Before I left for Italy, I shared the above photo on my Facebook page, with the caption,”Doesn’t Mamma Anna Maria look like someone with whom you’d love to spend time in the kitchen? I hope I get to meet her in Vasto!” A few weeks later, my family and I spent a wonderful day on Abruzzo’s unspoiled southern Adriatic coast with Fabrizio Lucci, owner of the Abruzzo-based tour company, Italia Sweet Italia Experience Breaks, which included a seafood cookery class and lunch on a fabled trabocco fishing platform (more on that experience in a later post including a recipe for the BEST stuffed mussels I’ve ever had). Our day was scheduled to conclude with dinner at a seaside resort, but Fabrizio announced there had been a change to our itinerary and we were instead dining at an undisclosed “surprise” location. We followed Fabrizio into the lush Vasto countryside, which is blessed with a view of the crystalline sea, and pulled into the wide driveway of a charming “casa di campagna.” When I got out of the car, I spotted a smiling woman seated on a woven chair, her eyes welcoming us as we walked up the path to the house. With a twinkle in his eyes, Fabrizio turned to me and said, “You said you wanted to meet her.”
That evening, our group, which consisted of my family of five, as well as my friend, food writer and cookbook author, Domenica Marchetti, and her husband and two teenagers, was joined not only by Mamma Anna Maria, but also by Fabrizio’s father, Angelo, his aunt and uncle, Zia Maria and Zio Gino, and his godmother, Rosa. We toured Zio Gino’s property, home to an enormous orto, rows of vigneti, a sizable wine cantina as well as donkeys, goats and chickens. Fabrizio spent every summer of his childhood in this country oasis and he and his family now welcome his clients here with open arms.
Before dinner, Anna Maria and Rosa taught Domenica and I how to make Celli Ripieni (also known as Tarallucci Olio e Vino), a traditional cookie from Abruzzo with a somewhat savory dough (it contains no sugar) and naturally sweet filling. The dough consists of flour, extra virgin olive oil and white wine, and the filling – known as “mostarda” – contains a thick homemade grape jam (called scurchjiata in the Abruzzese dialect), toasted almonds, cocoa powder and instant espresso. They are sweet enough for dessert, but also pair perfectly with morning coffee.
After our cooking lesson, we were treated to a dinner of nearly a dozen different types of pizza (I’ll publish my son Mikey’s favorite, the focaccia filled with fresh figs, in a later post), including pizza dotted with artichokes and ventricina, Vasto’s typical spicy cured sausage, and another stuffed with sweet onions and salty anchovies. As we all lingered around the large al fresco table – eating, drinking, chatting and gesticulating (!) – I could see why Fabrizio’s guests tell him that cooking and dining with this warm and lovely famiglia is their favorite part of their Abruzzo holiday.
For more information about Italia Sweet Italia – Experience Breaks, go to http://www.italiasweetitalia.com
Celli Ripieni (also known as Tarallucci Olio e Vino)
Recipe adapted from Italia Sweet Italia – Experience Breaks
Makes 12 cookies, about 2½ inches in diameter
For the dough:
- 1½ cups Tipo “00” flour, plus more for kneading and surface
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup dry white wine
For the “mostarda” filling:
- ½ cup good-quality grape jam
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 2 tablespoons toasted almonds, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped bittersweet chocolate
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, with a rack positioned in the center. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
Prepare the dough:
To a large bowl, add the oil and wine and stir to combine. Gradually, add the flour a little bit at a time, mixing constantly with a fork in a circular motion until the mixture becomes a soft and sticky dough that is just firm enough to handle. Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface and begin to knead. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, a pinch at a time until you’re able to handle it. Knead for 3-5 minutes, until the dough is smooth, shiny and contains no lumps. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
Prepare the filling:
To a small bowl, add the ingredients for the filling and stir to combine.
Shape and bake the cookies:
Break off a piece of dough that is slightly larger than a walnut. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a thin oval approximately 4 inches long and 2 inches wide. It is important that the rolled-out dough contains no holes. To the center of the dough, leaving approximately an inch on each of the short sides, add a scant teaspoon of filling in a thin layer along the width of the dough. Fold the top edge of the dough over the filling and press firmly into the bottom edge. . Make sure the dough is sealed well so that no filling oozes out. Using a fluted pastry wheel, cut the excess dough along the sealed edge and then bring the two ends together and pinch together into a basket shape. (Add the excess that you cut with the pastry wheel back to the ball of dough.) Transfer each cookie onto the prepared baking sheet as you form the remainder. Repeat until there is no more dough or filling remaining.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are slightly colored. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Sprinkle generously with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature. Buon appetito!
Extra Two Cents: Although the recipe above is traditional, Mamma Anna Maria told us that some people add (or substitute) Nutella and toasted hazelnuts to the filling. Some variations also include orange zest.