Italian Fig Cookies (Cuchidahti or Cucidate)

My grandparents had a large fig tree at the back end of their yard in Gentilly. Each summer, when the fruit would be almost ripe, we’d go back there and pick loads of them. We could never get them all and most of them would just fall to the ground and rot in the hot New Orleans’ sun. What a smell! But I loved those figs and it seemed like everyone the neighborhood had one of these trees. The little old ladies would made jams, preserves, cakes and these cookies from them.

These cookies are like hard Fig Newtons. They come in bags of maybe 5 or 6 large planks, are usually iced different pastel colors, have sprinkles and can be found at most grocery stores in the GNO. G. and I had some on St. Joseph’s day this past Spring bought at Breaux Mart on Severn Ave. in Metairie (followed later that evening by a Hubig’s pie and half a piece of Russian Cake). Heaven.

Italian Fig Cookies

1 lb. dried figs
1/2 lb pitted dates
rind from 1/2 orange
1 cup glazed fruit
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup dark raisins
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

4 1/4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups butter
1/2 cup plus 5 tablespoons cold water

3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. anise flavoring
Dash of salt

Remove hard stems from figs. Soak them in warm water for 20 minutes. Grind your figs, dates, orange rind, raisins and glazed fruit in a food processor. Add all filling ingredients into a large saucepan and heat thoroughly, you want everything to be incorporated well. Remove from heat and set aside.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or knife until crumbly. Sprinkle the cold water in and toss lightly with a fork until mixed. Add remaining water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing until dough is smooth. Heat oven to 275 degrees and take half the dough on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a 12 x 18 inch rectangle (it should be about 1/8“ thick). Cut into 3” wide strips and spread 4 tablespoons of filling down the center of each strip, leave about 1“ on either side. Moisten the bare sides with water, fold over and press lightly with a fork to seal. Cut each strip into 6-2” cookies, cut and slit in the fold side of each cookie, almost like giving it gills. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, bending each cookie into a slight curve. Bake about 20 minutes until bottoms are brown. While cookies are baking sift confectioner’s sugar into a mixing bowl, add milk, salt and anise flavor and beat until smooth. This is a runny icing that will dry hard. When done baking, remove from each cookie from cookie sheet and cool them on a wire rack, then ice. Repeat with remaining half of dough and filling.

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Crawfish Pasta

Crawfish Pasta

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 toes garlic, minced
1 can whole tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 lbs. crawfish meat
1/2 cup red sherry
1 1/2 cups water
Creole seasoning, Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb. cooked pasta

In a large saucepan sauté onion, celery and parsley in olive oil. Cook until golden brown and translucent. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and water; then season. Cover and simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Test seasonings and add crawfish and sherry; continue to cook for 30 minutes. Add cooked pasta to sauce and mix well. Serves 8.

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Stuffed Artichokes

Another recipe that your grandmaw knew how to make. My mother still waxes poetically about my grandmother’s stuffed artichokes, I remember her raving about them when I was a kid. I was far too young to fully appreciate them then, but now I understand completely. I did however love scraping the individual stuffed leaves across my front teeth. Here in California, we get some great baby artichokes which happen to be the perfect size for this recipe.

Stuffed Artichokes

6 small artichokes
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups French bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce

Trim stem of each artichoke, leaving 1/2 inch. Remove any damaged or tough lower leaves and trim off upper edges of remaining leaves. With palm of hand, gently press down on artichoke to open up or separate leaves. Wash artichokes in cold running water. Heat oil over medium heat; add garlic and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in crumbs, cheese, parsley, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Stuff each leaf with crumb-cheese mixture. Place artichokes in large saucepan and steam in 2 inches water over low heat 1 hour or until leaves can be removed easily. During steaming period, occasionally baste artichokes with additional olive oil.

NOTE: If you use seasoned bread crumbs, you will want to omit the parsley and parmesan cheese.

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Tomato Sauce or Red Sauce

Tomatoes were introduced to Europe from the New World by explorers in the 16th century and were dismissed as food originally because they were considered toxic. They were grown as “botanical curiosities” for their flowers, not as food. The climates of Spain and Italy and were good for tomato growing and when they were discovered to be tasty, and not killers, they were widely used in Southern European dishes by the 17th century.

The final and (IMHO) the best sauce mère is tomato or red sauce. I think it’s the best because it has the best and richest flavor, is easy to make, it’s versatile and freezes well. For this post, I will just repost the red gravy recipe from a few months ago here. I also happen to really like tomato sauces.
This sauce is more than just “spaghetti sauce”. Its flexibility allows us to cook roundeye steaks in it or to use it on top of meatloaves, pannéed meats, po-boy, fish, sausage and, yes, even pasta. In fact, I make this for pasta sauce instead of plain marinara, I find its richness to be beyond compare.

Red Gravy

1/2 cup olive oil
1 whole bulb of garlic, with each toe sliced in half lengthwise
3 bay leaves
1 bell pepper, diced fine
1 cup onion, diced fine
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups canned tomato purée
6 ounces tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons creole seasoning
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (Italian or sweet)
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

In a 2-quart saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil, sliced garlic cloves, and 2 of the bay leaves. Cook garlic slices to achieve browning on both sides (over medium heat), cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes and stirring often. Remove garlic from pan, you can toss this. Turn down heat to medium-low and add the onions to the pan and sautee until edges start to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes and stirring constantly.

Add the tomato paste and cook with the onions until the color deepens to a red mahogany color; it gets somewhat sticky, it will build up your forearm muscles. This step is important, so be patient! You want to carmelize the entire mixture; this is where almost all of the flavor for the sauce will come from. When done, add the third bay leaf and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer; here is where you will adjust your seasonings… I like mine on the spicier side so I actually add 2 tablespoons of creole seasoning rather than 2 teaspoons. Maintain a very low simmer and cook for about three hours and stirring frequently. The whole house will smell delicious for days after making this. Makes 6 cups and freezes well.

To make a Bolognese type sauce: add 2 lbs. cooked and drained ground meat of your choice… the most common seems to be half ground beef/half ground pork or ground italian sausage. My grandmother would make meatballs bigger than your head from a ground meat/seasoned bread crumb mixture, cook those and then add them to the finished sauce.

A few of the children of your basic red sauce are Creole Sauce , Barbecue sauce and Salsa.

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May as well start off with the best part of cooking… desserts!

Zuccotto is a rich alcoholic cake from Florence. The word "zuccotto" is Tuscan dialect for a cardinal's skull cap and is also the nickname for "il duomo" in Florence. This dish was originally prepared to honor a guest at a marital festival during the Renaissance. There are many versions of the delicious dessert, usually using ice cream, chocolate and nuts. This one is "lighter" and uses whipped cream. Recipe modified from original recipe by Giada De Laurentiis of the Food Network.


Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Nonstick cooking spray
1 (12-ounce) loaf pound cake
1/4 cup brandy or Chambord
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
2 cups chilled whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted, coarsely crumbled
Raspberry sauce (optional)

Spray a 1 1/2-quart bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bowl with plastic wrap. Cut the pound cake crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice diagonally in half, forming 2 triangles. Line the bottom and sides of the prepared bowl with the cake triangles. Brush some of the brandy over the cake triangles lining the bowl. Reserve the extra triangles.
Stir the chocolate in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup of cream in another large bowl until it is thick and fluffy. Fold 1/4 of the whipped cream into the chocolate. Fold half of the remaining whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spread the chocolate cream over the cake, covering completely and creating a well in the center. Cover and refrigerate if not assembling cake right away. In another clean large bowl, add the remaining 1 cup of cream and almond extract. Using an electric mixer with clean beaters, beat on medium speed and gradually add 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar. Beat until firm peaks form. Fold in the nuts. Spoon the cream mixture into the center of the well of the filling.Brush the remaining cake slices with brandy and arrange them, brandy side down, over the cake, covering the filling completely and trimming to fit, if necessary. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. Invert the cake onto a platter. Remove the bowl and the plastic wrap. Drizzle raspberry sauce, sift the remaining powdered sugar over and serve.

Optional: add some of the raspberry sauce to the whipped cream/almond extract mix for some extra color and flavor.