Archive for the ‘Italian recipes’ Category

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The Trip to Italy: Food Capers

June 2, 2014

“We’re not going to do any impersonations are we?” Steve Coogan asks Rob Brydon early on in The Trip to Italy.

The sequel to 2010’s cult hit film The Trip is a delicious excuse to again offer the two comedians an opportunity to outperform each other during a culinary roadtrip. Of course there will be impersonations.

It’s true they can be insufferable at times, but the exchanges reach such levels of absurdity it’s hard not to admire the comic interplay of the mostly improvised script. I guffawed harder than I imagined I would.

Steve & Rob still

 

The premise – that they travel from the northern Piedmont region down to Capri reviewing six fine dining restaurants for the Observer magazinedoesn’t stray from the first film’s successful formula. I desperately wanted to eyeball more Italian food while re-aquainting myself with Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins, Roger Moore and many more.

Al Pacino and Marlon Brando make a welcome appearance as the Corleones (in Cooper and Brydon’s double act). Given The Godfather is rich with scenes of family dinners, I was craving their dialogue be delivered from mouths packed with ravioli. Coogan suggests that Brydon stuff a bread roll in his mouth for his Marlon Brando impression but Brydon demurs as he has a yeast intolerance.

The summer roadtrip in a black convertible mini continues through postcard vistas down the Ligurian coast through Tuscany, Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Capri. The non-stop banter takes in literature, art, family and the word “cumquat”, with Brydon the perfect alfoil for Coogan.

Dishes incorporating rabbit, quail, guinea fowl, squid, bonito, octopus and something scarily called ‘scorpion fish’ are served. I wanted more lingering food shots – and bigger reactions to those first mouthfuls. On the Amalfi Coast, Coogan tastes the main course and moans in ecstasy “oh, oh my God”. Not as memorable as the Meg Ryan/When Harry Met Sally scene, but not to be sniffed at.

One of the film’s rewarding themes is director Michael Winterbottom’s “homage to Byron and Shelley”. He has Coogan and Brydon retracing the romantic poets’ footsteps to the beautiful ‘Bay of Poets’ in Liguria where Shelley died and Byron’s house in Genoa.

Coogan and Brydon have admitted in interviews they don’t know much about food. Brydon backs this up with this gem on a hotel terrace – “Eggs for breakfast. Can’t top that … except with brown sauce”.

They came, they ate, they cracked jokes.

Black Ink RavioliThe recipe below comes courtesy of Australian distributor Madman who sent me a tantalising selection from the film. 

Pictured left is Black Ravioli stuffed with Mussels on Potato Cream, Candied Tomato and White Tomato Foam. It’s from the two Michelin-starred Ristorante Oliver Glowig in Rome.

 

The Trip to Italy is currently screening Australia-wide.
Images courtesy Madman Entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Caffè Shakerato – with a nod to Frank Sinatra

April 8, 2014

It’s with a heavy heart that I bid a fond farewell to a new-found summer friend.

The Caffè Shakerato has been my drink of choice lately, but is meant for long, hot afternoons rather than our current autumn weather.

Not quite a frappé, and certainly not an iced coffee, the Caffè Shakerato is made from espresso coffee, sugar and ice cubes shaken vigorously to create a chilled coffee with a frothy crema.

The Shakerato has been popular in Italy for a few years but I had trouble finding one in Sydney. There’s a smattering of newish inner-city cafes offering it, but the three old-style Italian cafes I visited had never heard the term and, judging by their baristas’ shrugs of indifference, weren’t in a hurry to embrace it.

Keen to make one myself, I needed to ramp up the sultry atmosphere to accompany all the grinding and shaking.

I remembered a novelty coffee tune with an uptempo beat and absurd lyrics that I first heard decades ago and had stubbornly stayed with me.

The Coffee Song was first sung by Frank Sinatra in 1946 and seemed perfect for exercising my samba legs. Also known as They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil, it lampoons Brazil’s coffee glut and the inventive ways the Brazilians found to consume it. It starts off  …

Way down among Brazilians

Coffee beans grow by the billions

So they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill

They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

 

You can’t get cherry soda

’cause they’ve got to fill that quota

And the way things are I’ll bet they never will

They’ve got a zillion tons of coffee in Brazil

… and The Coffee Song  gets even nuttier further along, ending with signor Sinatra attempting an indistinguishable foreign accent.  I couldn’t help thinking he had an awful lot of Spanglish in his words.

For a Caffè Shakerato, you’ll need:

. 1 espresso coffee – hot

. 1/2 tsp caster sugar (or sugar syrup)

. 6 small ice cubes

~Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker for about 30 seconds until ice is almost ~melted. Strain into a statement glass. (You could add a dash of liqueur too).

This now completes my list of summer coffee favourites including the affogato and granita di caffè con panna (with cream on top).

 

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 6.54.12 PM

 

Here’s a full version of the tune (which was later covered by Sam Cooke and The Andrews Sisters among others: The Coffee Song/They’ve Got an Awful lot of Coffee in Brazil 

Any other sightings of the Shakerato are welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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Panettone: the fruitcake that keeps on giving

January 5, 2014

Festive seasons come and go, but something lingers on, and on, and on …

Every year, the whiff of the Christmas panettone is still in the air long after the decorations have been boxed up and stored away. The Italian celebratory fruitcake from Milan seems to have a longer shelf life than most packaged foods.

I don’t remember eating panettone as a child. My mother and her friends baked traditional northeastern Italian festive cakes filled with raisins, nuts and chocolate and then rolled up strudel-style. It’s only in the last 10 or so years that my family truly embraced the panettone, the long hours of preparation and baking becoming less attractive to my mother as she’s aged.

Mum is 91 now and seeing as her daughter hasn’t picked up the mantle of baking a panettone, she and her 88-year-old friend exchange commercial panettoni every Christmas. Until one of them has the courage to say “basta!” (enough!), they’ll probably continue to feign surprise at receiving one for many years.

Cat and panettone box

 

I have a love-hate relationship with the cake. The first few days after Christmas I enjoy it toasted, spread with thick slabs of butter. But after a fortnight, the novelty wears off. My mother receives many panettoni from family friends and thrusts great portions at me when I visit. Hasn’t she heard of re-gifting? By mid-January, even sandwiching it with sweet ricotta topped with berry sauce brings on an urge to donate the lot to charity.

Italy still loves them and sales in 2013 were expected to better those of previous years. Despite the country’s longest recession in 60 years, cash-strapped Italians refused to give up their expensive cakes baked in upmarket pasticcerie (bakeries). I guess they have to keep buying it to justify the annual film industry namesake ‘Cinepanettoni’ – Italian movies made specifically for the festive season and derided by critics as plotless, vulgar comedies rich with sexual innuendo. 

It seems Australians can’t get enough panettoni either. A delicatessen in Sydney’s inner-west has a panettone display that gets bolder each year. The handful on sale in early December swells to a pre-Christmas Wall of Panettoni, where a heady choice of brands is stacked like concrete blocks, dwarfing all other food aisles.

 

panettone gelato and berry sorbet

 

A straw poll on the online Friends of Italy group suggested most of the those who responded to my “Do you like panettone” question were big fans. And they like it unadulterated. Only a few preferred pan d’oro. (Must be that nasty mass-produced citrus peel in mass-produced panettone!)

If you ever feel panettone ennui approaching, you can do what I do: disguise it! After sampling some lovely I’m happy to have found a clever way of disguising it. After sampling some lovely panettone gelato at Cremeria De Luca in Sydney, I experimented with a recipe for ‘no-churn’ panettone gelato adapting it to include my own candied citron and Mandarinetto liqueur (included in previous posts). I look forward to a new tradition. Happy 2014!

No-churn Panettone Gelato (translated from the original Italian recipe) http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/11768965403/

Related posts: 

Candied citron peel – http://tinyurl.com/mq2t6fg

Mandarinetto liqueur – http://tinyurl.com/k2redeq

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Ice Cream, You Scream: the Tutti Frutti story

December 16, 2013

Little Richard, Pat Boone and Elvis sang about it in the mid 1950s, but where is it now?

When quizzed about ‘tutti frutti’ my friends mostly knew it as a flavour for lollies or icy confections, but confessed to not having heard of it for decades.

In Italian the words mean ‘all fruit’ (in a word-for-word translation) but are not used in the Italian language at all. In fact, the correct way of saying it would be ‘tutti i frutti’ or even better: ‘tutta la frutta’.

The invention of tutti frutti ice cream, with its small pieces of glace fruits and nuts, is attributed to Kentucky ice cream factory owner Roy Motherhead who named it after his daughter ‘Toodie’ in the late 1940s-early 1950s. However, I discovered an image of a bold neon Tutti Frutti Ice Cream sign on a building in Soerabaja (Surabaya, Indonesia) dated 1929-32. Am I questioning the Wikipedia editors here?    Tutti Frutti sign in Surabaya

Entertainment-wise, the expression appears in the 1943 Busby Berkeley film The Gang’s All Here when Carmen Miranda wobbles her bananas in the musical number ‘The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat’.  

CarmenMiranda sings 'Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat'  

It’s given the mangled Italian-English treatment in the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races filmed in 1937. In one of the film’s best scenes, Chico loudly invites punters at the racetrack to “getta your tootsie frootsie ice cream” while really trying to sell Groucho (Dr. Hackenbush) horse betting instruction manuals hidden in the ice cream cart.

Chico and Groucho Marx Brothers

So, what happened to tutti frutti? Apparently Leopold’s Ice Cream in Savannah, Georgia (established in 1919) still sells it. And it appears to be one of the 50 flavours for a designer jelly bean brand. What a sad end to something that inspired so many magical moments.  Tutti Frutti Jelly Belly

But all’s not lost. The cassata siciliana, on which the tutti frutti flavour is surely based, endures. Usually a glace fruit, nut and ricotta mixture covered with cake and suffocated with marzipan, it’s a rich, sweet concoction. I prefer a simpler cassata-type gelato and recall having it for dessert at the dozens of Sydney Italian weddings I attended in the 1970s-1980s. This cassata recipe (from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible) reminds me of these (especially the cherry-flavoured top layer), but I’d substitute the commercial glace fruit with my own candied peel and Maraschino cherries (included in previous posts).  CassataGelato

Further viewing:

Carmen Miranda – The Gang’s All Here (The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gloYcISsyHA

Marx Brothers – A Day at the Races (Tootsie Frootsie ice cream racetrack scene) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LBIsDBC848

 

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Working Out for our Mussels

October 30, 2013

The current widespread interest in foraging for food took me back to my family’s attempts at the hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour was a hub of industrial activity when we lived in nearby Balmain in the mid 1960s. Soon there was talk among the Italian community that the action on the island’s shipbuilding facilities was easily matched by what was happening underwater.

The Italian dockyard workers on the island discovered the enormous wooden pylons under the piers were bursting with mussels. My parents had always eaten mussels in their Adriatic seaside hometown but were missing them in Sydney. They’d only eaten them once at Beppi’s Italian restaurant in Sydney after they heard the restaurant owner, Beppi Polese – also a forager- was rowing out to Middle Harbour’s Spit Bridge in a rubber boat for his supply.  

Mussels in Pot

With apologies to Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (The Triumph of Mussels, 1965). I couldn’t resist

 

Determined not to let this opportunity pass, my father was soon making plans to explore this bounty and mild sunny days in autumn or spring would be perfect for the trip. In a small wooden rowboat hired from a nearby boatshed, my dad, mum and I started making our 20-minute trips across the Parramatta River to mussel HQ. I was only seven or eight, but insisted on helping with the rowing. My skinny arms worked hard, but the heavy timber oars soon had me struggling. We wore no lifejackets, sunscreen or hats – and carried no water – just hessian sacks for the haul and the special mussel harvester invented by my handyman dad.

My father had fashioned a piece of fine wire mesh into a bucket shape and attached it to the bottom of a metal garden rake. When we reached the island, my mother and I stood at one end of the boat, steadying it with our arms wrapped around a pylon while my father, balancing at the other end, lowered the hand-crafted contraption deep into the water. A few upward scrapes against the timber pylon and the mesh collected all the loosened mussels.

Molluscs produce an amino acid that helps them cling tenaciously to piers, rocks and boat hulls, so this was tough work.  Dad was always careful to harvest them deep in the water as he thought they were less likely to be contaminated by fuel spills. This determination to deliver us from food poisoning had him leaning so far out of the boat we always anticipated a man overboard situation. 

Three or four sackfuls (about 30 kilos) later, we’d head home, with my father doing most of the rowing while we nursed our scratches and bruises from hugging the pylons too tightly while he foraged. The homeward journey seemed to take forever and was uncomfortable and cramped with the haul taking up precious leg space. The boat was heavier than it had been during the outward journey, but my father rowed on, dodging passing motorboats and welcoming the occasional splashes of cold water on his white Bonds singlet. 

The trip finished, we unloaded the boat on the beach while the Anglo-Australian fishermen shook their heads, yelling to us that the mussels were not fit for human consumption. My parents told me not to worry about ‘gli Australiani’ and reassured me it was their loss.

Back at our house, the crowds started gathering. Our family friends had all come round to collect their share, some staying for lunch or dinner. After cold beers, it was time for rinsing off, scrubbing and de-bearding – of the mussels, not the crew. We cooked up a feast and ate them stuffed, steamed, crumbed and fried, added to a risotto, tossed into a pot of pasta. With plenty of leftovers, we were in mussel heaven for days.

These days I buy mussels wrapped in plastic and paper from a trusted fishmonger but I miss the days of bringing them home in wet hessian sacks, with their distinctive sea-salt smell.

One of my favourite ways to eat them is as the Venetians do – stuffed and baked in the oven and called Muscoli or ‘pedoci’ al Pangrattato.

 

Fried mussels

For four people:

2 kgs medium sized mussels ….. 1 cup breadcrumbs ….. 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley ….. 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped ….. pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper ….. 1/4 cup olive oil ….. lemon juice to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Scrub mussels well and using a small knife inserted between the shells, open each one and remove beard.  Scrape mussel flesh and its water into one shell only and discard other shell. Arrange mussel-filled shells onto baking tray and pile a small amount of breadcrumb mixture onto each, just covering the flesh. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until browned. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

(Working out for our Mussels was short-listed in the 2014 Life Writing competition held annually by Melaleuca Blue Publishing. It’s included in an anthology of short stories titled You’ll Eat Worse than that Before You Die published in print and ebook form).

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Buddha’s Hand Citron: Lemon with a Twist

August 30, 2013

‘I am not an animal. I am not an animal. I am a human being…’

Imagine a scene where a malformed citrus fruit is cornered in a street and taunted by a bunch of better-looking lemons, mandarins or oranges. The scene from David Lynch’s 1980 film The Elephant Man came to mind the longer I stared at my Buddha’s Hand Citron.

Purchased recently from the Victor Harbor Farmers’ Markets just south of Adelaide, this strange creature is one of the oldest citrus fruits and originated in India or south-east Asia. Also known as Fingered Citron, it’s the size of a small hand and has no pulp or juice, but its fingers’ white flesh and aromatic rind can be used for flavouring dishes.  Fingered Citron

I’d never cooked a citron and wanted to use it creatively, but back in Sydney, I wondered if (just like the good doctor in The Elephant Man) I should show this freak of the citrus family some compassion too. It was rewarding me with such a heady scent I considered trying what the Chinese and Japanese do: propping it in a corner as a room freshener.

Using it as a jewellery/ring holder would only be of temporary use until it went mouldy and attracted buzzing insects.

Italians love their citrons (albeit without fingers) and something sweet was calling. I could make a liqueur like a Limoncello – or my recent triumph Mandarinetto. Maybe preserve it in syrup to make a ‘cedro sciroppato’ for use in pastries like cannoli or sfogliatelle?

I was more drawn to a dry, sugar-coated texture when I remembered a favourite Italian rice cake my mother used to make. Her Triestine cookbook recipe for this Koch di Riso (koch means ‘cooked’ in German) included candied peel. The idea of making my own peel (or succade) rather than using the commercial variety was tempting. It was also appealing, but that’s such a bad pun I’ll move on to the recipe suggestions from The Littlest Anchovy blog.

I’ll admit to squirming a little when slicing the 13 citron ‘fingers’ from the Buddha’s Hand Citron before cooking them. But it’s thought that Buddha preferred the fruit with its fingers closed (resembling a hand in the act of prayer) and my citron’s fingers were outstretched, so I persevered. Chop chop chop.  Candied Peel made from Buddha's Hand Citron

The reward for my surgeon’s skills was bountiful: a jarful of crystallised fruity bits for the Italian rice cake, as well as the cooked fruit’s leftover syrup which is the most fragrant cordial I’ve ever tasted.

Who would have thought something resembling a cross between a lemon and a squid could produce such delights.

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The closest English recipe I found for the Koch di Riso cake is Two Greedy Italians Orange Rice Cake.

Citrons are also made into a carbonated drink in Italy sold as Cedrata.

Related post: Revenge of the Mandarin Stinkbugs

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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

 

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