Tag Archives: Italian traditional food

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 .

 

 

 

 

PIZZAIOLA (Steak cooked alla pizzaiola with tomatoes and herbs)

Pizzaiola is a classic and very simple Neapolitan dish: young beef, ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, garlic, seasoning and parsley.  

Pizzaiola-e1400045214969-300x224

These are the simple flavours of Naples, the home of pizza (Campania region of Italy) and like a well made Neapolitan pizza the ingredients are simple and few. There may be some complimentary variations when i napoletani  (Neapolitan people) make this dish, for example the addition of basil or some finely chopped anchovies.

If you look for a recipe on the web, you may be grossly misinformed. And if you want the real thing, pizzaiola is cooked on the stove, no mushrooms, bacon, cheese slices, capers, olives or any other embellishments.

I  have always made pizzaiola as my mother made it and was interested to compare her recipe with those of others. I have varied resources about Italian regional cuisine but because it is a Neapolitan dish it is not widely represented by all of the classic food writers, for example it is not in  The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well (La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene –Pellegrino Artusi 1820–1911), nor in any of my resources by Marcella Hazan or Bugialli. However I was pleased to see that some of the old, celebrity lions and lionesses (e.g. Waverly Root, Ada Boni, Elizabeth David, Anna Gosetti della Salda) include the recipe in their collections.

In some of the recipes, the steak is sealed quickly in hot oil before it is added to the rest of the ingredients. My mother always added the steak raw (as in some of the older recipes) – this results into a much lighter and fresher flavoured dish.

Like my mother, I like to add potatoes to pizzaiola (patate all pizzaiola is also a classic Neapolitan dish and often the two are combined) and the potatoes and the meat cook at the same time. Usually in Italian cuisine dry oregano is preferred (because it is stronger tasting), but for pizzaiola the fresh oregano is also liked – use a generous amount of fresh oregano and cut it finely.

Lean, young beef, sliced thinly is best. I use thinly sliced topside (as photo above) or girello (as in the photo below) and  I vary the amounts of tomato I use, for example I used 4 fresh tomatoes (photo above) whereas I used about 600g of canned tomatoes when I cooked the pizzaiola as in the photo below.

This dish is assembled in layers and then cooked. This recipe is for 4 people:

young beef/yearling steaks, very thinly sliced, trimmed of all fat (4- estimate one per person)
tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, 400g (1 can or fresh)
potatoes, peeled, then cut into thick slices, estimate 1 or more for each guest
extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup
garlic 3-4 cloves cut finely
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley cut finely, ½ cup
oregano, fresh ½ cup (or dried, 2 teaspoons).
Begin with a dribble of oil, herbs, garlic and seasoning.
Next, add a layer of tomatoes .
Continue with the layers and ensure that the ingredients are just covered with some tomato.
Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the meat is tender. This is not a dish to eat the meat rare.