Tag Archives: cucina Calabrese

In my kitchen, May 2017

It has been a glorious few weeks of Autumn in Sydney.  Beautiful warm blue sky days and slightly crisp evenings.  It’s been so mild that a couple of tomato plants we had left in the ground have gotten confused and started producing tomatoes again; our basil plant looks like we’re in the prime of summer.  My hen friends have loved the sun, scratching out comfortable spots and lying down and sunbaking, I half expect them to call out for a round of Pina Coladas.

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Meanwhile, in my kitchen, is chocolate left over from Easter.  The mountain is considerably smaller than a few weeks ago and the Small People are slowly consuming it.  I plead guilty to taking the occasional little egg from their stash.

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In my kitchen is some Italian smoked scarmorza, a gift from a thoughtful friend.  Scarmorza is an Italian cheese, similar to mozzarella. She said she’s struggled to find a smoked one in Australia as good as those in Italy; this one was pretty damn good. She used hers in a lasagne,  I’ve got some yummy plans for this one for a pasta dish too.

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More cheese….a beautiful freshly cut chunk of parmiggiano reggiano from the Italian deli; it will be used in lots of dishes.

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I also bought some green lentils at another local deli, these are type of lentils I prefer.  One of these days it will cool down and lentils are great for winter soups.

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In my kitchen are “mustazzoli”.  These are very traditional ginger and honey biscuits.  They can be made chewy or ultra hard.  Typically, they are sold and Italian Festivals and Fairs; my father-in-law bought them at a festival recently.  The Marito loves them, I’m not terribly partial.

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Tidying up the other day, I found a recipe for a limoncello cream that my cousin in Calabria had jotted down on a piece of paper for me years ago….now I need to find the other post it note with the method!

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In my kitchen is some deliciousness from Mamma Rosa.  They are crumbed artichoke.  She bought them over ready for me to cook.  She slices the artichokes, gently poaches them in stock, then allows them to cool and crumbs them. Then they are lightly fried.  I adore them.

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I’ve been experimenting with hydration (water) levels in my bread, gradually working my way higher.  When I first started baking I was using circa 55% hydration (ie 55% of the weight of flour in water), this loaf is 70%.  It is much harder to shape but ends up with a better result.

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And finally in my kitchen is a tiramisu I made today to take to work tomorrow (recipe here).  The Marito looked on somewhat jealously and asked if he was getting one too. So I made him a mini one.

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What’s happening in your kitchen? Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings has taken over hosting this monthly blog link up which I so enjoy (thanks Sherry!).  Have a peek into kitchens around the world!

 

Making pignolata

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A few days before Easter, I give Mamma Rosa a call and suggest we knock together a pignolata, we haven’t made it for ages. “You know”, she says, “I was thinking the same thing”. We’re getting into the territory of hardcore traditional Southern Italian sweets, and for me one that comes with a lot of memories. Nonna, Mamma Rosa and I would get a little production line going to make it happen. When I was growing up, pignolata would typically be made at Christmas and Easter, in the shape of a wreath. But Mamma Rosa, clever lady that she is, often made it into other shapes, giant number 18’s or 21’s depending on the birthday, and there was a dove or two here and there.

Like all of her recipes, none of the quantities are exact, it’s really about look and feel and experience. The dough for pignolata is very similar to that of crostoli, it’s just what you do with it that’s different. The amount we made was quite a big batch – it can produce two large pignolate, or three smaller ones. (By the way other Italian readers may know this sweet as struffoli, but in my mother’s village it has always been pignolata).

So off we go. We start by putting ten large eggs in a large bowl of the electric mixer. Next, says Mamma Rosa, “metti ‘na cucciarinata di zucchero per ogni uovo”. That’s one heaped spoon of caster sugar for each egg. Whisk them in the electric mixer till combined and fluffy.

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Next, add about half a cup of olive oil. Mamma Rosa never uses standard cup measures. Its just “ ‘na tazza” and typically whatever coffee cup she grabs from the cupboard. I guessed it to be about half a cup. Then half a cup of Sambuca (Molinari the only acceptable one at their house!) or Millefiore. She loves Millefiore, a lovely floral Italian liquor she often uses in sweets, but she says its dreadfully expensive here compared to Italy. Combine the oil and liquor into the egg mixture with a wooden spoon.

Now it’s time to add the flour. Like crostoli, she uses two parts plain flour to one part self raising flour. At a guess, I’d say we used about 800g of plain and 400g of self raising. You want the dough to be soft and pliable. We fold in the flour with a wooden spoon then we used the dough hook attachment to bring it together for a couple of minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead until smooth and form in the shape of a log. (If it is too much to knead in one piece just split it in two).

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Cut the log into discs, then roll each disc into long thin strips, kind of like breadsticks. They do need to be quite thin because the dough does puff up when cooked due to the self raising flour. Dad grabs a giant tile from the garage and Mamma Rosa and I take a seat and get rolling. As we roll she chatters as she often does about growing in Italy. She tells me that when Nonna used to make pignolata she’d make seven or eight at a time, and hand them out around the village. It would be the same with bread, biscuits, blankets,  whatever she was making. “Mama era di mani larghe” she says. “She was of big hands”.  Generous, she means. I miss Nonna. But the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

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Once we have all our strips ready its time to cut. Grab a serrated knife and cut the strips into little pieces, about 1cm long or so.

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Then it’s time to fry. Heat some oil in a deep pan (Mamma Rosa used canola) and then fry the dough balls in batches until nice and golden. Set the fried balls aside and give the pan a clean. At this point we divided the balls in two to make two separate pignolate. The honey mixture below was just for one of them. If you don’t want to make two at once you can store the fried balls (once cooled) in an airtight container then go again another day.

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Return the pan to the heat and add about 350g of honey and half a cup of caster sugar on low/medium heat. (You can also add a little cinnamon but I’m not really a fan). Stir constantly until it starts to go golden and caramelise – but not toffee –  (was a good ten minutes or so), then add in the dough balls, combine till well coated keep stirring till the honey starts simmering, and continue to stir for another 5-10 minutes.

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The next step is to shape it. You can either shape it on a board or on the plate you’re going to serve it on. Be very careful, the honey is scaldingly hot, so we had a bowl of iced water at the ready. You can’t really let it cool down much as then it will begin to set before you can shape it. We spray the board with olive oil, put a glass down and then tip the honey coated balls around it and begin to shape. Add some sprinkles for decoration, remove the glass, then leave it to harden and set. Once it is set store in the fridge until you are ready to serve and cut with a serrated knife.

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It keeps well in the fridge in a sealed container for several days. It took the two of us a good three hours to make this, so it is a labour of love, but well worth it!

Mamma Rosa’s Zucchini Ripieni (stuffed zucchini)

Mamma Rosa has been great at catering for my vegacquarian Marito over the years. Though really, in the world of Southern Italian cooking, this isn’t hard. A lot of Southern Italian is old style “cucina povera”, or peasant food, as meat was considered a real luxury, and vegetarian anyway. That is the type of food I ate all of my childhood, and what I often now make my own children. The decades following the second world war, when my parents grew up, were a time of terrible poverty in Italy’s south, hence the name of this type of cooking. My father tells the story of him as a very young boy, sneaking out to the chicken coop to take the eggs, eating them raw, so desperate were the times and so severe his hunger. My nonna would go to collect the eggs wonder and why the chickens weren’t laying. He tells it with a laugh, the story of a mischievous boy who tricked his mother, but there is sadness there too.

But I’ve meandered a little. Flipping through Mamma Rosa’s little book this weekend, I felt like making this stuffed zucchini recipe of hers. Like many of the recipes, it is a little light on detail and quantities, as when she is making something it is generally done by feel and taste, and she found them difficult to scribe for me. She has always used the light green zucchini variety for this dish – the variety you’ll see growing in Italian backyards around Sydney in the Summer – and I think the shape is better for this recipe. The number of zucchini is approximate, it really depends on the size. Mine were on the smaller size so I used eight.  Her quantity of cheese is “a piacere”, a phrase you see a  lot in Italian recipes.  It means “to your liking”. I used about half a cup, but use more or less as you please!

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Ingredients
6-8 light green Italian zucchini
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 leek, white part only, diced
50ml olive oil
1 cup aborio rice
750ml stock
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Grated parmesan cheese, “a piacere”
3 eggs
Salt for seasoning

Making them

1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil.  Cut the zucchini in half, and place in the boiling water for 4-5 minutes so that they soften slightly.  Drain and once they are cool enough to handle, using a knife and/or a spoon scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin. (This step is rather fiddly, you want a nice thin casing, but not too thin so that it doesn’t hold). Set the flesh aside in a colander to drain.  Place the hollowed out zucchini in a baking dish or a tray lined with baking paper, and season with salt.

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2. In a pan, heat the olive oil then saute the onion and leek until softened. Squeeze the zucchini flesh to remove any excess water, chop coarsely then add to the pan and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat, then gradually add the stock as if making a risotto until cooked. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the parsley and parmesan and stir through. Taste for seasoning and add salt if required. In a bowl, beat two of the eggs and stir through.

3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Fill each of the zucchini cases with rice. (If you were preparing ahead, after stuffing you could place them in the fridge for cooking later). Beat the remaining egg and brush over the top. Spray some foil with olive oil, cover, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve.

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Mamma Rosa’s rice balls (polpetti di riso)

Mamma Rosa rules supreme in the “rice ball” world, as we call them.  For as long as I can remember, a plate of steaming hot rice balls appears at any family get together for us all to snack on before the main event.  Countless times over the years she’s been asked to make them for parties of family friends and relatives too.

One Sunday I say to the Marito “I’m going to have a crack at making them myself”.  There is a sharp intake of breath – it is like I am committing a transgression, or heading into some seriously dangerous territory.  I use the recipe she scribed in my little book. I need about another twenty years practice to get them like hers, but I’ll get there.  These are best if you cook the rice a day ahead of making them.

Ingredients
500g long grain rice
200g grated Parmeggiano
5 eggs, lightly beaten
Finely chopped parsley, to taste
Breadcrumbs
Salt
Oil for frying

Making them
1. Cook the rice in a large pot of well salted water. Once cooked, let strain for at least an hour then put the rice in  a large bowl. If you are making them on the day, wait till the rice is completely cooled, otherwise put the rice in the fridge for assembly the next day.

2. To the rice, add the eggs, cheese, parsley and season.  Combine well with your hands.  Once combined, start shaping the mixture into rissoles then roll in breadcrumbs to coat. Once formed, put them in the fridge for at least an hour before cooking.

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Here are my uneven, awkward, and slightly too big ones

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Here are Mamma Rosas petite uniform ones

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3. Heat the oil in a heavy based frypan and fry gently until golden. Serve hot.

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Pasta Sundays

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Growing up, every Sunday was pasta Sunday.   We did have pasta dishes other nights too, but Sunday was the day of the traditional, slow cooked tomato sauce. Mamma Rosa would always get up early to start it, so that the meat, usually pork and beef, would gently braise for four or so hours, falling off the bone and luscious to eat. If I were to drop in on any cousin, Zia, Comare or other close family friend on a Sunday before lunch, I would find the same slow cooking sauce going on, it was like there was a code.

These days there is also a vegetarian sauce bubbling away on the stove for my Marito. Mamma Rosa took the non meat eating quite well when I first bought him home for Sunday lunch during the dating phase. My relatives in Italy, not so much. You know that scene from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where there is stunned silence when she tells them all her boyfriend does not eat meat? We had that exact moment with my Zia in Calabria. She had prepared some melanzane ripieni – stuffed eggplant – for our arrival. After a moment of looking at us incredulously, and asking “what do you mean” three or four times, she insisted that he could eat them anyway, because the amount of meat in them was “ ‘na fesseria “, trifling, so it didn’t really count.

But regardless of the sauce, Mamma Rosa’s silky strands of homemade tagliatelle are an absolute treat. Eggs, flour and a little salt. The ingredients seem so simple, but the art is in the lightness of touch, getting the amount of folding and rolling right, and knowing when the sheets are ready to become the pasta. Today we got together for Mamma Rosa’s birthday. When it’s all of us, and our children, its quite a group and the giant oversize pasta pot comes out. It is cooked in a few minutes, drained, the hearty sauce is added, and we sit around the table and the sounds of contentment and slurping of tagliatelle follow.

Zucchini Frittelle

With the bounty of Summer gardens, it was the perfect time to make zucchini frittelle (zucchini fritters). Like crostoli and tiramisu, there are a thousand different versions of these, depending which Nonna you talk to. My Mamma Rosa always uses tomato in hers, and so did my mother-in-law, but a lot of versions you see don’t. Given the season for zucchini flowers is short, you can make these just with zucchini the rest of the year.  I used a 200g zucchini and 100g of flowers; if you don’t have flowers just use 300g of zucchini instead. Or, if you have an abundance of flowers like I did in my kitchen this month, you could use entirely flowers and no grated zucchini, but you will need to add some water to the mixture. You can also use plain or self raising flour (though plain is more typical) – in the ones pictured here I used self raising because when I looked in the cupboard I was out of plain (rookie mistake), and they just come out a little thicker if you do. Replace the eggs with water if you have an egg allergy. (Have I covered every possible permutation yet?).

They are a great snack, or can be part of a selection of antipasto dishes.

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Ingredientsimkjan (8)
1 medium zucchini, coarsely grated
100g zucchini flowers, stamen removed, coarsely torn
1 ripe tomato, seeds removed, finely diced
Handful of basil, chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmeggiano
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plain flour
salt and pepper
Canola oil, for frying

Making them
1. Using a wooden spoon, gently combine the zucchini, flowers, tomato, basil and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the egg and combine, then add the flour and gently mix until well combined

3. Heat some canola oil in a frypan, then place a heaped tablespoon in the pan, flattening slightly (or use less to make mini bite sized ones). Once golden on the bottom flip over. You should only need to turn them once. Eat warm or at room temperature (if they last long enough to get to room temperature, they never do at my place).

Mamma Rosa’s Lemon Biscuits

When I read the recipes my mother wrote out for me in a little book, they often make me laugh. Her recipes for biscuits, dough, and bread, contain phrases that translate to “add how much flour the mixture will hold” or “add however much flour it needs” and (a favourite), “cook until ready”. But that’s because she’s never really cooked from a recipe – its always from feel, sight, and taste, so it was a really challenge for her to attempt to convert everything into quantities for me.

And I must admit if you make certain things enough it does work that way. For my morning coffee biscuits, which I make on a regular basis, I never measure the flour – I can tell if it needs more by the texture and the look of the mixture. So for this recipe, which contained two of the aforementioned phrases, the flour amount here is an approximation – add flour such that the biscuit dough will still be a little sticky, but not so sticky that you can’t work with it. I used less sugar than her originally suggested 1 1/2 cups as I didn’t want them too sweet. They are just perfect with a cup of tea. I used a tablespoon measure to measure out the dough for each biscuit, and ended up with 80 or so – Mamma Rosa doesn’t believe in small batch recipes – you need enough to hand out to your neighbours and for any visitors that come by to take home. And she proved to be right – with a few people dropping in and sending some away the first 40 were gone very quickly!

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Ingredients
Grated rind of 3 lemons
Juice of 2 lemons
5 eggs
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 900g self raising flour
Icing sugar, for coating

Making them
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees fan forced
2. Using an electric beater, combine the eggs and caster sugar until light and fluffy
3. Add the olive oil, grated lemon, vanilla and lemon juice and beat until combined
4. Fold in the baking powder and flour until combined
5. Form the dough into little balls, sprinkle with icing sugar, and place on trays with baking paper leaving 3cm or so between each biscuit
6. Cook until ready (mum’s words) – mine were done in 15 minutes or so. They go from white to brown very quickly so don’t stray too far from the oven!
7. Put on a wire rack to cool and then sit down and enjoy one or two with a cup of tea

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