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Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella Romagnola, Illustrated

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

A Ciambella Romagnola, Romagna’s traditional ring cake, is wonderful for breakfast, dipped into warm milk or caffè latte. It’s also quite nice at the end of a meal, served either with a glass of dessert wine along the lines of Albana di Romagna, or with the slices drizzled with zabaione or a fruit sauce or glaze.

Barbara Lucchi and her husband Riccardo Menghi, run the Vecia Cantena d’La Pré in Predappio Alta, a pretty hilltop town in the Appennini southwest of Forlì. I was fortunate enough to visit them in the course of a press tour, and when I returned to the town called ahead to ask Barbara (she handles the cooking, while he serves their guests) if she could demonstrate something easy to make.

Her Ciambella Romagnola, one of the region’s traditional cakes, certainly fits the bill. Her one word of warning: Don’t scale the recipe. It works perfectly as is.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Barbara, like all Italian cooks, works by weight, and in this case I am giving weights first, followed by volume equivalents. You’ll need:

  • 250 g (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar 5 eggs
  • 200 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted over a double boiler or in the microwave and allowed to cool
  • 500 g (4 1/8 cups) unbleached flour; she uses Italian grade 00
  • The grated zest of a lemon, yellow part only as the white is bitter
  • Milk: About 250 ml (1 cup), plus a little more at the end
  • 2 16-gram packets of lievito chimico, the Italian equivalent of baking powder. Barbara’s was vanigliato, vanilla flavored. You can also use plain baking powder, about 6 teaspoons.
  • A 26 cm (10-inch) ring mold. Barbara’s had a non-stick coating (“It’s what I’ve got”).
  • More butter and flour for buttering and flouring the mold.
  • Granella di zucchero for decorating the cake. This is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.
Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Beat The Eggs with the Sugar

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Beat The Eggs with the Sugar

Begin by melting the butter, either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Let it cool. Also, preheat your oven to 180 C (360 F).

In the meantime, put the sugar in a deep round-bottomed bowl and crack the eggs into it. Beat with a mixer set to low/medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is a creamy yellow. “At this point,” Barbara says, “We have a cold zabaione.”

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Some Flour

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Some Flour

Add about a third of the flour to the egg and sugar mixture, and beat the batter for about a minute. Add another third of the flour and beat for a minute more.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add The Butter

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add The Butter

Add the melted butter and beat for another 30-40 seconds.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Lemon Zest

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Lemon Zest

Next, add the lemon zest, using either a lemon peeler or a grater. Be careful to add just the yellow part, as the white pith is bitter.

Beat in half of the milk, and half of the remaining flour. Then beat in the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour.

The next step is to butter the ring mold; be thorough, and then flour it, tapping it upside down to remove excess flour.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Baking Powder

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Baking Powder

Add the baking powder and beat it in; Barbara adds a little more milk at this point to make certain that it dissolves. The batter will be quite creamy.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to get the last of it. Give the filled pan a couple of quick shakes, and tap it once or twice against your counter top to level the batter.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Granella di Zucchero!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Granella di Zucchero!

Sprinkle some granella di zucchero over the cake. Granella di zucchero is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

You’ll want enough to cover the surface, about a cup I’d say.

Bake the ciambella on a low rack in your preheated 180 C (360 F) oven for 40-45 minutes.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Enjoy

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Enjoy

I had mine with a lightly chilled glass of Albana di Romagna, a sweet white wine, and it was superb.

Barbara’s Recipe, in a shorter page.

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Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella Romagnola, An Easy Italian Ring Cake

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi and her husband Riccardo Menghi run the Vecia Cantena d’La Pré in Predappio Alta, a pretty hilltop town in the mountains southwest of Forlì.

Her Ciambella Romagnola, one of the traditional cakes of the region, is quite easy to make. It’s wonderful for breakfast, dipped into warm milk or caffè latte. It’s also nice at the end of a meal, either with a glass of dessert wine along the lines of Albana di Romagna, or with the slices drizzled with zabaione or a fruit sauce or glaze.

Her one word of warning: Don’t scale the recipe. It works perfectly as is.

  • 250 g (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 200 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted over a double boiler or in the microwave and allowed to cool
  • 500 g (4 1/8 cups) unbleached flour; she uses Italian grade 00
  • The grated zest of a lemon, yellow part only as the white is bitter
  • Milk: About 250 ml (1 cup), plus a little more at the end
  • 2 16-gram packets of lievito chimico, the Italian equivalent of baking powder. Barbara’s was vanigliato, vanilla flavored. You can also use plain baking powder, about 6 teaspoons.
  • A 26 cm (10-inch) ring mold. Barbara’s had a non-stick coating (“It’s what I’ve got”).
  • More flour for buttering the mold.
  • Granella di zucchero for decorating the cake. This is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

Begin by melting the butter, either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Let it cool. Also, preheat your oven to 180 C (360 F).

In the meantime, put the sugar in a deep round-bottomed bowl and crack the eggs into it. Beat with a mixer set to low/medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is a creamy yellow. “At this point,” Barbara says, “We have a cold zabaione.”

Add about a third of the flour to the egg and sugar mixture, and beat the batter for about a minute. Add another third of the flour and beat for a minute more.

Add the melted butter and beat for another 30-40 seconds.

Next, add the lemon zest, using either a lemon peeler or a grater. Be careful to add just the yellow part, as the white pith is bitter.

Beat in half of the milk, and half of the remaining flour. Then beat in the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour.

The next step is to butter the ring mold; be thorough, and then flour it, tapping it upside down to remove excess flour.

Add the baking powder and beat it in; Barbara adds a little more milk at this point to make certain that it dissolves. The batter will be quite creamy.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to get the last of it. Give the filled pan a couple of quick shakes, and tap it once or twice against your countertop to level the batter.

Sprinkle some granella di zucchero over the cake. Granella di zucchero, as I noted above, is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

You’ll want enough to cover the surface, about a cup I’d say.

Bake the ciambella on a low rack for 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy!

Barbara’s Recipe, Illustrated

Nocino, Walnut Liqueur

Nocino: What You'll Need

Nocino: What You’ll Need

This is something Italians make in June while the walnuts are still green, to celebrate San Giovanni, whose Saint’s day falls upon June 24. If you have access to a walnut tree, good.

Otherwise, ask your greengrocer to procure about 30 nuts with their rinds. Don’t be surprised if the rinds are bright green; they should be, because the nuts are immature. Once you have the nuts, wash them well and assemble the following ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 quarts (1 1/2 liters) grain alcohol (190 proof or 95%; see note)
  • 1 2/3 pounds (a little more than 3 cups, or 750 g) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 10 cloves
  • l pint (1/2 liter) water
  • The rind of an organically grown lemon, cut into strips

Begin by quartering the nuts with a heavy-bladed knife or a cleaver. Do this on a non-absorbent surface, and wear gloves: though walnut juice is colorless when it comes out of the nut, exposure to the air quickly turns it into dark brown walnut stain that will not come off. Put the nuts with the remaining ingredients in a jar, cover it tightly, and put it in a warm, dark place for 40 days, shaking it every two or three days.

Once the nuts have steeped taste the nocino. If it’s too strong for you dilute it with some spring water. Then line a funnel with filter paper and strain the nocino into bottles. Cork them, and age it for about six months in a cool dark place. It is wonderful sipped in small amounts from a tiny glass at the end of a meal, or around a fire with friends. It also makes a perfect Christmas gift.

Note:
This recipe relies on Pellegrino Artusi for the proportions of the ingredients, and it comes out strong:

Nocino: Chopped Walnuts

Nocino: Chopped Walnuts

About 70% alcohol, or 140 proof. It is something to be sipped in small amounts, from a tiny glass after dinner, and this is how I enjoy it.

Do not treat it as if it were a normal distillate, because it’s not, and do not use it to make mixed drinks, because they will come out too strong.

Dick Garofalo, of Garofalo Artisan Liqueurs, kindly gives proportions for making a lower-strength Nocino:

  • “If you want a Nocino in the 60 proof (30% alcohol) range your formula will be 2 1/2 cups 190 Proof (95%) alcohol to 5 1/2 cups of water.”
  • “For 70 proof (35% alcohol) the ratio is 3 cups 190 proof (95%) alcohol to 5 cups of water.”

Dick’s note set me to looking on the web; it turns out Artusi’s proportions are those used in Modena, where Nocino is the signature liqueur, and there is also the Ordine del Nocino Modenese, whose site gives the “official” recipe (which has no water added; the alcohol draws water from the walnuts) and a number of family variations (links are in Italian). And, of course, there is more on the web; the Cotti family dedicates a page of their company site to Nocino (in Italian, alas) with Artusi’s proportions as Nocino Modenese, and a number of other variations as well, some of which start with grappa, which is generally 40-45% alcohol (80-90 proof) and will thus yield a weaker nocino.

Thinking about Brodetto: The Costa Romagnola’s Signature Dish

Pellegrino Artusi, the great 19th century cookbook author, mentions Brodetto in passing in La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene, but not to give the recipe. Rather, he was peeved by the variability of the Italian spoken in his day:

Cacciucco! Let me say something about this word, which is probably not understood except in Tuscany and along the Tyrrhenian coast, since the word brodetto takes its place in the towns along the Adriatic. In Florence, on the other hand, brodetto is an egg soup served at Easter, made by crumbling bread in broth and thickening the mixture with beaten eggs and lemon juice. The confusion between these and other similar sounding words from province to province in Italy is so bad that it wouldn’t take much to make a second Babel.

“Now that our country is unified, the unification of spoken Italian, which few promote and many hinder, perhaps because of misplaced pride, or perhaps because they are comfortable with their dialects, seems to me a logical consequence.”

He was of course right about the linguistic confusion; a study carried out in 1870 estimated that only 5% of the people then living in Italy spoke Italian — everyone else spoke dialect of one sort or another, and even today, with the unifying effects of television, you can meet people of the elder generation who are much more comfortable speaking what they spoke with their grandparents than they are speaking modern Italian.

And why, you wonder, doesn’t Artusi give a recipe for brodetto? He was after all from Romagna and grew up not far from the Adriatic. The answer, not to mince words, is that it was poor people’s food, what the fishermen made on the boats from fish with little market value, and their wives, who peddled the catch, made at home from what hadn’t sold, and Artusi was writing for a middle class audience that would have sneered at it (cacciucco enjoyed greater repute).

Times have changed, however, and now modern Italians who live along the Riviera Romagnola (the Adriatic coast north and south of Rimini) are developing an interest for the dish. Not that this makes finding a true brodetto in one of the Riviera’s many restaurants any easier, because true brodetto is shockingly simple, and restaurant cooks (and many home cooks) find the temptation to jazz it up irresistible.

Simply put, the first rule for making brodetto is that the fish must be absolutely fresh. Small, spiny, ugly, doesn’t matter — it has to be flavorful and fresh. Thawed won’t work, nor will something taken off the boat yesterday morning.

The second rule is that the fish should be local; the fish that go into brodetto vary from town to town along the Riviera Romagnola, but include (among others): Cuttlefish, gray mullet, reef mullet, mackerel, bogue, striped mullet, mantis shrimps (when in season, and some purists shudder at them), crabs, and sole. If possible the fish should be washed in sea water, but you should only do this if you know your water is uncontaminated.

Mussels and clams can go into a brodetto, but often do not (family members not on the boats or selling the fish used to gather clams on the beaches to make clam stew), while scampi and other more prized crustaceans would never have gone into a traditional brodetto — they’d have been sold.

Likewise, a traditional brodetto would not have contained anything exotic, or that had to be shipped in. One thing the fishing families did do to increase the flavor of their brodetto was to gather the heads of the fish they sold, boil them separately, and add the resulting rich broth to the brodetto pot.

Spicing and seasoning? It varied from town to town, but was simple, as the fishing families had to barter with farmers for herbs: Olive oil was a constant, and one could also find onions, garlic, parsley, vinegar (often substituted for by dry white wine), a little salt, and abundant freshly ground pepper. Tomato paste and tomato sauce (used sparingly) didn’t appear until the mid-late 1800s, and the use of hot pepper is even more recent.

Cooking vessels and times? Tradition dictates one use a low-sided broad round terracotta pot, and a gentle flame; Metal will of course also work, but will transmit the heat faster. As is the case with all mixed fish stews one adds the fish to the pot in succession, first the kinds that cook slowly and the larger pieces, and then smaller pieces and quickly cooking fish. Total cooking time will be a half hour or more.

Finally, serving: Romagnoli generally serve brodetto over slices of toasted bread that do a beautiful job of soaking up the drippings, and accompany it with Sangiovese di Romagna, a light lively red wine. The other option I might consider for a wine would be Trebbiano di Romagna, which is just as light and lively.

Some Recipes:

The Adriatic Fishermen’s Brodetto, Brodetto dei Pescatori dell’Adriatico

Brodetto is the traditional fish stew of Riviera Romagnola, what the fishing families would prepare from the fish they were unable to sell — fish that were small or bony, and didn’t have much market value. But they are tasty, and while the women prepared it at home, the men cooked it on the boats.

To serve 6:

  • 3 pounds (1 1/2 k) mixed fish  (kinds discussed below)
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup strong vinegar
  • Abundant parsley
  • 3 onions
  • 1 cup extravirgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves Garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The fish should be what’s locally available, fresh, and inexpensive — no need for renowned exotics here. Rather, what is flavorful, and the fishermen use, among others, eel, sea mullet, flounder, squid, reef mullet, cuttlefish, and scorpion fish. Wash clean and scale the fish, cutting up the larger fish and leaving the smaller fish whole.

Mince the parsley and the garlic, and slice the onions. Put them in a large pot, with the olive oil, set the pot over a moderate flame, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent gold. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, and 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) boiling water. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper, cover the pot, and simmer for a half hour. Add the larger pieces of fish, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, and then the smaller pieces, recover the pot, and simmer everything for a half hour more.

Serve the brodetto over slices of bread that you have either toasted or fried in butter.

A few observations:

  • Though vinegar was traditionally used to flavor brodetto, many now prefer to add dry white wine.
  • There are a number of local variations along the Riviera Romagnola
  • In Cattolica they omit both parsley and vinegar.
  • In Riccione they omit the garlic, parsley, and onions, and let the sauce cool before they add the fish and return it to the fire; they sprinkle red wine into it.
  • In Cesenatico they omit the onion, vinegar, and wine.

You are free to follow local custom or not; I think I would go with all the ingredients.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti