Southern Italian Desserts by Rosetta Costantino – A Book Review and a Giveaway

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

We have a winner!

The winner is Laney of the website Ortensia Blu!
Congratulazioni, Laney, your book is on its way!


Rosetta Costantino

Rosetta Costantino, food writer, cooking teacher, and native of Calabria, gathered her husband and kids, and traveled through the Italian regions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily to find the classic desserts of Southern Italy, a swath of territory known as the Mezzogiorno. From cookies, to cakes, cream-filled pastries and frozen desserts, she tried them all, developed recipes and now presents them here in Southern Italian Desserts, entry number three in my Suggestions for Christmas Giving. This book will whet your appetite for holiday baking and gift giving, while awakening memories of family gatherings and long lost recipes. It’s a dream come true, a sweet tour of southern Italy, and I’m glad to say that the publisher, Ten Speed Press, has provided a copy of the book to give to one lucky reader.

The book opens with a brief history of Southern Italy and a discussion of the many different cultural influences and their contributions to the cuisine. The chapter A Southern Italian Dessert Pantry lists the tools, pans and other items necessary along with descriptions of various Italian ingredients. Like the country itself, the recipes are divided by region, presented in unique chapters.


Italy produces some of the finest nuts in the world, and the country’s pastry chefs and bakers make ample and creative use of them. Almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts are all well represented here. Incidentally, a number of the book’s desserts, including many nut-centric ones, are gluten free, and are so noted for those who must be watchful.



I started with Dolci di Noci, a specialty of the region of Basilicata. Crispy and surprisingly light, with a slightly chewy center, these cookies are packed with walnut flavor. Granulated sugar and walnuts are ground together, mixed with an egg, formed into logs, cut and baked – fast, simple, and pop-in-your-mouth delicious. Click here to go to Rosetta’s site for the recipe and step-by-step directions.



Next I looked to Puglia for a trio of cookies. Pezzetti di Cannella are bite-size diamond shaped cookies flavored with dark, fragrant cocoa and cinnamon. For a final flourish these little jewels are tossed in a bowl of powdered sugar glaze and set on a rack to dry. Put these on a Christmas cookie platter and watch them disappear.


Biscotti di Ceglie are a specialty of Ceglie Messapica, one of the oldest towns in Puglia. They were new to me though, and as soon as I read the recipe, I was intrigued. Made of toasted chopped almonds flavored with honey and Limoncello, the dough is pressed into a block and a thin line of cherry preserves is spread across it. It is then rolled and cut, encasing a bite of cherry preserves in every cookie. This heirloom recipe also has a unique instruction: to prevent sticking and make assembly easy, the author recommends dampening one’s hands and work surface with Limoncello. With a hint of Limoncello, these crunchy almond and cherry cookies are a delight.


Perhaps the most unique of the Pugliese cookie triad are the Intorchiate. A fragrant butter dough enriched with olive oil and white wine is rolled into ropes, twisted, pressed into granulated sugar and dressed with blanched almonds. These beautiful cookies are delicious, slightly crisp and quite light.



A Sicilian classic, Biscotti Regina, are tiny balls of dough perfumed with orange and rolled in sesame seeds. Whether enjoyed with coffee, a bit of wine or grabbed by the kids as they zip through the kitchen, these crunchy cookies are perennial favorites.

These cookies and many others are unfussy, inexpensive, and easy to make. They are, however absolutely delightful to eat, prime examples of the genius of the Italian baker.


For a fancier goodie, try Biscotti Eureka, pastry pinwheels filled with a sweet-tart mixture of ground almonds, orange marmalade, honey and candied orange peel. The book’s detailed and specific directions make assembly simple. These are a beautiful accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee.



If it is cakes you are after, there are plenty from which to choose. It seems that every family has a recipe for an apple cake. Rosetta’s Torta di Mele e Ricotta boasts a thick batter studded with diced apples, enriched with ricotta, and lightened with beaten egg whites. The torta is topped with sliced apples and finished with coarse sanding sugar for a jewel-like effect. Serve it warm with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream for an inviting and comforting dessert. This moist cake keeps well, and served unadorned is perfect for an afternoon snack.


Prep Torta-CapreseTorta-Caprese

Torta Caprese is here too. This moist cake from the island of Capri is made of ground almonds, dark chocolate, and a dash of Kahlua, its batter lightened with fluffy meringue. Dark and rich, yet not too sweet, this cake is a versatile dessert. Serve it with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or dress it up a bit with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Torta Caprese keeps well over several days. In fact, like so many nut desserts, it actually improves and can be made ahead, a plus in my book.



Sicilian classics abound here – from the island’s iconic Cannoli, to the deliciously dark Nero all’arancia, a rich gelato made with cocoa and dark chocolate. This creamy frozen treat is generously flavored with orange extract and dotted with candied orange peel. As is typical of Sicilian gelati, cornstarch, rather than egg yolks, lends body. If you thought gelato was only for the summer months, consider this one as a finish to a Christmas dinner.



Gelato Bianco Variegato al Pistacchio is a creamy rich white chocolate gelato swirled through with luxurious sweet crema di pistacchio (pistachio cream.) This is gelato at its most elegant.



Bocconotti (little mouthfuls) are found across Italy, and are especially popular during the Christmas season. Short-crust pastry is pressed into mini-brioche molds or tiny tart pans and a sweet filling is added. Sometimes these pastries sport a top crust, but they can also be left open. In the version pictured here the pastries are filled with a chocolate and almond mixture, although the book provides a variety of fillings. Click for my post and a link to the recipe. This is, by the way, my most repinned item on Pinterest. They are that good.



Sfogliatelle Frolle, half-moon shaped pastries with a satiny cream filling are one of Naples’ most famous creations. A bit of baking powder adds lift to the short-crust pastry, and the filling of sweetened ricotta, semolina and candied orange peel is scented with vanilla and cinnamon. Dusted with confectioners’ sugar and eaten warm from the oven, the light crust yields to the bite as the creamy center fills your mouth. You will swoon. And then you’ll ask for another. These pastries can be assembled ahead of time and frozen, ready to pop into the oven for breakfast or as a welcome for surprise guests.


Creamy Zabaione al Limoncello is a modern take on one of Italy’s most ethereal desserts. Egg yolks and sugar are beaten over simmering water until satiny and thick, and the mixture is often spiked with Marsala. I favor it with other, stronger liquors, and here Limoncello adds the refreshing tang of lemon. The zabaione, once cooled, is lightened with whipped cream and served over berries that have been macerated (soaked and softened) in Limoncello and sugar. I wound up (quite by accident) reversing the dessert – putting the berries on top, rather than cloaking them in the custard, and it was delicious. There’s a lesson here. Be flexible in the kitchen. Be calm in the face of errors. If something does not look perfect, or if you get the directions a little wrong, don’t fret. Sit down, laugh a little, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. This dessert would be an exceptional cap to a New Year’s Eve meal – upside down or right side up.

I always loved baking with my grandmothers and my mom, but I was left guessing by directions like “Add enough water to make a thick paste” or “Bake in a fast oven until done.” I have always wanted answers, and Southern Italian Desserts provides them with detailed directions that take the guesswork out of dessert-making. Measurements are given in volume (cups, teaspoons, etc.) and in grams.

A section of basic recipes includes pasta frolla (sweet short-crust pastry), pan di Spagna (sponge cake), crema pasticcera (pastry cream), ricotta fresca (fresh ricotta), and many other building blocks of the Italian pastry tradition. Recipes for the staples of the Italian pantry such as nut pastes and scorze d’arance candite (candied orange peel) are here too. Sources for ingredients and tools along with a metric conversion chart and bibliography are included. The photography by Sara Remington beautifully captures the spirit of the land and its tempting desserts.

From cookies so simple a child could make them to more complex creations, there is something here for every skill level. To the beginning bakers out there – work your way through this book, and by the time you have made six or seven desserts, you’ll find your confidence has increased, and you’ll move on to the more complex offerings. Soon enough you’ll invite a few friends over to make Cartellate, ribbons of sweet dough rolled into rosettes, deep fried and drenched in sweet mosto cotto. Start a family tradition of gathering to make Napoli’s famous Sfogliatelle Ricce, layers of flaky pastry brimming with creamy ricotta and semolina filling. With friends, good cheer, and a copy of this book you will produce a buffet table covered with delightful sweets, keeping tradition alive in the process. Southern Italian Desserts will take you on a tour of some of the most beautiful spots on earth, and you’ll enjoy every bite along the way, becoming a real Italian baker in the process. Guaranteed.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Photograph by Sara Remington

Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Saint Joseph’s fried pastries

Makes about 18 zeppole

March 19 commemorates Saint Joseph’s Day, honoring the father of Jesus and celebrated throughout Italy as Father’s Day. Each region has its own dessert for the occasion, and in many parts of Southern Italy, these Neapolitan pastries topped with pastry cream and an amarena cherry are the treat of choice. The pastry is formed in a round doughnut shape, but the batter is similar to the French pâte à choux, used to make cream puffs and eclairs. The same batter is used in Palermo’s Sfince di San Giuseppe, celebrating the same holiday. There, the dough is fried in round puffs and filled with ricotta cream.

To bake rather than fry the zeppole, pipe the dough in rings on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400°F (204°C) oven for about 25 minutes, until golden. Fill and serve as below.

1 cup (240 ml) water
½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter
Pinch of kosher salt
1 ¾ cups (230 g) all-purpose flour
7 large eggs
Vegetable oil, for frying

1 ⅛ cups (320 g) pastry cream (recipe below), made with 2 additional egg yolks (4 total)
18 preserved amarena cherries, for garnish

To make the batter, combine the water, butter, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the flour all at once. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring and pressing the dough with a wooden spoon, until all of the flour is absorbed and the dough pulls away from the sides and bottom of the pan. Continue to cook and stir for 1 minute longer to cook off the raw flour taste.

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. At low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each egg is well incorporated before adding the next. The batter will be thick.

Heat 3 inches of oil to 350°F (177°C) in a deep pot or fryer. Fit a pastry bag with a 7/16-inch star tip, such as Ateco #825. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Lay out sheets of parchment paper on a flat surface and, using a 3-inch round cutter or inverted glass as a guide, draw eighteen circles on the parchment paper with a pencil, leaving about 2 inches between them. Turn over the parchment paper so that the writing can be seen through it, and pipe rings of dough onto the parchment paper, using the circles as a guide. Cut between the rings with scissors to separate each zeppole onto its own piece of parchment paper.

To fry the zeppole, carefully slip a ring on its parchment paper into the hot oil, adjusting the heat to maintain it at 350°F (177°C). Use tongs to pull the parchment paper from the oil as it separates from the zeppole; set aside to cool and discard. Drop in a second ring and again retrieve the parchment paper. Use the tongs to continually turn the zeppole as they puff and brown, about 4 minutes. Allow the oil to drip back into the pot before transferring the zeppole to the paper towel–lined baking sheet as they are done. Continue to add the rings, pull off the parchment paper, turn, and brown the zeppole until you have fried them all. Cool just until they can be easily handled.

Use the pastry bag fitted with the star tip, or a spoon, to cover the small hole in the center of each zeppole with pastry cream. (The pastry ring will puff and nearly close as it fries.) Top each with an amarena cherry and serve warm.

Whisking Eggs-2

Crema Pasticcera
pastry cream

Makes 1 ⅛ cups | Gluten Free

When I make this rich cream using yolks from my backyard chickens, its deep yellow color transports me back to Calabria. If you have a friend who raises chickens, or know of a local farm where the chickens are pasture-raised, use their eggs for the richest color. However, this thick pastry cream is delicious no matter the eggs you use.

I grew up making this with whole milk, which is common throughout Italy. After trying it with various proportions of milk and cream, my favorite was with half-and-half, but you can make a good pastry cream with all whole milk, too. Cut the lemon peel in wide strips using a vegetable peeler, leaving behind the bitter white pith.

1 cup (240 ml) half-and-half
Peel of ½ small lemon
2 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (16 g) cornstarch

Bring the half-and-half and lemon peel to a simmer in a small saucepan; do not let it come to a full boil.

Meanwhile, in a 2- to 3-quart heavy, nonreactive saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until they are completely smooth and slightly thickened. Whisk in the cornstarch until it is completely incorporated.

Use a fork to carefully remove and discard the lemon peel from the half-and-half. Add the half-and-half to the egg mixture in a slow stream while whisking constantly. Return the mixture to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream boils. Continue to whisk as you boil the mixture for about 30 seconds to make a very thick cream—when you remove the whisk from the pan, you should have to shake or tap it firmly to drop a splotch of cream back into the pot.

Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl. To prevent a skin from forming, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours, or up to 3 days. (To quickly chill the cream, fill a larger bowl with ice and water and set the bowl of pastry cream over it, taking care not to slosh water into the cream.)

Reprinted with permission from:
Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily
by Rosetta Costantino with Jennie Schacht
Ten Speed Press, © 2013 (October 8, 2013)
Photo Credit, Zeppole di San Giuseppe, Rosetta Costantino: Sara Remington
Hardcover: 224 pages
ISBN-10: 1607744023
ISBN-13: 978-1607744023

Visit the author’s website at Cooking with Rosetta

Domenica Marchetti talks with Rosetta Costantino at

Note: You can click on any picture for a larger image, and see a slide show!

The contest is now closed.

Winner will be announced soon!

And now for the contest:

It is easy to enter – just comment below and tell me your favorite Italian dessert.

Not to worry, there is no right answer. Be sure to enter your email address so I can contact you if you win. And, remember to enter your email in the email field and not the body of the comment. Your email address will not be shown or used for any purpose other than to contact you for this #Giveaway.

The Official Fine Print:
Giveaway begins on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 9, at 5:30 pm Pacific Time, and closes on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm Pacific Time. My computer is the official timekeeper for this Giveaway. The winner will have 72 hours to respond to the winning notification email from, otherwise a new winner will be chosen. The winner will be notified within 24 hours of the closing of the sweepstakes. Be sure to allow email from if you use an email filter.

Immediate family members (parent, child, sibling, IRS dependent and spouse of each) of are not eligible to participate. Entries open only for shipping addresses in the continental United States of America. This Giveaway is void where prohibited by law, and is open only to those 18 years and older. Please, only one comment per person.

This is a Giveaway through sweepstakes where the winner will be selected in a random drawing on or about December 4, 2013 from all eligible entries received during the sweepstakes period. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning.

The prize is a copy of Southern Italian Desserts by Rosetta Costantino provided by Ten Speed Press for the purposes of this Giveaway, approximate retail value of $30.00 USD.

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Buona fortuna!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. Ten Speed Press is providing one copy for the #Giveaway. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I otherwise have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.

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  1. Comment by Kitty DeStefano Dolan:

    My grandmother came fron Calabria! She made a cookie that was rolled like a jelly roll and then sliced 2″ wide filled with nuts, raisins , honey, cinnamon,nutmeg, ground cloves ,brushed with honey then baked. Would love to have the recipe. She made them at Christmas. Thank you for your wonderful recipes!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Benvenuta Kitty,

      Thank you for visiting my site. I am so glad you enjoyed what you found here. And for more on Calabria, visit Rosetta’s site at

  2. Comment by Ciao Chow Linda:

    Oh Adri – I don’t know how I missed commenting on this. I must have been brain-dead because this array of desserts you made from Rosetta’s book is mind-boggling. It came to my attention now that I’ve made the intorchiate and was searching for a recipe online for them to cut and paste so I wouldn’t have to type the whole thing from the cookbook. I’m impressed. You are a fabulous baker and were so industrious last December. But you’re also meticulous and everything always comes out looking perfect. But I knew that for a while – and it was just confirmed with the cookie exchange. Buon Natale 2014

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I really enjoyed cooking from Rosetta’s book. The Intorchiate in particular were quite special. Just the scent of the dough was a joy, and it was such a delight to work with. Buon Natale!

  3. Comment by Jamie:

    I am so sorry I missed the giveaway but so glad I read the review. Wow I so want this book! I was always fascinated by Italian pastries, having lived in Milan after living in Paris… they were at once so much more simple and plain than French pastries but they were so wonderful and delicate and just lovely. A mixture of rustic and elegant all at once. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Comment by janie:

    By any chance have you made the cake with pistachio and ricotta mousse? I’m dying to try that one and was wondering what you thought.

  5. Comment by anthony stemke:

    What a lovely site, so many stunning desserts. I enjoyed reading this immensely.
    Thank You.

  6. Comment by Lizzy (Good Things):

    Dearest Adri, so you have Magyar background too…. see, I knew we had a connection! Season’s eatings to you my friend xo

  7. Comment by Karen (Back Road Journal):

    What a beautiful book! I wouldn’t know which recipe to start with…I’m sure they are all wonderful.

  8. Comment by sippitysup:

    I’ve said before and I’ll stand by my choice. I love ALL Italian cookies. GREG

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Greg,

      I hear you – Laney who won the book has already begun baking some! There are so many – from all over the country, and every family has their specialty, especially at Christmas. You will love this book.

  9. Comment by amy @ fearless homemaker:

    These are some amazing-looking desserts! And congrats to Laney on winning the cookbook – it looks like a fabulous prize!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Amy,

      I know Laney will make great use of it-let’s hope she writes about it on her blog. I can’t wait until I see your little one with her hands in the flour!

  10. Comment by

    Adri — You’re killing me here!! I have decided to cut out all desserts from December 1 until December 21st because this year my whole family is going to my Mom’s home in Boston for Christmas. Now my mother cooks so many fabulous Christmas goodies and huge Christmas meals, and hosts so many Christmas parties that I figured I better cut back a bit before I go so I can let loose as soon as I get there and eat everything. Now I’ve just read this post and I am dying to run out and hunt down some of these Italian goodies. There must be a pastry shop in Rome with a few of these. I think my favorite– from looking at the picture and reading about them — are the Biscotti di Ceglie– I just love the idea of the almonds, cherry, and limoncello. Sigh. My second choice is the Biscotti Eureka –first they are so pretty and then the idea of almonds, orange marmalade– yum, yum, yum. I am heading for the door right now…

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao Trisha,

      Lent does not start for a few months yet – so go out and grab some goodies. I’m sure you’ll find all sorts of great things in Rome. And enjoy your visit to Boston! Merry Christmas to all!

  11. Comment by Ash-foodfashionparty:

    Adri, first of all Thanks always for your sweetest comments and stopping by the blog.
    This post is very close to my heart. I just love Italian desserts and cookies in particular. I made bacci cookies this weekend and these recipes are simply awesome. I will grab this book on Amazon if available. The braid cookies look gorgeous.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Benvenuta Ash!

      Thank you for the kind words. This book is truly a wonder, and I can’t wait to see what you do with Rosetta’s recipes. I know you’ll come up with something fabulous. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  12. Comment by Mette:

    Fantastic cookies. Wish the book was available in Europe too.

  13. Comment by Suzanne:

    What fantastic selection of goodies you have showcased here. How I would love to travel all over Italy someday and a culinary tour would even be better. As far as Italian desserts go gelato is my favorite with pannacota coming in close. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a nice comment.

  14. Comment by Marie:

    Adri, Adri, Adri, What a fantastic review! I want to make everything you made here, it all looks amazing. I have a weekness for biscotti regina, I buy them at the Italian bakery, I would love to make them for Christmas. You’ve inspired me again Adri, first the corzetti now the biscotti!

  15. Comment by jacquie:

    i haven’t had many – any? – authentic italian desserts so i don’t have a favorite. however, i would love to try those almond cherry cookies you have shown above.

  16. Comment by Cathy at Wives with Knives:

    Goodness, I wouldn’t even know where to start with this BEAUTIFUL selection of recipes. I want to make every one. My favorite Italian dessert…that’s a tough one. I love ricotta cheese cake so would have to start there. Love your post.

  17. Comment by Jane Bonacci:

    My husband is Calabrese and loves Italian cookies above all else. I would love to be able to make them and other family favorites for him!

  18. Comment by Raquel:

    These look amazing! I would win this! 🙂

  19. Comment by Rene Matthew:

    I want to try them all! Have Limoncello, can make Zabaione! I know of two more people who would love this book, so I just have to win it for myself! Positive thinking!

  20. Comment by Seth Resler:

    Great writeup! I recently had the opportunity to interview Rosetta Costantino, and we talked about where to eat on a trip to Southern Italy. You can hear the interview here:

  21. Comment by Raleigh Hussung:

    They all look so fabulous…I want to make/taste them all!! If I don’t win, I’m buying the book!

  22. Comment by zonzolando:

    Con questa carrellata di meraviglie sono rimasta incollata allo schermo. Mamma mia che gola che mi hai messo e adesso come faccio? Stupende le ricette! Bravissima. Ti mando un abbraccio 🙂

  23. Comment by Rochelle:

    Those cookies looks so yummy!

  24. Comment by Lupe Jara:

    Torta de mele e ricotta

  25. Comment by Jody Ryerson:


  26. Comment by Camila:

    Paglia italianna!!! Delicious

  27. Comment by James:

    Cookies looked delicious. Great recipes!

  28. Comment by Beth:

    Wish it was open to Canadian addresses – this is a fabulous giveaway!

  29. Comment by Nina:

    Cannoli are my favorite! I make them from scratch, down to the candied peel for the filling (citron when I can find it), and fill the tubes at the last minute!

  30. Comment by Tom Fusia:

    My favorite Italian dessert is ricotta pie with candied orange peel. NICE!

  31. Comment by Elizabeth Lev:


  32. Comment by Danielle:

    Oh my goodness! I could just list everything as my favorite…they all look amazing. The Nero all’arancia has really caught my eye as has the Zabaione. I don’t know if I have a favorite Italian dessert but I’m pretty sure these two would be fighting for that title.

  33. Comment by domenicacooks:

    Adri, I’m not commenting to enter, but just to say Wow ~ you have been going through this book like a dose of salts! It looks like you have been having a blast. Because of time constraints I’ve had to limit myself to the pistachio cake but there are many more on my to-make list. I wanted to let your readers know, in case they are interested, that I just posted an interview with Rosetta on my blog. She came to the U.S. at age 14 and was a chemical engineer before she got into the world of cooking! I can’t wait to try some of the recipes you’ve posted, but the one I really want to set some time aside for is that Torta Gattopardo! Un abbraccio!

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