La pastiera 2017

This year’s pastiera (ricotta and wheat Easter pie). For a change, I made a lard and butter pasta frolla (italian sweet pastry): super crumbly and a nightmare to work with, but it tastes delicious (humbly, he said). Very happy to  have  found the original fialetta,  the extra-tiny glass bottles full of excellent and powerful orange blossom water, from Naples, which gives this splendid cake its haunting perfume.   The recipe is the traditional  one, from Carola Francesconi. Happy Easter everyone.

La genovese (Neapolitan beef and onion braise)

“La genovese” literally means “The woman/girl from Genoa”. It is in fact a meat dish from  Naples and it has nothing to do with Genova, the capital of Liguria, in North-West Italy. Rather confusing, I agree.

A solid piece of beef is braised for hours in a huge quantity of onions – this is la genovese in a nutshell.  When you taste, smell and savor it, you realize that there is more, much more going on here.  Continue reading

Timballo con ragu di maiale speziato e intingolo di fegatini (Timballo with spiced pork ragù and chicken livers)

Timballo is an extravagant, towering pasta pie from Southern Italy: crumbly semi-sweet short pastry enclosing a voluptuous filling of pasta, meat sauce, béchamel sauce, peas, cheese, eggs, ham, mushrooms, giblets etc – the sky is the limit. Timballo  is also called timpano  and “both words mean the same thing – a drum, as in the timpani of a symphony orchestra” , as Arthur Schwartz says in his splendid book Naples at TableTimballo has its roots in the kitchens of mid 18th century Southern Italy aristocrats and it has many variations, all of which proudly reject that old adage that “less is more”: the whole point of a timballo is that “more, more, more and even more is better”.

Timballi are festive, celebratory, splendid dishes that only the really wealthy could afford – it was food to impress. In the famous 1958 Italian novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), set in mid 19th century Sicily there is this memorable description of the timballo offered by the grand Prince Salina to his guests at his ball:

“When three lackeys in green, gold and powder entered, each holding a great silver dish containing a towering macaroni pie, only four of the twenty at table avoided showing pleased surprise….Good manners apart, though, the aspect of those monumental dishes of macaroni was worthy of the quivers of admiration they evoked. The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of the sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a spice-laden haze, then chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”  (The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, translation by Archibald Colquhoun).

 

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La pastiera (Easter Neapolitan sweet pie with wheat and ricotta)

In Campania, no Easter would be conceivable without pastiera, a wonderful cake that exemplifies Southern Italy cooking at its best. It is decadent, generous, refined and simple at the same time. A rich and crumbly pasta frolla (sweet pastry),  plump soft wheat berries cooked to a cream in milk, sweet snow-white ricotta, eggs, exotic orange flower water, and bright candied citrus peels that bring the sunshine of the costiera into your home. Impossible to resist – but then why should you? Continue reading