Lucca, June 2022 . London, August 2022. This has been the best, most rewarding recipe of this summer. Just love it
I am a bread collector. All those stale loaf-ends (apparently called “the heels”) that cannot be eaten but cannot be turned into breadcrumbs either, I put aside – “I will make a bread pudding or a pancotto, an Italian bread soup”, I solemnly declare. P and Lucia roll their eyes, because they know their chickens: often these grand plans are not acted upon and, after weeks of ignoring it, I bin my bread, with a bad conscience.
This time, I looked at my collection of odd ends of bread and I decided to make polpette di pane, bread polpette and what an inspired decision that was. Over the last month I have cooked them a few times, actually buying and collecting bread with this purpose in mind.
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and “miglio” in Italian) and flavoured with chopped dry elderflowers; over the course of the centuries the millet has been replaced by polenta flour, but chopped elderflowers have remained a key ingredient.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”→
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”→