arthur Schwartz

I suppose the subject of migliaccio has come up several times lately because in some Italian-American families it is traditional for Easter.

The word migliaccio means pudding, derived from the Latin word for millet, the grain. In antique times, migliaccio was porridge or gruel made from millet. Today, it is different things in different parts of Italy, although I believe it is a word used mainly in the south of Italy. It can be a savory or sweet pudding, and it can be made with semolina (the flour of hard wheat) or cornmeal, or, in one case I know, from pasta. That case, the migliaccio di Ischia, which is capellini (angel hair) baked with eggs, milk, sugar and candied orange peel, is in my book Naples At Table. It’s a recipe from the Calise family, who own the largest and best pastry shop and cafe on the island of Ischia, although it is a homey dessert, not something the Calise make or sell in their elegant shops. (An interesting side note: There is a very good Italian restaurant on Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights called Noodle Pudding, which is called that because the owner is from Ischia and his last name is Migliaccio. Not knowing that the connotation of Noodle Pudding in New York would be Jewish kugel, he translated his name to what he knew Migliaccio to be back in Ischia.)

The savory migliaccio I know is essentially polenta (corn meal mush) baked with eggs, pork crackling or bits of ham, dried sausage, pancetta (Italian bacon), like that. It can be very heavy and it is not made much these days in Naples and surrounding area, the place from where it hails.

When I was asked about a sweet mulyach by my friend Marie Bianco, one of Newsday’s food columnists, who used the dialect pronunciation of one of her readers, I was at something of a loss. I didn’t have a recipe, although I knew it existed. I decided to put the question out to my radio listeners, but first I did a little book research and found the following recipe in my friend Michele Scicolone’s La Dolce Vita, her book on Italian desserts. When I recited it on the radio, a number of people called to say that it was essentially the same as their family’s recipe. It is from Michele’s aunt Loretta, who I happened to meet last year – a charming, pretty woman. It is made with farina (cream of wheat breakfast cereal), not semolina or cornmeal. I think this is so because when Loretta’s family came to the U.S., semolina, which is the grain they probably used in the old country, was not available. They substituted farina, just as, to offer just one other example, many Italian-Americans make their Easter grain pie, called pastiera with barley or rice instead of whole wheat berries – because the whole wheat used to be difficult or impossible to get.

Interestingly, while on the radio talking about migliaccio, my friend Maurizio De Rosa, who grew up in the Vomero section of Naples, right in the city, called to say he had never heard of the sweet version of migliaccio, only the savory. I have two possible explanations for this: 1) The sweet pudding was not made in the city of Naples itself, only in the nearby hinterlands (Italy is that regional, yes), and/or 2) migliaccio is such an old-fashioned dessert that it was no longer being made by the time Maurizio was born in the mid 1960s. There are many dishes that Italian-Americans perpetuate that are no longer made in Italy.

P.S.– It is now May 1, and yestereday I learned from my house guest, Giuliana Di Lucia, who lives in Salerno, that pastiera has long-been made with rice in the southern section of Salerno province called Cilento. This is just to set the record straight: Rice was apparently not merely a substitute for whole wheat beries that was made by Italian Americans who couldn’t get the grain.

Migliaccio
Aunt Loretta’s Cheesecake

Makes a 9-inch round, serving about 12

6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) whole-milk ricotta
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
2 cups milk
1 cup water
3/4 cup uncooked farina
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped candied citron

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- by 3-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Beat in the ricotta, sugar, orange and lemon zests, and the liqueur.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the farina in a fine stream, stirring constantly. Stir in the salt and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until thick and creamy.

Stir the cooked farina into the ricotta mixture, then stir in the citron. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the outside edge of the cake. Remove the springform sides, and serve the pudding/cake off the base. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Store in the refrigerator.

Semifreddo di Amaretti – Arthur Schwartz

I suppose the word “semifreddo,” which means “half cold” in Italian, and refers to a category of frozen desserts that aren’t truly gelato or sorbetto — ice cream or sorbet — comes from the fact that semifreddi (the plural) are usually eaten softer than true ice cream.

My HarperCollins Italian-English dictionary defines the word as “Chilled dessert made with ice cream,” which is not entirely accurate. Semifreddi are a type of ice cream you might say, but not dessert made with ice cream, although one might refer to a Neapolitan spumone, a molded frozen dessert composed of layers of several types of frozen dessert — what we and the French would call a “bomb” – a semifreddo.
John Mariani’s definition in The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink is more like it but not the entire story: “a custard or a mousse with a slightly softened texture that is eaten with a spoon.” He doesn’t mention that semifreddi are always frozen, and I disagree that crema caramela, tiramisu, and “desserts containing ricotta” are considered semifreddi. At least I have never seen the word applied to them, unless, of course, they were frozen.

There are several ways to make semifreddi. The dessert can be based on a classic custard, which is to say milk or cream and eggs cooked together until the eggs thicken the liquid, then lightened with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream and frozen. Or it can be based on a cooked zabaione (also spelled zabaglione), which is technically a type of custard, except that the liquid is wine or a liqueur instead of milk or cream. A zabaione can be made with either whole eggs or egg yolks alone. In either case, it needs to be lightened with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream. Or semifreddo can be based on a raw egg yolk and sugar base, as in the following recipe. There are also semifreddi based on what is called Italian meringue, which is egg whites beaten with hot sugar syrup. That, too, would be enriched with whipped cream or a cooked custard and whipped cream. The one thing that is not done in any semifreddo recipe I have ever read or made is churning the custard base and cream together as in true gelato or American ice cream.

I got the following recipe from Stefano Baldantoni, the chef at Acquario, a small, stylishly scruffy (and on the weekends regrettably noisy) restaurant at 5 Bleecker St., between Bowery & Elizabeth Sts. ( 212-260-4666). The Sicilian owners of Acquario are importers of fish and other ingredients from the Mediterranean and the menu is not entirely Italian because they like to feature their full line of products, which includes Spanish, Portuguese and North African goods. Stefano handles them all as if he was a native of all those places, but he is Italian, from Le Marche. If you go, order mainly fish dishes, including his spaghetti with tuna bottarga, which is salted and pressed roe. All he does is whip the bottarga in the blender with some great olive oil, parsley and hot pasta cooking water, then toss it with the spaghetti. Simple and fabulous! So is this semifreddo flavored with Amaretti di Saronno cookies, which he molds in a loaf, then serves in slices drizzled with both chocolate sauce and caramel sauce, garnished with an amaretto. When I made it I just scooped it into goblets and garnished it with a few of the miniature Amaretti di Saronno I happened to have on hand. You might also freeze it in individual ramekins or directly in stemmed glasses.

PS: There are several semifreddo recipes in my book, Naples At Table, including one flavored with Strega, and one made with coffee that, because it is served in small cups, is called a coviglia, which means “cup” in local dialect.

Semifreddo di Amaretti

Makes about 3 quarts

12 large eggs
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar (or process granulated sugar in the food processor until fine)
3 1/2 ounces Amaretti di Saronno (20 full-sized Amaretti cookies, which are packaged 2 to a twisted, colored paper)
1 quart heavy cream

Separate the eggs. Put all the yolks into a large bowl. Reserve 7 of the whites in another bowl, making sure the bowl is spotless and dry. Use the remaining 5 whites for something else, or discard.

Using the metal blade of a food processor (or a blender), grind the amaretti to a fine powder. If there are coarser bits among the fine, leave them. They add a little crunchy texture to the finished frozen dessert.

Add the sugar to the yolks and, with a wire whisk or hand-held electric mixer, beat until thick and light. Add the ground Amaretti and beat until well blended.

In a clean bowl, beat the cream into soft peaks and fold into the egg yolk mixture.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the mixture.

Pour into a large plastic container or bowl and freeze, covered, until well set, at least several hours.

Serve scooped into individual dishes.