Butter. It’s sooooo yesterday. The newest thing to hit America’s best Italian restaurants is recreating those decadent Italian deserts with Olive Oil instead. And, Philadelphia’s Le Virtu has just joined the bandwagon.
Pastry Chef Angela Ranalli has created new confections made with olive oil, rather than butter. This rising trend in baking is actually rooted in authentic Abruzzese cooking, a specialty of Le Virtu’s. Chef Ranalli’s desserts, such as theRicotta-Walnut cake and Pizzelle, are at once a celebration of Le Virtù’s dedication to Italian regional cooking and a heart-healthy alternative to traditional butter-based desserts.
“Right now, in the food world, what’s old is new again, and we’re honoring the ancient Italian tradition of baking with olive oil,” says Ranalli, who joined Le Virtù Executive Chef Joe Cicala on a recent research trip to Abruzzo, Italy. “Each of our baked desserts is made with olive oil, except for one – the Napoleone – which is one of our favorites and I don’t have the heart to take it off!”
Chef Ranalli’s new desserts include: Ricotta-Walnut Cake with caramelized pears; a Cookie Tray featuring orange-hazelnut biscotto, pizzelle and cagg’nitt (a fried ravioli-like confection filled with chestnut, chocolate, raisins and orange zest); and Carrot Cake with mascarpone-vanilla bean frosting. These new desserts will be added to Ranalli’s current list of olive oil-based desserts including: Gnocchi Fritti, fried gnocchi-shaped pastries with lemon curd dipping sauce; Torta di Miele, apple cake with spices, walnut brittle, mascarpone/thyme cream; Torcinelli, fried anise and raisin pastry rolled in sugar and served with a Strega liqueur pastry cream; and Angeletti, Italian wedding cookies. These desserts range in price from $9 to $12.
Living on and off in Italy for the past 13 years and of Abruzzese decent, Ranalli is well versed in the Italian way of life, particularly its rich culinary history, and Abruzzese culture, including her studies of its mystical practices. Though she’ll bake traditional Christmas and Easter treats whenever she’s craving them, she respects the ancient beliefs professing certain foods are to be prepared during specific times of the year. Ranalli spent much of her youth baking traditional cannoli and cookies – with olive oil – at her mother’s side and learning about the superstitions of Abruzzese townspeople. She went on to study pastry arts at The Art Institute of Philadelphia. Her passion for Italian folklore continues at Le Virtù, where Ranalli brings alive the rustic dishes of Italy, always with a mindful adherence to the timeless techniques of her family’s recipes and their legends.
Le Virtù serves dinner (and desert) Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Every Tuesday night, guests are invited to BYO wine with no corkage fee. Happy Hour is served every Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. For more information, or to make a reservation, please call (215) 271-5626, visit www.levirtu.com, follow Chef Cicala on Twitter (@Joe_Cicala) and like them on Facebook (Le Virtù).