Timballo di patate alla finanziera – Potato, chicken liver and sausage timbale, a 1928 middle-class dish

Delicious, easy, filling and impressive – this is what a well-to-do 1920s Italian middle-class family would have thought of this dish, I presume. It is a timbale, not dissimilar from a British savoury pudding: the “crust” is made with mashed potatoes, seasoned with butter and Parmigiano; the filling is finanziera, a traditional, now rare, ragout of veal offal and chicken giblets, often enriched with ceps or even truffles. Continue reading

Brasato lombardo – braised beef Lombardy style

This is the sort of slow braised beef dish I grew up with – the occasional Sunday lunch fare, eaten with mounds of buttery polenta.
I prefer to cook a brasato in the oven, at low temperature, at least one day before I want to eat it. Pre-salting the meat is crucial, ideally 24 hours before cooking it.
In the Italian fashion, I use a solid piece of meat that I ask my butcher to tie with string into a solid shape, rather than cubes – this way there is less risk of overcooking the meat and the size allows for a prolonged period in the oven. The alchemy of time and gentle heating delivers rich, deep flavours. Continue reading

Pan mejino o pàn de mèj o pàndemèinn Pan di miglio/Elderflower and polenta cake from Lombardy

Pan de mej - elderflower and polenta cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an old treat from Lombardy, now, alas, almost extinct.

Originally, “pan de mej” were crinkly yellow flat biscuits made with millet flour (“mej” in the Lombardy dialect and “miglio” in Italian) and flavoured with chopped dry elderflowers; over the course of the centuries the millet has been replaced by polenta flour, but chopped elderflowers have remained a key ingredient. These biscuits were traditionally eaten on the day of San Giorgio, the 23rd of April, dunked in single cream: in Lombardy, San Giorgio was hailed as the patron saint of milkmen and, in long gone days, the 23rd of April was when milk supply contracts were renewed. I can vouch for the excellence of the combination of warm pan de mej and cold single cream. In my version, I follow Anna del Conte’s lead and bake a cake instead of biscuits and I use fresh elderflowers. This is a dry cake, exquisitely perfumed, whose restrained elegance and goodness should be revived. Continue reading

Pizzelle napoletane – Neapolitan fried small pizzas

 

Pizzelle,  fried small (ish) pizzas,  are iconic and beloved  Neapolitan street food whose strong hold on Italian popular culture has been assured for ever  by being the protagonists of a legendary sketch in the movie L’oro di Napoli (The gold of Naples, 195 )  where a young and voluptuous Sophia Loren plays a flirtatious pizzaiola,  a pizza maker, whose pizzelle as well as her prosperous bosom are legendary in the neighbourhood. As she fries the pizzelle she shouts: “…Scialate…scialate…Mangiate oggi e pagate fra otto giorni…” (Enjoy…enjoy…eat now and pay in 8 days’ time…”).

They are also firmly rooted in local home cooking though. As a kid, I used to spend a couple of weeks every summer in Salerno, not far from Naples and I clearly remember pizzelle being prepared by relatives: what a feast, for a little Milanese kid, whose mother was a reluctant cook and who would never embark in any deep frying. My aunt’s pizzelle were simply dressed with a a little tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan: stuck one on top of the other, they would be kept warm in the oven, ready to be devoured with gusto after an exhausting morning at the beach -they are amongst my strongest food memories.  Continue reading