Scarpaccia viareggina (sweet and custardy courgette cake from Viareggio, in Tuscany)

It took a leap of faith and my avid curiosity to try this cake: could a basic sweet batter and some grated courgettes make a good cake? No nuts, no sultanas, no spices…really? A resolute “yes!” is the answer.
This is a most unusual and excellent cake come dessert: delicate, plain and light, but not at all boring, with a delicious custardy quality. Burnished golden outside, yellow with specks of green inside, it is also pretty.
Scarpaccia  means “nasty/old shoe” and no one really knows why such an uninspiring name; it is possibly something to do with the appearance of this dessert: a genuine scarpaccia should be a fairly thin and crusty affair – like an old, over-worn shoe. It is the contrast between the sugary and crusty exterior (due to a good drizzle of olive oil) and the custardy, vanilla scented interior that make this unposessing looking dessert sing.

It is a Tuscan speciality and you will not find anywhere else in Italy – Continue reading

Biscotti di mandorle al vino (almond, white whine and olive oil biscotti)

Out of curiosity, I have been experimenting with vegan baking lately. Most efforts went into the bin, lacking any real good flavour and/or texture.  I then had a eureka moment when I remembered the traditional ciambelline al vino from Rome. They are sweet, crunchy, little pastry rings, made with whine (red or white, it does not matter), olive oil and anicini (aniseed  seeds) – here a good version I tried. They are really moorish and una tira l’altra, as we say:  you cannot stop eating them. I decided to play around that theme, Continue reading

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

Frittelle veneziane – Venetian Carnival fritters

 

Frittelle is the generic name for “fritters”, however for most Italians frittelle (pronounced frihttehlleh) is synonymous with Carnival. Frittelle are deep fried pastries, generally made with an enriched bread dough or a choux dough, often containing sultanas, citrus zest and pine nuts. When well made, they are light and hollow inside, not at all doughy. They can be either plain or filled with creme patisserie, which is perhaps gilding the lily. In Venice there is a cult for Carnival fritters, no surprisingly perhaps, considering how deeply felt  Carnival is  up there – it is an important part of the city’s history and cultural identity. Personally, I prefer the other, plainer Carnival pastries, chiacchiere, but I would never say no to a warm frittella (which is the singular for the plural frittellE) Continue reading