Castagnaccio is one of the oldest sweet dishes in the Italian repertoire: chestnut flour whisked with water and a little olive oil, a few needles of rosemary for perfume, then baked until it turns into a sort of cake, a true poor people’s dessert in this most basic version. Chestnut flour is sweet and this makes adding sugar to the batter unnecessary. For greater extravagance, you could add pinenuts, walnuts and sultanas.
In Italy, well until the second world war, chestnuts were regarded as an important, cheap but nutritious food for a large section of the population – if you were poor, meat was an occasional luxury and beans and chestnuts were more likely to be part of your diet.
Truth be told, the castagnaccio you see in most bakeries now can be the stuff of nightmares: stodgy, to say the least, Continue reading →
Focaccia is one of the most famous Italian food. Here in the UK it can be found in many more or less artisanal bakeries and even in supermarkets. It is seldom good generally far too high and dense. Focaccia is one of the most satisfying baked goodies to make at home: it is relatively easy and highly rewarding in terms of taste and texture.
This is one of the best focaccia recipes I have tasted in a long time. Its secret lies in the generous amount of oil and white wine in the dough. It is these ingredients that give this focaccia a full flavour, even if there is also a biga at work here. The inspiration came from Carol Field’s Focaccia book (via another splendid book: Recipes from Paradise, by Fred Plotkin), but I have consequently developed my own version, which I prefer. I have dramatically reduced the yeast and increased the time for the biga, from 1 hour to 12-14 hrs. I have also introduced 10% wholemeal flour, which I think gives the focaccia a more interesting crumb. Carol Field’s recipe uses white flour only and it is done and dusted over few hours (and it is very good, see notes), my version is over two days and I think it is even better. Continue reading →
Pici, pinzi, umbricelli, strangozzi, lunghetti, ciriole, serpentelli, different names for the same pasta: very long and chubby spaghetti-like tubes of fresh pasta generally made only with flour and water, typical of Toscana, Umbria and Lazio. When cooked, they acquire that pleasant, slightly chewy and slippery texture of all “pasta povera”, that is pasta made without eggs. Continue reading →
Rice is not immediately associated with Sicilian cooking, apart from the wonderful arancini, those glorious deep fried rice balls stuffed with meat ragù, peas and cheese.. I was therefore rather surprised when I stumbled across this intriguing sounding rice and chestnut dish from Messina, in Sapori di Sicilia, by Giovanni Coria, It is nothing more than boiled rice dressed with a (dry or fresh) chestnut and olive oil “sauce”, with some pecorino and boiled, chopped finocchietto (wild fennel), the signature herb of Sicilian cooking. It is an unusual and tasty dish and if you like chestnuts you might find it appealing. Continue reading →
“Sancrau”, the assonance with “sauerkraut” is clear and this is indeed a cabbage dish: Savoy cabbage cooked with garlic, anchovies and vinegar.
I have not been able to ascertain whether this is the Italian version of sauerkraut (as some sources claim) or if the name is just a coincidence – however, a savoury, robust dish this is for sure. Continue reading →