The end of December marks the second anniversary of An Italian-Canadian Life. When I started the blog, I committed to evaluating its’ success every year. I’ve had another great year of fun on the blog and judging by the comments and emails I get from readers, I think it should continue. You tell me you love the recipes, the memories and the opportunity to build community. Also, this year the blog:
- received a Canolo Award as an Authentic Italian Food Blogger
- was featured on CHIN Radio
- had recipes featured on Foodgawker and TasteSpotting
- was able to hold a few contests (and there’s still another coming up!) and be a judge for other online contests
- had some amazing guest bloggers share their writing and photos with us.
But what matters most are the posts that resonate with readers and friends. So here’s a look back at the top five posts, based on views, that were published in 2013. Not surprisingly, recipes are the most popular posts, though posts about Italian culture and traditions aren’t far behind. If you have any requests for posts in 2014, let me know in the comments!
Top 5 posts of 2013
Ciambella (or chiambella) is a word used for pretty much anything round with a hole in the middle really, even cakes appear with this name. However, this is a bread that is a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-in-the-middle, great-for-dipping-or-with-cheese kind of bread that I always like to have in the house. My mother started making this bread after getting the recipe from a friend and it’s become one of my family favourites.
Cookies made in a roll or log shape are common among old-fashioned Italian cookie recipes. I’ve had variations of this cookie but in this recipe I mixed two of my favourite things together. My mother makes this log roll with lemon pie filling in the middle and it tastes divine! I used her dough recipe and substituted the lemon filling for Nutella and it is a great alternative. The orange flavouring of the dough mixes well with the chocolate and is a play on the classic bread and Nutella snack.
Not all desserts are meant to be tooth-achingly sweet. And old Italian recipes are prime examples of slightly sweet treats that meet the sweet tooth craving without going clowingly over the edge. As a matter of necessity of course, many of the old recipes are sweetened by nothing more than grape must or honey, like this family favourite is. Mostaccioli were made by my grandmother and great aunts regularly and while they look like biscotti, they are soft and moist as they don’t go through the second baking process.
Limoncello has long been produced in southern Italy and, in fact, is the second-most popular liqueur in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest in alcohol and mixing in a simple syrup. You can use this method to make a number of different types of liqueurs (hazelnut, coffee, orange, etc.) as long as you get your quantities and steeping times just right. Limoncello offers a smooth, sweet lemon taste, without any of the usual bitterness associated with lemons.
This recipe comes from my husband’s family. He fondly remembers eating these as a kid on family road trips. They would pack the sausages, straight from the freezer, into tin foil and place them in the back windshield of the car to warm up in the summer sun as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years ago).
For Christmas, I’m offering an extra recipe this week – it’s a little something fun to surprise your friends and family with when you bring out the desserts during the holidays!
I’ve been wanting to make a chocolate salame for the past year and when I found myself with a few extra egg yolks after completing another recipe, well, there was no time like the present and I’m thrilled with how it turned out after a little testing.
While not traditional to my family, I remember eating sweet treats like this when I tagged along with my grandparents and parents visiting friends, family and neighbours throughout the holidays. The hint of alocohol underlying a deep chocolate taste makes this classically Italian to me.
I’ve seen modernized versions of this recipe where the cocoa is replaced with melted chocolate and all sorts of nuts and fruits are mixed into the dough. Tying on the decorative string to make it look like a salame is a great addition to the surprise. Feel free to adapt, that’s half the fun. A warning about using raw egg yolks: when eggs aren’t cooked there is always the risk of salmonella. To avoid this, be sure to use clean, pasteurized, properly refrigerated grade A eggs.
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, soft or melted and cooled
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces Amaretto di Saronno (or rum, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, etc.)
1 cup crushed dry biscotti (you can use store-bought cookies or I used leftover Zia’s Biscotti)
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
Powdered sugar for decorating
We’re so close to Christmas and baking is in a frenzy. I can see that many people are searching for turdilli recipes and my family’s turdilli recipe, which I featured last year, is very popular.
But there’s more than one way to make this traditional Calabrese fried cookie. Turdilli, also called tordilli, turdiddri or turtiddi depending on your dialect or how you want to spell it, almost always have the same base: flour, yeast, eggs and wine or flavoured alcohol. Then different families get a little crafty, kneading in their own flavourings (like orange zest) or additions (like dried fruits) or switching up the honey coating for fig syrup. Our family recipe, for example, includes coffee, cocoa, cinnamon and walnuts.
But if you don’t like those flavours, and want something more simple or that can be easily adjusted, then I have the turdilli recipe for you. This basic recipe is light on flavourings and creates pale-coloured turdilli. It can act as a base for any flavours or additions you want to mix in. My mom originally picked up this recipe from a great-aunt sometime ago who, we think, got it from a friend. The heading in her notes is “Turdilli di Paolina.” Who’s Paolina? Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s just say she’s a great-aunt to all of us, sharing her recipe so we can all enjoy. We adapted it a little bit ( of course the original recipe said “as much flour as is needed”) and it does make a lot (a lot!) so be sure to cut the recipe in half before starting out on your first try of this!
Turdilli di Paolina
2 cups oil
2 cups water (to boil)
1/2 cup warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
13 cups cake and pastry flour, plus an additional half cup to flour the board when kneading
1 tablespoon liqueur or vanilla
Vegetable or another light-flavoured oil for frying
Honey for coating
(note: I’d recommend cutting this recipe in half)
My grandparents were storytellers. The stories they told all centred around the emotions related to family, to struggle, to laughter and to traditions. There is no better time for storytelling than Christmas.
Over the past two years, I’ve contributed articles to Panoram Italia, an Italian-Canadian magazine, about Italian culture and community. Panoram does fantastic Christmas-themed issues that give me the chance to reflect on Christmases past. Last year I contributed the article “What we used to get for Christmas” which chronicled the gifts that Italians gave at Christmas back in Italy. Oranges, chestnuts, sugar dolls were all recalled with fondness and I am still in awe at the smiles those memories of Christmas gave to all the older Italians I interviewed.
This year, I wrote “Remembering our First Christmases in Canada“, an article that tried to recapture what Christmas in a new land with new traditions felt like for Italian immigrants. For some it was a hardship, spending Christmas without family, for others they were reunited with sisters and brothers. And, as usual, shared food was a key part of the memories.
Here’s an excerpt from the article where I got to share a story from my maternal grandfather:
For immigrants to Canada there are many new experiences and customs that colour the start of their lives in a new country. Christmas in Canada, away from the family, rituals and comfort of home back in Italy, was one of the first notable moments they experienced. Everything was new and unexpected, from the weather to traditions.
My grandfather often told us of his first Christmas in Canada in 1952, which was memorable indeed. While working for the Canadian National Railway, the company provided all the meals for the workers, deducting the cost of the meal from the worker’s pay. He looked forward to the dinner provided by CNR on Christmas Eve, expecting a festive feast that would help celebrate the special day. But on December 24, he was greeted with a plain meal of chicken soup. Disappointed and alone, he went to a grocery store to buy all he could afford: one chocolate bar and one pound of grapes to celebrate.
However, on December 25, he experienced what came as a surprise to most Italians: that Canadians hold their Christmas celebrations on Christmas Day. The railway offered a big celebration meal to all workers and my grandfather came to learn a new tradition.
The Christmas season invariably starts with some baking in an Italian household. Mine is no different. I’ve been on the lookout for a recipe that somewhat resembles a “torrone” that my grandfather used to make for Christmas. In his basement kitchen he would mix up all sorts of ingredients and while we were never quite sure of the recipe, it always tasted good. After some trial and error, my mother and I discovered this recipe is a base of what my grandfather was cooking up. I imagine he also added some cinnamon and maybe even chocolate when he got creative but this is a pretty good start.
It isn’t your typical torrone you pick up at the store: a white nougat framed with wafers. It’s a homemade kind typical of southern Italy including Calabria and Sicily that is dark and more like a brittle. (“You know we were short on eggs back then,” is my mother’s explanation. You need eggs to make the nougat type which my grandmother always told me were traded for other needed food staples.)
Try it with hazelnuts or peanuts or even sesame seeds as a filler. Since it’s a type of candy, North American recipes would tell you that you need a candy thermometer. That may be true, but I’ve never seen a Nonno or a Nonna use one. If they can get the feel down for this recipe, so can you and I.
300 grams almonds (lightly toasted). Use 150 grams whole and 150 grams chopped in half.
220 grams of sugar plus extra for coating
3 tablespoons of honey
100 grams unsalted butter
Amid shelves of cookbooks and piles of recipe magazines, my mother’s house holds a small worn notebook full of recipes. The pages are torn, stained and layered with scraps of paper (usually the back of envelopes) that have recipes scribbled in ink or pencil. Sometimes there are instructions and no measurements. Sometimes ingredients and no baking instructions.
Sorting out what cookies get baked for Christmas is less about going through her recipe list and choosing and more about remembering. “Those ones with the nuts on top.” “The round ones that Comare brought over.” “Dad’s favourite.” Proper names for cookies are useless, we all just associate them with people, places or times anyway. This little biscotti recipe lives on a scrap of paper with the simple heading: Zia’s Biscotti.
Zia, meaning Aunt, could mean, well, anyone in the family or extended family. It doesn’t matter though, they came from family and have always been a staple. These biscotti are light and crumbly. I’ve tried several recipes from various books (versions with harder dough I find too dense, those made with butter seem to taste overwhelmingly of butter) but keep coming back to these ones for their simplicity and their texture. You can swap out the almonds for different nuts or other ingredients like chocolate chunks or cranberries, or even add cocoa to the dough for a chocolate version. It’s a great base that’s easily adapted.
Anyway you make them though, these biscotti are classic, just the memories we all hold dear of our family and favourite cookies.
6 large eggs
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla