Celli Ripieni are a wonderful filled pastry from the Abruzzo region commonly enjoyed during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Translated, celli ripieni means “stuffed birds” and throughout Abruzzo they are more often referred to dialectically. For example, in the Province of Teramo they are called “cillarchien“, and in the province of Chieti, “cillarichijene“. However they are called, celli ripieni are filled with a mixture of jam, nuts, chocolate and orange zest and make a wonderful presentation for your holiday dessert table.
Celli Ripieni by Leda Bucciarelli – Photography by Eligio Bucciarelli
The pastry for celli ripieni is very silky, tender and rolled out thinly. When making the pastry it’s important not to add too much flour or to overwork it as it can become too dry. Keeping this in mind, start with the flour eggs, oil, sugar and one cup of wine, then adding more wine as needed to make dough that is elastic, shiny smooth and not sticky. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest while you make the filling.
The filling for celli ripieni is a rich, aromatic mixture that is naturally sweetened and requires no added sugar. For the grape jam, I like to use Welch’s Farmer’s Pick Concord Grape Spread as it’s all natural with no high fructose corn syrup or preservatives. You’ll also notice that the filling includes what may seem to be a mysterious ingredient called mosto cotto.
In English, mosto cotto simply means “cooked must.” Must is the raw, unfiltered pressed grape juice used to make wine. Instead of beginning the fermentation process for wine, this juice is filtered to remove large solids, then boiled for several hours until the juice is reduced until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup, about ¼ to ⅓ the original volume, producing purplish, intensely sweet condiment. Note that at this point mosto cotto also serves as the basis for balsamic vinegar.
In ancient times mosto cotto was known as “Sapa” or “Saba” and was commonly used as a cooking ingredient or condiment by the Romans. Today, it is often still referred to as Sapa or Saba and continues to be used in the same manner as an ingredient in traditional Italian desserts such as in Celli Ripieni. It is also used as condiment drizzled on sharp cheeses or desserts. Mosto Cotto can be found in Italian specialty stores or online and is sometimes also sold as Vin Cotto. A reasonable facsimile is also very easy to make using a recipe I’ve included along with that of the Celli Ripieni. I use Welch’s Farmer’s Pick Concord Grape Juice as I find this to be very close to fresh pressed grape must and produces the desired taste and consistency.
Along with the grape jam and mosto cotto, the filling also includes chopped walnuts, chopped almonds, chocolate, orange zest, cinnamon and plain breadcrumbs. The purpose of the breadcrumbs is to make the filling the consistence of a very soft, sticky dough. Before adding the breadcrumbs, prepare all the other ingredients together per the recipe. The mixture will be a bit liquid and at this point add the breadcrumbs a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
Now that the dough and filling are ready, all that remains is to roll out the dough, add the filling, seal and bake as described in the recipe. Be careful with the filling as not to over fill or under fill. Use your best judgment and you’ll improve each time you make these as I’m sure that once you do, your family and friends will always ask for more.
For the pastry dough
- 6 cups All purpose flour.
- 2 cups White wine
- 1 cup Extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 cup Sugar
- 3 Eggs
For the filling
- 16 oz Grape jam or spread
- 8 oz Finely chopped walnuts
- 8 oz Finely chopped almonds
- ¼ – ½ cup Mosto cotto, to taste (optional)
- ¼ cup Espresso or very dark coffee
- 4 oz Dark chocolate, grated
- Zest of half an orange
- 1 tsp. Cinnamon.
- Dark cookie crumbs as needed. Such as Oreo's with the middle layer removed and finely processed in a food processor.
- Sugar as needed
For the dough
- Mix all ingredients until dough is elastic and smooth, adding flour or wine as needed.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let stand,
For the filling
- Grate the chocolate.
- In saucepan, over low heat, heat the jam, add the chocolate, almonds, walnuts and mix well.
- Stir in coffee, orange peel, cinnamon and the mosto cotto, remove from heat and let cool.
- If the filling is too liquid, add breadcrumbs until it becomes the consistency of a very soft, sticky dough
Put it together
- Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick
- Cut into rectangles of about 8 inches x 4 inches
- Spread several tablespoons of filling along the center of the dough rectangles, being careful not to overfill.
- Fold over the dough along the longer side and seal in the filling by firmly pressing the edges together. Using a paring knife, make cuts along the long sealed edge. Then fold to form a circle slightly overlapping the ends. See the photo
- Wet the surface of the celli and sprinkle with sugar.
- Arrange the celli on greased baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- 46 oz Bottle Welch’s Farmer’s Pick or other natural unsweetened concord grape juice
- 2 tbsp Firmly packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup Raisins
- 2 tbsp Good quality balsamic vinegar
- Put grape juice in a wide pot with brown sugar and raisins. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for about 1½ hours until reduced to as thick as maple syrup, or to about 1 – 1½ cups.
- Cool then strain; save the fruit for another use, like spooning over ice cream.