Asparagi in fricassea (Asparagus in an egg and lemon sauce, fricassea-style)

In Italian cookery terms, when you cook something “in fricassea”, it means that you add egg yolks that you have already mixed with lemon juice to a hot, cooked dish, at the very end, generally off the heat. The yolks thicken and become a velvety, lemony sauce that enrobe the other ingredients. The trick, obviously, is not to scramble them.It is a Northern Italian cookery technique that always delivers a subtle elegance to the final dish.
Typically, it is rabbit, veal, chicken and lamb, that are cooked “in fricassea” , the meat first being braised “in bianco”, without tomatoes. 
Some vegetables too can be cooked “in fricassea”: artichokes, peas, mushrooms, carrots, courgettes, broad beans and asparagus.

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

Update May 2022: it is that time of the year again – courgette bonanza. Time to make scarpaccia, both as a dessert and as a savoury tart.
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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 “Scarpaccia viareggina (sweet and custardy courgette cake from Viareggio, in Tuscany)”

Torta di farro della Garfagnana (emmer savoury pie from Garfagnana)

A savoury pie typical of Garfagnana and Lunigiana, those mountainous areas in between North Tuscany, South Liguria and west Emilia Romagna, sparsely populated, traditionally poor (hence their rather sombre style of cooking), thickly covered in chestnut tree woods (hence the many dishes based on chestnuts, once called “the bread of the poor”, because they were free and highly nutritious) and where mushrooms and wild boars are still abundant. It is farro, however, or emmer (Triticum dicoccum), a type of wheat, that is perhaps the most celebrated produce of this part of Italy.

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‘Ndunderi di Minori, nella costiera amalfitana (ricotta gnocchi from Minori, on the Amalfi coast)

A rather difficult name for an easy peasy pasta: ‘ndunderi are ricotta and pecorino cheese gnocchi from Minori,  on the Amalfi coast. These cheesy morsels are firmer than potato gnocchi but positevly tender and are a cinch to make.  They go back centuries: in fact they are said to be deriving from the little pasta balls of farro flour (spelt) and soured milk that the ancient Romans used to make. Continue reading “‘Ndunderi di Minori, nella costiera amalfitana (ricotta gnocchi from Minori, on the Amalfi coast)”

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