A friend who was going overseas gave me a packet of phyllo pastry (unopened) and not being a person who throws food away, I used it to encase a filling of a strucolo di pomi, an apple strudel as made in Trieste.
I have to say that I would much rather make my own pastry as I found the phyllo extremely annoying to use. It kept on breaking and although I covered it with a cloth it also dried out. There was no way that I could make a strudel of any size with it so I made a pie.
Walnuts roughly chopped and raisins (usually sultanas are used) soaked in Grappa.
Add cinnamon, apples, grated lemon rind and sugar.
Some chopped chocolate and lemon juice.
Toast some fresh breadcrumbs in some butter. Cool.
Line a baking pan with some baking paper, butter it. Place 5 sheets of phyllo pastry on top of the paper. Make sure that you brush each sheet of pastry with a mixture of some melted butter and oil (I use extra virgin olive oil as this is what is used to make the common pastry for the strucolo.
Place the filling into the baking tin lined with the pastry and cover with 5 sheets of phyllo, greased between each sheet as before.
Try to roll the edges as best you can. Phyllo is very brittle and I found this difficult to do. Brush with butter and oil mixture again.
I presented it warm with some home made mascarpone. This is not difficult to make, it is economical and you will end up with more than a 250g tub, the size for shop purchased mascarpone.
Looking at my stats for that post indicates that the interest for cooking rabbit must be fashionable at the moment. Is it because we are close to Easter and some in Australia consider rabbit to be a suitable Easter dish?
Chicken recipes seem also to be popular at Easter.
Not so in Italy.
If Italians are going to cook at home, they are more likely to cook spring produce – lamb or kid, artichokes, spring greens and ricotta is at its best.
If you live in Ragusa, Sicily, you are more likely to have a casual affair with family and friends and eat scacce or impanate – vegetables or vegetables and meat wrapped in oil pastry (see links at bottom of this post).
This is a common Italian saying that seems appropriate for Australia as well. Natalie con I tuoi, Pasqua con chi voi.
Christmas with yours (meaning family) and Easter with whom ever you choose.
There are several recipes for cooking rabbit and hare on my blog. There are also recipes for cooking chicken and I have chosen to list the chicken recipes that would be suitable to cook as chicken or to substitute the chicken with rabbit. If you are substituting rabbit for a chicken recipe, cook it for longer and you may need to add more liquid during the cooking process.
A present from the bakers from Zeally Bay. It came unexceptionally in the mail:
Panettone is traditionally eaten during the Christmas and New Year holiday period in Italy. Christmas is close. The best eat before date is 20th February so you will have plenty of time to eat it if you are lucky enough to buy one in Melbourne.
It is made with the best ingredients, and it is organic.
Zeally Bay were experimenting with making Panettone last year but they were not happy enough with the mixture in time for Christmas 2017. But this year – perfect.
Thank you Zealy Bay, I shall enjoy mine.
‘Like many great things, sourdough requires time, skill and patience’
The above quote is from Zeally Bay’s website.
Good luck to those of you who live in Victoria, and enjoy it if you are able to purchase one.
I almost always like to experiment with traditional recipes, often by including ingredients that traditionally are not tolerated by purist Italians. I persevere with my variations because I usually like the end result. It is a little like the situation with Sangiovese produced in Tuscany and the wine from Sangiovese grapes grown in Australia. I once had a lengthy discussion with a lovely wine bar owner in Firenze who could not believe that we would dare call our wine Sangiovese because Australia could not possibly have the traditional characteristics of the Tuscan region, the terroir and the climate. But how important are the skills of the winemaker and the subtle variations of in an aged old tradition?
I make panforte every year for Christmas. In traditional panforte recipes the most common nuts are almonds and hazelnuts. In recent times pistachio nuts, walnuts and macadamia have become common, especially in Australia.
We have also taken liberties with what we do with the nuts – whole or chopped nuts, skin-on, blanched or toasted? This time I used blanched almonds and hazelnuts with their skins – I blanched and toasted the almonds and toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed some of their skin off.
I like black ground pepper and plenty of it; traditional recipes do not add as much as I do, but then again I also like to add black pepper to my fruitcakes. The common spices are cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Some add coriander, and I too have done so in other panforte I have made.
I added cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate pieces. I wanted colour, richness and a slight bitterness, a contrast with the sweetness of the fruit. I also thought that the chocolate would melt and once cool would solidify (like in a Florentine biscuit) and make the panforte texture less candied. I used citron and orange peel, figs and ginger (in syrup, but I drained it). I have also eaten panforte with cranberries, cherries and pineapple. Where does one draw the line?
Could I still call what I made panforte? Not likely.
Zenzero (ginger) is not common in Italian cuisine and is not found in panforte, nor are dark chocolate pieces included in the traditional mix.
I used equal amounts of honey and sugar – the sugar, like toffee makes it brittle, the honey adds flavour and gives the panforte a softer, less brittle consistency.
A little flour and a little butter – the more flour you add, the firmer the texture of the panforte; the more butter the richer and shorter the mixture. I used the chocolate and too much of it and because of the chocolate’s fat high content I should not have used. the butter. My panforte did not end up as chewy as the classic variety of panforte.
I ended up with a fabulous tasting concoction – how could it not be with all of those good ingredients and flavours. The ginger and pepper makes it very more-ish. But is it panforte?
I enjoyed making it and shall enjoy eating it and sharing it with friends but not call it a panforte – an experiment perhaps, so that I could make use of all of the ginger in syrup that I had in my pantry.
A friend went overseas and left me with an incredible amount of candied ginger. I made a syrup and turned the candied ginger into moist ginger in a very flavourful syrup with the texture of honey.
370 g of nuts – almonds, hazelnuts
370 fruit – figs, citrus, lemon and orange peel
4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp ground spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, less quantity of cloves
150g plain flour
4 tsp cocoa powder 150g chopped dark chocolate
1 tsp butter (I used 1 tbs and this was too much)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey
Roughly chop the figs, place then into a bowl with the peel and drained ginger
In a different bowl put in the nuts.
Into a large heatproof mixing put in the flour, cocoa and spices. Combine these and stir in the fruit and the nuts.
Heat the oven to 200C
Line containers with baking paper.
Put the white sugar and honey into a pan and gently heat until it bubbles. Keep it on the gentle heat for another minute. Place in the butter.
Work quickly and stir the hot liquid into the other ingredients until well combined, then scrape into the prepared tins and press down. Bake the small ones for about 15mins and larger shapes about 30 minutes. They harden as they cool.
Cool the panforte before turning out. Wrap them in more baking paper until you are ready to gift wrap them in cellophane and sprinkle with icing sugar.
Giuggiulena/ jujiulena (can be spelled different ways), also called cubbaita by some Sicilians is a Sicilian sesame seed, toffee brittle made with sugar and honey, sesame seeds and some grated lemon or orange peel. My cousin Franca lives in Ragusa, Sicily and she is the champion giuggiulena maker. Especially in time for Easter and Christmas the extended family await their share – she is responsible for making it and then distributes it to the extended family (Franca is also sanctioned to make scacce for the extended family, just as my elderly aunt is the one to make fresh pasta and ricotta ravioli for all).
Because it keeps well, it is often served to visitors at other times of the year – it is particularly useful to have on hand in case unexpected guests come. As you would expect when giuggiulena is made in the various parts of Sicily, there are variations in the recipes – some use all sugar or all honey. My relatives in Ragusa add cinnamon and I have seen recipes where a pinch of cumin is added. Almonds or pistachio nuts can also be included, and possibly this explains why this brittle is also sometimes referred to as Sicilian torrone.
Sicilians believe that this sweet is a legacy from the Arabs of some 200 previous years of rule of Sicily and this is not surprising as countries in the Middle East also are fond of this sweet that is called by different names, for example in Lebanon and Cairo it is called simsimiyah. Greeks call it pasteli and they claim it as their own – a legacy from the Ancient Greeks.
The variety and quality of the honey you use will make a difference to the taste of giuggiulena.
I used this honey to make my latest batch:
I already have two posts on my blog about giuggiulena, one has Franca’s recipe and the other is from Dolcetti Pasticceria in Melbourne – Marianna is the proprietor and pastry chef and her parents are Sicilians.
Franca makes giuggiulena in large quantities – her recipe:
1k honey, 1 k sesame seeds, 4 cups sugar, ½ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, cloves, grated orange peel.
Melt the sugar in a large saucepan on very low heat, when sugar is melted add honey. Add sesame seeds and aromatics mix well. Remove the torrone from the heat quickly (or the sesame seeds my burn). Let cool slightly.
Pour mixture onto a tray with oiled baking paper or a marble that has been coated with oil. Spread evenly and quickly before the torrone hardens, cut into rectangular pieces before it cools and store in airtight containers. Franca often wraps pieces in cellophane paper before she distributes it.
250gms sesame seeds
250gms orange blossom honey
250gms whole raw almonds
zest of 1 orange (not too finely grated)
Combine the honey and sugar in a pot and stir until it begins to melt and soften.
Add the sesame seeds and almonds and cook, stirring continuously until it begins to bubble.
Let it cook and darken to a dark golden brown colour.
Add the orange zest.
Pour onto a sheet of baking paper lined with a touch of oil or oil spray or onto a lightly greased marble or granite surface.
Flatten it slightly with an oiled rolling pin.
Let it cool before cutting it into pieces.
Keep stored in airtight container.
Pasteli and Simsimiyah, variations from the Sicilian recipes
It is interesting that most recipes for pasteli and simsimiyah I have seen, suggest to lightly toast the sesame seeds separately. The hot sugar and honey toffee is then poured onto the toasted seeds and mixed.
You will notice that equal amounts of sugar and honey are used in the Sicilian recipes whereas some Greek and Middle Eastern recipes use more honey than sugar. The sugar will make them harder therefore use more honey for a softer more chewable version.
A little lemon juice is included in the sugar and honey mix in Greek recipes, whereas lemon juice, orange blossom water or vanilla is favoured in recipes from the Middle East – I rather like this variation.
The toffee and sesame mixture is usually poured onto a square tin lined with baking paper with a touch of oil or onto a lightly greased marble, granite surface. One recipe from Cairo suggested using a mixture of and oil to grease the surfaces. I like this variation as well.
Panettone’s popularity round the world keeps on growing and I have seen various packages of imported Italian Panettone in select shops. Panettone is traditionally eaten during the Christmas and New Year holiday period in Italy. Christmas is close.
Panettone was made famous and affordable when it was commercially produced (from the 1920’s) and railed all over Italy and now in many parts of the world.
The cheaper versions of light textured Panettoni (plural of Panettone) that you may be familiar are made with commercial yeast. The artisan and much more expensive varieties of Panettone are made with natural yeasts using the same traditional principles as making bread by the sourdough method.
When I first started playing around making bread at home I used commercial yeast (called lievito di birra in Italian) and my father used to remind me of how his mother made bread – she always saved a bit of uncooked dough from the loaf she was shaping, keep it in a jar with a lid and use it in the next batch of dough. He said that she never used commercial yeast. He was Sicilian and full of stories. He used to tell me about companion plantings and the effects of lunar cycles on plant germination, growth, and development.
But thinking myself a modern woman, most of the time I doubted the folk lore. It was only years later that I learned about natural leavening and how my grandmother was using lievito madre, ‘mother’ or a ‘starter’ in her baking – this is the wild yeast mixture that develops bacterial and lactic ferments that promote natural leavening. It is what imparts the bubbles in the texture of the dough and contributes to the characteristic aroma and flavour found in sour dough bread.
I like artisan breads – handmade and hand-shaped sourdough breads made with quality ingredients and integrity in bakeries like Zeally Bay Bakery. It is based in Torquay, but there are stockists in Melbourne and in some parts of regional Victoria.
‘Like many great things, sourdough requires time, skill and patience’
The above quote is from Zeally Bay’s website. John and Jan Farnan began making quality sourdough breads on a small scale in 2007. John, his son and a team of dedicated bakers have continued to develop an entire range of baked goods using Australian, certified, biodynamic and organic ingredients and applying traditional methods for making sourdough. The long fermentation process used in sourdough breads has many health benefits. Of interest is that the bakery is using the natural leaven culture that was began in 1981.
The reason that I mention Zealy Bay is that I have been privileged over time to try a whole range of their breads including their brioche and Easter buns and recently the Panettone that the bakery has been perfecting in time for Christmas… and it is great.
It was fragrant and had complex flavours, a result of using high-quality, natural ingredients and a long fermentation process. I could taste the natural flavours of the yeast, flour, eggs, butter and the fruit. Panettone made with sourdough if wrapped well, will remain fresh for days and just like in good bread, the flavours will mature and develop.
Being certified organic is a guarantee that the ingredients do not contain GMO’s, chemical pesticides or result in land degradation.
So, if you plan to have Panettone for Christmas it is worth considering if you will buy a local or imported one or make one at home?
The more affordable and commercially produced Panettone made by large production companies is bound to have preservatives and artificial flavours. If it is imported, you will have no way of knowing when it was baked and how it was transported.
The more expensive range of imported Panettoni are very likely to taste better than the cheaper versions. They are also more likely to have been made using the sourdough method – the older and more traditional method of making Panettone. Panettone is no longer just made in Milan. There are regional varieties made by artisans using local variations – for example some may have saffron, chestnuts, chocolate, figs rather than sultanas. The Sicilian versions are likely to contain higher amounts of citrus fruit, (this is grown extensively in Sicily). The artisan Panettoni may have been baked not as long ago as the more commercial ones and their expense may also reflect the cost of having been transported in faster and better climate-controlled conditions.
Few Italians bake Panettone at home and this is not surprising. Making Panettone at home requires patience and is a laborious process. It requires quite long leavening times over several days and three consecutive stages of mixing and kneading. You need good quality, gluten-rich flour to “support” such a rich dough.
The ‘mother’ or ‘starter’ has to be made well ahead of time and has to be mature, in strength, with the right degree of acidity. The bacteria contained in it must be nourished for fermentation, so every 3-4 days it is necessary to “refresh” the mother’s yeast and add some flour and water.
Ideally while it cools, the Panettone should be hung upside down to stretch and form a dome. Knitting needles are inserted all the way through the bottom half of the panettone between two objects of equal height or over a large saucepan and left to stretch at least six hours.
This spell of cold windy weather in Melbourne has encouraged me to make Castagnaccio, made with chestnut flour, raisins, grated lemon peel, fresh rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, a little sugar, pine nuts and walnuts, mixed with water and made into batter, then baked.
The recipe for making castagnaccio is on a blog post I wrote in May 2011 – as you can see I have been making it for a very long time.
I am now using Australian chestnut flour rather than the Italian imported variety.
During my last visit to France I travelled through Alsace with friends. This is France’s great wine growing region that produces great Rieslings and there were a couple of wineries I wanted to visit.
Located in a typical Alsatian, small village called Niedermorschwihr, I went to sample the wines of Albert Boxler.
Wine brings out the best in me and there I met a person who like me was also very interested in food and he asked me if I had visited Christine Ferber’s Au Relais des Trois Epis in the main street of this tiny town.
Until then, and much to my embarrassment I did not know about Christine Ferber or her recipe books, but I had certainly heard the names of some famous culinary greats who have championed her delicious creations such as Parisian pastry star Pierre Hermé, and chefs Alain Ducasse, the Troisgros family, and Antoine Westermann.
Christine Ferber is a master patissière but who is mostly recognised for her quality confitures – she is France’s revered jam maker.
Although her épicerie it is in the main street, it is so tiny and unassuming that I almost missed it.
Apart from the books she has written, the cakes, pastries, traditional breads and jams that she makes, it makes sense that in such a small town Ferber has other stock.
In her shop I saw ready-made/ take- away food, fruit and vegetables, newspapers, cheeses, small-goods, chocolates, pots, pans and local pottery.
One of the reasons that Ferber is so highly respected by her culinary peers is that she employs locals and sources local produce – she is from Niedermorschwihr and is a forth generation pastry chef who took over the family business from her father. Of course the fruit she uses for her confitures is seasonal and she makes it in small batches in her small commercial kitchen behind the shop. It is cooked in a relatively small copper cauldron and distributed into jars by hand so that the any solid fruit is evenly distributed in the jars. By making small batches of jam she is in better control of adding the correct amount of sugar – as we all know not all batches of the same type of fruit are the same – they vary in quantity and quality of ripeness , juice, sweetness and pectin. Ferber usually uses apples to add pectin to fruit lacking in pectin.
I suspect that Ferber also relishes the quality she achieves through her small-scale production and the satisfaction that comes from having contributed to the making of each batch of jam herself.
When I visited, Ferber had been making Blood orange marmalade – oranges sanguine in French. I an very fond of Blood Oranges and I was introduced to them as a child in Sicily. They are called arance sanguine in Italian. In Sicily, they are cultivated extensively in the eastern part of the island.
Marmelade d’oranges sanguines – Blood orange marmalade, 220 g ( See recipe below)
Description:The blood orange marmalade is very balanced and less bitter than traditional marmalade. Ingredients: Blood oranges, sugar, apple pectin, lemon juice. Origin: Alsace, France Brand:Christine Ferber Producer: Christine Ferber and her team prepare these wonderful jams in Niedermorschwihr, a small village nestled in the heart of vines. Not more than four kilograms of fruits are processed in copper pots for jams that have convinced the greatest chefs.
Blood Orange from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber
About 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) blood oranges, or 2 cups 1 ounce (500g/50cl) juice
1 3/4 pounds (750g) Granny Smith apples
4 2/3 cup (1 kg) sugar plus 1 cup (200 g)
3 cups 2 ounces (750 g/75 cl) water plus 7 ounces (200 g/20 cl)
Juice of 1 small lemon
Rinse the apples in cold water. Remove the stems and cut them into quarters without peeling them. Put them in a preserving pan and cover with 3 cups 2 ounces (75 g/75 cl) water.
Bring the apple mixture to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat. The apples will be soft.
Collect the juice by pouring the preparation into a chinois sieve, pressing lightly on the fruit with the back of the skimmer. Filter the juice a second time by pouring it through cheesecloth previously wet and wrung out, letting the juice run freely. It is best to leave the juice overnight refrigerated.
Measure 2 cups 1 ounce (500 g/50 cl) juice, leaving in the bowl the sediment that formed overnight, to have clearer jelly.
Squeeze the 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 kg) blood oranges. Measure 2 cups 1 ounces (500 g/50 cl) juice and put the seeds into a cheesecloth bag.
Rinse and brush the 2 oranges in cold water and slice them into very thin rounds. In a preserving pan, poach the rounds with 1 cup (200 g) sugar and 7 ounces (200 g/20 cl) water. Continue cooking at a boil until the slices are translucent.
Add the apple juice, 4 2/3 cups (1 kg) sugar, lemon juice, and seeds in the cheesecloth bag. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Skim. Continue cooking on high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Skim again if need be. Remove the cheesecloth with the seeds. Return to a boil. Put the jam into jars immediately and seal.
Yield: 6-7 8-ounce jars (220 g)
One of the delights of Alsace were the numerous storks.