Nothing sinful about light Lenten treats

February 17, 1993|By Franco Romagnoli | Franco Romagnoli,Contributing Writer/Eating Well Magazine

Unless you are Italian, you might be surprised to find that food created around the notions of fasting and penance can provide delicious after-dinner treats. Cucina di magro is the diet prescribed for Lent, Advent and other fast days, and dates back to early Christianity. It literally means lean cooking.

Although desserts have generally been discouraged during these holy seasons, a few light sweets are acceptable. Dried fruit and figs in particular are associated with Lent. A very thin slice of a dark fig and nut cake called frustingolo is all you need at the end of a meal. Sospiri are delicate almond cookies. In Sardinia they say that these sweets are as light as a sigh, hence not sinful at all and allowed for Lent.

Dried fruit (frustingolo) Makes 24 slices.

1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds

2 1/2 cups dry red wine

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sugar

2 cups dried figs

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

1/3 cup chopped candied citron

3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, grated

2 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup all-purpose white flour

1/2 cup fine dry unseasoned bread crumbs

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup canola or olive oil (not extra-virgin)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8 1/2 -inch springform pan wit non-stick cooking spray. Spread almonds in a baking pan and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, or until barely golden. Let cool and chop coarsely. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.

In a small saucepan, combine wine with 2 tablespoons sugar. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until reduced to 3/4 cup. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cover figs with water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the figs are moist and plump. Drain and chop coarsely. Set aside. In a small bowl, cover raisins with warm water. Let soak for about 5 minutes. Drain, pressing to release excess moisture.

In a large bowl, mix together the almonds, figs, raisins, walnuts, citron, chocolate and honey. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, flour, bread crumbs, orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg and add to the almond mixture. Gradually stir oil and the reduced wine into the mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cake is firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan on a rack. Cover and let stand overnight to allow the flavor to deepen before serving.

(The cake can be prepared ahead and stored, in an airtight container, for up to 2 weeks.)

Nutritional information: 220 calories per serving, 3 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 36 grams carbohydrate, 36 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol.

Sighs (Sospiri) Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds

2 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or brush them with oil and dust with flour, shaking off excess. Spread almonds on another baking pan and

bake for 5 to 8 minutes, or until light golden. Let cool and chop coarsely. Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees. (Open the oven door for a few minutes to hasten cooling.)

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with electric mixer until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt; beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff but not dry peaks form. Fold in the almonds. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until light golden and firm to the touch. Reverse pans halfway through to ensure even baking. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool.

(The cookies can be prepared ahead and stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.)

Nutritional information: 53 calories per serving, 1 gram protein, 2 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrate, 27 milligrams sodium, 0

milligrams cholesterol.

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