TORTA PASQUALINA?

I would not blame you if you thought that Torta Pasqualina could be a cake called Pasqualina or made by a woman called Pasqualina.

But a torta in Italian isn’t just the word for a torte or cake that’s associated with a dessert, it can also be used to describe a tart or a pie.

A torta is very often baked with a pastry shell and can be filled with sweet ingredients, but however, it is more likely to be filled with savory ingredients and mainly with vegetables. Sometimes to differentiate a savoury pastry/ torta from the sweet it is called a salty torta – torta salata. The torta may have an enclosed pastry lid or it may have a lattice top pastry covering. A small torta is called a tortino.

Now that I have the torta issue, I am going to introduce you to another complication. Tarts in Italy are also called crostata . Think of a jam tart – crostata di marmellata (jam in Italian) or an apple tart. This tart consists of a filling over a pastry base with an open top or covered with a pastry latticed top. Crostata is the Italian word, and galette is the French.

I usually think of a torta as having a more substantial filling than a crostata. Picture the huge ornate pies served during the Renaissance banquets, that could be filled with live birds, hares and other creatures. Remember the nursery rhyme about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie? Once the live creatures were released and the entertainment was over, there was an edible torta encased at the bottom that the guests feasted on.

There are even more different names for baked pastry relating to particular Italian regions, each with their own food culture and titles for particular dishes. And within each region there would be local variations both of the dish but also the local name of that particular dish. For example, I am familiar with the particular covered pastries in Sicily that are called impanate. An impanata is a wrapper of dough that contains a lamb meat filling. It is popular during Easter (Easter spring lamb). The Impanata is especially popular at Easter in Ragusa, an Iblean city in Southern Sicily, where my relatives live.

Sicily had Arab settlers and later French and Spaniards. These cultures have meat and/or vegetable filled pastries. Think empanadas (South American /Spanish speaking countries) and pastilla or bastilla (Morocco and countries with Arab influences) and the fine pastry made by the French. The Sicilians used the term monsù cuisine for a fusion of refined French food with agriculturally-based Sicilian produce and recipes. Monsù is derived from the word monsieur – a French or French-trained male cook employed in the homes of the wealthy in Sicily (and southern Italy) during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

There are more savoury pastries in Ragusa. My relatives make and eat Scacce for Easter. A Scaccia consists of two or more layers of leavened dough around a filling – vegetables, especially eggplant and tomato and ricotta and sausage.

By now you may have guessed that Pasqua means Easter, so a Torta Pasqualina is an Easter pie. It is also a Torta di Verdura/Verdure (vegetable/vegetables). There are many variations of these torte cooked all over Italy. They are usually made with a variety of green leafy vegetables – spinach, cavolo nero, endives, chicory etc. The vegetables are braised first and then bound with eggs. Some may have a little cheese, placed into a pastry base and fully or partially covered with pastry. All these pies are very regional and with variations. The Torta Pasqualina is a variation of a Torta di Verdure that comes from Liguria. Genova is in Liguria and some call the Torta Pasqualina, a Torta Pasqualina Genovese.

This regional specialty differs from the usual Torta di Verdure because apart from containing eggs to bind the vegetable filling there are also whole eggs (or whole egg yolks) embedded in the centre of the filling and baked inside the pie. Torta Pasqualina becomes more spectacular than a Torta di Verdure and sometimes even more so when the ricotta that is part of the filling is placed in a layer on top of the green vegetables rather than being mixed in with the greens. The greater visual display is due to the eggs embedded in the white ricotta layer. When the pie is cut you will see the egg sliced through the middle. It is after all Pasqua, a festive occasion.

The original recipe for Torta Pasqualina contained artichokes with or without green leafy vegetables – silverbeet/chard, spinach. The pie is now usually made with puff pastry made with extra virgin olive oil or a mixture of butter and oil. In the past it was made with thirty-three sheets of very thin pastry, one for every year of Christ’s life. Many recipes divide the dough into seven pieces and roll it into seven layers, each layer coated with oil before the next layer is placed on top. Usually there are four layers on the bottom (needs to be thicker than the top to hold the filling) and three on top. You could try using Phyllo pastry, but I would use more than seven layers of pastry especially if the filling is substantial.

What I particularly like in the Torta Pasqualina is the use of sweet marjoram, a herb that is quite common in Liguria, especially in Genova. Nutmeg compliments ricotta and spinach, so add this as well. I have seen many recipes that do not use either marjoram or nutmeg and I dismiss those recipes.

I usually don’t weigh ingredients when I cook but if you use the following quantities for a base and pastry, you will be OK.

It will not matter if you make the pastry before the filling. Thy both can be made in advance and rest.

The filling:

1kg of silverbeet/chard/ spinach green leafy vegetables – washed cut into small bits and well drained as you don’t want too much moisture when sauté them.

8 eggs – 2 to bind the greens and 6 to place inside for a visual effect chopped sweet marjoram – to taste but is like it and use about 8 sprigs one onion and a little garlic to taste – all finely sliced/chopped.

80g grated parmesan

700g of ricotta (not from a tub)

salt, pepper, a little nutmeg

extra virgin olive oil (½ cup) and a good sized lump of butter to braise the greens – I am always generous but you don’t have to be.

Cooking the filling:

Sauté the onions and garlic, add the greens and marjoram, some salt and pepper and braise them until they wilt – 15 – 20mins

Make sure that they are not wet or the pastry will be soggy. Either evaporate the liquid while cooking the greens or drain the vegetables and then evaporate the liquid.

Leave to cool.

When ready to assemble the pie combine the vegetables with ricotta, two eggs,  nutmeg and parmesan. Check the seasoning.

For the pastry:

I like to make my own pastry, but you may prefer to use a commercial variety. I also enjoy using my fingers, however food processors work well.

In this recipe I have used standard cup measurements and approximate weight, but let your intuition guide you and vary the amounts as needed. Different flours will absorb differing amounts of liquid I have estimated the approximate amount of water which could be used. Pastry making is also influenced by the weather, use cold water, and rinse your hands to cool them under the cold-water tap and keep the pastry in a cool place when you allow it to rest.

The pastry should be compact and may not need any extra liquid, but if you feel that you will not be able to roll it out, add more oil or a little water.

400g/3 cups and 1 tbsp ’extra.

quarter teaspoon of salt, to taste

4 tablespoons good quality virgin olive oil plus a few tablespoons for  glossing the top of the torta

half a glass of water

Process:

Sieve the flour into a big bowl and mix in the salt.

Make a well in the flour and add the oil and cold water gradually.

Stir till the pastry comes together (adding a little more liquid or flour depending on which is necessary).

Knead very quickly to make a light elastic ball of dough but don’t overwork.

Cover in clingfilm and let it rest half an hour in the fridge.

I also have satisfactory results with the recipe for Pasta Frolla Fatta Con Olio (Short pastry made with oil). This is a much richer pastry and it contains eggs. Link is at the bottom of this post.

Assembling the pie:

I like to sprinkle some breadcrumbs (fresh bread is OK) to help absorb some of the moisture from the vegetables.

Cover the pastry base with the filling. Dig 6 holes in the freshly placed filling at equal distances from each other, crack an egg into each hole and on each yolk add a pinch of salt and a dollop of butter.

Gently fold the edges of the pastry and seal the pie. Paint the top of the pie with oil (or some beaten egg). Score a pattern on the top of the pie with a sharp knife. You could also consider placing a mark on the pastry where the eggs are embedded so that when you cut the pie you will be successful in cutting through the baked egg.

Cook at 180° degrees for about an hour.

The pie is either eaten warm or cold. It makes fabulous picnic food., perhaps on Pasquetta – literally “little Easter,” but is taken to mean Easter Monday.

***The link below is for a Torta di Verdura with a mix of green leafy vegetables. It also has  the recipe for the short pastry.

TORTA DI VERDURA (A vegetable flan or pie)

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)

 

TRADITIONAL FOOD – Festive Season

It is far too late to write about traditional recipes for the upcoming festive season.

I have to admit that usually my month of December is just so busy that I don’t have time to investigate new recipes. I tend to rely on old favourites that I can cook with my eyes closed. Some of these old favourites are:  Pasta Con Le Sarde; baccalà cooked in various ways;  a risotto or pasta with squid and black ink with green peas; mussels; tuna steaks also cooked in different ways: Insalata Russa; grilled seasonal vegetables like zucchini, peppers and eggplants; and for dessert, there is either Zuppa Inglese with Arkemes (Alchermes) or a Sicilian Cassata., made with ricotta.

You will find all of these recipes on my blog.

This year I am in Adelaide for Christmas. I had given my family in Adelaide some options of what I could cook  for Christmas Eve, but they all asked for two old favourites –  Baccalà Mantecato and Caponata Catanese as part of the antipasti….. same old, same old.

The Baccalà Mantecato is from the Veneto region in Italy and something that was very common in Trieste (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) where my parents and I lived when I was a child.  The baccalà is soaked in water for 3 days, then poached in milk, bay and a couple of garlic cloves, drianed and creamed with extra virgin oilve oil. It is spread on crostini – bread brushed with oil and toasted. The crostini my mother made were toased in a frypan and never in the oven. Crostini made with polenta are also favourites… but who has the time?

In the photo below is the soaked baccalà.

The Caponata Catanese is from Catania in Sicily.  Unlike the Caponata from Palermo that is made with eggplants. This version is made with peppers as well as eggplants and the usual caponata ingredients of green olives, celery, a bit of tomato paste and the agro-dolce, (a sweet and sour sauce). This is topped with pine nuts and basil.

So let’s just share a recipe for Christmas, but remember that at this time of year it is hot in Australia (because it is summer), if it is winter where you are, you may not even consider cooking it. It is braised lentils cooked wit Cotechino…..Cotechino con le lenticchie.

Although I would never serve this at midnight as was customary in some parts of Emilia-Romagna where the dish originates, it is an interesting choice. The Cotechino is a rich seasoned pork sausage that I poach with the lentils. The thick  sausage is then sliced and served on top of a bed of braised lentils.

The green lentils that resemble the shape of coins are intended to bring you prosperity in the New Year.

COTECHINO AND LENTILS; NEW YEAR’S EVE and CHRISTMAS

New Year’s Eve Baccalà Mantecato

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

CAPONATA recipes:

THE MANY VERSIONS OF CAPONATE

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

CAPONATA FROM PALERMO (made with eggplants)

CAPONATA DI NATALE (Christmas, winter caponata made with celery, almonds and sultanas)

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA: two days before Christmas

Photos of the caponata cooked in Melbourne and brought to Adelaide. Once again I used my heavy large wok to cook each of the vegetables separately.

The Ugly Ducklings in Italian Cuisine (Scarrafoni in cucina)

Late last year, I was contacted by Massimiliano Gugole from SBS Radio and asked if I would like to contribute to an SBS program on Season 2 of The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine.              

The idea of the program is to showcase nice tasting but nasty looking Italian dishes. Massimiliano wanted to interview me about a particular dish from South Eastern Sicily that starts out looking gruesome but ends up tasting glorious. I think he must have found me through a recipe I posted on my  blog about this particular dish, which one of my aunts used to make when we visited Ragusa for our Sicilian summer holidays.

My recipe and the Ugly Duckling interviews in English and Italian are entitled Zuzzu, described on the SBS website as an ancient, pork terrine that uses everything of the pig, but the oink!

I mentioned to one of my friends in Canberra that I had been interviewed for this program and with his wicked sense of humour said: “Surely the ugly duckling reference has got nothing to do with you!”

Here’s what SBS had to say about Season 1 followed by Season 2:

About Season 1

SBS has today launched its first ever bilingual podcast series – The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine (Scarrafoni in cucina) in English and Italian – celebrating the most delicious, non-Instagrammable Italian dishes that might never have come across your plate.

Over the course of six episodes, the series will follow some of Australia and Italy’s most well-known chefs and food critics, including acclaimed restaurateur and food personality Guy Grossi, celebrity chef Poh Ling Yeow, and food blogger and author Emiko Davies, as they explore and celebrate Italy’s least appetizing specialties.

Podcast host Massimiliano Gugole, from SBS Italian, said: “Italy is a country of beauty, with its food celebrated all over the world, but this podcast will introduce listeners to some of our lesser-known culinary treasures, with a healthy dose of irony thrown in for good measure.

About Season 2

SBS’s first bilingual podcast is back for seconds! Season Two of The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine (Scarrafoni in Cucina) returns in Italian and English to introduce six new dishes for the adventurous eater such as sea urchin gonads, stew with chocolate and wild boar, and risotto with a stinging weed.

A line-up of new guests will share their expertise in the world of Italian food including award-winning Melbourne chef Alberto Fava, Sicilian food truck owner Pino D’Addelfio, TV chef, author and former Food Director of Australian Women’s Weekly, Lyndey Milan, and the inimitable queen of TV cooking, Nigella Lawson.

SBS Italian Producer Massimiliano Gugole said the podcast started from a love of weird and wacky food.

“During the first season I talked about a typical dish from Verona – pearà. Not even people from neighbouring cities knew about it. When they saw a picture, they thought it looked like vomit but I, like all Veronese, love it!” said Gugole.

Looking past the superficial, Season Two of The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine will delve deeper into how these unique, local dishes became a proudly acquired taste.

“These dishes are not the celebrities – the pizzas and pastas – but they have strong links to families, towns and history. My intention is to tell their stories,” Gugole said.

“On Instagram, all food is perfect: perfect framing, perfect garnishes, but my research shows that’s not what makes food delicious. Nigella Lawson even once said, ‘brown food tastes the best’.”

Episode three in English features TV cooking royalty Nigella Lawson, who talks about stinging nettle risotto and her special relationship with 98-year-old Italian-British food writer Anna Del Conte. Lawson cites Del Conte as her only culinary influence, apart from her mother. In the Italian version of this episode, we hear from the doyenne herself, Anna Del Conte.

Conte and Lawson join guests including blogger and Instagram sensation Emiko Davies, environmental scientist and sea urchin expert Dr Paul Carnell, Italian food writer Chiara Cajelli, and research scientist Dr Maurizio Rossetto from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, as well as restaurateurs from Italy and Australia, university professors, medieval food fanatics and more.

The podcasts in both season 1 and Season 2 are worth listening to and are very entertaining.

BS Italian Executive Producer, Magica Fossati, says differences between the Italian and English episodes on the same topic are an interesting by-product of having the same conversation with bilingual guests, but both versions are worth listening to as they complement each other.

“I heard some Italian language teachers recommended our first season to their students because it’s easier to understand and study Italian with English context,” she said.

Both English and Italian speakers can look forward to hearing a fresh perspective on the world of lesser-known Italian dishes in season two, available on the SBS Radio app and SBS Italian website. Episode one launches on February 1, recipes for the dishes featured in the series can also be found on SBS Food.

My recipe of Zuzzu and is in Italian and English.

I have listened to both podcasts about Zuzzu.
The Italian version is different to the English. One happened before anyone ate it, the other after people tasted it. The Italian version is probably more amusing and includes commentary from Lisa Ferraro, who used to live in Melbourne and one of the two who instigated Bar Idda, a Sicilian restaurant in Brunswick East, Melbourne. Lisa now lives in Rome and organises travel tours in Sicily.

Compliments to Massimiliano Gugole who did an excellent job interweaving other speakers in the interviews.

Listen or follow The Ugly Ducklings of Italian Cuisine in the SBS Radio app or your favourite podcast app, to hear all episodes in the series.

Find a collection of recipes featured in the first series on the

SBS Food website, including this recipe for my Sicilian pork terrine (Zuzzu)

Here are some photos about the preparation of Zuzzu:

The head

The head in the pan

The boiled meat drained

The different parts of meat, separated (2 photos above)

Dealing with the jelly (2 photos above)

Dealing with the terrine (2 photos above)

A tasty sauce to pour on top of the Zuzzu or to serve with it, can be made with a mixture of chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil, some lemon juice, salt and either pepper or chili flakes. At times, I also like to add a few chopped leaves of fresh garlic or mint in mine, but this is optional. The dressing can be as thick or as thin as you wish to make it.

Links:

https://www.sbs.com.au/language/italian/en/podcast/the-ugly-ducklings-of-italian-cuisine

https://www.sbs.com.au/language/italian/en/podcast-episode/zuzzu-an-ancient-sicilian-pork-terrine-that-uses-everything-but-the-oink/okrixs5gn

The recipe has been called Pork Terrine…. not quite right, but maybe no one would look at a recipe mad with pig’s head. Brawn may have been a better title.

https://www.sbs.com.au/food/social-tags/ugly-ducklings

My original posts about this dish:

GELATINA DI MAIALE. Pork Brawn

GELATINA DI MAIALE and HAPPY BIRTHDAY BAR IDDA (Buon Compleanno Bar Idda).

DELICIOUS ITALIAN SUMMER FAVOURITES

November and December are my least favourite months, they are always very busy and although much cooking gets done there is not the time to take photos or to write about it.

Although I am not one to stick to particular traditional, festive foods over the Christmas period there were some occasions where I was asked to make a particular dish.

 Zuppa Inglese and Caponata Catanese must have made such a favourable impression on many friends because there are the preferred requests.

 

The Zuppa Inglese for one of the shared Christmas lunch this year was topped with Chantilly cream, preserved cherries soaked in Maraschino and bits of Torrone with pistachio. Instead of  sherry  traditionally used in English trifle,  Alchermes/Alkermez is the traditional, ancient Florentine liqueur drizzled over the Savoiardi biscuits. I spooned egg custard between the layers.

Recipe for Zuppa Inglese:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

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

The essential ingredients of my Caponata Catanese, a Sicilian caponata from Catania, are eggplant, red and green peppers, celery and onion with green olives (I also added capers). Each of the vegetables in the caponata are separately cooked in olive oil and not mixed together until some sugar is caramelised before adding white wine vinegar that is evaporated and finally some tomatoes that are cooked till reduced to a cream.

Caponata is eaten cold.

I scattered this one with fresh leaves of basil, pine nuts and breadcrumbs toasted in some extra virgin olive oil. The breadcrumbs added the crunch.

Recipes for Caponata:

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

A MOUNTAIN OF CAPONATA  two days before Christmas

CAPONATA SICILIANA (CATANESE  Caponata as made in Catania)

Home-made egg mayonnaise and  Zogghiu, a garlic, mint and parsley green dressing are others; both sauces are fabulous for almost anything, the green sauce is particularly good for grilled food.

Both were excellent with crayfish and the green sauce was particularly good with grilled squid.

Recipes:

ZOGGHIU (Sicilian pesto/dressing made with garlic, parsley and mint)

GRILLED CALAMARI (CALAMARI ‘NTA BRACI (Sicilian) – CALAMARI ALLA BRACE (Italian)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

I do like a meat broth and one dish I had not made for a very long time was  Stracciatella, so quick and easy and so delicious.

Stracciatella can refer to a Roman soup, a soft and creamy, fresh cheese from Puglia, or a gelato flavour that originated in Lombardy.

The soup is named for the beaten eggs, which look like little straccetti (shredded little rags). The centre of the cheese also has straccetti – heavy cream with shards of soft, fresh mozzarella type cheese.

It is simply meat broth with eggs, chopped fresh parsley, grated nutmeg and Parmigiano.

To prepare, bring the meat broth to a boil.  Using a fork beat the eggs with chopped parsley, nutmeg and grated Parmigiano and add the mixture to the broth over low heat, whisking constantly. You can make the soup as thick as you like.

Although the Christmas period is over, all of the recipes I have provided are summer recipes.

I hope that you enjoyed your Christmas period.

VITELLO TONNATO MADE WITH GIRELLO (cut of meat)

Vitello Tonnato was a festive dish in my childhood home and it has remained so in mine.

In my childhood home, it was presented as an entrée when we had guests.

Nowadays, of course, very few of us have definite first and second courses. Anything goes! I am smiling as I write this – doing away with some conventions isn’t a bad thing. But years back, I would never have ordered a risotto, soup or pasta as my main course! Never.

When my mother made Vitello Tonnato, she always pot roasted the veal. The veal was cooked slowly with the usual broth vegetables – an onion cut in half, a carrot and a stick of celery. There were also herbs – bay leaves, a bit of rosemary and mainly sage. Sage always with veal and pork, my mother said. The moisture was supplied by some white wine and stock, or a little water and a stock cube. The vegetables were blended into a little home-made ,egg mayonnaise, some of the very flavourful and naturally jellied gravy/sauce, 2-3 hard boiled eggs, capers and some anchovies. This was the Tonnato sauce; tonno is ‘tuna’ in Italian.  My mother did not use a Girello because she thought that cut of meat would be too dry. She preferred a boned leg of veal. This was yearling beef in Australia.

The finely sliced meat was placed in 4 to 5 layers, each topped with some of the sauce and placed into a serving dish with sides. On top there was a layer of the yellow egg mayonnaise with some sliced hard-boiled eggs and maybe some giardiniera a colourful decoration of Italian garden vegetables pickled in vinegar, that added texture and sourness. Sometimes there were anchovies or capers, or sliced carrot as was one of an earlier versions of Vitello Tonnato.

And it always tasted very good.

Vitello Tonnato originates from Piedmont, but it has become a widely eaten Italian dish.

If you have eaten Vitello Tonnato in an Australian restaurant, you may have had it in a single layer with the tonnato sauce on top. My taste buds and sense of smell are pretty sharp, but rarely have I tasted complex flavours in the Tonnato sauce. There have, however, been a few good ones.

There are many recipes both in the Italian language books/web and many available in English. In most recipes the meat is what I would call boiled or poached. The cut of meat suggested in recipes is mostly Girello, the long, round, nut or eye cut of silverside that is extremely lean that is perfect for slicing. It is found outside of the rear leg.

Even though you may poach the Girello in liquid it can be dry. My mother was sometimes right.

But there is a way to keep it moist, and that is to poach it on a gentle simmer rather than on medium or high heat. The other trick is not to cook it for long and then leave it in the poaching liquid to finish off cooking. If you follow this process, the meat will remain pink and firm. I leave the meat in the poaching liquid to keep it moist until I am ready to slice it.

These days I do use a Girello and I like to sear the meat lightly before I poach it to add colour and taste. Interestingly enough, I have not found many recipes that sear the meat first and perhaps it is why I like and identify with the recipes for Vitello Tonnato from Guy Grossi and Karen Martini. Even Ada Boni just poaches it.

Most recipes add anchovies to the poaching liquid, but I prefer to add them to the Tonnato sauce.

The Meat

1.5k – 1.8k veal/yearling Girello,

1 onion, 1 carrot, 2 celery stalks and some of the tender light green leaves, all thinly sliced,

6 fresh bay leaves, a few sage leaves and whole peppercorns and if you wish, add about 3 juniper berries, or cloves or a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a little salt,

600 ml dry white wine, 250 ml (1 cup) white wine vinegar, 250 ml (1 cup) of chicken stock: this quantity should just cover the meat when it is poaching. Add more of the liquid if necessary.

Extra virgin olive oil for searing the meat and the vegetables.

The Tonnato sauce

4 anchovy fillets, 4 hard boiled eggs, 2 tins (each 425g) of drained good quality, tinned tuna in oil, 2 tablespoons of capers (in this case I don’t mind using the pickled capers), 200 ml of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of one lemon.

Sear the meat on all sides in some oil, remove from the saucepan and sear the vegetables by tossing them around in the pan for about 5 minutes.

 Add the wine, vinegar and stock, herbs, pepper and spices and bring to the boil.

Add the meat, make sure there is enough liquid, and simmer over low heat. Cook it for about 15-20 minutes. Switch it off and leave the meat to keep on cooking and cool in the liquid.

Store the meat in the liquid until you are ready to slice it and assemble it but remove a cup of the poaching stock to reduce to about ¼ of a cup. This is added to the Tonnato sauce.

For the Tonnato sauce, blend the tuna, anchovies, drained capers, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, the reduced liquid and hard-boiled eggs. I also like to add some of the drained celery leaves and sage. I nearly always have some home-made egg mayonnaise in the fridge and also add some of this if the sauce is too thick, otherwise use a little more of the poaching liquid. The sauce needs to be the consistency of mayonnaise.

Slice the veal thinly across the grain. I like to make little mounds of meat for each person, spreading each slice of meat with a little sauce and repeating the process. Depending on the width of the meat each mound will have 2-4 slices.

Top each mound with more sauce. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Bring the Vitello Tonnato to room temperature and arrange some sliced boiled eggs and capers on top. A little bit of greenery around it is also good.

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

VITELLO TONNATO

 

ZELTEN from the Trentino, Alto Adige region of Italy

I have never made traditional dishes for Christmas obligatory and my menu choices depend on the people I am sharing Christmas with. Last year it was fresh seafood – oysters, prawns and crayfish – simply served and delicious. This year main course is likely to be duck with cherries marinated in grappa. What comes before and after is to be yet decided.

When my parents were alive, our family Christmas meal was likely to be a combination of offerings from Sicily and Trieste, either a caponata or an insalata russa for the finger food, a good brodo  with tortellini for firsts, while the second course varied from year to year, and perhaps there was a cassata or a zuppa inglese for dessert. Only fish on Christmas eve was obligatory, but there was never a set Christmas menu, as there tends to be in many Australian or Italian households.

You won’t find me cooking turkey because it is too much like chicken, for me. As for dessert – I am not a fan of Christmas pudding and the only parts of pavlova I like are the berries and cream. I have made too many cassate (plural of cassata) and panforte on too many occasions to repeat them or appreciate them as I once did at Christmas.

This year, probably the only traditional Christmas dish I’ll be eating is Zelten, a typical sweet, fruit and nut bread/cake of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy.

I’ve looked at numerous recipes and background information about Zelten and found that there are many variations in the recipes. Zelten began from humble beginnings, a bread dough enriched with the typical local dry fruit and spices, the quantity and quality of fruit being poor in some (as in Trentino) and extravagant in others (as in Balzano).

The numerous recipes I read varied greatly. For example, walnuts are the principal nut used in all the recipes, but some variations contain almonds and/or hazelnuts/ pine nuts. Apart from figs and dried grapes, there are recipes with dates and/or unspecified dried fruit. To me using dates and mixed fruit do not sound typical of Tyrol.

All recipes include flour, either wheat or rye (some use very little flour, other recipe have large amounts of dough, some use bread dough). There are varying amounts of eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, milk or none of these. The fruit can be steeped in rum, but some recipes specify grappa, so as you can see the recipes vary greatly and some are much more modern.

I can understand the many variations of Zelten in Tyrol and why the recipes differ from family to family and location. Tyrol (German: Tirol) is historically a multi-national region located in the heart of the Alps of Austria and Italy. It is segmented by the compass into North, East and South Tyrol. North and East Tyrol lie in Austria and South Tyrol is in Italy, it is also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige). Bolzano, is the capital.

I was in this region two years ago and enjoyed its many special features: stunning scenery especially in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites with their extraordinary mountainous and rocky peaks, the distinct architecture of cities and ancient villages where people speak German or Austro-Bavarian-German and Italian, and obviously, the culinary delights that reflect these cultures.

Zelten comes from the German selten and it means sometimes/on occasions, and as the name indicates it was only prepared on special occasions like Christmas, in winter with only dried fruit and nuts available.

I finally settled on making a version of a Zelten from South Tyrol and Bolzano, characterized by of large amounts of fruit – mainly figs and a selection of other dried fruit, pine nuts and almonds. I conducted some research into the fruit that is grown in the region and omitted apricots, peaches or plums because these stone fruits are more recent additions to the orchards. I used dried apples, pears, sultanas, strawberries (there are wild strawberries in the woods), a few dried plums and only a little orange peel as I did not imagine citrus to be very common in the area.

I chose grappa rather than rum, and plenty of it to soak the fruit and to moisten the cake once it was made.

I used no butter, eggs, milk or yeast and I used rye flour because wheat does not grow well in wet and cold climates. I used honey and not sugar.

I divided the mixture and baked two round cakes.

Eventually, I combined a couple of recipes and came up with:

750g dried fruit – 400g were figs, the rest as described above
350g nuts – 120g walnuts, the remainder almonds and pine nuts
200g honey
grappa – about ½ litre to soak the fruit and another ½ litre to soak into the baked cake
ground cinnamon, cloves, grated lemon peel
rye flour

I combined coarsely cut fruit and chopped nuts in a large container with a cover, added the grappa and left it for four days, stirring it occasionally.
I added the honey and spices and gradually mixed in as much rye flour as it would absorb. The principal recipe suggested to use 5% of the total weight of the ingredients, I calculated this to be about 230g. I mixed a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour as the only leavening, there was no leavening mentioned in the recipes that I sighted that used rye flour.
I lined two round baking tins with brown paper and baking paper. The recipe did not specify heat or time, but I baked them at 200 degrees for 60 minutes. Although my cakes are round, my understanding is that in different parts of Tyrol oval or heart shapes are also common.

I wrapped the cakes in  calico( pudding cloth) and I have been dousing it  with more grappa daily.

I took a cake to friends last night and we cut it. It is heavy, not sweet and steeped in grappa. It does taste good.

Back goes the calico wrapping. With all that alcohol and  fortress -like wrapping, the Zelten will last for a long time.

Grappa is made with grape skins. The wines and grappa from this region is unique.

Recipes of food mentioned in this post.

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

CASSATA Explained with photos

SICILIAN CASSATA and some background (perfect for an Australian Christmas)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time; Russian salad)

 

PUTIZA, from La Cucina Tipica Triestina

One of my readers has asked for this recipe and because she does not seem to be very familiar with the English language, I am providing a screen shot of the recipe from one of my books about La Cucina Triestina.

Trieste, Ponte Rosso

It is from this book:

The recipe is for Putiza. It is described as a Panettone ripieno (filled).

Putiza is called Potica in Slovenia.

It is a delicious, rich, yeast bread dough stuffed with walnuts, chocolate, pine nuts and  sultanas soaked in rum. It can be made at home, but is easily found in many pastry shops especially during Easter and Christmas.

There are no photos in the book, but this is what it looks like:

See also:

PRESNIZ and GUBANA (Easter cakes in Trieste)

Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

In memory of Zia Licia, my aunt from Trieste – recipe for Fritole

My last surviving aunt, Zia Licia, died last week. She died in Adelaide and the funeral was a couple of days ago, but because I live in Melbourne I was unable to attend.

I was visiting friends in Pambula, on the south coast of NSW when my brother rang  last week to give me the news about Zia’s death and since her death, I have been remembering many things.

Zia Licia was from Trieste and was married to my mother’s brother, Pippo.

My mother’s family moved to Trieste from Catania, Sicily, when my mother was five years old.  She lived in Trieste till my father, mother and I come to Australia. I was eight years old but my memories remain strong.

I consider myself very lucky to have roots in Trieste, Sicily and Australia.

Just like my Sicilian aunts, Zia Licia liked to cook.

 

 

When we came to Adelaide we shared a house for a while with my  Zia Licia and her husband, Zio Pippo.

My mum did not cook much in Trieste, my parents went out to eat or  Zia Renata, my other aunt in Trieste would often cook.

When we came to Australia, mum and Zia Licia cooked together. It was a form of entertainment… what else could you do in a new country when things were so different? Of course my uncle also enjoyed cooking and because he worked on weekdays, he joined in on weekends. There were the three of them on a Sunday morning cooking up new things for the guests we often invited for Sunday lunch.  Those lunches were special, and I was required to help in the kitchen.

Maybe that is where my love of cooking comes from?

My Zia Licia had a good sense of humour and a way of laughing that brought fun into any situation; as expected we all  laughed a lot during these cooking sessions.

One of the very first things that I can remember really enjoying  was the making of Fritole (Frittole in Italian, from fritto, fried).

So what are they?

Fritole are fragrant  and flavourful balls of sweet dough. Once fried they are  coated in granulated sugar (and cinnamon, optional); the spoonfuls of batter were once most likely fried in lard but in recent years, olive oil.  Some may use vegetable oil but I think that olive oil has a special fragrance that enhances the taste of Fritole.

The batter is made with flour, yeast, milk, eggs, sugar, lemon zest,  raisins or sultanas soaked in sufficient dark rum (sometimes in grappa) to rehydrate the raisins. In most recipes  pine nuts are also added, but not always.

Frìtole are also a well established sweet in Venezia, especially during  the Carnevale. The Venice Carnivale takes place each year in February. It begins around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French or Martedi Grasso in Italian).

Trieste and Venice are neighbours, so sharing this recipe is not surprising, but in Trieste Fritole are popular at Christmas time. Bakeries, pastry shops and Christmas street markets all have Fritole and they are also made at home.

We had no recipe for Fritole, so we relied heavily on Zia Licia’s memory of making Fritole because Zia  would have helped her mother make them in her Triestinian kitchen. Having eaten them very frequently in Trieste we also relied on our collective memories of how Fritole should look, taste, smell and feel…and always eaten warm and fragrant – so important when it comes to reproducing recipes.

I cannot remember how the adults felt about the Fritole, but I remember enjoying them very much as a child.

In those days we did not add pine nuts to our Fritole; we had no access to them and it was a nut not familiar in Australia at that time.

I found various recipes for Fritole in the large number of books about the cooking of Trieste (in Friuli Venezia Giulia) and in the Veneto regions of northern Italy and  the recipe below is probably  the closest to what we would have made. The instructions in the ancient Italian recipe I’ve chosen, are not very specific because it is assumed that cooks would know what steps to follow, so I  will spell them out.

Ingredients: 3eggs, 30g fresh yeast, 400g plain flour, cinnamon, milk, 50g sugar, lemon peel (grated), rum, 50g raisins (or sultanas), 40g pine nuts.

To the above, add a little salt to the batter. If you wish to use dry yeast, 10g should be sufficient. As for the milk , you will need at least 2 cups, but maybe more – the mixture should be like a thick batter.

Place the raisins or sultanas in a small bowl and pour some dark rum or grappa over them (to cover). Set aside for a few hours or overnight.

Place about a cup of warm milk in a mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Mix well to incorporate the yeast into the milk. Add about half of the flour and mix it in gently. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set aside to rest for half an hour. The mixture will bubble as the yeast activates.

Drain the raisins or sultanas and reserve any rum in a small bowl. Toss them around in a little flour to coat lightly; this will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the Fritole as they fry.

When the yeast mixture has risen, use a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate all the ingredients  – the remaining flour, raisins sugar,  egg, lemon zest, rum and pine nuts (if using).  Add more warm milk as necessary to ensure that the mixture is like a thick batter. Cover the bowl with cloth again and set aside in a warm and draft-free area for at least 30-45 minutes to rest – it should double in size and the batter should be bubbly and airy.

Use a heavy-bottomed pot to heat sufficient oil (for the batter to swim/float in). The oil needs to be hot. Use a spoon to carefully drop the batter into the hot oil. It is better to fry a few Fritole at the time and not overcrowd them in the pan.

Once fried, drain the Fritole  with a slotted spoon or tongs and place them on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Roll them in sugar and cinnamon.

In the last few days I  have  found myself bursting into old Triestinian songs…like Le Ragazze di Trieste and Trieste Mia. I will need to stop myself otherwise i will drive my partner mad!

I have returned to Trieste on many occasions and the photos  of Trieste have been taken over a number of years .

 

 

 

 

WAYS TO COOK RABBIT – with chocolate sauce

 I cooked rabbit in a chocolate sauce and somehow, it seemed appropriate for Easter.  Easter has passed, but rabbit or hare cooked with chocolate can be enjoyed at anytime. 

Religious Easter celebrations in Sicily go back to pagan times – the continuation of ancient rites and traditions.

Easter in Sicily is also a celebration of spring, a time for revival and new beginnings, casting away winter with particular attention to spring produce. Therefore I was not surprised when one of my favourite cousins who lives in Ragusa in Sicily told me that during the Easter lunch they ate: …  le classiche impanate di agnello,  le scacce,  la frittata di carciofo e il risotto agli asparagi.

And, as he also told me: tutto molto buono – it was all good.  For those of you who do not understand menu Italian, these particular Sicilian relatives ate two traditional Easter specialties from Ragusa –  the lamb impanate and scacce, accompanied by an artichoke frittata and an asparagus risotto … the produce is a celebration of spring.

The impanate are focaccia like pies  stuffed with lamb – spring lamb of course. 

The scacce are pastries made with a variety of fillings. The pastry is folded like in a concertina over the filling and my favourite are those that contain sheep’s milk ricotta:  the milk is at its best in spring, after the rich winter pastures. 

But probably, my favourite would have been the frittata made with young artichokes. In Australia it is often difficult to purchase young artichokes unless you grow  them yourself. Sometimes young spring asparagus (also wild asparagus) is cooked  as a frittata, but on this occasion the asparagus went into a risotto.

 He did not mention the sweets, but there would have been cassatedde half-moon shaped pockets of pastry stuffed with ricotta and/or cassata or cannoli, all made with sheep’s milk ricotta. 

I know many of you may  disagree, but for me traditional hot cross buns do not appear to be as appetising as what my Sicilians relatives ate for Easter (see below for the full descriptions and recipes).

Rabbit with Chocolate sauce

Rabbit with chocolate sauce is a Sicilian recipe, probably introduced by the Spaniards who ruled Sicily from 1282 to 1516: the Aragonese and from 1516 – 1713: the Spanish Habsburgs.

Rabbit in chocolate sauce is not traditionally cooked at Easter but in Australia it seemed appropriate.

You  begin with a rabbit(s).

As you can see, the rabbits have been cut into sections – legs and backs. I kept the front legs for another time.

The rabbit pieces have been in a marinade that is mainly a mixture of  extra virgin olive oil, chopped celery leaves,  some fennel seeds, a few cloves,  fresh bay leaves (I like bay) and 1 small chopped onion. In the past on some occasions I have also added cinnamon bark.  I left the meat in the marinade for about 3 hours, however overnight is OK too and judging by the time the rabbits took to cook they could have done with a longer time in the marinade.

You will also need more carrots and onions and celery to add to the rabbit when you cook it.

During cooking, you will  also add good quality dark chocolate, pine nuts, currants, stock, wine, a little sugar and some vinegar.  The rabbit is cooked the same way as if cooked in a sour and sweet sauce but with chocolate to enrich the sauce.

The rabbit needs browning … drain the meat from the marinade and leave as much as the solids behind … don’t crowd the pan.

The rabbit browned quite quickly.

Remove the pieces of rabbit from the pan.

Have ready some chopped celery , carrots and onions.  

Next, make a soffritto –  the aromatic base composed of sautéed carrots, celery, and onion that forms the foundation to many Italian dishes. Sauté the vegetables in some more oil.

Remove the vegetables, add about a dessert spoon of sugar to the frypan and wait for it to melt.

Traditionally only vinegar is added to the sweet and sour rabbit dish, but I also like to add wine; for my quantity of rabbit, I added about a half a cup of white wine and about a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and I also added about a half a cup of red wine that somehow seemed more appropriate with the brown colouring of the dish.

Return all of the meat and vegetables to the pan.  Add currants and pine nuts, broth/stock to cover, salt and some chocolate. I added  half a block and the rest of the chocolate at the very end to enrich the sauce. Taste it, and  depending on how much you like the taste of chocolate, add more if you wish.

Cover and cook  it slowly till the rabbit is cooked. If it is a farmed rabbit  it will take as long as cooking chicken, mine was wild rabbit and it took about three hours of slow cooking.

i served it with sweet and sour pumpkin (fegato di sette cannolli) and pears quickly fried in a little oil and butter.

For a more complete recipe see:

RABBIT, CHICKEN, Easter recipes

Sicilian Pumpkin with vinegar, mint, sugar and cinnamon
RABBIT AND HARE:

HARE OR RABBIT COOKED IN CHOCOLATE. LEPRE O CONIGLIO AL CIOCCOLATO (‘NCICULATTATU IS THE SICILIAN TERM USED)

RABBIT with cloves, cinnamon and red wine (CONIGLIO DA LICODIA EUBEA)

ONE WAY TO COOK RABBIT LIKE A SICILIAN

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

PAPPARDELLE (PASTA WITH HARE OR GAME RAGÙ)

LEPRE ALLA PIEMONTESE (HARE – SLOW BRAISE PIEDMONTESE STYLE

EASTER SPECIALTIES IN RAGUSA

SCACCE and PIZZA and SICILIAN EASTER

‘MPANATA (A lamb pie, Easter treat)

I  have relatives  in Sicily but  my parents and I lived in Trieste in Northern Italy. Just for interest, here are  the traditional  Easter sweets of Trieste:
Traditional Easter Sweets in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia

MURRAY COD, AN ICONIC AUSTRALIAN FISH – information and fish recipes

I have just spent the weekend in Albury (Victoria). I will mention Wodonga (NSW) in the same breath as I see them as being one city. The Murray River separates the two locations.

Inevitably some of the conversation was about fishing and it was good to hear that once again there seem to be some pretty big Murray Cods in the Hume Weir.

Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) are found in freshwater rivers and creeks in eastern South Australia and west of the Great Dividing Range in NSW, Victoria and southern Queensland.

It is close to Christmas and many are planning to cook fish, especially for Christmas Eve. Those living in Australia may be able to purchase this beautiful tasting fish – Murray Cod but it will probably need to be preordered.

I wrote this piece for a fishing magazine called Fishing Lines in 2012. The magazine died years ago, but as we sat around discussing fishing in Albury I remembered that I had a copy of the writing. Here it is.

My fascination with Murray cod began when I first moved to Moorook in the early 1970’s, a small community near Barmera  and Berri in South Australia. For three years I taught at Glossop High School and in that time I got to know some of the people in the towns sprinkled along a string of lakes and lagoons of the Murray River floodplain, commonly called The Riverland.

I have always been interested in sourcing food locally and although I had heard stories about incredibly large fish caught in various parts of the river, I wondered why a fish so large and once so abundant was not around any more.

Sometimes, local recreational fishers sold redfin (introduced species) and catfish to the Moorook General Store and many of them had stories to tell about their fathers and grandfathers who had caught Murray cod and were amazed by its size, exquisite taste and beauty. The most spectacular catches were often celebrated by photos of fisherfolk posing with their catch in homes, hotels and the local press.

The Aboriginal people along the length of the river also revered and respected the Murray cod. There are several local names for this spirit fish in their mythology and creation stories.

The cod was perfectly adapted to the cycles of the Murray, while the river ran free in times of flood and drought. But the stories of miraculous catches of this remarkable fish dried up as the river became increasingly regulated with weirs and locks to serve irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Riverland locals may have lamented the decline in cod stocks, but they saw it as a regrettable price of progress. Irrigation was the way to go. It enabled the growing of a range of crops and brought prosperity to the area. It provided jobs in a range of industries and population growth to their local area and throughout the Riverland.

The flows in the Murray were increasingly regulated to allow more consistent water extraction for the irrigation schemes. There were even projects to remove snags from the river, which were a critical part of the cod’s habitat, especially important in the fish’s breeding cycle. Murray cod are carnivores and snags also support a healthy food chain of algae, bacteria and fungi necessary to sustain an abundant supply of shrimps, yabbies, mussels, tortoises, reptiles, other fish, small mammals and frogs – all of which were food for cod. There are stories of Murray cod eating water hens as well.

This print of the Murray Cod by Melbourne artist Clare Whitney beautifully expresses all that this magnificent fish represents for us in Australia. I bought it soon after I moved to Melbourne.

The image of the Murray cod in the centre of a map of Australia gives the fish its due. It is a national icon, a very ancient fish and a symbol of the Murray Darling River system. In the past the fish was a marvel and a valued food source in natural abundance.

Clare Whitney has placed the cod in a map from the Commonwealth bureau of Meteorology, which shows the average annual evaporation in inches, based on observations for seventy stations with records ranging from 5-82 years. There is no doubt that there are climatic factors contributing to the Murray cod’s decline.

The cod is an indicator of a healthy river. The vulnerability of the Murray cod reflects the environmental and ecological crisis across the Murray-Darling river system. Contributing significantly to the cod’s decline is the degradation of our waterways: the reduced quantity and quality of the water, pollution, the introduction of alien species of fish, overfishing and illegal fishing. Hard-hoofed animals, especially cattle, destroy riverbanks and the vegetation, demolishing the structure of the river. Our methods of agriculture and food production have played a major part in the destruction of the riverine ecosystem and threatened the survival of the Murray cod. State and Commonwealth Governments, and pastoral and agricultural interests are still struggling to establish an agreement that will allow viable environmental flows in the Murray-Darling basin. Faced with this, there is some small consolation in seeing that a number of sustainable cod aquaculture projects are being established and developed in different locations across Australia. But it would be far more preferable for us to change the way we manage our river catchments and water allocations to ensure the long term survival of the Murray cod in the wild, especially those projects which enable healthy breeding of this iconic fish.

Murray Cod is pretty hard to get and the best thing you can do is call  your favourite fresh fish supplier and see if they can  sell you one.

Failing that, there is information about Murray Cod on the Sydney Fish Market website and that suggests Leatherjackets, Pearl Perch and West Australian Dhufish as alternatives – these fish will have the same texture and sweetness. Leatherjackets however, are a small fish.

Recipes suitable for  Murray Cod and large fish :

PESCE IN PADELLA (Pan fried fish, MURRAY COD)

FISH POACHED IN A FISH KETTLE in bouillon

PESCE GRATINATO (Baked fish topped with almonds and pistachios)

PESCE CON FINOCCHIO E ROSMARINO (Fish with fennel and rosemary)