…. to a post from April 21, 2009 in which I recount my attempt to recreate a Neapolitan Easter Dessert.
I realize it’s a bit late for Easter but as I was decanting a cocktail recipe my friend Yannis posted on his website the smell of essence of orange reminded me of a kitchen adventure from our time in Rome. My friend Marco the Neapolitano was good enough to share his family recipe for La Pasteria and I was foolish enough to believe that it was a simple task. Oh foolish man!
This is a two parter and the link to – spoiler alert) – the IMHO “triumphant” conclusion is at the bottom of the first post.
I first encountered Pastiera, the traditional Napoletano Easter dolci, when we were doing an “Italian theme” Easter dinner back in 1990. My friend John was delegated to make it using a recipe from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Back in those days many of the ingredients were hard to find and the “wheat berries” had to be bought in a health food store and the lengthy process of cooking them followed. John wasn’t too confident that this such a great idea for a desert and made an angel food cake as well. As I recall the “pastiera” was considered to be a bit on the exotic side.
I wasn’t to encounter it again until I moved here four years ago and then only really became familiar with it after meeting my friend Marco, the Napoletano. Two Easters back he talked about it – and how he had…
A week or so ago my friend Anna mentioned a trip she took to Bologna at the beginning of 2020. And as always she took some incredible photos of city and, being it was Bologna and Italy, of the food. And of course that included a primi that is synonymous with that magical city: Tortellini.
This brought to mind a weekend jaunt in December 2010 with our friends Carol Ann and Craig to celebrate Carol Ann’s birthday and an evening stroll through the Quadrilatero steps away from Piazza Maggiore.
We ate in several great restaurants and being Bologna had tortellini as both a primi and surprisingly a sweet. I wrote about the history of the pasta and the pasta rica on our return to Rome that December:
If there is one pasta that is associated with Bologna it’s tortellini – those little crescent shaped packages filled with meat, cheese or vegetables. There appears to be some dispute as to whither the dish originated in Bologna or Modena but chances are you’ll see them on the menu in most towns in Emilia. Often they are served in broth, dressed with cream or ladled with a meaty ragu.
However those wily Bolognese don’t just think of tortellini as a primi – take for instance this tempting plate in the picture. You really wouldn’t want to smother these in hot broth, cream or ragu. Chances are that would turn them into a gloppy mess of .. chocolate.
These incredibly rich white chocolate confections are the work of the people at Drogheria Gilberto on Via Drapperie; a sweet shop nestled among butchers and bakers and, believe it or not, candle makers…
In our household the first question asked as coffee is poured in the morning is normally, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” As I wrote this I realized it sounded a bit like the lady of the manor consulting with the cook for that day’s menu, I’ll leave it to you to decided who is playing which role in that little playlet.
And it seems that lately “what’s to eat?” is becoming the burning question of the day. And looking at the five or six food sites that I visit on YouTube the trend seems to be going to good old fashioned comfort foods. Recipes that we grew up with and are familiar in an ever stranger world.
The various digital editions of media that still have food features have been creating lists of recipes to get you through the week. Rachel Roddy lives in Rome and writes for The Guardian. On occasion I have used her recipes but this week in her Italian Recipes for the Lockdown she has some real classics which she tells us are made from ingredients found in your pantry or larder. Well maybe a Roman pantry or larder! Though sure enough we did have all the ingredients for her version of Pollo alla cacciatora except the small chilli pepper but she gave a perfectly good substitute of a pinch or two of dried chilli.
Where, you might ask, are the tomatoes, mushrooms, onions or red pepper? Well this recipe is Alla Romano and there isn’t a tomato in sight. It depends on very few things – quality chicken, good olive oil, premium black olives, garlic, a sprig of fresh rosemary and red wine vinegar. And it is the ultimate cibo della nonna*.
Pollo alla cacciatora (Hunter’s chicken)
Serves 4 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1.5 kg chicken (a small one, jointed, or a mixture of legs and thighs) 2 garlic cloves 1 small chilli pepper, or good pinch of dried chilli A sprig of fresh rosemary Salt and black pepper 250ml white wine, plus extra if needed 1 tbsp red wine vinegar A handful of pitted black olives
1 Cut the chicken into about 12 pieces (I ask my butcher to do this). In a deep sauté pan with a lid, large enough to fit the meat in a snug, single layer, warm the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the meat pieces, skin-side down and cook until the skin forms a golden crust, then turn them over and do the same on the other side. This will take about 15 minutes.
2 While the meat is browning, chop the garlic, chilli and needles from the rosemary sprig very finely. Once the meat has browned, sprinkle with the chopped garlic, chilli and rosemary, season with salt and pepper, pour over the white wine, cover the pan and turn the heat down to low.
3 Cook the meat, turning from time to time, until the thighs feel very tender when prodded with a fork, and the meat is surrounded by thick gravy – 45–75 minutes depending on the chicken. If the pan seems a little dry, add a little more wine.
4 In the last minutes of cooking add the vinegar and the olives, stir, and cook for a minute more, before dividing between warm plates.
Recipe from Rachel Roddy – A Kitchen in Rome The Guardian – March 30, 2020
I’m not sure what 12 pieces her butcher cuts the chicken up into but all I could get out of mine was two legs, two thighs, two wings, two breasts cut in half crosswise. That makes ten pieces by my count; if anyone has any idea where the other two came from let me know.
Of course you can use a combination of thighs, legs, breasts from the supermarket if you aren’t as lucky as Ms Reddy to have an accomodating butcher.
It may seem like an awful lot of olive oil but it turns into a tasty sauce when combined with the white wine, chicken fat, chilli, garlic and rosemary.
Make sure the chicken is dry so the skin will turn golden and not stick to the pan.
That addition of red wine vinegar at the end sounds a bit strange but it gives a bit of punch to the sauce, don’t omit it.
The reheated leftovers the next day suggested it could be made ahead and served at a company – when we finally can have company – dinner. I’d reheat the sauce gently and then warm the chicken pieces in it.
* Grandma’s home cooking. The ultimate Italian comfort food!
The word for April 5th is: Comfort Food /ˈkəmfərt fo͞od/: [compound noun] Nourishment that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, often associated with childhood or home cooking. The term has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.” Well we pretty much got severe emotional stress happening on a big scale so …. time for some “comfort food”.
One of my constant whines – I can only imagine the surprise it must be for many of my friends to think I would actually whine about something – when I first returned from Italy had to do with food. It just wasn’t the same in Canada. Things weren’t fresh picked – they had been shipped in unripened and allowed (or forced chemically) to ripen in the store. There was not flavor! No great variety! And many of the vegetables and fruits were available – if in perhaps a state of tastelessness – year round. There was no seasonality!
Now given the climate in Ottawa the idea of fresh picked does have its seasonal limitations – the probability of anything growing is low and the improbability of anyone harvesting at -32c are reasonably high. But come on now variety? Would that be so hard to do?
Though things are looking up for varieties – particularly heirloom vegetables – but this photo taken at a flower shop in Sorrento will give you an indication of the variety of tomatoes that are grown in Italy.
You say tomato – I say TOMATOES! Eleven! Count them – eleven types of tomatoes. You name the occasion and you’ve got a red (yellow or green) ball of goodness that was made just for Nona’s secret recipe.
Eleven – count them eleven different seed packets and none of them are “heirloom” – just your average Italian garden variety. Some for sauce, some for salad, some for roasting (god is there anything closer to heaven than roasted tomatoes?), others for stuffing, yet another for matching with a good Mozzarella di Buffala. I recall buying tomatoes from our local greengrocer (who by the way is still there and greeted us with big smiles and the hope that we were back to stay) and the first question was always: what are you using them for?
And of course what was available depended on the time of year – for everything. The watermelons were sweet and juicy in August but forget finding any on the market in September, artichokes were the last weeks of March and the first week of April, figs (the sweet, pale green skinned Italian variety) in June and July and this time of year: late October early November it’s kaki season!
A type of persimmon, but unlike any from North America I’ve every tasted, the kaki has a custardy texture with just a touch of astringency. And apparently you can use it as an instrument to foretell the weather for the coming season.
Sidd joined me at Peter and Joe’s in savouring the joy of a chilled kaki ready to burst its orange skin and deliver creamy, custardy, astringent but sweet goodness. I’m not sure if they remember my child-like (okay perhaps childish is a better adjective) joy when kaki season arrived but it was the perfect finish to a splendid meal with cherished friends in a place I love. November 10 – 1871:Henry Morton Stanley locates missing explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingstone in Ujiji, near Lake Tanganyika, famously greeting him with the words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
The gang at work did a pot-luck lunch today so I thought I’d bring a touch of Italy to the festivities with a spaghetti frittata. I first had this quintessential Neapolitan dish at Leon d’Oro, a quintessential Neapolitan trattoria in Piazza Dante. My friend Wendy loving and accurately described this friendly family run restaurant, that she visited last month, over at Flavor of Italy.
This is a great way to use up left-over spaghetti, vegetables or whatever catches your fancy. Its a good buffet dish, a lunch/brunch dish with a salad or as a primi for a more elaborate dinner.
1/2 lb of spaghetti* 3 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk Salt Fresh ground pepper Other ingredients can be added – almost anything that you would normally use with spaghetti – bacon, cooked zucchini, roast peppers, basil, canned tomatoes or left-over tomato sauce.
Cook spaghetti until just slightly al dente – it will undergo further cooking later.
Drain and toss while still hot with butter, Parmesan and parsley and allow to cool completely
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl with salt and pepper
Add the beaten eggs to the spaghetti and mix thoroughly
If you are using other ingredients they should be added and thoroughly mixed in at this point.
Spray a 11-12 inch non-stick skillet with Pam or 2 tablespoons of butter and heat over a medium burner until foam subsides.
Pour mixture into skillet and spread to an even thickness over the bottom of the pan.
Cook for 3 to 4 minutes without touching the pan. The tilt the pan slightly and bring the edge closer to the centre of the heat. Cook for minute or so and then rotate the pan about a 1/4 turn and cook for another minute. Continue until a full circle has been completed. This will make sure it is cooked evenly. Lift the edge with a spatula to see if a nice golden crust has formed on the underside.
Place a platter slightly larger than the pan upside down over the pan and turn it over. Let the frittata plop onto the plater. Grease the pan again and side the frittata back into the pan.
Repeat the cooking process above until the second side has formed a good golden crust.
Transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges.
It can be served hot, lukewarm or at room temperature but never just out of the refrigerator.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown