Category Archives: Desserts

You Can’t Stop Eating Them: Cassadedi

Sicilian desserts are amongst the most delicious in all of Italy, and I would argue in all of the world.  A few examples include frutta martorana, buccellato, granita (often referred to “Italian ice” in the US), and of course the sweetened ricotta desserts Sicily is perhaps most well known for: cassata, cannoli, pizza ricotta (Episode 9), and one of our favorites, which we share with you today– cassadedi.

Cassadedi are sweetened ricotta turnovers, which have been lightly fried and are served with a touch of sugar on top.  They are a favorite in my family, and it’s really impossible to eat just one.  In fact, once you start eating them, you can’t stop!

Cassadedi were made by my mother on special occasions, typically on Christmas or New Years, and served on large platters to many guests that would come together on the holidays.  Typically they were accompanied by lots of coffee drinking, other desserts, singing, playing games and good conversations.  The conversations always got more lively when the cassededi were brought out!

The recipe I am sharing with you today was handed down to me from my mother, and she got it from her mother, who had gotten it from her mother, and so on.  In other words, it comes directly from “the Old Country”, and is a special recipe that I hope you will make part of your own tradition, handing it off to your own family some day.

The recipe makes about 25-30 individual cassadedi.  If you’d like to make fewer, simply reduce the amount of the ingredients.  Also, be sure to use the freshest ingredients to ensure the highest quality.  For instance, the cinnamon you use should be freshly ground from a soft, whole cinnamon stick, and the ricotta should be fresh, whole milk ricotta.

Preparing the dough

For the dough, you will need the following ingredients: 4 cups of flour, 4 heaping tablespoons of shortening and 1/2 cup of water.

Add the flour in a bowl, along with the shortening.  Mix with your hands, slowly adding water a little at a time as you need it to make the dough more consistent. Knead with your hands until fully mixed.

Break the dough into 3-4 even sized pieces an roll out in an slightly elongated shape with your hands.  Get a medium sized bowl and coat it with some olive oil. Using a knife, take the dough pieces and cut them into small sized chunks.  Flatten one of the pieces out, dip it lightly in the oil and place it on the side of the bowl. Repeat with the rest of the dough.  You should have about 25 pieces or so, depending upon how big you cut them.  You may also need to put them in a second bowl if you fill up the first.  Once completed, put the bowl of dough aside while you make the ricotta filling.

Making the filling

For the ricotta filling, you will need the following ingredients: 2 pounds of fresh, whole milk ricotta cheese, 4-6 tablespoons of sugar, 2-3 tablespoons of fresh, ground soft cinnamon stick.

Place the ricotta in a large bowl, and add 4 tablespoons of sugar.  Next, add 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon.  Take an electric mixer, and mix completely. Taste the mixture, making sure it’s sweet enough and has enough cinnamon.  If it’s not sweet enough, add another tablespoon of sugar.  Add additional cinnamon also, if needed.  Mix, taste, repeat as needed.  Once you have the right taste and consistency, place the bowl aside.

Filling the dough

Take one of the small pieces of dough you placed in the bowl and put it on a rolling board (or your countertop).  Be sure to sprinkle a bit of flour to prevent it from sticking.  Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is thinned out.  You will need to be very gentle to make sure the dough does not break.  Next, using a teaspoon, take some of the ricotta filling and place it in the center of the rolled out dough.  Next, fold the dough over the filling, sealing it all around with your fingers.  Using a cutting tool, cut the edge of the dough evenly all around.  Use a fork to press down the dough’s edges, sealing it while providing a nice decorative finish.  Place the first cassadedi aside, then repeat and complete the remaining ones.

Frying the cassadedi

Get a large frying pan and fill it with an ample amount of olive oil.  You want to have enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan with about a quarter of an inch.  Heat the oil on high.  Once the oil is nice and hot, place your first cassededi on the pan.  You could place about 4-6 of them on the pan at one time, making sure that they don’t touch one another.  Fry until they are golden brown on one side, then flip and brown on the other side.  If your oil gets dirty because one breaks open or excess dough or flour gets in the oil, simply change out the oil with fresh olive oil.

Once all the cassadedi are completed, lightly sprinkle them with ground sugar, providing a light coating.  Place them all on a large platter and serve!  I think it’s best to serve them hot, but it’s perfectly fine to serve them warm or even cold. The temperature at which you serve them really depends upon the person eating them!

Buon appetito!

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The One Everyone Has Been Waiting For: Pizza Ricotta

There are few recipes that generate so much passion in my family as pizza ricotta or ricotta pie.  It’s probably because it’s just so incredibly tasty and that it brings back so many memories.  I’ve also had lots of requests to share this recipe,  so for all of you who have been waiting, here it is!

The recipe for pizza ricotta comes directly from my mother, who was born in Salemi, Sicily and who had gotten the recipe from her mother, who had gotten it from her mother, and so on.  It’s an authentic, simple and tasty dessert, which is traditionally made at Easter.  In fact, we filmed this episode at Easter this year (we’re just publishing it now!), and had it as part of our Easter feast.

Most Italian desserts with sweetened ricotta come from Sicily, and including cassata, cannoli, cassadedis (which we’ll be sharing with you soon!) and of course, pizza ricotta.  Sweetened ricotta is a symbol of celebration, and is something to be shared with family on special occasions.  I remember being surrounded by family and friends on special occassions where different desserts containing sweetened ricotta were served.  I hope that you find yourself in a similar situation, cooking this recipe, sharing it with family and friends, and creating lots of wonderful memories!

Preparing the Crust

You will be making enough crust for 8 or 9 inch pie.  You should use a springform pan, which is ideal for keeping the form of the pie (this is the same type of pan we used in Episode 7- Pizza Gaina).

The ingredients you will need for the crust include: 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of shortening, 2 egg yolks, a pinch of salt, 1/4 cup of milk, and 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.

Start off by mixing the flour, shortening and baking powder in a large bowl.  Next, mix the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl, getting a good, “pasty” consistency.  Take the egg yolk and sugar mixture and mix it with the flour mixture.  Add a dash of salt, and then a teaspoon of lemon extract.  Typically, citrus is used in combination with sweetened ricotta desserts in Sicily.  You can also use lemon zest in the filling (or other fruits, such as candied orange), but this is something I don’t do.  The lemon extract in the crust gives a nice hint of citrus.

Mix the pie crust to a solid, smooth consistency.  Once you have that nice consistency, break the dough into two even sections.  Put one section aside, and take the other section and roll it out with your hands then with a rolling pin.  Be sure to use flour on the rolling surface to ensure it does not stick.  Once you have it flattened out, carefully bring it to your pie plate, and place on the bottom.  You will need to mold the pie crust evenly along the sides of the plate with your hands.  Make sure there are no bare spots on the bottom or sides.  Once you’ve done this, put the pie crust aside while you prepare the filling.

Making the Pie Filling

Now you’re ready to make the rich pie filling (no finger dipping as you go along!). The ingredients you will need include: 2 pounds of high quality, whole milk ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 2 egg whites (you can use the whites from the yolks used in the pie crust).

Put the ricotta cheese in a large bowl.  Add the sugar and vanilla.  Use an electric mixer to mix everything together.  Once consistent, place aside.

Using the electric mixer again (cleaning it of course!), mix the egg whites.  Beat the egg whites until they are a nice, fluffy consistency.  Take the fluffy egg whites and fold them into the ricotta cheese mix.  Use a spatula to fold in the egg whites and make it a smooth consistency.

Next, take the filling and fill your bottom pie crust with it.  Smooth out the top of the pie filling.

Topping it Off

Take the other section of pie crust dough, and roll it out the same way you did the bottom pie crust.  Once it’s rolled out, carefully place it on top of the pie filling. Mold the top pie crust to the pan, making sure you seal it with the bottom pie crust.

You’ll want the pie to have a nice “shine”, so brush on a egg wash on the top pie crust (you could also use a milk instead of egg).  Slice 2-3 small cuts on the top of the pie, which will make sure it can air out.  Now you’re ready to put it in the oven!

Bake & Serve!

Put the pie in your pre-heated oven at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes.  Check it while it is cooking.  The pie will rise and the crust will crack slightly on top.  When you take the pie out, it will “deflate”, which is a normal part of the cooling process.  Let the pie cool for at least 1-2 hours before removing the side of the springform pan and serving.  In fact, I like to serve it slightly chilled, so placing it in your refrigerator for a short time before serving is recommended.  You can optionally serve it with a side of fruit or with some confectionary sugar on top, but I like to serve it as is.

I hope you enjoy this great recipe.  Give it a try, and let me know how it comes out!

Buona Pasqua! Italian Easter Cookies

The Easter season is one filled with rich traditions, including many types of foods.  Food plays a particularly important role on Easter Sunday since that is a day of great celebration and when Lenten fasts are over, allowing for the partaking in all the foods which were given up over Lent.  It’s a celebration of life, with food playing a central role (my type of holiday!).

My family developed many great recipes for Easter time over the years, a couple of which I hope to share with you in time for this year’s holiday, starting with the first dessert we’ve made on the Cooking with Mama Lombardo Show: traditional Italian cookies.  Italian cookies come in all sorts of flavors and varieties, but the recipe I’m sharing with you today is for plain cookies.  This is a recipe that comes from my mother and one that I’ve been cooking for years.  I call them Easter cookies since I shape them into a Easter baskets, with a hard boiled Easter egg in the pocket.  My kids loved these cookies growing up (and still do), and I’m sure yours will as well.  These cookies will make for a special gift for all friends and family members.   They’re great to include in an Easter basket with other traditional Easter sweets or on their own.  My family likes to eat these as part of Easter morning breakfast, dunking them into coffee or with espresso.  However, you can enjoy them anytime!

You can also use this cookie dough recipe to use in any shaped cookie you’d like. For instance, I use this same cookie dough recipe to make small round cookies, s-shaped cookies, and other shapes.  I encourage you to use this recipe to try other shaped cookies anytime of year.

We have a special guest this episode: my sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo.  Elaine is a great Italian cook in her own right, having learned the same style of cooking as me over the years of being married into the family.  In fact, Elaine pioneered some of her own recipes which I we’ll be sharing with you in the future (stay tuned for the next episode where Elaine shares one of these recipes: pizza gaina). Elaine makes the Italian Easter cookies, making a similar basket shape, which she shares with us in this episode.

This cookie recipe is authentic, tasty and fun, just like all the recipes on our show. It will take you about 1 hour to do everything, including making the dough, shaping the cookies, baking, letting the cookies cool and frosting the cookies.  The ingredients you’ll need are: 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of vegetable oil, 6 large eggs (not hard boiled and for using for preparing the dough), 6 hard boiled white eggs (for cooking in the basket, not for mixing in the dough), 2 tablespoons of baking power, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, and 6 cups of flour.  For frosting the cookies (optional, but recommended), you’ll need: 1 cup of confectionary sugar, and a 1/4-1/2 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of lemon extract and sprinkle toppings.  This recipe makes about 6 Easter basket cookies, depending upon how big you make the cookies.  We share two variations of Easter basket cookies: the larger one that Elaine makes and demonstrates in the video and the smaller one that I make and demonstrate.  The same cookie dough is used for both cookies.

Making the Cookie Dough

Start off by mixing the sugar and vegetable oil in a large bowl using a mixer.  Once you achieve a nice consistency, add the baking powder and mix.  Next, gradually add in the eggs, making sure they mix in consistently.  Add the vanilla.  Then finally, slowly add in the flour.  Add the flour in a little at a time, allowing for the dough to thicken.  You don’t want the dough to thicken too quickly which is why you should add it in slowly, making sure you achieve a good consistency (this may take less than the 6 cups of flour).  Finish the mixing process by hand.  You should have a big, consistent ball of dough at the end.

Making the Cookies

We’ve got two variations of Easter baskets you can make: large or small.  These directions are for the smaller baskets that I make (for the larger ones Elaine makes, roughly double the amount of dough.  See the video for more details). Break the dough into 4-5 smaller balls of dough.  Each ball should make one Easter basket cookie.  Take one ball, break it in half and roll it out with a rolling pin.  Try to get it about a 1/4 inch thick or so– not too thick or too thin.  This will serve as the base of the Easter basket cookie. Next, get a hard-boiled white egg and place it on the dough, about a little less than halfway down.

Take a small handful of dough, roll it out length wise into about a 1/2 inch thick string that is about 4-5 inches long.  Take the string of dough and place it along the top of the base of the basket in an upside “U” shape.  This will be the handle to the basket.

Finally, take the rest of the dough, roll it out flat (same thickness as before), and place it halfway over the hard boiled egg.  This is the base of the basket.  You can use small pieces of dough to make decorations on the basket, but I usually keep it plain.  Once completed, carefully transfer the whole cookie basket onto a flat cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  You may require less or more cooking time depending upon the thickness of the cookies and your oven.  You’ll know the cookies are done when they have a slight golden color on top.

Frosting the Cookies

Once the cookies are cooled off, you can frost them.  Place your confectionary sugar into a small bowl and add the milk and lemon extract.  You’re looking to achieve a thick consistency (but not too thick), which you can brush onto the cookies.  Get a brush, dip it into the frosting, and brush on a thin coat onto the cookies.  Once fully coated, sprinkle the cookies with the sprinkles.

Buona Pasqua!

I hope you enjoy these cookies.  I want to wish you and your family a Happy Easter holiday season.  Buona Pasqua!