The Usual Suspects: Best Italian Desserts – by Dean Romano, Guest Food Blogger
I grew up in a unique microcosm of a world – a Boston suburb populated by a large group of immigrant farmers from Italy. I had the pleasure of consuming a variety of delicious Italian desserts made from authentic recipes handed down from many generations in Italy.
Few meals were ever served at our table without authentic Italian desserts, most made by my mother, Lucrezia, or by one of my many aunts who lived nearby, each of whom had many wonderful authentic recipes in their repertoire.
You could also buy Italian desserts from what were, at the time, some of the country’s finest Italian bakeries. Immigrant bakers from Italy in the Boston area plied their trade in distinctly authentic fashion. Sadly, very few, if any bakeries use generations-old authentic recipes.
Ours were the three classic groups of Italian desserts: fruits and nuts; cakes, cookies, pies and tarts; and frozen treats. Some days, if you were lucky, someone would concoct a sweat authentic confection with all the elements combined.
Italian Desserts: Fruits & Nuts
Fresh fruit is the KING of all Italian desserts and confections in Italy, either on its own, or as an integral part of a larger assortment of Italian sweats, like cakes and pies.
That age-old tradition for Italian dessert, Italian fruit desserts included: fresh grapes, oranges, apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines, strawberries, bananas, and lots of apricots. In season, we bought cases of fresh figs and prickly pear fruit. Pomegranates were a staple for us years before food buffs recognized they were not only delicious, but one of the most powerful antioxidants in Nature.
Italian nut desserts included, well, every Italian nut under the sun! A large bowl ofunshelled walnuts, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts, and a smaller bowl of salted pistachios always graced our dining room table. No Italian or American holidays passed without roasted chestnuts. And, Italian Dried figs and apricots were always stocked in our kitchen. A bowl of Macedonia, a mixture of assorted chopped fruits and berries, with a splash of brandy or liqueur, was forever in our refrigerator. There were, essentially, 24/7 Italian sweets that graced our table. Bowls & bowls of Italian sweets!
Italian Desserts: Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Tarts
The array of Italian desserts – cakes, cookies, pies, tarts & other desserts produced by my mother and assorted relatives was truly mammoth. It would take a small Italian encyclopedia to list all of the Italian desserts floating around at the time.
Italian desserts from the familiar Italian cannoli, sfogliatelli, and crunchy biscotti, to what was then, the very Italian (but unknown outside of Italy) Tiramisu, Pane di Spagna (Italian lemon & vanilla sponge/pound cake which is the basis of dozens of Italian & other desserts), Italian Zuppa Inglese, and Cassatta Siciliana (Italian rum soaked cake laced with vanilla and chocolate custard) to endless varieties of Italian desserts including Italian tarts and pies. In keeping with Sicilian/Italian tradition, 4:00pm every workday was afternoon coffee break at the farm. That really meant “time for Italian desserts!”
Frozen Italian Desserts
It is thought that Italian Gelato (essentially Italian Ice Cream) was invented by the ancient Greeks near Mt. Etna in Sicily. Despite temperatures exceeding 100 degrees many days in summer, Mount Etna at 11,000 feet, is almost always capped in snow and provided the ice necessary to produce this Italian Desserts gift to humanity.
Lower in fat, but smoother and richer tasting than American ice cream or non- Italian desserts, Italian Gelato making is considered an (Italian) art form. The list of Italian Gelato varieties is long and daunting. My favorite is hazelnut, but I’ve been known to sample a dozen Italian Gelato flavors in the course of a day when visiting my Italian family in Sicily.
The Usual Suspects: Best Italian Desserts, another great article at The Pastry Channel.