Tag Archives: Dried fruit

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)

 

CAN I CALL IT PANFORTE?

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Previous posts about panforte:

PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

PANFORTE again and again