DON'T WORRY, BE HOPPY
I hope the Easter Bunny isn’t bumped from his overbooked flight. It’s bad enough he’ll be forced to check his basket at the gate. An innocent carry-on filled with artificial grass, neon Peeps, jellybeans, plus the occasional Cadbury egg has no place tumbling down a tired conveyor belt at baggage claim.
Due to a bout of post-traumatic Passover Macaroon Syndrome, I am staying close to home this holiday weekend. I am also adhering to a strict coconut-free diet for the foreseeable future. That means just saying no to the 10 oz. cello package of Manishewitz toasted coconut marshmallows that happen to be on sale at Stop and Shop. That also includes pushing the open bag of Angel Flake coconut to the rear of the kitchen cabinet, rummaging instead for a small container of candied fruit peels.
Seeking out supermarkets and green markets in foreign countries is a passion of mine, combing the aisles for hard-to-find ingredients, earmarking them for particular holidays. The purchase of a few packages of candied frutta from Italy and a wedge of citron secured from a London green market hardly seems like a criminal act. ‘Smuggled through customs’ has such a harsh ring to it.
Claiming to have a fruit and nut aisle in my kitchen pantry is somewhat of an exaggeration, but not far from the truth. Nutmeats, dried fruits and an obscene variety of candied and crystallized ginger fight for shelving space. Dried cherries and Turkish apricots have gone head-to-head with sugared pineapple and plump figs. Miniature chocolate chips elbow semi-sweet chunks and blocks of bittersweet studded with almonds. Each time the cabinet doors are flung open, another item is sent plunging to the floor. Despite years of pondering kitchen storage solutions as offered by a southern Swedish retailer, I continue to falter. Plucking 70 grams of Italian candied fruit peels from the top shelf frees up highly desirable cabinet space. An open package of Oregon hazelnuts finally has room to breathe, but not before taking a dive, spilling like tiny pebbles around my sneakered feet. Sweeping them into a dustpan, I reconsider the IKEA catalog buried beneath an unopened 25 lb. bag of sugar.
A quick glance indicating it is best to consumarsi preferibilmente entro il 25-06-2017 assures me it is safe to peel back the wrappings on the candied fruit. Turning the jeweled fruits into a generous splash of Limoncello, I empty a container of whole milk ricotta into a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. What is that sound? Nothing but the rumblings of low-density lipoproteins pulsing through my arteries.
Whole milk ricotta is commonly used when making cannoli filling. Many years back, one of my tasks at a Bucks County farm bakery was to prepare the filling for cannolis. We used Ricotta Impastata; a slightly tangy cheese with a silken texture, drier than pedestrian ricotta, and a perfect pairing with chocolate chips and candied fruit. Good quality impastata is Sicilian in origin and pretty pricey. Many commercial bakeries use what is known as Bakers Cheese, drier than cottage cheese, similar to farmer’s-cheese, tangy in flavor, smooth in texture. Ricotta cheese and mascarpone is also popular among pastry chefs, providing a slightly more stable, pipeable filling. How convenient that the recipe I’m making this week calls for 2½ pounds of ricotta cheese and Trader Joe’s prefers to sell 1 pound tubs. While I’m here, I’ll pick up a package of hazelnuts.
Turning the drained ricotta into a red Pyrex mixing bowl, the addition of vanilla, lemon, orange, anise and slightly tipsy fruit peel creates a fragrance reminiscent of both a Bucks County farm kitchen and an Italian pasticceria. A handful of crushed hazelnuts, dark chocolate and almost-orange egg yolks are folded into the mixture. The filling will sit between a top and bottom crust known as pasta frolla, roughly translated as tender dough. Baked at a low heat for a long time provides ample opportunity for leafing through pantry strategies in the Sektion System of a certain weighty catalogue.
Sibling Sister Recently of Toronto breezes through town next week. A light traveler by nature, I imagine she will arrive armed with little more than a small carry-on. Barring any brush with Customs, I will be more than happy to assist her with her belongings. Particularly since she informs me that her new digs are but a jellybean’s throw from Toronto’s Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Who am I to criticize a week-old chocolate bunny and a Dairy Milk creme egg?
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