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.
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.
I do like Cumquats and Quinces – both are Autumn fruit.
The photos were taken at my friends’ house in the south – east of South Australia. Each time that we are together we get productive in her kitchen.
My friend likes to make preserves – cumquat and whisky marmalade, pickled cumquats and cumquats preserved in brandy. She also makes quince jelly and quince paste. On this particular weekend we used some of her abundant autumn harvest.
She has the round shaped cumquats. The elongated variety of cumquats are much sweeter and are very good eaten fresh and whole . I like to eat both varieties raw and whole.
Here are photos of some of the methods used to make the cumquats in brandy or Cointreau or a mixture of both. Rum or Whisky is also good.
You could add some extra flavourings if you wish: cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, star anise or glace or crystallized ginger.
The jars and lids will need to be sterilised. You may have your own way to this, for example:
Use the hot cycle in your dishwasher
cover them with hot water and boil them, for about 10 minutes
fill them with boiling water, place them on a baking tray lined with a tea towel and put them into a 110 C oven for about 15 minutes.
Although my friend had several kilos of cumquats, the recipe is based on using 1 kilo of cumquats.
You can use as much alcohol of your choice as you wish, for example a ratio of 3 cups of alcohol to 2 cups of water – adjust according to taste. You will not necessarily know how much liquid you will need to cover the cumquats in the jars but you can always make more if you run out of the alcohol and water mixture.
Sugar – use 800g per kilo of fruit.
Use only whole fruit that are bright orange in color and have firm, undamaged skins. Make sure that they have stems.
Wash and dry them and remove the leaves. Leave the little green stems, then prick each one a couple of times with a thick needle.
Cover with water and bring them slowly to the boil. Simmer them uncovered for about 10 minutes – the must not collapse.
Drain them carefully and gently – they must remain whole. Reserve the water to use in the alcohol mixture. Combine water with sugar, bring to the boil and boil for about 5 minutes. Take off the stove, add alcohol and mix well.
Place the fruit gently into the prepared jar. Add some spices or ginger among the cumquats if you wish. Top with the syrup. Do not crowd them too much as they may break. Cover with lids. Allow to stand for at least two weeks before using.
4 quinces, cinnamon quills, 3 lemons, sliced,
About 200g sugar,
2 cups of water
I wiped the fuzz off the quinces and preheated my oven to 140C (fan-forced). I cut the quinces into quarters and sliced lemons and placed them in between the pieces of quinces.
Added sugar and water.
Covered them with foil and baked for at least 3 hours until quinces are soft and a rich red – I removed the foil about 15 minutes before they finished cooking.
Jelly ( from the juices) in the left over quinces.
Do not assume that as an Italian I use Vincotto. I knew about grape “must” but not Vincotto and I wonder if Italians in Italy are using it and promoting it as widely as it seems to be in Australia.
You may have noticed bottles of Vincotto are appearing in gourmet delicatessens and Italian produce stores. Like Balsamic vinegar took over Australian produce stores a few years ago or Verjuice, Vincotto seems to be the new secret ingredient.
Literally translated it means “cooked wine” – and I am not talking about what my father used to make for me when I had a cold, boiled red wine with spices served hot. We called it vin brulé (Italian term for mulled wine).
The popular brand for Vincotto seems to be manufactured by a Gianni Calogiuri. It claims to be an ancient traditional recipe from the Italian region of Puglia, the heel in south-eastern Italy. The Vincotto is produces in Lizzanello (Lecce).
Vincotto is made from grape must (containing the skins, seeds and small stems of the withered, partly dried grapes from Malvasia and Negroamaro variety). These are cooked and reduced, blended and aged in oak barrels. Like balsamic vinegar, the good stuff is aged for a number of years.
If made in Australia, Vincotto is made from a ‘must’ from Australian shiraz grapes. This is combined with high quality red wine vinegar and slowly reduced over many hours.
My first bottle of Vincotto was the Originale (original flavour). It has a sweet and sour taste and like a good quality wine vinegar so I used it in salad dressings and to de-glaze pans.
But now I am seeing many different flavoured bottles of Vincotto and I am finding it all very confusing.
At one of the specialised Italian produce stores I was given a “Carob Sweet Vinegar” and a Lemon Velvety Condiment” to try. The one made with carob suggests using it with carpaccio, fish, dried fruits and sorbets. The lemon one suggests to use it with fish, ice cream, desserts and cocktails. Thank you Enoteca Sileno.
I have two other different ones, both gifts from different friends on different occasions. I have a “Fig Vincotto Vinegar” and
“Lamponi (raspberry) condimento agrodolce”. Both of these have the statement on the label that they contain no added sugars. The one made with figs suggests: “Use it on meats, fish, soups, cheese and desserts”. The raspberry one: “excellent on meats, salads, sorbets, fruit and ice cream”. Thank you dear friends.
I am none the wiser by the suggestions made by the manufacturers, but I am especially enjoying the raspberry and the fig varieties in salad dressings – for example raspberry vinegar has been a common ingredient in English salads (I used to make it once!). I often add fruit or nuts, meats, fish or cheese to my leaf salads or I often combine roasted vegetables together so when I say “salads”, I am talking about composite salads. See:
I like using Vincotto instead of wine or I combine it with wine when I de-glaze the cooking juices and food particles in the bottom of pans, especially those where I have cooked meat – game meats especially. Last night I was pan frying some fish with bay leaves, saffron and caper berries and I de-glazed the pan with a mixture of white wine and about 1 tablespoon of lemon Vincotto. I am getting more adventurous and do not think that just because it is an Italian product that all Italians use it.
I can see me roasting figs, apricots, plums or quinces with a splash of Vincotto and maybe presenting the fruit with cheeses and nuts. I cannot see me using it in ice cream or sorbets – this may come later.
Vincotto is also very similar to the middle-eastern Pomegranate molasses (thick, fragrant and a tangy reduction of pomegranate juice, boiled to a sticky, syrupy consistency). Over time I have used the molasses very successfully by experimenting and not just with middle-eastern ingredients. I guess that I will gradually begin to use Vincotto in similar ways but then again, it may be yet be just another passing fad.
Believe it or not but some people can do without dessert and I am one of them. This could be a reflection of the way I was bought up –as an Italian child there was always fresh fruit after any meal and very special desserts were saved for special occasions. I think that they were appreciated more because of this.
I generally prefer to eat savoury food. However I do like something small and sweet at the end of a meal, especially if I have been drinking.
I had some left over marzipan in the fridge, some left over torrone (nougat) and I saw some fresh, Medjool dates and hence this recipe for the stuffed dates. Easy to make too.
I knew that orange flower water and/or cinnamon are traditionally included in the marzipan mixture in Morocco where stuffed dates are popular (I have eaten them in Tunis and Turkey as well). My marzipan was left over from making a cassata so I added more almond meal and some orange flower water to the mixture, and presto the stuffing was ready. Grated peel from 1 orange can also enhance the flavour. In these other countries the marzipan is often coloured but I prefer natural colours and flavours. This time I did not use cinnamon, but maybe next time.
There were four of us and I thought that twelve dates would be enough. Six were stuffed with almond paste and I stuffed the other six with a piece of nougat/ torrone (no instructions needed – it is self explanatory).
blanched almonds to decorate.
fresh Medjool dates
This amount of marzipan will easily stuff 24 dates. Either halve the ingredients or store the left over marzipan in the fridge till next time. Wrap it in plastic film and it will keep for a couple of weeks.
To make marzipan:
1 cup of ground almonds (blanched) and 1 cups of pure icing sugar combined with ¼ cup of caster sugar – this adds the crunchy texture that compliments the ground almonds.
Mix the sugars and almond meal with fingers and add 1 tablespoon of orange water slowly. If the mixture is too wet add more almonds. Knead it and if it needs more water add a little tap water to make the mixture pliable.
Cut each date vertically on one side and remove the stone.
Make small cylinders of almond paste the same length as the dates and place one inside each date. Squeeze the sides of each date around the paste and leave some exposed.
Decorate each with a blanched almond (or walnut or pistachio).
Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Take them out of the fridge about an hour before serving.
In the photo is a casaba (or cassava) rock melon and I have bought it for the last two years from just one stall at the Queen Victoria Market. I am not sure of its correct name, but if it is casaba it could get its name from Kasaba, Turkey. It is very sweet and juicy and in comparison to rock melon it is rather large in size. The only other place that I have seen this type of melon is in the Willanga Farmers Market in South Australia; this is not to say that it is not sold elsewhere.
Maria and her husband Giuseppe are the stall holders. They are from Calabria and they tell me that this type of melon is also found in Calabria but they do not know what this variety is called. I have never seen it anywhere in Italy, but one needs to be in the right place at the right time.
Giuseppe tells me that the rock melons he sells are grown on the Hay Plains; the grower has an Italian surname.
Cassava rock melon is not to be confused with cassava – the taro, a tuber. Apparently there is also a cassava melon which is more like a watermelon and is the size and shape of a soccer ball; this variety has a dark green skin.
I like to eat freshly cut slices of any rock melon; I have always loved to present it with sprigs of mint – both for decoration and to munch with it.
Some people make sorbet out of rock melon puree, lemon juice and some sugar syrup (I like it with honey) – recipes for this are not difficult to find and this too can be presented with mint.
From Giuseppe and Maria I also buy my Fichi d’India (prickly pears) which are now in season.
As well as gello di mellone (made with watermelon juice), Sicilians make gello do mandorla (made with almond milk), gello di cannella ( made with cinnamon and water) and gello di limone ( made with lemon juice).
It is thickened with corn flour and stirred like custard till it solidifies. There is nothing to it but surprisingly it turns out to be quite delicious.
This photo is of a gello di limone made by Barbera, wife of Corrado, the son of my cousin Franca. They all live in Ragusa, Sicily and it was one of the many things Barbara prepared for me when I was invited to dine with them (all the relatives go out of their way to cook Sicilian specialties for me when I visit them).
Now that you have the credentials, it is time for the recipe.
500ml fresh lemon juice
500ml of water and the peel of the lemons soaked in the water for 24 hours
4 level tablespoons arrowroot or corn flour
2-3tbsp limoncello (optional)
Mix the corn flour with a little water and make a smooth paste.
Mix all of the other ingredients together in a small saucepan and heat gently – keep on stirring until it thickens.
Remove from the heat, add the limoncello and pour into a wetted mould (or individual serving glasses)
Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge for several hours.
Sicilians eat it plain but it is a nice accompaniment to strawberries or poached cumquats (sugar syrup).