Benvenuti to Cucina Conversations! I’m thrilled to welcome you to this new feature on Flavia’s Flavors. A few months ago, I was invited by a new food blogging friend, Rosemarie of the blog Turin Mamma, to join her and several other food bloggers in forming a virtual roundtable with the goal of presenting our readers with a monthly post centered around a specific theme based on Italy’s seasonal, cultural, or religious calendars. We are a group of seven women from around the globe, passionate about the food of Italy, its origins and recipes. Cucina Conversations is a collaborative project which makes the mostly solitary endeavor of food blogging much more engaging as we plan our monthly posts, brainstorm ideas, and offer each other encouragement. Our posts will follow the seasons so that every recipe we share will feature ingredients that are at their best during the given time of year. We are also an amazingly efficient and organized group, and have already planned out the majority of our editorial calendar for the next year. We are looking forward to bringing you traditional Italian recipes for the olive harvest, Christmas, Easter, and many other significant holidays and cultural events. Our theme for this month is the grape harvest which is called la vendemmia, and for my inaugural Cucina Conversations post, I’m sharing a recipe for a traditional cookie called ciambelline al vino.
Before I tell you more about la vendemmia and ciambelline al vino, I want to introduce you to the wonderfully talented women of Cucina Conversations. Rosemarie authors the blog Turin Mamma. She is originally from Sydney, Australia and is of Sicilian and Calabrian descent. Rosemarie writes for one of my favorite websites, Italy Magazine, and makes her home in Torino, the capital of Piemonte in north-west Italy. Rosemarie combines her passion for cooking and food history in all the recipes she shares. Marialuisa’s blog is called Marmellata di Cipolle. She resides in the small town of Maierato in the southern region of Calabria and intertwines her love of food with her musings on life: “the tears, the sweetness, and the adventures on Calabria’s land” as it says in her blog’s tagline. Marialuisa also writes every blog post in both Italian and English. Francesca is an Italian-American living in Rome, and writes Pancakes and Biscotti, where she shares her love of writing and cooks both Italian and American recipes. Daniela was born and raised in Milano, and now makes her home in Viareggio, Toscana. She enjoys traveling to explore the connection between ingredients and their territory, and she shares the stories and recipes from her adventures on her blog, La Dani Gourmet. Daniela also writes each blog post in both Italian and English. Carmen was born in Domodossola, Piemonte and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia at the age of five. Her parents are from the southern region of Basilicata and her husband is of Sicilian decent. Carmen maintains a strong sense of nostalgia for the traditions of Italy and her family, and shares her stories and seasonal recipes on her blog, The Heirloom Chronicles. Lisa is a native of New Zeland and now makes her home in France. Her love of Italian food and culture began nearly twenty years ago over a plate of tagliatelle in Pisa and shortly after, she married an Italian. Lisa shares both Italian and international recipes on her blog, Italian Kiwi. As you can see, we have a terrifically diverse group!
The arrival of the autumn months in Italy signals the start of la vendemmia, the grape harvest. Depending on the region where the grapes grow, the harvesting can begin as early as late August and can continue into November. The start date of the grape harvest is always fluid since it depends on the weather, the amount of rainfall, and the grapes’ stage of ripeness, which needs to have the right balance of sweetness and acidity. Grape harvesting is done exclusively by hand by teams of experienced workers, from older farmers to the younger generation still learning the craft of viticulture. But la vendemmia is much more than a grape harvest. It is also a time of gratitude and celebration for the year’s hard and constant work of tending the land. Festivals are held all over Italy to celebrate the grapes (and wine) and include religious processions, concerts, lectures, tastings, exhibits, and of course, food. This wonderful video highlights the many facets of la vendemmia and its significance to Italians. To honor the grape harvest happening now in Italy, our first Cucina Conversations recipes all feature either grapes or wine, and every member of our group has made a unique and traditional recipe to highlight the season’s fruit. Rosemarie has written about Sicilian grape must pudding, Marialuisa made marmellata di zibibbo, Francesca baked a torta della vendemmia, Daniela created a schiacciata con l’uva, Carmen made salsa agresto, and Lisa presents a muscat grape sorbetto.
My contribution for this month’s theme is ciambelline al vino, a traditional Roman cookie that originated in the hillsides outside of Rome where they are also known as ubriachelle (loosely translated, “drunk ones”). Ciambelline al vino are not a difficult cookie to make, but they do require time and patience. First, the fennel (or anise) seeds need to soak in the wine for an hour. The dough comes together quickly, but requires a rest of at least thirty minutes so the gluten relaxes and the dough is cooperative enough to shape. Once you get the hang of forming the ring-shaped cookies, the process moves at a quicker pace. If you have children who love to help in the kitchen, these cookies are a great task for little hands as you only have to pinch small pieces of dough and roll them into a rope before pinching the ends together to form the ciambellina and dipping them in sugar. You can make these cookies as small or as large as you want depending on your preferences. Because they lack the richer ingredients of butter and eggs, ciambelline al vino have a crunchy, firm texture which makes it the perfect dunking cookie. Traditionally, they are served after a meal and dunked into wine which accents the wine used in the dough, but they are also perfect with your morning coffee or as an afternoon snack. Red or white wine can be used in the dough, and the varietal is the baker’s choice. A red wine will tinge the ciambelline a darker color, while ciambelline made with white wine will remain pale. Either fennel seed or anise seed can be used to give ciambelline al vino their signature licorice-like flavor, but it’s important to note that fennel seed and anise seed are not the same things. Fennel and anise are two different plants. There tends to be confusion because the fennel plant is often (incorrectly) referred to as anise. While the whole fennel plant is edible (bulb, stalks, fronds, and seeds), the seeds from the anise plant are usually the only things eaten. Fennel seeds are larger and coarser in texture, with a strong, woody flavor, while anise seeds are smaller and have a more delicate flavor. So while they can be used interchangeably in this recipe, be aware that your ciambelline will have slightly different flavor and texture depending on which seeds you use. Whichever wine or seed you choose to use, you will be rewarded with an intoxicating fragrance as they bake and a memorable flavor at first bite.
Our Cucina Conversations posts will go live during a range of dates every month, so in order to know when we have published our monthly post, be sure to follow us on social media. We all have links to our social media profiles on our respective blogs and every social media post will include the hashtag #CucinaConversations. Here on Flavia’s Flavors, Cucina Conversations is a category in the sidebar drop-down menu, a tag in the sidebar tag cloud, and a category on my Recipes page to make searching for these specific posts seamless. I’m looking forward to bringing you these special posts every month and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them. I also want to extend a special Grazie! to my dear friend, Claudia of Fig. 2 Design Studio for creating the custom banner for all my Cucina Conversations posts. I love it!
Ciambelline al Vino
Adapted from Biscotti: Recipes from the kitchen of the American Academy in Rome by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti
20 grams/3 Tablespoons fennel or anise seeds
150 ml/5 fluid ounces (2/3 cup) white or red wine
150 ml/5 fluid ounces (2/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
600 grams (5½ cups) all-purpose flour
150 gram (¾ cups) granulated sugar (plus more for coating)
9 grams/2¼ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)
Soak the fennel (or anise) seeds in the white wine for 1 hour.
After the seeds are finished soaking, strain them through a sieve, reserving the wine.
Whisk the white wine and olive oil together in a small pitcher or bowl. Set aside.
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine. Transfer the flour mixture to the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add in the reserved fennel seeds and mix on low speed to incorporate the seeds throughout the flour mixture. With the mixer on low speed, gradually pour in the wine-olive oil mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. If the dough is still too dry and not coming together, add some water 1 Tablespoon at a time until the dough can be formed into a ball. Transfer the dough to a board and shape into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30-45 minutes at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350°.
To shape the cookies, pinch a small amount of dough and roll it between your hands to form a rope 3-4 inches long. Pinch the ends together to form a ring. Press one side of the ring into the sugar and place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sugared side up, leaving about 1 inch between cookies. Bake the cookies for 15-18 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown.
Storage: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.