ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

I was very surprised when one of my friends said that she had baked a zucchini frittata following a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Simple. I opened my copy of the cookbook to see if Ottolenghi really had baked a frittata. Afterall he has Italian heritage! It is not called a frittata for nothing!(I am joking here – I really like and respect Ottolenghi – but all jokes aside, if I were to bake a mixture of zucchini and eggs, I would call it a Zucchini Bake.

Fritta, means fried (feminine) and fritto, as in Fritto Misto is fried (masculine) and misto means mixed. I would enjoy continuing with a lesson in Italian grammar, but this post is about frittata.

Recently I was contacted by Maria Liberati and invited to participate in an interview about Frittata, for a podcast. So there I was  from Melbourne in lockdown chatting to Maria Liberati in Pennsylvania.

Maria asked me to speak about frittate (plural), she found of a post I had been invited to write by Janet Clarkson’s very popular blog called ‘The Old Foodie’. The post was called An Authentic Frittata (December 2008). I had forgotten that I had written it, but what I said then still stands.

Apart from discussing frittate in general and providing a  Sicilian recipe for frittata I made a comment about Claudia Roden. She is one of my heros,  but I disagreed with what she must have said at some stage:” Frittate are common throughout Italy but not Sicily and Sardinia’.

But just how popular are frittate anyway? When do we eat frittate? and could it be that frittate are such ordinary fare that they do not appear in cookery books very often?

In An Authentic Frittata, my first sentence is:
‘Every National Cuisine has certain rules and customs.’

Baking a frittata in Italy is not one of them.

But I can understand why frying a frittata is scary.  This is a simple zucchini and cheese frittata. It is spring in Melbourne and we had some new season’s zucchini tossed quickly in a frypan with some extra virgin olive oil, a little parsley and garlic. I turned the leftovers  and some grated pecorino cheese into a simple frittata. 

Frittata is cooked on one side before being inverted onto a plate and then slid into the frypan again  to cook on the other side. It is not that scary.

Pour the mixture of beaten eggs (a fork will do),  zucchini, salt, pepper into hot oil. Use the spatula to press the frittata gently on top and lift the edges tilting the pan. This allows some of the runny egg to escape on the side to cook. when there is no more egg escaping you are ready to turn it over.

As Maria said in the interview, perhaps cooks could try this with a smaller pan. I think it is worth it.

When making frittata, using a round frypan makes sense, and not making it a huge frittata makes it more manageable.

Depending on the quantities of the other ingredients to be added to the frittata, I think about 8 eggs is the maximum.

Maria and I certainly agreed about how the cooking of Italy is very regional and how this may also apply to frittata. I grew up in Trieste (the north eastern Italian cooking of Friuli Venezia Giulia is similar to the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige) but I also have a Sicilian heritage.

Cuisine is localised , each region has prepared specialities based on their produce and cultural influences. Sicily was an important trade route in a strategic location in the Mediterranean and was settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians,  Arabs, Normans, French, Spaniards. Trieste was a very important port  for much of that north eastern part of Italy that  were part of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. Surrounding countries that influenced the history and culture were Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany,and Croatia are not too far away.

Here are some basic differences  between the making of frittate in the north and the south , some are no longer hard and fast rules, for example:

  • butter or butter and oil is used for frying in the north, oil in the south,
  • use of local produce in both – I have had quite a few frittate with ricotta in Sicily and made with fruit in the north, especially with apples,
  • because left-overs are good ingredients for a frittata, you may see more vegetable based frittate in the south and more smallgoods based ones in the north, e.g. prosciutto, different cheeses,
  • breadcrumbs are common additions to a frittata in the south (to soak up liquid from vegetables), a little flour and even a dash of milk is evident in many northern recipes,
  • a little grated cheese is common in all frittate, Parmigiano in the north, pecorino or aged caciocavallo or ricotta salata in Sicily.

Like language, cooking evolves and when I cook, I do not invent or modify recipes without knowing what came first – what is the traditional recipe?  What are the ingredients and how was it cooked? Experimentation can only come after respect for the ingredients and method of cooking that traditional recipe, and accepting that although the recipe may have been right for the time, there are changes that i would like to make. When I modify a recipe I ask myself if modifying it will improve it, is it a healthier way to cook it, quicker? And this applies to all traditional recipes.

A very simple example is how my mother always overcooked her vegetables, but she found my sautéed vegetables very undercooked. She either used onions or garlic, never the two together, meat and fish in the same recipe? Never.

Using Warrigal Greens (Australian bush tucker,  like English spinach). Do not even think about that, I am definitely breaking the rules. These are growing on my balcony.

I am looking forward to using other spring produce to make frittate , especially artichokes, spring peas/snow peas, zucchini and zucchini flowers.

Maria and I talked amicably about many things, and there were many details that I had intended to say, but we ran out of time.

Thank you Maria for giving me this opportunity.

Below is a frittata I cooked with  wild asparagus.

Some links:

  • Recipes on my blog for making Frittata:

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

WILD ASPARAGUS IN SICILY AND TUNIS (ASPARAGI SELVATICI)

BOOK SIGNING OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING AT READINGS (and Fennel Frittata)

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

The recipe I provided in this post is a version of Giuseppe Coria’s but variations of this same recipe are in a couple of Sicilian cookbooks written in Italian. I do wonder if that recipe is still made now.

Podcast: A Sicilian Frittata Story
 54 mins

This week Maria discusses the power of food to take us to new places – this time, to Sicily – where we’ll enjoy a simple frittata. Joining her today is Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, a passionate food writer, blogger and recipe developer from Sicily.

To hear this podcast, click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

A special Birthday menu for my friend, in the cloud

It is one of my friend’s birthday today and I am wishing him well, there in the cloud. I have cooked him some of his favourite food.

I hope that he will enjoy the homemade pappardelle dressed with a duck ragù.

I

I was not able to buy him boar (cinghiale) or hare (lepre) as you can in Greve from that butcher who has a stuffed boar in front of his Macelleria. But I know that he is quite fond of duck; he will be just as pleased.

I have kept some of the dough from the pasta to fry and make into crostoli.  I will sprinkle them with caster sugar. We can crunch on these later.

Now he’s no longer unwell, he can once again enjoy the Barolo and the Amarone I have selected for this occasion. I know that he is fond of Sicily and I have a bottle of Nero d’Avola. Perhaps we could have a little of this with our cheese?  We will try to drink in moderation. I can return the wines from the decanters to bottles and put stoppers in them…I will be happy to drink them tomorrow.

I was able to find some early spring produce and I have stuffed some zucchini flowers with some stracchino, rather than the ricotta I usually use,  a little egg with a few fresh breadcrumbs to bind the stuffing, and some fresh marjoram ... not chervil, I am afraid, as it is not in season, this being  his favourite herb.  He particularly liked it on scrambled eggs.

I almost forgot!  I was able to order a great bottle of Riesling from the Barossa. Peter Lehman’s son – David Franz – Makes it. I love his wine and I am very fond of David’s colourful labels. I think my friend shared a bottle of this wine when I last saw him. This will be a perfect accompaniment for the zucchini flowers.

I have a bottle of Cynar for when he arrives and a little Averna for those who wish, right at the very end. 

There will be no second course, the pasta will be enough. The ragù smells fabulous and will be quite rich. Perhaps a little Mâche , or matovilc as we called it in Trieste…. lamb’s lettuce for others.  I can add some thinly sliced fennel too – this could be the palate cleanser before the dessert.

My friend does like a good Zuppa Inglese. I think that it’s the savoiardi soaked with Alchermes that he likes, although the delicate egg custard is also a winner. He will understand that I was unable to get the gooseberries or the greengage plums that he is so fond of. They are out of season. My friend was able to buy these for a very limited time of they year from one stall in the Adelaide Market. Gosh, that was a few years ago! The stall holder was a gentle and kind Sicilian man who used to grow most of his produce. I will never forget when the stall holder found out who my father was, he almost hugged me. My dad was liked by so many people my friend was popular too, and liked a chat or two. 

Idid find some Josephine pears at the Queen Victoria Market today, so I have purchased some to present with some cheeses I selected ripe, juicy pears, just as he likes them. He always expressed his dissatisfaction about fruit that was picked too green.

I have not forgotten the cheese to go with the pears. He is fond of a little cheese. Walnuts too. He likes to crack his own. I know he quite likes a little aged Parmesan with pears and I was also able to buy a good selection of  Italian and French Cheeses, some are quite smelly and I had to put them out on my balcony overnight.


Bob has baked some bread, my friend prefers to eat cheese with bread. I do too,  perhaps I learnt this from him.

So my friend, up in the cloud, I hope you enjoy what I have prepared for you. Happy Birthday from all of us, here below. We all remember you fondly and miss you.

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

STUFFED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS 

SALAD GREEN: matovilc, also called lamb’s lettuce and mâche

ALCHERMES/ALKERMES (The liqueur used to make Zuppa Inglese)

LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

MUSSELS, three ways: in brodetto, with spaghetti and in a risotto with saffron

Victorian fresh mussels are always fabulous and they go a long way. There are two people in my household and we usually buy 2kilos. Sometimes we eat them all and at other times I use the left over mussels to make something else. There is usually some mussel broth left over and I store this in a glass jar in my freezer.

My partner likes to do the shopping and off he goes with his list, his bag and his mask and shops at the Queen Victoria Market. This time he cam home with 3kilos.  We are in lockdown here so no inviting someone to join us.

I really like mussels and from a 3kilo batch my partner and I had  three meals. Very frugal, but by the third day we were a little sick of mussels.

For the first meal, I cooked the mussels steamed in their own broth. In Italian this is called  In brodetto.. brodo is broth.

I begin with a soffritto of chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic, with the help of a little white wine, then add the mussels, put on a lid and let them steam open and I sprinkle a little chopped parsley towards the end. We ate these with good quality, home baked bread, rubbed with oil and garlic and toasted in the oven.

On the second day we made some home made egg spaghetti. I made a salsa, first by dissolving a few anchovies in a little hot extra virgin  olive oil, then I added a can of chopped tomatoes, a whole clove of garlic, a sprig of fresh oregano (because there is no basil growing on my balcony in this cold season) and a little of the mussel broth. I let it cook with no lid, to reduce and thicken. I added the cooked mussels to the sauce just to heat up and dressed the pasta. I keep the garlic whole so that I can remove it, this is my preference but maybe not yours.

Next day, a risotto, and very simple once again.

This time I used a fresh fennel and some of the left over mussels out of their shells that I kept in a jar in the fridge with yet again some of their broth. But this time I also used some mussel broth I had in the freezer from the time before. That mussel broth comes in handy and there always seems to be plenty of it.

There are three types of rice you can use for making risotto. Arborio is the most common and easily available in Australia, but carnaroli  has more starch as does vialone nano; these two varieties make a risotto creamier. However, when I make a seafood risotto I prefer to use aborio because with seafood I like the risotto to be less gluggy. Don’t let this confuse you… all three varieties are suitable and it is just personal preferences. Perhaps I like to taste the flavour of the sea. Perhaps this is also why I do not  generally add butter to a seafood risotto.

You may be remembering that you have read many recipes that indicate that you stick to the stove while you cook risotto. Sicilian rice dishes are interesting.  I have watched  my Sicilian aunties cook rice and have read numerous recipes where some stock is added, the lid is put on and it is left to absorb for about 5 minutes or more,  then more stock is added and once again it is not continually stirred. The stirring happens in the last 5-7 minutes.

Making risotto is so simple, quick and easy.

I used 2 thinly sliced spring onions, 2  chopped cloves of garlic and once again began the cooking process by tossing it around in some extra virgin olive oil in a hot pan.

Then I added a finely sliced fennel and some parsley and tossed this around,  added 1.5 cup of rice (this is sufficient for 2 people but you can add more). Toss it around to coat, add a splash of  white wine. I added saffron, a generous pinch soaked beforehand in a little bit of water.

Keep on adding hot fish or mussel broth as you cook the rice until it is nearly cooked. This is when you add the shelled mussels. Cook the risotto until it is cooked all’onda…till the risotto looks wavy like the sea, and still moist.

I do not wish to eat mussels again for a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

Melbourne – August: Winter Artichokes in risotto and stuffed

Fresh  produce is very important to me and I am fortunate to live in an apartment block very close to the Queen Victoria Market and good, fresh produce is not hard to get.

Pre-lockdown restrictions, I also shopped  at various Farmers’ Markets, but this option is not available for me at the moment.

These artichokes were bought last weekend  at the QVM and I was surprised by their very green colour. This variety of artichokes are local and are in season; they are different in appearance to the three other varieties I am familiar with available earlier in the season.

During the week I bought these baby artichokes. These babies are from the artichoke plant when it has reached the end of its season. The plant does not have the energy to produce  the full type variety and produces these little offshoots. Usually they are used for pickling. Notice that this variety is tinged with purple, unlike the bright green variety of artichokes in the photo above.

You may ask what is the bunch of greens next to the baby artichokes? Cima di rapa (or cime di rape, plural). These are at the end of the season and I was surprised to find them  in such good form.

This is what I did with the big artichokes:

Stuffed with fresh breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil and braised in white wine, stock and extra virgin olive oil and with potatoes. I often use potatoes to hold the artichokes upright in a pan; the liquid should reach below the top of each artichoke. The potatoes are delicious as they soak up the flavours of the artichoke braising liquid.

Artichokes that are stuffed should fit tightly in a pan and in this case I have used the stems to keep the artichokes secure:

Or with potatoes once again used to keep the artichokes propped up:

And what did I do with the baby artichokes?

I braised them once again in stock, white wine and extra virgin olive oil and once cooked I used the braising liquid  from the cooked artichokes in the risotto.

For the risotto:

Sauté garlic and onion in extra virgin olive oil. Add the rice and toss around in the pan till well coated. Drain the stock (braising liquid from the artichokes) from the artichokes and add it warmed  -gradually and intermittently as you would for making any risotto.

Add parsley about half way through cooking. Add the artichokes and a lump of butter at the final stages  and when the final  absorption of stock is occurring. Do not forget, that a risotto should not be dry… present it all’onda…meaning that the finished product should ripple like waves.

Present it with grated Parmesan, if you like.

Sometimes  I prefer to taste the natural flavours of  the dish and grated cheese can be overpowering.

Carciofi are artichokes in Italian.

Carciofini are baby artichokes.

Recipes on my blog for artichokes are many and here are just a few:

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil)

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking) 

CARCIOFI FARCITI (Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

There are also recipes on my blog for Cime di Rapa.

MINESTRA from Trieste – borlotti, pearL barley, Sauerkraut

Borlotti beans, pearl barley and sauerkraut.

These are three of my favourite ingredients  and combined make a  fabulous soup: Minestra d’orzo e fagioli con “capuzi garbi’ (sour cabbage as called in Trieste – sauerkraut)

What more would you want  on a cold Melbourne winter’s day with many people who may need cheering up?

I have all of these ingredients at hand because I like pulses and barley as components in salads or soups.  I usually cook them separately and store them in containers in their juice in my fridge and in my freezer.  There are always jars of sauerkraut in my pantry – this comes from having lived in Trieste as a child.  The combination of mixing the cooked ingredients to make a last-minute soup can be even easier.

Like the majority of the way Italians cook, the quantity of ingredients is only an estimate…use more or less of any ingredient to suit your taste.

There are variations for making this soup in Trieste – not everyone adds sauerkraut, but very popular is the addition of lard and /or potatoes which will thicken the soup. I prefer my soup with more liquid and therefore omit the potatoes.

I generally do not have Lardo in my fridge but I can easily purchase it if I wish. Lardo does make a big difference if used – it will enrich the taste and the texture of the soup.

What is Lardo in Italian?

In this case, the Lardo is Lardo Affumicato – Smoked Lard –  Speck.

Also called Lardo is an Italian salume that is eaten (sliced very thinly) and widely used in Italian cuisine especially in northern Italy; it is made from the thick layer of fat from the back of a pig and cured with a mixture of salt, herbs, and spices;  the most esteemed Italian Lardo is aged in the warm, fresh caves in the area of Carrara (famous for its marble) and no additives or preservatives are used.

Pork fat, or rendered pork fat is also called Lardo in Italian and is lard in English.

I have nothing against canned beans but pulses are so easy to cook that I do not buy any, but if you do, cook the barley and add the drained beans to the barley. You will need to add some stock to this combination because you will not have the “bean broth” – the water the beans have been cooked in.

If you wish to add potatoes, do this at the same time as you put the barley to cook.

Borlotti Beans, dry 250g
Pearl Barley, 250g
Garlic, 1 – 3 cloves
Salt and pepper
Parsley, a handful, chopped
Bay leaves, 2 – 4
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle on top of soup when it is ready to serve

Optional:

Lardo/Smoked/Speck,  80 -100g, cubed into very small pieces
Potatoes, 2 – 3 cubed
Sauerkraut, 150 – 200g, drained and squeezed

Soak beans and barley overnight separately in plenty of water.

Drain the beans, replenish with plenty of cold water, add bay leaves, garlic and cook them for about 30 minutes. Add the soaked barley, seasoning and parsley and cook until the beans and barley are soft…. probably about 20-30 minutes longer.

If adding sauerkraut or potatoes add these at the same time as the barley.

Lard, both the rendered fat and Speck are very popular in the food of Trieste and if you wish to use it put it in at the same time as the beans. I prefer to drizzle some good quality, extra virgin olive oil on top and some freshly ground, black pepper.

Formaggio all’Argentiera (pan fried, fresh cheese, Sicilian)

I had forgotten how much I particularly like Formaggio Fresco, pan fried with a sliver or two of garlic in a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with a little dry oregano and de-glazed with a little red vinegar and a pinch of sugar (optional). This is how Sicilians like it.

Formaggio Fresco = Cheese Fresh….Fresh Cheese.

This  Sicilian recipe is called Formaggio all’Argentiera.

Why All’ Argentiera?

An argentiere in Italian is a silversmith.

All’argentiera means “in the style of…as an argentiere would cook it”.

Why this name?

An argentiere can afford the price of meat, a poor person cannot, however, the poor can afford to buy and cook cheese and pretend that he is eating meat. The lovely smells dissipating from the windows of the poor will give passers-by the impression  that just like a silversmith he can afford to eat meat. It is all to do with the making a bella figura syndrome.

The recipe is quick and easy, the difficulty could be finding what is called Formaggio Fresco. What is ‘fresh cheese?’

Some producers call Formaggio Fresco,  Fresh Pecorino,  but they are  both young cheese (aged typically 15- 45 days depending on the manufacturer). It is a white, semi soft, smooth and milky cheese,  good for slicing and for partially melting.

Pecorino is made from the milk of a pecora, (sheep), however, most Pecorino Fresco or Formaggio Fresco, especially in Australia  is made from cows’ pasteurized milk, salt and culture (usually rennet).

Aged Pecorino, whether Romano (Roman), Sardo (Sardinian), Toscano, or Siciliano is the firm, salty and sharp cheese we are familiar with and used for grating – you can eat it too.  In Italy they are DOP cheeses and made in the place of origin.

Stores that have Italian Produce are likely to have Formaggio Fresco  but I have also seen some in a few good supermarkets.

In Melbourne I can buy Formaggio Fresco made by these manufacturers: That’s Amore cheese, they call it cacciotta  and Pantalica make Bacio and Pecorino Fresco.

In Adelaide the manufacturers are: La Casa Del Formaggio and La Vera. I have seen La Vera sold in other Australian cities as well.

 

Formaggio all’Argentiera

A little extra virgin olive oil to fry the cheese.

Also: 1 large clove of garlic (cut into slivers), pinches of dried oregano,  1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar.

I prefer to use a non-stick fry pan.

Heat the oil; use medium heat.

Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and lower the heat. Sprinkle the cheese with some of the dry oregano.

Cook that side of cheese until golden in colour, turn the cheese over and repeat with the dry oregano….cook for as long again.

Add the vinegar and sugar ( I sometime do) and deglaze the pan.

See also:

SICILIAN CHEESE MAKING. A VISIT TO A MASSARO (farmer-cheese maker) IN RAGUSA. Formaggio all’argentiera

Sicilian Cheese and more cheese

Polenta and its magic

This post is in praise of polenta, a simple and versatile  accompaniment for many moist braises. It is particularly popular in the north eastern regions of Northern Italy – Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. However, this is not to say that some polenta is also appreciated in Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta,  Tuscany and Lombardy.

The most common polenta is coarsely ground yellow corn and it is simply cooked in water and salt.  Polenta taragna is a mixture of cornmeal and buckwheat, a popular grain in Italy’s Alpine region, especially in the Valtellina in Northern Lombardy.  Because wheat is difficult to cultivate in the northern regions like Val d’ Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, buckwheat is grown and mixed with wheat flour to make  pasta (called pizzoccheri) and in gnocchi . Buckwheat is called grano saraceno , this is because the Etruscans and Saracens introduced the buckwheat grain to Italy. I visited this region last year and particularly enjoyed this combination.

Once cooked, I prefer to spread the polenta in a pan suitable to go into an oven, I drizzle it generously with olive oil and bake it .

The polenta can then be cut into slices and served with a wet dish.

I prefer to bake the polenta, it allows it to form a  delicious crust. I am not one for last minute preparations….there is enough to fuss about once friends arrive.

Polenta does not have to be baked, it can just be scraped onto a board and cut at the table prior to serving. In fact, this is how my aunt in Trieste always presented polenta after she cooked it in her heavy bottomed copper pot.

Here are a few dishes that can be enjoyed with polenta:

Polenta is perfect with braised mushrooms.  First sautéed at a high temperature with onion and /or garlic and then finished at at a lower temperature (covered with a lid) with some flavoured  liquid – I like  to use stock and wine. Herbs are a must.

This is a saucepan of my beef Goulash.…  a favourite dish served with polenta and as cooked in Trieste, once part of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire.

Polenta is excellent with baccalà. There are many regional recipes for baccalà , for example: alla Vincentina (from Vicenza),  alla Triestina (from Trieste), alla Veneziana ( from Venice)  and various other cities in Northern Italy.
The recipes are not too dissimilar and basically are “white” with no or little tomato (tomatoes in the cooking of Southern Italy).

Baccalà  Mantecato is a creamy spread popular in the Veneto and around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Baccalà  Mantecato is often presented  on crostini di polenta – cooked polenta cut into batons or croutons and then either baked or fried.

The baccalà is poached in milk, the flesh removed from the bones and whipped with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

Polenta with sauerkraut, very popular in Trieste where I lived as a child. The photo below is of Ponte Rosso and the Canal Grande in Trieste. The statue is Nino Spagnoli’s  James Joyce and placed on the bridge over the Canal Grande. 

Sauerkraut  can be cooked slowly as a side dish for meats.

Sauerkraut and pork sausages are very popular in Trieste.

Polenta is also popular with pork sausages cooked in a tomato sugo. I also like pork sausages braised with borlotti beans.

There is nothing like seppie – inkfish braised in white wine, parsley and garlic and served with polenta. Sometimes white polenta (made from white corn and called polenta bianca ) is favoured with fish, rather than the polenta gialla (yellow, made from yellow corn).

Below in the photo are two typical dishes of Trieste, seppie in umido (on the left)  and some iota.

Below is a photo of an ink fish. Inside will be a sac of ink that once removed can be used to flavour the dish.

It is not always obvious that they are ink fish, in Australia they are also often sold as squid.  Not all of them will have a sac of ink; this photo is in a market in Venice….  you can tell that they are ink fish.

Here is a photo of polenta as an accompaniment to tripe I relished in a Trattoria in  Sienna, Tuscany….it was only last year.

Polenta makes a fabulous accompaniment for pan fried or char grilled red radicchio . This used to be a favourite way to serve polenta by my mother.  A little tomato salsa on the char grilled version is very tasty.

And this is polenta with broccoli (or broccolini) with bagna cauda . I first ate it in a restaurant in Hobart and it was presented on a bed of soft polenta – called polenta concia in Italy; this version of polenta is cooked in milk, sometimes stock and has butter and Parmesan cheese added to it once it is cooked. It does not have to be Parmesan, various local regional cheeses are used – Asiago from Trentino and the Veneto, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, Taleggio from Lombardy and the Italian Alps, etc. Bagna cauda on polenta is not a traditional dish, but I did enjoy this innovation and replicated it at home, .

Polenta is also good with sarde in saor. The sardines are fried then left to marinate with onions and vinegar. Sometimes raisins and pine nuts are added. Although I have made this many times, I do not have many photos. This is often the case with other things I cook. Sometimes I am just too busy to take a photos  before I present food or I forget to do it.

Also common is polenta pasticciata (sometimes spelled pastizzada as in the Veneto dialect and it means messed up/ fiddled with) . Layers of cooked polenta are alternated with flavourings. The most common is with sugo (tomato and meat braise) or  braised mushrooms or salame, pancetta, and various cheeses …..or whatever you like to fiddle with.

The version above is with Fontina,  Gorgonzola and some braised button mushrooms cooked in white wine – I was just dealing with leftovers, not a traditional dish, but tasty.  The layers of polenta are then baked: it is very much like a baked lasagna.

Polenta is easily found and it does not have to be imported from Italy.

Cooking polenta is easy.

1 polenta – 4 water ratio, salt.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps. I use a whisk.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  This is where I swap the whisk for a long handled, wooden spoon; the polenta will begin to bubble and can spit so the long spoon or an oven mit is necessary.

Stir the polenta regularly , at least every 5 to 6 minutes. Polenta is done when the texture thickens and is creamy and it begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. It may take up to 30 minutes.

Links to some of the recipes:

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

CHICKEN GOULASH (Gulasch di pollo from Trieste)

SEPPIE IN UMIDO CON POLENTA (Cuttlefish or Squid With Black Ink And Polenta from Trieste)

LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI; Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

PIEDMONTESE favourites  (bagna cauda)

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR – PESCE IN SAOR

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

WILD MUSHROOMS; Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

Savarin and citrus flavoured liqueurs

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago when people had dinner parties and cooked for days to prepare a four -five course meal,  I sometimes used to make Savarins, 2-3 per time and I kept them in the freezer till I was ready to use them. Savarins took care of the dessert component for different guests on different occasions.

The dough is easy to make.

Savarins and Baba au rhum (as called by the French) are made of the same dough – a rich yeast cake or sponge made with eggs, flour, milk and butter saturated in syrup made with alcohol, usually rum, and sometimes filled with pastry cream.

A Savarin is a bigger version of a baba au rhum, and it is baked in a ring mold (with a hole in the centre) instead of a dariole mold and like a baba,  it is soaked in rum syrup .

Although the traditional alcohol to use is rum, there is no reason why other alcohol and liqueurs cannot be used. For example, you could have a good time matching fruit with various  types of alcohol:

Citrus flavoured liqueurs , e.g.  Cointreau,  Grand Manier,  Curacao, Mandarino,   Limoncello , Strega and Galliano  with citrus fruit,

Armagnac with prunes,

Maraschino with cherries,

Bacardi with berries,

Southern Comfort with peaches,

Apricot brandy with apricots etc.

I have three different sized Savarin tins and on this occasion I used the smallest tin:

Placed in the hole in the centre of the Savarin could be one or more of the following: pastry cream, Chantilly creme,  poached or fresh fruit.

Raisins, sultanas or currants may be included in the dough.

I decided to soak my Savarin with Cointreau a French liqueur with flavours of of sweet and bitter orange peel.

I poached mandarin segments in some sugar syrup –  2  cups  water and caster sugar.  I used less  than 1 cup, but this depends on how sweet you wish to have the syrup and traditionally  the ratio can be 3 cups of water to 2 cups of sugar.  Use a little vanilla too –  I keep my caster sugar in a large jar with plenty of vanilla pods.

I drained the mandarins from the syrup, added 1 cup Cointreau and used this to soak the Savarin. 

This amount of syrup was sufficient for the size of my Savarin.  I used the smallest Savarin tin I have =18cm, see photo above.

I kept the Savarin in the tin until i was ready to use it,  pricked it all over with a skewer and then added the hot syrup slowly – the Savarin needs to be saturated with the syrup.

Turned it out on a plate.

I  warmed a little apricot jam with a tiny bit of Cointreau and glazed   the dough. then filled the hole with pastry cream and decorated it with the mandarin segments.

See recipe and information about Baba and Savarins:

Babà al rum, Baba au rhum, Rum Baba and Savarin ; facts and legends

The baked Savarin dough, kept in the mold (baking tin) keeps well  in the freezer.

we all have our own way to store foods in our freezers. If you wish not to use plastic, wrap it tightly in a tea towel or in a couple of layers of  paper and then place it in a re-purposed plastic bag or glass or metal container (with a nice snug fit) and keep it in the freezer until ready to use it.

Babà al rum, Baba au rhum, Rum Baba and Savarin – facts and legends

 Go to Naples and eat Babà al rum. Neapolitans will claim them as their own.  But are they?

While I was looking for my Moulinex, a seldom used appliance in my top cupboard, I found other infrequently used appliances, like Baba and Savarin molds.

A Baba au rhum (as called by the French) is a rich yeast cake or sponge made with eggs, flour, milk and butter saturated in syrup made with alcohol, usually rum, and sometimes filled with pastry cream.

A Savarin is bigger version, baked in a ring mold and soaked in rum syrup and usually placed in the centre could be one or more of the following: pastry cream, Chantilly creme,  poached or fresh fruit. Raisins, sultanas or currants may be included in the dough.

The Neapolitan Babà al rum are usually made as mignons (small shapes) but the larger Savarins are also popular in Naples.

My partner has been experimenting and baking mainly with sourdough but also with fresh yeast. He bought too much yeast. I am not one to waste ingredients, so I suggested that he makes some rum babà – a very easy process but with enjoyable results. I gave him a few recipes and suggested that he may also like to look at how the French made them as well as the Neapolitans.

Before his bread baking sessions, my partner likes to find bakers/chefs demonstrating how they make the bread on YouTube, and he did the same this time when he was preparing to make the babà. Among the many YouTube videos he found, he showed me a very amusing one that had a highly reputed Italian pastry chef pinching up pieces of baba batter and twirling around his fingers to almost flick the very elastic batter into molds. Another YouTube demo featured Rita Chef who introduced her lesson on make babà with stories, about the origins and the legend of babà. Both chefs in these YouTube sessions speak in Italian so my partner didn’t quite understand Chef Rita was saying.

Chef Rita, does mention France and Poland but the account of the origins of babà is slightly twisted.

Chef Rita tells us that a sovereign who lived in Poland did not enjoy what his chefs had made as a dessert … a dry cake. The angry sovereign forcefully pushed the cake to the end of the table. And guess what?

At the end of the table was a bottle of rum and when the cake hit the bottle, the rum was spilled on the cake. In Chef Rita’s version of events the sovereign and his courtiers at the table were ‘inebriated’ by the combined fragrance of the cake and the rum and so the cook was given a reprieve and ordered to experiment with the ingredients and perfect the making of a rum-soaked cake.

At the time, this Polish sovereign was reading and enjoying the Arabian classic, A Thousand And One Nights. You can guess what’s coming … he called the dessert Ali Baba.

In a further twist to Chef Rita’s story, the Polish sovereign was later exiled to France. There the French chefs refined the recipe and soaked it in a syrup with alcohol of some sort, but it was only when it came to Naples that the Ali was dropped from Ali Baba and rum was added.

The Neapolitan chef’s story is very amusing, but there seem to be more realistic accounts about babà. Here are some:

  • Poland and Ukraine have a tall, cylindrical yeast cake called babka meaning “old woman” or “grandmother” and in most Slavic languages; babka is a diminutive of baba.
  • There are many similar versions to the Babka in Eastern Europe but also the Gugelhupf of Alsace Lorraine, France.
  • The deposed King Stanislas Leszczynska was exiled from Poland and came to France in the 1600s because Stanislas’s daughter married King Louis XV.
  • King Stanislas Leszczynska either returned from a trip to Poland with a Babka cake or he found a Gugelhupf version in the area. The alcohol he added to sweeten and moisten it may have been Hungarian sweet wine.
  • Stanislaus’ daughter’s pastry chef, Stohrer, went with her to Versailles and he added rum for the first time. Later he opened a pastry shop in Paris, Patisserie Stohrer and the Rum Baba became famous and claimed the French it as their own.
  • Rum Babà was brought to Italy by visiting French pastry chefs.
  • The legends vary in different texts but this one seems the most popular: Stanislas found the French cakes too dry and dipped them in rum. The chefs then experimented using brioche dough, and some added raisins.
  • In Larousse Gastronomique it says that a Parisian Maitre Patissier omitted raisins from the dough, giving the cake another shape and soaked it with a syrup made with secret ingredients and created and called it the Brillat-Savarin (celebrated French gourmet and writer on gastronomy), which later became simply savarin.
  • Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion says that in the 1840s one of the Julien family of Parisian pastry-makers, set his mind to experimenting with the baba recipe and he named this rich and tasty dessert in honour of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).

My partner used a combination of recipes but in the end this is what he did:

The recipe is for 6 babas and one small savarin, or 8 small babas

220g flour, 12g fresh yeast, salt, 50g sugar, 2 eggs, 70ml milk 100g butter

Stir the yeast, a little sugar in the warm milk together into a mixer bowl (to use with a dough hook in your electric mixer) and allow the yeast to dissolve and froth (about 5 minutes).

Mix in 25g of flour, place in a warm place until double in size.

Once the dough has risen, slowly start mixing the dough and gradually add the remaining flour, sugar, salt in a bowl and then add eggs, one at a time, blending after each.

Progressively add butter and beat it until the dough then increase speed to high speed and beat it until it is smooth and glossy and almost coming away from the sides.

Cover the dough with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm space for about 30 mins.

Divide dough among 8 greased dariole moulds, cover with a tea towel and set aside to prove until dough reaches tops of moulds. Use 180 C oven and bake until golden.

Turn out to cool completely, prick them all over with a skewer then place them in a large airtight container until required.

All of the recipes use an incredible amount of sugar (400g per litre), we used 2 litres of water 400g sugar 400ml rum and we found that sweet enough.

For the rum syrup, in a saucepan mix water, sugar, lemon zest from1 lemon and juice from 1/2 lemon and over medium heat stir until sugar dissolves, then simmer until syrupy (5 minutes). Add the rum and gently place the babas in the syrup, turning lightly until soaked through.

Drain them and leave until ready to serve.

I presented them with poached pears and egg custard.

To Make Custard:

3 egg yolks, tablespoons caster sugar infused with a vanilla bean, a pinch of salt 2 tablespoons of cornflour, 400 ml of milk, rind of 1 lemon, and a cinnamon stick.

In a saucepan, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and slowly add the flour, salt and a little milk to make a smooth paste – a whisk could be useful. If you do not have sugar that has been infused with a vanilla bean, use a little vanilla essence (not artificial).
Add the rest of the milk and incorporate to dilute the mixture evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler remove the rind in one piece from ½ lemon. Add this to the milk mixture. Add the cinnamon stick.
Use low – medium heat, stir it constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon and slowly bring it to the boil- the custard should have thickened.
To make a creamier pastry cream, add a few pieces of room temperature butter while the custard is warm. Add a bit at a time, and whisk until well blended.
Cool before using. To prevent a skin from forming, I place a piece of baking paper or butter paper on its surface.
You may like this Italian dessert:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

Moulinex for making vellutate (veloutés), baby food and Pappa al Pomodoro

The husband of a friend of mine recently had surgery to repair a hiatus hernia. His convalescence requires him to be on a special diet, starting with simple liquids until the inflammation subsides. He can then move on to purées for two weeks, followed by two more weeks of mushy food.

But it does not have to be too bad. Below is a photo of some Borsch I made using the lighter coloured beetroot.

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The gradual progression of the density of food and the complexity of ingredients seems very much like what babies experience when they are introduced to solids.

I was eight years old when my brother was born and I can remember how much my mother enjoyed cooking for my baby brother. She apparently had cooked the same things for me when I was his age and years later, I cooked the same things for my two babies.

Starting with simple, mainly liquid minestrine (light soups with simple ingredients) and pappe (pap made with bread), next came the purées and pastine (small shaped pasta), followed by semolina in brodo (broth). She also added puréed chicken or veal liver or finely minced chicken breast or white fish to broth and some overcooked white rice. She made vellutate (velouté, velvety soups), a chicken or veal broth with 1-2 puréed vegetables enriched with an egg yolk rather than cream, as cream was considered harder to digest. At an early age we were introduced to a dash of extra virgin olive oil and/or finely grated parmesan were introduced.

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My mother used a Moulinex (Mouli) rotary vegetable mill for making purées. This was perfect for making baby food. The Mouli was also used for us older folk (father, mother and me and guests also) to make vellutate, not just with vegetables, she also used pulses – dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. The mushroom vellutata was pretty good.

Pulses were considered too difficult for babies to digest. They had to wait until they’d grown up a little. Basically, you can turn  any left over vegetables into a good looking, tasty vellutata.

My mother was pregnant when she left Italy and may have brought the Mouli with her from Trieste (where we lived before we came to Australia), but maybe these made in France appliances were available in Adelaide in 1956 when my brother was born. Unlike food processor or a blender which blend the whole vegetable a Mouli purées the vegetables, leaves the skins behind and it’s the skins that are considered more difficult to digest. It is perfect for making Passata di Pomodoro.

Semolina cooked in meat broth was also a household favourite, with a bit of parmesan, of course. A light soup, a minestrina, made by puréeing one or two vegetables, beginning with the ones that were considered to be the easiest to digest at first – zucchini, green beans, carrots, pumpkin or potato.

A little spinach came later, but always, the minestrina was finished off with a little drizzle of oil. As a variation and for health – fish was supposed to help develop intelligence, she used to make minestrine using white fish, which also contained either puréed potatoes or tiny pastina shapes – stelline (little stars).

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I still have my Mouli tucked away in the cupboard where I keep appliances that I seldom use, but keep just in case I ever need them again, alongside my potato ricer and a vintage Bialetti electric pasta machine designed to mix the flour and eggs to form the dough and extrude the pasta through plastic dies of various shapes.

The potato ricer can also be used for squeezing other soft, cooked vegetables like carrots or pumpkin.

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There are various cake tins for making kuglof, panettone, savarin, pâte or terrines that are lined with pastry,  ornate copper jelly or ice cream molds.

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And what about the metal rods to shape and fry the cannoli shells – a Sicilian specialty – and some conical rods to make cream horns, the shape that Neapolitans use? There is a pastry and piping bag just in case I wish to make and fill cream puffs and an icing bag. Both bags are complete with nozzles of different sizes and shapes.

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Probably the least used object in that space is a jelly strainer bag made of very fine calico designed to strain the solids from meat or fish broths. The clarified liquid can be used to make clear jelly, such as in pork pies or glaze a terrine. And it is very useful for making fruit jelly… cook the fruit, strain out the pulp, skin and seeds and use the liquid to make the jelly. The bag rests in a stand and can strain overnight to get the maximum amount of liquid. I am guessing that it could be used to  drain cheese curds or yogurt, but I use a colander lined with muslin for that. The jelly bag was a present many years ago from a dear friend who brought it back from Copenhagen.

My brother and my son Alex both loved pappa di pane when they were babies but my daughter always preferred broth with pastina.  The broth was made with meat and a carrot and a piece of celery, but not onion – this is too heavy for babies. The carrot and celery were puréed once they were cooked and returned to the broth.

The pappa may not  sound very tasty or nutritious, it consists of white bread soaked in water and boiled till it becomes a smooth pap. But this is where the magic comes in. The pappa di pane was enriched with a little extra virgin olive oil and when the baby was a few weeks older a tiny bit of grated parmesan could be added.  The bread could also be boiled in a clear meat broth instead of water and when the baby is older by a few weeks  a little stewed tomato was mixed into it , maybe cooked with a basil leaf…. and the Mouli was used again to remove the skin and release the pulp.

You can see why Italian babies develop a palate – a taste for flavour!

Adults never seem to lose the taste for pappa especially if  they come from Tuscany. In a Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato), the soup is thickened with stale bread, and though this is a rather simple recipe, you can find various versions of it across Tuscany and some other regions of Italy.

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Italian food is all about good produce – good quality white bread, fresh basil, fragrant tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. The best pappa is made with ripe, full-flavored tomatoes, but it can also be made with good quality canned, crushed tomatoes. Whether you leave the tomatoes as they are our use your Moulinex is up to you.

Ingredients:

1 medium sized onion, finely diced, 2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped

extra virgin olive oil to stew the tomatoes, plus extra for drizzling

1k of fresh peeled and chopped tomatoes or a can (800g, good quality)

200g of 1-2 day old bread, crusts removed and cut into small chunks

2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or water

salt and pepper

fresh basil

 

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic until softened and fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and simmer until thick and most of the liquid has evaporated (like making a salsa).

Add the stock, the bread, seasoning and some basil and cook on low heat for about 10 more minutes, stir regularly to break down the bread into pappa.

Serve the pappa warm or at room temperature topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves.

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Special emphasis on Sicilian recipes within Italian regional cuisine in an Australian context