Archive for June, 2013


The Lure of the Liqueur

June 29, 2013

With our backyard mandarin tree bursting with winter fruit, the Mandarin Queen needed to break away from the annual marmalade making. 

Enter the gaudy tea towel I’d bought from a local Italian deli a few months ago. The 100% cotton ‘Liquori d’Italia’ purchase was an encyclopedia of Italian liqueurs and winding my way down the boot, I found something enticing. Souvenir Italian teatowel with liqueur map

Mandarinetto is a Sicilian mandarin-based liqueur that uses the same recipe as Limoncello: fruit peel, vodka and sugar syrup. I can feel it doing me good already.

Italians love their liqueurs as either aperitifs or digestifs and have been making them since they were prepared by monks as herbal medicines centuries ago. Wind the clock forward to the 1960s and my mother (who was definitely not a monk but liked her cordials with a bit of kick) went through a homemade liqueur phase. Armed with pure alcohol, sugar and synthetic essences, she worked her way through Maraschino, Amaretto, Sambuca and something bright green as post-dinner party treats. But it’s the Strega that stands out.

Strega bottle with its namesake witch

Strega means “witch” in Italian and was so named in 1860 for the legends of witchcraft in its city of origin – Benevento, northeast of Naples. When I later studied Shakespeare’s Macbeth at school, nothing could wipe from my mind the vision of the three witches, the cauldron and the chant “Double, double, toil and trouble”. Commercially bought Liquore Strega which is made from 70 herbs and spices still boasts a witch on the label.

The liqueur has also been quoted in literature (A Farewell to Arms) and has a role in a few films including Kitty Foyle (1940) where Ginger Rogers (in one of her more interesting roles) is impressed with her beau’s smooth line: “If two people drink it [Strega] together, they’ll never drink it apart”.

For Mandarinetto, the line would be something like: “if you make this liqueur from home-grown fruit you will become intimate with citrus stinkbugs”. 

Speaking of bugs, I’ve always been fascinated by the liqueur ‘Alchermes’, said to contain a small parasitic insect that contributes to its scarlet colour.

I belong to a bi-monthly food club and the president occasionally brings along a bottle of surprising liqueur for us to try. My Mandarinetto will require a four week steeping period, so I’ll report back after I’ve tested it on club members.

Mandarinetto liqueur recipe from ‘Love from Italy’ blog

Related post: Maraschino liqueur cherries

Kitty Foyle Strega scene



Lurking in the Cupboard #5: Napoletana coffee pot

June 16, 2013

While not strictly a hidden treasure, this object deserves a place in my occasional Lurking in the Cupboard series as a cultural curiosity alone.

The Napoletana is a flip-over coffee pot invented in France in 1819, but so named because of its popularity in Naples. The reason it’s no longer lurking in my kitchen is because I use one regularly, as does my mother.  Italian stovetop coffee maker

A stovetop Moka user from way back, my mother was converted to the Napoletana after a scary incident years ago. At a family lunch in the eat-in kitchen, an explosion with an impressive B-grade disaster movie geyser interrupted the chat. My mother was making coffee when the malfunctioning Moka vented its fury on our guests, rendering the crisp white men’s shirts (it was the 1950s after all!) murky brown. The pale walls were given a quick coffee coloured makeover. I hid under the table. Enter the caffettiera Napoletana. 

Italian film aficionados will know the scene in playwright Eduardo di Filippo’s 1946 work Questi Fantasmi where he discusses making a perfect mid afternoon coffee in a Napoletana, subsequently turning this coffee pot into a Neapolitan original.

Eduardo di Filippo and Napoletana coffee pot

Eduardo di Filippo explains the importance of the spout cover

The play was filmed as the 1967 farce Ghosts, Italian Style with Sofia Loren and Vittorio Gassman with that particular scene unfaithfully recreated. Loren’s explanation to a male admirer of ‘putting a paper cone over the spout to keep aromas from escaping’ gives double entendres a bad name.

This type of coffee pot is not used much now, with a Moka the preferred stovetop choice. But for me, it produces a rounded, full-bodied coffee without the bitterness. As di Filippo says in the film “this is not coffee – it’s chocolate!” And that’s good enough for me.

The Alessi version

The Alessi version

In Sydney, you can buy a Napoletana coffee pot at any good Italian kitchenware shop. One day I might upgrade to the Alessi version, commissioned in 1979 and completed after eight years’ research and design by architect Riccardo Dalisi.

 Instructions for using a Napoletana coffee pot via the informative Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino blog.

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