Weekend Pasta. Pappardelle with Creamy Gorgonzala, Spinach and Walnut.

As I was devouring today’s lunch of Pappardelle, I began to ponder the derivation of this word. Italian pasta shape names are often fanciful and descriptive, some shapes based on historical events, or conjuring images from nature, such as shells or hailstones. As it turns out, the word Pappardelle is derived from the verb Pappare– to wolf down or tuck into. This is spot on, given the way I love to slurp down these broad egg noodles, carriers of comforting sauces, hiding further treasures beneath their soft folds.

pappardelle con crema di gorgonzola, spinaci e noci

The word can be also used metaphorically to describe a bore who writes or talks at length, like pappardella, never finishing. ( Stava scrivendo una pappardella che non finiva più – She was writing a pappardella that was never-ending ). So without further ado, and in case I am accused of the latter, may I present my current all time favourite pasta dish, Pappardelle with Gorganzola cream sauce, spinach and walnuts. The key to the success of this dish is the quality of the pasta used. Either make home-made pasta, cutting it wider than tagliatelle, 13 mm to be precise, using this recipe, or use a good brand such de Cecco Pappardelle, which tastes soft and comforting, and as good as home made egg pasta.

pasta con gorgonzola, spinaci e noce.

Pappardelle con crema di Gorgonzola, spinaci e noce.

Recipe for 4 large serves.

  • 350 gr good quality pappardelle
  • 50 gr of unsalted butter
  • 225 g gorgonzola Dolce Latte or other creamy blue cheese.
  • 300 ml single cream
  • 225 g walnuts, chopped small
  • two or more handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

Bring the water to the boil for the pasta. Use a large saucepan; you need at least 4 litres of water for this quantity of pasta, with 1 level tablespoon salt added to it. Add the pasta and cook for the required time as suggested on the packet.

Meanwhile, place the walnuts in a non stick frying pan to toast. Watch that they don’t burn.

Over a low heat, melt the butter in a deep non stick frying pan. ( I tend to use a non stick wok for this type of cooking as the pasta will be added and tossed through the sauce later.) Then add the gorgonzola cheese, followed by the cream and leave to simmer very gently to reduce and become creamy and thick.

When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, holding back half a cup of cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the wok or pan containing the gorgonzola sauce. Add the baby spinach leaves and freshly ground black pepper, toss everything over medium heat.  You may need to add a little cooking water if your sauce has become too thick. Add most of the nuts, reserving a few for garnishing.

Parmigiano cheese is optional and can be added to the sauce as it cooks. I prefer this dish without it.

Time to make pasta. ( Urbino, centro storico, Le Marche)

In My Kitchen, March 2017

In my kitchen, I am surrounded by summer’s bounty, despite the seasonal peculiarities. The tomato crop has been ordinary: most people who live in, or near, Melbourne are complaining. There will be no passata making day for us in 2017. The zucchini and cucumbers have also been slow, but are now getting a new life with a dry, warm autumn. I am quite happy with the trade-off, with abundant plum, blackberry and fig crops this year, the seasonal surprises in my kitchen.

First bowl of blackberries. They are flushing every week.
First bowl of blackberries. A flush every week.
Today's garden pick
Today’s garden pick . Some will go on top of a pizza.
Pizza 5 Tesori
Pizza Cinque Tesori

Today’s ‘Five Treasure Pizza’ includes yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grilled baby zucchini, finely sliced red onion, and a handful of shrimp, scattered with tiny Greek basil leaves. This week’s dough was based on a mix of doppio zero white flour ( tipo ’00’) and a small proportion ( 50 g) of wholemeal spelt to give the dough a little more body. I like yeasted pizza more than sourdough, with long rises in the fridge, ( up to three days) making it even better.

bread-lot

I am trying to vary my bread flavours and methods, and have been inspired by Maree’s new facebook group, dedicated to Sourdough making. The sourdough loaves above were loosely based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, and includes 60% wholemeal spelt. I like these nutty loaves, especially with soft blue cheese or zucchini pickle. The loaves below are my “Stand By Your Fam” high hydration loaves courtesy of Celia. I can now make these everyday loaves on autopilot, made in the evening, put to sleep for 8 hours or more, then shaped into loaves in the morning. These are favoured by the man and the extended family, with 75% baker’s white and 25% wholemeal.

Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.
Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.

A quick summer dish, spaghetti al nero di seppia, (squid ink spaghetti), is topped with a good commercial mix of seafood marinara, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and torn basil. The black pasta by Molisana is surprisingly good. Thanks Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert for reminding me about this pasta last month.

A quick Spagetti marinara
A quick Spaghetti marinara

I made these preserved lemons back in December. They have provided a lemon boost to many a dish this summer, especially given that lemons have been scarce, in contrast to limes which are now common place.

Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.
Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.

Oh no, there’s a chook in my kitchen, again! Mischa has been carting a red chook into my kitchen since she was 5 years old. At the old house, she used to sit on a garden swing with Hermione and put the chook to sleep. The red chook is always called Hermione, even though we don’t usually name our hens, and there have been at least six generations of ‘Hermiones’ since that first one. The conversation usually goes like this.

“Please take that chook out of the kitchen, Mischa.”

“But it’s Hermione”, said in a child- like voice, even though Mischa is now almost 20!

That’s what I like about my kitchen, the mad stuff. The other rooms of the house are dull and lifeless, sedentary rooms dedicated to kitchen recovery.

Mischa and Hermione.
Mischa and Hermione no. 7

Thanks Liz at Good Things, for hosting this monthly roundup. If you have ever thought about blogging, the monthly IMK is a good place to start. Most of my bread inspiration and support has come from friends found in this forum.

Mafaldine Pasta with Zucchini, Cream and Saffron

My Zucchini Festival continues today with another good zucchini pasta recipe ( see below) and a look at the seeds which produce this fecund vegetable. This year I planted two varieties of zucchini in my orto. The first to go in were the Black Jack variety, purchased as seedlings from a country market. They are the most common variety of zucchini grown in Australia, with vigorous, fast growing plants, high yields, and smooth dark green skin. Unfortunately for seed savers, they are also hybrids. The other variety, the Zucchino Striato d’Italia, or Italian striped zucchini, is easily grown from seed, and whilst not so prolific, which could be a good thing, they are definitely superior in taste and texture. An heirloom variety, this means you can save the seed for future plantings, a routine worth following when growing your own vegetables. The flavour is reminiscent of the zucchini grigliati we ate in the small trattorie in Trastevere, Roma. The other variety I’ve planted in the past is the yellow zucchini- a poor performer both in taste, yield and keeping quality, despite the lovely colour.

Mr Tranquillo in a trattoria in Trastevere. The side dish inclused some simply cooked and dressed zucchini striati. Once tasted, nevere forgotton.
Mr Tranquillo in a trattoria in Trastevere. The side dish included some simply cooked and dressed zucchini striati. Once tasted, never forgotten.

Today’s simple pasta dish marries Mafaldine pasta with small cubes of zucchini, saffron and cream. Mafaldine pasta is ribbon shaped pasta with curly edges and is also known as Reginette. The photos don’t do justice to the creaminess of this dish.

xx
Mafaldine con Zucchini Striati, Panna e Zafferano

Mafaldine con Zucchini, Panna e Zafferano . Mafaldine Pasta with Zucchini, Cream and Saffron  (for 2 medium serves)

  • 180g mafaldine or other long ribbon egg pasta
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • salt
  • pinch dried chilli
  • generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 cup cream
  1. Bring ample salted water to the boil in a large pot.
  2. Heat a large wide frying pan or non stick wok for the sauce. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil then the chopped onion and garlic. When softened, add the cubes of zucchini, some salt, and a pinch of dried chilli. Stir about and cook on low heat for around 20 minutes.
  3. Add the Mafaldine ( or chosen pasta) to the boiling water and cook for the required time.
  4. Use a little of the cooking water and add to the saffron to soften, then add this to the zucchini mixture. Add a cup of cream and raise the heat so that the cream thickens. Add more cream if necessary.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the zucchini cream sauce in the pan. Toss about. Save a little pasta cooking liquid to loosen the sauce, if necessary.
  6. Serve with ample grated parmigiano cheese.

I enjoyed this dish on this cooler summer day. It will be included in my annual Zucchini Festival repertoire. It cost tuppence to make, allowing the splurge on a pinch or two of precious saffron pistils and a nice chunk of Reggiano Parmigiano cheese to serve.

vv

seed packet- Zucchino striato d'Italia
seed packet- Zucchino striato d’Italia

Seed saving tips for non- hybrid zucchini:

http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/zucchini-tips?rq=zucchini

The Annual Zucchini Festival.

Throughout Italy, various villages and towns hold an annual sagra or festival, very often dedicated to a specific locally grown or produced food, such as frogs, chestnuts or onions, or a local dish such as frico, polenta or risotto. A quick search of the various sagre in Italy will reveal many festivals devoted to pumpkin but not to zucchini. If you think about it, the pumpkin or Zucca is the Zucchino‘s much bigger sister. Orange versus green. Female versus male, fat and rounded versus thin and elongated. Anything you can do with a pumpkin can be adapted to the zucchino; stuff, fry, bake, layer, grate and soup them. Oh and pickle them too.

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Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta

It’s high time to announce my own Zucchini Sagra. Come along and try my new zucchini recipes this month, or better still, suggest some more unusual ways of using this prolific garden beast.

My first recipe marries some young zucchini with prawns, spaghetti and mint in a rich sauce. The links at the bottom of this post will take you to some of my previous posts on this wonderful annual vegetable.

Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta  Serves four people.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, halved lengthways then sliced in half moon rounds
  • pinch of crumbled dried chilli
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • 40 gr butter
  • 24 large uncooked green prawns
  • 200 gr spaghetti ( see notes below)
  • 16 or so mint leaves, torn
  • handful of flat parsley finely chopped
  • sea salt and black pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  2. Meanwhile add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large non stick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for 2- 3 minutes until coloured. Add the chilli and anchovies, squash them into the oil, then add the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate a little then add the butter. Bring to the boil for a minute or so, then add the prawns, stir about then remove from the heat.
  3. Cook the spaghetti in the boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then add to the prawns. Pop the pan over high heat, tossing and stirring to combine all the ingredients. Add the parsley and mint. As soon as the prawns are opaque, remove from the heat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve.

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    Spaghetti with Zucchini, Prawns and Mint

Notes.

  • The amount of spaghetti specified in this recipe would be suitable for an entrée or light luncheon.
  • I would suggest adding more pasta to the pot, say, around 80 g per person, for a main meal, with a green salad on the side.
  • I also used a large non stick wok, which is a better utensil to hold the volume of ingredients for the final tossing.
  • The sauce, made up of oil, garlic, anchovy, wine and butter, is an excellent base for any marinara you might make.

From Cook Like an Italian, Tobie Puttock 2010.

More zucchini recipes on Almost Italian:

Zucchini Lasagne

Zucchini with calamari and Radicchio

Briami Me Fetta

Zucchini Pickle

Next Post, The Zucchini Fritter With Masses of Herbs

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A Beet in Time. Beetroot and Caramelised Onion Relish.

Once upon a time, here in Australia, there was the beetroot. It was boiled, sliced, then pickled, and added to a salad sandwich, placed on top of a hamburger ‘with the lot’ or served in a salad alongside its summer friends, the tomato and Iceberg lettuce. This was the era when Olive Oil came in a small jar from the chemist and was used as a skin moisturiser!  Salad dressings were rare, except for a sharp home- made mayonnaise which was based on condensed milk, vinegar, and mustard.

Many older Australians still favour their beets cooked in this way: after the initial long boiling, the beets are skinned, drained then sliced into a container, while alternately sprinkling each layer with sugar and white vinegar. Not a summer goes by without my mother ( at 94 ) calling for a bunch of beetroot to make this light preserve. This method can be applied to any vegetable for a quick pickle.

New Beetroot relish
Beetroot and onion relish

Like most modern cooks, I enjoy the more earthy taste of the beet without the added sugar and vinegar. Around  8 years ago, fresh-baked beetroot and fetta or goat cheese salad topped with walnuts became the dish to change our view of beetroot. My young visitors devour versions of this salad yet avoid the retro pickled version. The composed beetroot salad has put this old-fashioned tuber back on the culinary map.

beet
Beetroot and onion relish. Easy and fast.

The recipe below for beetroot relish takes the humble root back to the middle ground. The ruby brine of retro sliced beets is absent but some of the agrodolce elements remain. This is now a new favourite for summer sandwiches and rolls or as part of a classic Ploughman’s lunch or as a counterbalance to a rich cheese dish, such as a double baked Stilton Souffle

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large brown onions ( 800g) sliced thinly
  • 1 1/2 cups ( 330 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) cider vinegar
  • 3 large fresh beetroot ( 600g) grated coarsely
  • 1 teaspoon coarse cooking salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan; cook onion, stirring about 15 minutes or until the onion is softened and caramelised.

Add remaining ingredients; stir over high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes or until the beetroot is tender and the relish is thick.

Spoon hot relish into hot sterilised jars. Seal immediately. Label and date jars when  cold. Makes four cups,

Store relish in a cool, dark place for at least 3 weeks before opening. Refrigerate the relish after opening.

recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly Preserves. 2011.

Sweet relish
Sweet relish

Beetroots and Italy. The Italian word for beetroot, Barbabietola, is so expressive, visually conveying the trailing beard, or barba, from the end of the bietola (beet/silver beet/chard) and its root. Try saying barbabietola, placing an equal stress on each vowel- it’s a little tongue twister for many, like the start of the old Beach Boys song, Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara-Ann. Beets were favoured in the Roman era and used for food and medicine. These days, Europe grows 120 million tons of sugar beets and produces 16 million tonnes of white sugar, extracting a sufficient quantity to meet 90% of demand. This is a different crop to the red variety. While the edible barbabietola may occasionally turn up in a risotto, it’s use as a relish is not part of Italian culinary history. It is occasionally used in recipes, however most of these are modern and derivative, appearing in magazines such as Donna Moderna or Sale e Pepe and not in traditional collections.

barbabietola dal orto.
Barbabietola dal orto.

More Christmas Balls. Almond Flowers from Agrigento

A few days ago, I made a batch of Sicilian Cherry and Chocolate Amaretti, (Amaretti di Cioccolato e Cilegie ). They disappeared too quickly: some were wrapped up and given away, others popped into our own merry mouths. Sicilian sweets taste so evocative, medieval and ancient. All the flavours of the island seem to be rolled up in these little festive biscuits- dried fruits and figs, orange and lemon peel, Marsala wine, Arabic spices, honey, almonds, pine nuts and pistachio, to name a just a few ingredients favoured by the Siciliani.

Gid
Ready to go out the door. Fior di Mandorle.

This year’s festive cooking is beginning to look like a cook’s tour around Sicily. Last week Siracusa, now today’s festive balls, Fior di Mandorle, a specialty of Agrigento. Come to Sicily with me this month as I delve into my collected recipes from each major town. Map provided, in aid of travel fantasy.

I love a good map.
I love a good map.

Fior di Mandorle.  Almond pastries with honey and spice

  • 200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
  • 50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • grated zest of  1 small organic orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1  large, or two very small beaten egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • icing/confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 150c.

Mix all the ingredients together, then knead until the oils from the almonds are released into the pastry.

Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter. Place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. Makes around 20.

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno 2016.

xx
Fior di Mandorle. A taste of honey and spice. Very Arabic.

My next Sicilian instalment will be Nucatoli, from Modica, which are similar to last year’s Cuddureddi, but come in an amazing shape.

Christmas Biscotti from Siracusa

I’m looking forward to a quiet, relaxing Christmas this year. During the weeks leading up to that day, I won’t be counting plates, cutlery, wine glasses, napkins, gutting rooms and borrowing chairs, moving furniture to make more room, ironing table cloths, emptying fridges, making lists and more lists, and anticipating an event for 29 or so guests. On the day, I may be sitting under a shady tree, eating some simply cooked fresh fish, followed by a few light biscotti, enjoying a conversation, good music, and a bottle of wine.

biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia
Biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia

Despite this once in a lifetime opportunity, or escapist retreat, the making of festive delicacies is, for me, very much part of December and still continues. Last year I enjoyed making Cuddureddi, a spicy little Sicilian tart. They were eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas day or were given away to friends. This year, I am looking to Sicily once again for inspiration. What could be more tempting than chocolate, almond and cherry biscotti, usually found in the pasticcerie in Siracusa, Sicily?

Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliege
Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliegia

These little almond, cherry and chocolate bites can be thrown together very quickly and only take around 12 – 15 minutes to cook. They are soft centred, with the texture of a truffle more than a biscotto. They are gluten-free, dairy free and very moreish. Wrap a few in cellophane to give to your child’s favourite teacher, or give little gifts to loved ones during Advent. Dicembre e` un mese bellissimo, mentre il giorno di Natale puo` essere stressante!

Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/  Chocolate cherry amaretti biscuits

  • 250 g finely ground almonds
  • 120 g caster sugar
  • 50 g dark ( 70%) chocolate, grated
  • 60 g dried sour cherries, chopped
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, ( or three medium )
  • a pinch of salt
  • 30 gr icing/confectioners’ sugar

    bisoctti ready for oven
    biscotti ready for oven

Preheat the oven to 160 c.

Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and add to the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. ( Note- if you have used two egg whites and feel that the mixture needs a bit more moisture, beat another until stiff and add it to the mixture.)

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Form balls with the almond mixture then roll them in the icing sugar. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.

Bake until they have a golden tinge, approximately 12- 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20 balls. Note, my edited pics make the balls look rather large but they only measure around 4 cm.

biscotti di Siracusa
Biscotti di Siracusa. Amaretti con ciliegie e cioccolato

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno, 2016

For my dear friend Diane. Let’s spend next Christmas in Sicilia, cara mia.

White Polenta, Fave Beans and Salmon

After my broad bean shelling festival last week, some readers inquired about my culinary intentions for the little shelled gems. A few Spring broadbean treats have emerged from my kitchen of late, though some of the photos leave a lot to be desired. Today’s recipe is based on a dish I had in a restaurant in Oamaru, New Zealand, where they served creamy white polenta with a buttery sauce of local clams and crunchy fried capers. Ever since, I have been very partial to white polenta. I’m not a purist when it comes to polenta instantanea versus 20-40 minutes of aching arm action. Sometimes you have to cheat. Instant polenta is convenient and a versatile neutral tasting base on which to layer intense flavours. This recipe is meant to be flexible: you can use any fish or seafood that comes your way, or, leave it out entirely. Once the beans are shelled, and slipped out of their rubbery casings, the hard work is done.

bags of prepared fave beans, ready for the freezer.
Bags of prepared fave beans, ready for the freezer. The hard work is done.

Polenta Bianca con Fave e Salmone. White Polenta with fresh Broadbeans and Salmon. Ingredients listed for two people.

  • 1 cup instant white polenta
  • stock or water to cook the polenta as per packet directions
  • butter and grated parmigiano to enrich the polenta, to taste
  • 200 gr Atlantic salmon
  • I cup of double shelled broadbeans. ( if you are buying fresh broadbeans, you will need around 1 kilo)
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
  • butter
  • black pepper
  • fresh marjoram leaves, a few stalks.

    Comfort food. Polenta, fave and salmon.
    Comfort food. Polenta, fave and salmon.
  1. Cut the skinless salmon fillets into chunks of around 6 cm. Season and lightly oil the pieces and heat a solid frying pan.
  2. Make the polenta according to packet instructions. This will come together within two or so minutes. Stir vigorously, then add butter and parmesan cheese. Stir until very smooth, then keep warm on a heat diffuser.
  3. Cook the salmon chunks to your liking. I like mine well coloured on the outside and just cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan and add some butter. Add the garlic, stir for a few seconds, then add the shelled broadbeans. Stir till hot, then add the marjoram leaves and black pepper.
  5. Assemble the dishes in wide low bowls. First lay a bed of the hot polenta, then add the salmon chunks,  then the broadbeans. Add a lemon wedge and a drizzle of your best oil.
    Poelnta Bianca, Fave fresche e Salmone. Buonissimo.
    Polenta Bianca, Fave fresche e Salmone. Buonissimo.

    This is a gluten-free meal that is easy to prepare, though does involve three simultaneous maneuvers. To make the dish vegetarian, leave out the fish, add more butter to the broadbean sauce, and add some shaved parmesan at the end. To veganise the dish, leave out the fish and butter and use very good olive oil and more herbs for flavour.

Older posts on broadbeans can be found in these links below. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/tagliatelle-with-broad-beans-and-smoked-salmon/  and  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/italian-product-trial-farro-rice-and-barley-pilaf/

Day of the Dead. Legends for the Living.

I used to look forward to All Saints Day when I was a child. In Catholic schools, All Saints Day was a religious holy day of note, which meant that we had another day off school. November the first blurred into November the second, Melbourne Cup Day, which is a State holiday in Victoria, and if the days lined up nicely with the weekend, even better. The beginning of November meant horses, saints, holidays and good weather, with only one down side, the traipse up the road to Church, a small price to pay for another day off. I don’t remember much about those saints or what the day was about. To me, it all seemed a bit morbid and sinister so I conveniently blocked it out.

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Pane dei Morti di Siena

It was in the tenth century that Odile, the abbot of Cluny in medieval France, transmuted the Day of the Dead, Samhain, the ancient Celtic feast of ancestors, into a Christian holy day, All Souls Day. Curses and blasphemy, I missed out on all the Celtic fun and got Odile’s version, made extra ominous by the Irish nuns who taught me. At least in modern Italy, the day still goes by the name I Morti, the dead, and the practices are more in tune with traditional pagan legends than the version I grew up with, though I’m sure there’s a bit of Church attendance involved. Going to mass in Italy often means chatting through the service and ducking out for a smoke. Other than the widows up the front, Italians often don’t seem to take church too seriously. Church is a local catch up and a ritualised prologue to a good lunch.

In Sicily, legend has it that on the evening of November 1, departed relatives rise up from their tombs and rollick through the town, raiding the best pastry shops and toy stores for gifts to give to children who have been good during the year. Children write letters to their dead relatives, just like the Christmas letters written to Santa. On this day, ancestors and relatives “feel an attraction to the living and hope to return for a visit and families set the table for ancestors returning from their graves.”

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Small loaves for the day of the Dead. One for now, one for the freezer.

What a wonderful legend. Just to think that you might have a visit from your dearly departed loved ones for a fleeting moment in time. When it comes to a good Celtic legend, adapted along the way by some wily Siciliani, I’m in. Time to write a letter to the dead and make some sweet things for  I Morti

Pan co’ Santi – A sweet bread from Siena to share with I Morti.

Makes two small loaves

  • 300 gr raisins
  • 1 ½ cups tepid water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 25 gr sugar
  • 3 Tbls lard or olive oil
  • 500 gr unbleached plain flour plus 2 -3 Tbls for the raisins.
  • 8 gr sea salt
  • 1.25 gr freshly ground pepper
  • 100 gr walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 egg yolk for glaze

Soak the raisins in the tepid water for at least ½ hour. Drain the raisins, but reserve 1 1/3 cups of the soaking water. Warm the soaking water to 105-115 degrees.

By mixer: Stir the yeast and sugar into the raisin water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lard or olive oil in with the paddle. Add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead until firm and silky, for around 3 minutes.

First rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Filling. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching it down or kneading it, pat gently with your palms into a 35 cm/14 inch circle. Pat the raisins dry and toss with 2-3 Tbls flour. Work them and the walnuts into the dough in 2 additions.

Bread dough with sweet filling

Shaping and second rise. Cut the dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a round, tucking the ends of the loaf in and trying to keep the raisins and walnuts under the taut surface of the skin. Set each loaf on a lightly floured peel or on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with towels and let rise again until doubled, around 1 hour and 10 mins.

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Fruit and nut stuffed dough before rising.

Baking. Heat the oven to 220° C fan forced. With a razor or sharp serrated knife, slash the dough with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical cuts. Brush the loaves with the egg yolk, then bake for 5 mins, then reduce the heat to 200 F and bake for 30-40 minutes more.

Also see these little sweet biscuits for the dead.  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/fave-dolci-biscuits-for-the-dead/

 

Take Three Eggs

Eggs are always in season around here, though the number increases dramatically during Spring. I’m now gathering around 15 eggs per day, requiring some strategic marketing as well as more baking. My grandmother, with regard to the economy of keeping chooks, used to say, ‘put in a shilling and get back sixpence’, and I often think this is true. Fresh egg pasta is one simple way to reduce the stash.

Cenci or rag Pasta
Cenci or rag pasta

Take three eggs and crack them into a bowl over 300 gr of plain white flour, do a little mixing, some kneading, some waiting, followed by some cutting, and within one hour, you have enough pasta to feed a crowd. Of all the transformations that happen in my kitchen, pasta making is high up on the list, running a close second to the mystical and semi- religious transfiguration of flour, salt and water into bread.

An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.
An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.

I often use a softer flour for pasta making, such as an Italian doppio zero ’00’ flour but really, any plain white flour is just as good. After measuring the flour, add it to a bowl, then crack 3 large eggs into the centre and mix well. There is no need to make a little volcano of flour on a flat bench with eggs cracked into its crater. Volcanoes are messy things and explode in unexpected ways. Use a bowl. I usually have an extra egg yolk on hand, in case more moisture is needed to bring the dough together. I don’t use water, salt or oil. Just flour and eggs! After the dough comes together, knead well on a floured bench for around 10 minutes. As you knead, the dough will turn silky and more elastic.

assembling the spinach and riicotta caenneloni
Assembling the spinach and ricotta cannelloni. The pasta squares must be cooked briefly in boilings salted water before assembling.

I often cheat, and who doesn’t, by mixing the dough in the food processor, then when it forms a ball, I remove it to knead on the bench. There’s no getting out of the kneading: it is the only tedious part of pasta making so turn the radio on. (Did I hear you sing that old song, ‘who listens to the radio, that’s what I’d like to know.’? Has Jon Faine become a shock jock? Turn that man off and play some Puccini instead.)

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Don’t overdo the tomato element.

Take the ball of kneaded dough and flatten into a disc, then wrap it in plastic and leave it for at least half an hour to relax and further hydrate. It won’t hurt to let the dough rest for longer so you can go out at this point, saving the fun part for later.

Hand cranked pasta machines: a basic and economical kitchen tool.

Attach your pasta machine to the bench. Flour up some cutting boards and tea towels. Cut one sixth of the pasta dough and feed through the machine at its widest setting. Fold it in half then feed through again. This makes the pasta sheet wider. Then continue to feed the pasta through the rollers, lower the setting cogs down a notch each time, stopping at number two. This part of pasta making is best shared with a helper.

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Two trays of cannelloni: one for four and the smaller one for two.

Now you get to choose the shapes you want. My last week’s batch produced enough pasta squares for two trays of cannelloni, some cenci or rags which I love to add to soup, and a pile of cappellini, a finely cut spaghetti. Three eggs. Three hundred grams of flour. Three meals. It really is much simpler than my long winded description and the results are worth the effort.

I followed Stefano de Pieri’s recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, from his Modern Italian Food, 2004, which is reproduced here, unchanged. Sometimes it’s good to follow a recipe for a dish that you think you know well. You might learn some new tricks. I always use a heat diffuser when making besciamella or white sauce as it has a tendency to catch. And you will need to cut around 20 squares from your fresh pasta batch for this amount of filling.

Ingredients

300g spinach
1 tablespoon butter
500g fresh ricotta
2 eggs
100g parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus an extra handful
salt and pepper
200g  home made egg pasta

Bechamel Sauce

150g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
1.5 litres hot milk
freshly grated nutmeg

Method

  1. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter and mix with the flour. Cook a little but without browning. Stir in the milk, bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon. Initially the mixture will be like a gluggy lump but as you add the milk it will break down more and more. Cook it gently for 20 minutes or more, taking care that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg to taste. This recipe should yield a fairly soft sauce, which is what we want. If it is too thick add more milk or water. If you think you have some lumps in it, pass it through a fine sieve and everything will be all right.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach, drain and squeeze dry. (I far prefer using proper bunches of spinach, rather than ready-trimmed little spinach leaves.) Roughly chop the spinach.
  3. Heat the butter in a large pan and briefly sauté the spinach. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and mix well.
  4. Roll the pasta through the last setting on your pasta machine and cut the sheets into sections about 10 cm wide. Cook the pasta sheets in plenty of boiling salted water, then plunge into a bowl of cold water. When cold, place on a tea towel to dry.
  5. When you are ready to cook the cannelloni, preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread a third of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the pasta sheets on a work surface and spoon some filling along the centre of each. Roll up to form fat cigars. Arrange the filled cannelloni in the baking dish and spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the extra cheese and bake for around 15 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden.
  6. If you like, you can introduce a tomato element to this dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of home-made tomato sauce over the béchamel before topping with the extra grated cheese. Don’t overdo the tomato though, as the acid can rather dominate the flavour.

Next Post- what I made with the Cenci Pasta.