La mia quasi ricotta (almost ricotta)

 

Ricotta is for me strongly associated with Easter and Spring cooking in general: it plays a crucial roles in beloved seasonal dishes, from Ligurian Torta Pasqualina (when the original, more appropriate Ligurian cheese prescinseua cannot be found outside Liguria – that is always!), to Neapolitan ricotta and wheat tart, called pastiera, spinach or nettle ravioli and the endless sweet or savoury cakes and pies that can be found all over Italy at this time of the year, pizza rustica, fiadone abruzzese, pizza di ricotta.

Artisanal ricotta is one of the ingredients I miss most from Italy. I have never tasted here in the UK a ricotta, either made here or imported, that is as good as the one I can have almost anywhere in Italy. It makes sense: fresh ricotta (that has not undergone any pasteurization) is a fragile beauty and it does not travel well. As a consequence what we get here is generally the long-life stuff; local cheesemakers simply do not have the knowledge or the inclination to learn.

So, for me, homemade ricotta it has to be. Well… almost! Continue reading

Sformato autunnale di tre verdure (layered autumn three vegetable terrine from Piemonte)

Time to change gear: autumn is here and I want to explore more of the wonderful northern Italian repertoire, which I think lends itself better to this time of the year.

This vegetable terrine hails from Piemonte, or, to be precise, from this tremendous book about Piedmeontese cooking: if you read Italian, do get it. This is not your typical recipe driven cookery book but one where the emphasis is on food as culture.
it is a layered affair of cooked chopped vegetables, with each vegetable layer enriched with eggs and béchamel sauce: an excellent example of that Italian bourgeois , Sunday lunch cooking, now almost disappeared. Continue reading

Sfincione di Bagheria (sfincione from Bagheria, a Sicilian pizza)

Sfincione is the pizza of Sicily: contrary to its Neapolitan counterpart, which is generally round, sold in individual portions, with a thick cornicione, a thin centre and not too much topping, sfincione is generally baked in large trays and sold cut up in hefty portions (even if there are also small, individual  sfincioni, called sfincionelli, approximately 300 g each); it is quite thick all over, with a soft and pillowy dough (sometimes a little lard is added to the dough, which I greatly approve of) and it is laden with toppings. It is another thing altogether and something I urge you to explore – sfincione lends itself to domestic home baking much better than Neapolitan pizza. Continue reading

Erbazzone o scarpazzone emiliano (Chard and pancetta tart from Emilia Romagna)

Erbazzone is a chard tart with an impeccable pedigree. It comes from Reggio Emilia, a charming town in Emilia Romagna, the land of Parmigiano, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, mortadella, prosciutto di Parma, i.e. one of Italy’s culinary heavens.  It used to be a typical spring dish (when  young, tender chards were available), now it can be prepared almost all year round, because leafy greens seem to be always available (and rather “local” too). I have made erbazzone with spring chards, with older, winter chards, with chards only, with chards and spinach and also with cabbage: it never fails.  Continue reading