Francine Segan spent a year in Italy eating desserts for her new cookbook, "Dolci: Italy's Sweets" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Tough gig, we know.
Sure, she found the usual beloved suspects of tiramisu, panna cotta, affogato and cannoli. But she also discovered regional specialties that have been popular in Italy for decades, centuries even. They are worth seeking out in your travels.
Pasta for dessert: "Pasta also is for dessert in Italy. Has been since the Renaissance, when pasta was a luxury food served topped with sugar, grated nutmeg and Parmesan cheese.
"There are dozens of fabulous Italian desserts made with pasta. I discovered a crunchy-chewy chocolate pasta pie popular in Bologna; in Sicily, there's a simple dessert made with twirled forkfuls of leftover angel hair pasta, quickly fried, then topped with honey and chopped pistachios. A Christmas Eve specialty in central Italy is macaroni with chocolate walnut sauce, and in the Veneto (region), they enjoy a sweet lasagna layered with sliced apples and dried fruit as a holiday dessert. There are also dozens of dessert ravioli that are baked and filled with everything from chickpeas sweetened with jam and chocolate to sweet ricotta fillings."
Red-wine desserts: "Italy has wonderful red wines such as Chianti and Barolo that are used in desserts for added flavor and moisture."
One of her favorites: red-wine ring cookies, made with red wine and traditionally served with a glass of red after dinner.
"Refrigerator" cake: "Refrigerator cakes are not only kept in the fridge but also need a time in the fridge to fully develop. Many of them are no-bake and use store-bought ingredients like savoiardi, or ladyfingers. A huge plus for me is the fact that these cakes keep fresh for days and improve with time, so they are great make-ahead treats."
Her favorite: torta mimosa. It is "a popular dessert for Italian women, which is eaten (in) March in celebration of International Women's Day. The cake looks like a bouquet of mimosa flowers."
Fruit for dessert: "In warm weather Italians often end a meal with fresh fruit floating in bowl of ice water. But in the winter they dress it up and make winter fruit salad, macedonia invernale."
Pandoro: "Pandoro, a tall star-shaped cake, has a delicious, eggy, briochelike soft center with a lovely vanilla-butter aroma. You can find it at holiday time in most supermarkets. It comes in a hatbox-like container, ready-made.
"In Italy, pandoro is often served cut in horizontal slices that are stacked to look like a Christmas tree. Each layer is spread with mascarpone custard and decorated with candies to create a pandoro Christmas tree cake."