As a teenager, I used to go skiing in the Alps, in Valle d’Aosta, the austere north-western part of Italy, crowned by dramatic peaks. On a sunny, crisp, late winter day, coming down the slopes was exhilarating. And exhausting after a few hours of fun. By late lunch, I was starving. We would generally find a safe spot and have a picnic – a slab of focaccia, stuffed with ham or mortadella, a coke and some chocolate. The local alimentari down in the village used to sell a great focaccia and I indulged often. I have never come across a bakery or alimentari in Italy that does not sell focaccia, though not perhaps always as good as the one I used to buy up there in the mountains. Now that I think of it, this is a little curious, because focaccia is actually specific to Liguria, in the north-west of Italy, but it has become a national food in the past few decades.
It is only in Liguria, however, that I have come across the lesser known focaccia d Recco, which is not a focaccia in the conventional meaning, but a flat bread, stuffed with cream cheese.
A mystery cake: it is called mantovana, meaning from Mantua (in Lombardy) but it is in fact a speciality of the Tuscan town of Prato. It is a buttery and eggy cake with a tight, tender crumb, subtly perfumed with lemon zest and topped with almonds and pine nuts. There is no baking powered in the batter and this makes for a rather flat cake. It is one of those cakes that Italian 19th century cook books would define as da credenza, i.e. a dresser cake, one that that home cooks would keep in a dresser, on a platter or on a cake stand, covered by a napkin – as I do. It really is ideal with a mid morning coffee or with an afternoon tea.
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 “Pizzelle napoletane – Neapolitan fried small pizzas”→