Grandma would visit my granddad relatives in Melfi, a mid-mountain town in Basilicata, in the South of Italy, about twice a year, in summer and shortly before Christmas. In summer I usually joined her and granddad, but I couldn’t skip school in December, so I would wait for her at home, dreaming about the bags of goodies she would bring back.
There was mozzarella, milky, flavourful, shaped in tiny knots, nothing even similar to the mozzarella you could buy here in stores. There was provolone piccante, a hard biting cheese I didn’t appreciate much as a child, but I loved the crescent shape of the slices she would bring us. There were scamorza and the thick salty bread with a yellowish breadcrumb and a dark crust lightly dusted with flour, there were bags of almonds and tiny jars of precious wild oregano.
Then there was what I was secretly waiting for, my favourite cookies ever, still my choice if I had to choose among shortcrust cookies, jam or marzipan cookies… there was a big bag of calzoncelli, tightly sealed with a string. She could either buy them in a bakery near my aunt’s house a few hours before leaving or bring me the calzoncelli made by my granddad’s nieces. It was a feast, and I had to fight over those cookies because they were not just my favourites, but my father’s, my mum’s and later, when Claudia arrived, also her favourites!
A bag of calzoncelli would last a few days, no matter what the size of the bag was. One in the morning, just before breakfast, one after lunch, one in the afternoon with my usual cup of tea… well, not just one, let’s face it. One after dinner, or even two, watching a movie with my parents on the sofa. Then it would happen, you would tuck your hand into the bag, search desperately for the last calzoncello and find just a few crumbs left. Dad! you got the last one! And my dad, with guilty a look, really? oh, I am sorry, I didn’t notice. Sometimes it was me to be so lucky – and quick – to win the last one, and I would answer with the same guilty voice: really? was it the last one? A shameless family we are when it comes to calzoncelli.
Luckily we’ve got a treasure, My Aunt Teresa! I’ve told you about her many times, she’s the best cook of the family, the one who brought the Southern recipes into our everyday meals. She began making calzoncelli a few years ago, and now she passed me a special book. I found the recipe to make calzoncelli in the book she gave me, Le ricette di Nicoletta, a complete collection of fresh and traditional recipes from Melfi.
Calzoncelli, chocolate and almond Christmas cookies
But let’s hit the matter, what kind of cookies calzoncelli are? Small bites of chocolate and almond heaven, with a gentle hint of lemon peel. The outer shell, even if it has to be as thin as you can make it, almost transparent, has an important role in the taste balance because it is made with olive oil and white wine, becomes brittle and golden when baked, preserving a moist filling. Since they are homemade it happens that they are one different from the other, and I’ve always loved the biggest ones, chubby and less baked. Be careful, they are addictive!
Calzoncelli are an ideal Christmas gift: you can keep them for weeks in a tin box or in an airtight container – I’m still munching on the calzoncelli I made two weeks ago and they are still brittle and fresh – and even if it takes a few hours to make them tiny, clean and nice, they have this fun parcel shape that is so perfect for Christmas. After all, what are you saying with ad edible gift? here’s my time, here’s my love, here’s my thoughts for you.
For the dough
- 600 grams (4 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 100 grams (½ cups) sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100 ml (½ cups) extra virgin olive oil
- 200 ml (¾ cups) dry white wine
For the filling
- 400 grams (¾ lb) almonds, peeled and toasted
- 250 grams (1 ¼ cups) sugar
- Grated zest of one organic lemon
- 200 grams (7 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
Make the calzoncelli outer shell
- Pour the flour on a wooden working surface and shape it into a mound with a large well in the centre. Add the eggs, the sugar, and the salt, then pour in the olive oil. Using a fork, stir slowly, starting from the centre of the eggs and gradually picking up more flour from the edges, whisking as if you are beating eggs for an omelette. Gradually add the wine, too.
- When the dough turns crumbly, switch to kneading with your hands.
- Continue kneading the ball of dough until smooth, silky, and no longer sticky. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour at room temperature before using.
Make the filling
- Collect all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you get a smooth paste.
- Roll the filling into 1 cm thick logs, then cut them into 1 ½ cm pieces.
Make the calzoncelli
- Roll out the dough into long, thin sheets, working in batches as needed. You can use a classic rolling pin on a flat working surface or a pasta machine. Either way, the most important thing is to keep rolling and flipping and rolling and flipping until the dough is paper-thin.
- Cut long 4cm wide sheets of dough.
- Place the filling pieces on the paper-thin dough, at 2 cm distance one from the other, then wrap the dough around the filling, press it gently to seal it, then cut it with a fluted pasta cutter wheel in between the filling. The small calzoncello will look like a tiny raviolo.
- Arrange the calzoncelli on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F.
- Transfer the calzoncelli into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.
- Remove from the oven and let them cook down completely.
- You can keep them for weeks in a tin box or in airtight container.
Not to lose a single post by the Italian Table talk girls, these are our Social Accounts:
- Emiko, her blog is Emikodavies.com, @emikodavies on Twitter, and her Pinterest
- Valeria, her blog is Life Love Food, @valerianecchio on Twitter, her FB Page and her Pinterest
- Jasmine, her blog is Labna.it, @labna on Twitter, her FB page and her Pinterest
- Juls, my Twitter @Julskitchen, FB page and Pinterest