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Sweet the season

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I like to bake from time to time if the recipes are quick and easy. Since Passover and Easter are a week away, I did some culinary research to find unusual recipes to celebrate these holidays of spring.

Specific breads have always taken pride of place during Easter dinners throughout the world. I knew of a certain cheese bread baked in Italy and found a recipe for it in Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan, the Julia Child of Italian cucina. I was surprised to discover how easy the recipe is and will give it a try once Passover is over.

Cheese pizzas and pies are also popular fare during Easter, especially in Italian-American homes. The fiadone of Abruzzo is famous, and according to Anna Teresa Callen, il fiadone was only enjoyed during Easter. Callen, author of Food and Memories of Abruzzo, says il fiadone is so good, it can be enjoyed for dessert with a glass of slightly sweet wine.

An increasing number of sweet and savory dishes for Passover that contain no flour or yeast is now available, thanks to culinary historians who publish their findings in cookbooks. Although I am Ashkenazic (descended from Jews from Western and Eastern Europe), I always seek Sephardic dishes to enhance the traditional chopped liver and matzoh-ball soup that appear on the table. Sephardic Jews have roots in Spain, but live throughout Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Claudia Rodin is the maven on Jewish food, particularly Sephardic dishes from around the world. The Passover recipes are from her award-winning Book of Jewish Food.

Here are recipes for Passover and Easter.

La Crescia Pasquale di Osimo
Osimo’s Easter Cheese Bread

Ingredients:

3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 ounces pecorino cheese, grated
5 eggs
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for oiling the mold
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, ground fresh
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup barely warm milk
8 ounces Swiss cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice

Directions:

Place the first eight ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Dissolve the yeast in the barely warm milk, then add it to the ingredients in the processor. Run the metal blade for about one minute, until the dough masses into a large ball, or possibly several smaller balls.

Knead the dough by hand for a few minutes into a single smooth ball. Put it in a bowl covered with a slightly damp cloth and let it rise in a warm corner of the kitchen for about four hours, or until the dough has doubled in volume.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut a wax paper disk to fit the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan or 2-quart mold, then thinly smear the bottom and sides of the mold or springform pan with oil.

Remove the dough from the bowl, put it on a work surface and work the diced Swiss cheese into it, trying to distribute it as uniformly as possible. If some of the bits of cheese bulge through the surface of the dough, it’s no cause to worry.

Place the dough into the prepared pan or mold and bake for about 50 minutes until it rises, mushroom-shaped, above the rim of the pan.

Let it settle for several minutes, but unmold while it is still lukewarm, placing it on a cake rack to cool completely.

Makes one loaf.

Fiadone Villese
Fiadone from Villa Santa Maria

Ingredients for the dough:

3 large eggs
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
About 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk, plus about 2 tablespoons additional milk or water

For the filling:

Unsalted butter for the pan
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 pound freshly grated pecorino romano
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions for the dough:

Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Remove a tablespoon of the egg and reserve. Add the baking powder and oil. Beat, blending in the sugar, flour and milk. If necessary, add about 1 tablespoon additional milk or water. You can do this in a food processor.

Turn the dough on a floured surface and knead it until smooth, about 10 minutes. Gather the dough into a ball, cover with a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-inch pie plate.

For the filling:

Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl until frothy. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Divide the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll out one-half into a round slightly larger than the prepared plate and fit it in. Pierce the dough in several places with a fork. Pour in the filling. On a floured surface, roll out the remaining dough into a circle large enough to cover the entire filling. Place this piece of dough on top, fold the bottom layer of dough over the top layer and pinch all around to seal the pie while forming a decorative edge.

Add 1 tablespoon of water or milk to the reserved beaten egg and mix. With this egg wash, lightly paint the top of the pie. Pierce the top with a toothpick to let steam escape and bake until golden, about one hour. Cool on a rack before slicing and serve at room temperature.

Serves eight.

Gato de Muez de Pesah
Walnut and Orange Passover Cake

Ingredients:

6 eggs, separated
1-3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup ground almonds
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1-1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
Oil and matzoh meal for the cake tin

Directions:

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light and pale. Add the ground almonds, then the orange juice, rind and walnuts. Mix very well.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the nut mixture. Oil a nonstick 9-inch springform pan and dust with the matzoh meal. Pour in the cake mixture and bake for 90 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.

Serves 10.

Note: Rodin says this is "the" Passover cake of Istanbul.

Torta di Mandorle e Cioccolata
Chocolate and Almond Cake

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups blanched almonds
7 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate
1-1/4 cups sugar
7 egg whites
Oil and matzoh meal for the cake pan

Directions:

Finely chop the almonds and chocolate together in a food processor, then add the sugar and mix well. Place mixture into a large bowl.

Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the chocolate-almond mixture. Oil a nonstick 9-inch springform pan, then dust with the matzoh meal. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for one hour until firm.

Serves 10 to 12.

Note: Rodin found this recipe in Dal 1880 ad Oggi: La Cucina Ebraica della Ma Famiglia, published in 1982 by Donatella Limentai Pavoncello. The cake is Roman in origin.

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