Monday, December 24, 2012

Calzoniti -- special Christmas Eve treat

I know these confections being made only one day of the year, Christmas Eve.  And I know only one person who ever made them, my grandmother, Louise Cordivari. 

Calzoniti (diminutive of calzone) are quite simply, fried ravioli with a sweet, rather than savory, filling.  They are an Abruzzese specialty, and typical of that, contain a peculiar combination of nuts and fruits.  The colloquial pronunciation of calzoniti is something like “cah-joo-NEET.”  I've also seen them called "caociun" in the Abruzzese dialect, and "calzoncelli" in the Salerno dialect.  However you pronounce it, they’re quite delicious.

One difficulty with these treats is that the dough that Granny made, though very tender, did not stick well to itself.   Sealing the calzoniti after they’ve been filled could be difficult.  My cousin Tom could do an entire comedy routine on how our grandmother sounded when she made these every year: “They’re opening up!  What did I do wrong?  The filling’s too cold!  The filling isn’t cold enough!  The oil’s too hot.  The dough’s too tender!  We didn’t seal them properly!”   The problem with doing something (like making calzoniti) only once a year is that by the time you’re finished making them, and have figured out the tricks about doing them right, you’re done for the year.  And by the time the next year rolls around, you’ve forgotten all the tricks, and end up relearning them year after year, and making the same mistakes year after year.

In the interest of sanity and convenience, I ditched the homemade dough altogether, and substituted Chinese dumpling wrappers.  They work great.

 The filling is simple:

1/2 cup nuts (of any variety, really, though I typically use pecans or almonds; you can also use chestnuts -- buy the cooked, peeled ones at the Korean market when you're picking up the dumpling wrappers)
1/2 cup chocolate (I use milk chocolate, ground up with a few pulses in the food processor)
1/2 cup prune butter (which you can usually find in the baking aisle in your supermarket with the pie fillings; alternately, you can get fig butter at Trader Joe's, if you have one near you)
1/2 cup jam (I make my own, so always have apricot jam on hand; any type will work fine)
1/4 cup raisins (black or golden)

Mix well, and set aside.

Beat an egg with a tablespoon of water to use to seal the dumpling wrappers. Take a dumpling wrapper, put a teaspoon of filling in the middle, wet the edges with the egg wash, and fold the wrapper in half, pressing along the edge well to seal.  Set aside.  Continue until you've used up the wrappers.  Two cups of filling and a package of wrappers will give you about four dozen calzoniti.

It's not a bad idea to let the calzoniti sit for half an hour so that the wet seals dry.

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet or small saucepot.  Fry the calzoniti a few at a time until golden brown, turning to brown each side.  The dumpling wrappers brown QUICKLY -- in about 30 seconds -- so keep an eye on them.  Remove to absorbent paper towels, and let cool completely.

 Dust with powdered sugar, or a combination of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon just before serving.