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and “miglio” in Italian) and flavoured with chopped dry elderflowers; over the course of the centuries the millet has been replaced by polenta flour, but chopped elderflowers have remained a key ingredient.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
Trentino Alto Adige is a strange corner of Italy: more Heidi’s playground than your typical sea & sun postcard from Italy. On the north-east border with Austria, its gorgeous Alpine scenery, flower-festooned wooden houses and German street signs give its past away: Trentino was part of the the Austrian-Empire, from the early 19th century to just after the first world war. This is reflected in its food: gulasch suppe, sauerkraut, apple strudel are common dishes.
Torta di grano saraceno is one of the most famous cakes from the area, a buckwheat and nut sponge cake, generally filled with a sharp berry jam (blueberry, black currant or raspberry jam). Continue reading
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
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