As proud as I am of the cuisine of my native country, I can’t claim it has a remarkable pastry tradition. Most of it is derived from France and what is original is steeped in “cucina povera” – basic ingredients mixed together to create simple sweets. The only exception is Sicily, with its moorish influences, and abundant use of almond paste and citrus.
Italian sweets are therefore rustic but, on occasion, I revel in the pleasure of enjoying simple flavors, in confections that could be straight out of any Italian grandma’s kitchen.
Recently I was asked to contribute a dessert from Puglia to a restaurant’s monthly dinner focussing on a different region each month. I can’t say I know much about sweets from Puglia but an extensive search yielded some interesting results, especially when it comes to desserts that celebrate Easter.
In the end, we picked “pastatelle” which, in Emilia, we call “raviole”. The dough differs significantly as in the Pugliese version there are no eggs or butter, just simple flour and vegetable oil. According to tradition, in Emilia we stick to plum jelly while in Puglia they favour cherry, fig and walnut.
You will find that the dough will be very oily when handling it, but also very supple and, when baked, it will retain a good amount of moisture. These “cookies” keep for several days in an airtight container.
RECIPE – Yields about 12/14
500 g AP Flour (1 pound)
180 g Vegetable Oil (mild tasting, such as canola or corn) 6.4 oz
5 Tbs Sugar
5 Tbs Brandy (the original recipe calls for pure alcohol but I used cherry brandy)
1 ts Salt
100 ml Water ( just over 1/4 cup)
200 g Cherry or Fig Jam (5.5 oz)
50 g Walnuts, chopped (2 oz)
- Mix the flour, salt, brandy and vegetable oil in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, on low-speed. With the mixer running, start adding the water in a steady stream and mix just until the dough comes together: it should be slightly sticky but not crumbly.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix the jam with the chopped walnuts.
- Roll the dough to about 1/8” on a lightly floured surface and, using a 6” round (10 cm) cookie cutter, cut as many disks as you can. You can re-roll the dough scraps once.
- Place about 1/2 teaspoon of jelly in the center of the disk, fold each cookie in a half-moon shape, pressing gently with your fingers to seal and then with the tines of a fork.
- Place on a cookie sheet. Mix one egg with a teaspoon of water and brush the top of the cookies. Sprinkle some Demerara sugar (or regular sugar) and bake at 350F (180C) for about 20 minutes or until pale golden.