Crostata di marmellata ai fichi / Rustic Jam Tart with Fig jam

Italian Food and Flavours

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Crostata di marmellata ai fichi / Rustic Jam Tart with Fig jam
Serves 6
The humble Crostata is a very popular cake in le Marche households. Crostata di marmellata ai fichi was the first Italian 'dolce' I made. After dismissing it as just a jam tart I was presented with a home made version by an Italian lady who proudly told me that the secret was the quality of the marmellata ( jam ) made with fresh fruit. I have had many compliments on my own homemade fig jam flavoured with lemons, Cinnamon and mixed spice and always make too many jars so this time of year what better than to raid the store cupboard and produce this easy and decorative, lattice topped desert!
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. 250 g plain flour (00)
  2. 100g butter
  3. 80g sugar
  4. 1 level tsp baking powder
  5. 1 egg
Instructions
  1. Measure the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. Make sure the butter is not straight from the fridge but still fairly firm before rubbing it into the flour with your fingertips. Mix in the sugar and making a well in the centre add the beaten egg. With your hands start mixing the egg into the flour mixture, adding approximately one tablespoon of water to help bind the ingredients into a ball of pastry dough. Roll out about two thirds of the pastry to line a loose bottomed tart tin and place in the fridge to rest for an hour or so, along with the remaining pastry.
  2. Then spread your chosen jam thickly onto the base. Roll out the remaining pastry and using a pastry cutter or knife cut long strips to create a lattice effect on the top. Bake at 180 degrees centigrade for about half an hour or until the pastry is golden.
Notes
  1. Crostata di marmellata ai fichi keeps well for a few days and can also be frozen. Even better, give as a gift or share with friends.
Cooking Holidays Italy http://www.italianfoodandflavours.com/
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saffron risotto italian food blog

Italian Food and Flavours

Saffron Risotto
Serves 4
Yesterday I took a trip to a village at the foot of the wonderful Sibillini Mountain national park to meet a delightful Dutch family that for a few years now has produced that most delicate, and expensive of spices, saffron. They produce a fine completely natural product of great quality and value. Their website is under construction but you can check their progress at http://deliciousnature.com
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Ingredients
  1. saffron 2 pistils per person
  2. stick of celery
  3. 2 onions
  4. 1 carrot
  5. bunch of parsley
  6. 1 medium potato
  7. risotto rice handful per person
  8. olive oil
  9. glass white wine
  10. knob of butter
  11. mild cheese - mild pecorino - to taste
Instructions
  1. Allow the saffron to infuse for 24 hours in a cup of warm water, about two pistils per person is sufficient. Prepare a good vegetable broth by boiling the chopped celery, one of the onions coarsly chopped, the chopped carrot, half the parsley and the chopped potato. Boil for about an hour in a good sized pan with 2 ls of water, salt to taste. stir often.
  2. Once you have prepared the broth begin the preparation of the risotto.
  3. Fry the other finely chopped onion in olive oil and when it become translucent add a handful of rice for each person. mix with the onion until well glazed with the oil, about 2 to 3 minutes, then deglaze with the white wine, now begin to add the broth a ladleful at a time, wait until the broth has been absorbed by the rice before adding the next, don't leave the pan! you have to stir constantly. At the end of cooking, when the rice is cooked but still slightly al dente - with a little bite - pour in the saffron water turn up the heat to evaporate the excess water add a piece of butter, the rest of the parsley, finely chopped and grated mild cheese to taste. Take off the heat and leave to rest and absorb the flavour of the saffron for five minutes, give a final stir and serve.
Cooking Holidays Italy http://www.italianfoodandflavours.com/
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Salsicce con i broccoli

Italian Food and Flavours

 

Sausage with broccoli
Serves 4
Not perhaps the most obvious combination for a braised dish but with a good quality Italian sausage and fresh broccoli this is a fairly simple but very satisfying winter main course.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr
Ingredients
  1. 1kg good quality Italian sausage
  2. chopped onion
  3. 500g broccoli, cut into flowerettes
  4. cold water
  5. 3/4 tbs passata
  6. 50g pancetta, diced
  7. salt and pepper
  8. olive oil
  9. (garlic)
Instructions
  1. Fry the pancetta in a little oil until it starts to render its fat. Cut half the sausages from their skins and crumble the meat, add this to the pan and continue to fry until the pancetta has given up most of its fat but before it crisps up, by this time, about 10 minutes, the sausage meat should have taken on a little colour. You may want to drain off the excess fat at this stage. Traditionally this dish has no garlic but I like to add a chopped clove at this point and cook for a minute or too extra.
  2. Add the broccoli and remaining sausage cut into chunks, give the pan a stir to mix everything up then add the passata and enough water to cover the ingredients. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or so at a reasonable boil. Keep an eye on it and if the liquid is evaporating too soon cover, or add a little more water, or both. The final sauce should be slightly thickened.
  3. Serve hot, either on its own which would be the Italian way, or with potatoes or rice
Notes
  1. Italian sausages are made exclusively of meat and so respond well to this type of dish. Poorer quality sausages will tend to dissipate into a soup so ensure you use the real thing!
Adapted from La Cucina delle Marche
Adapted from La Cucina delle Marche
Cooking Holidays Italy http://www.italianfoodandflavours.com/
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Tagliatella fatta a mano al “ragù di carne”

Italian Food and Flavours

 

Tagliatella fatta a mano al “ragù di carne”
Serves 4
Handmade tagliatelle with meat ragu sauce: This pasta is an historic Cossignanese (from my home town of Cossignano Italy) dish and in the post-war era has become very popular due to its simple and easily available ingredients. The elderly ladies Cossignano retain the art of handmade pasta passed down from their mothers, and it is thanks to one of these women Mrs. Nannina, that I was able to learn the secrets of this sublime and genuine pasta.
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Prep Time
1 hr 30 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr
Prep Time
1 hr 30 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr
For the pasta
  1. 200g "00" flour
  2. 2 eggs
  3. salt
For the ragu
  1. 200g ground beef
  2. 100g ground pork
  3. onion
  4. carrot
  5. stick of celery
  6. olive oil
  7. red wine
  8. parmesan rind
  9. litre passata
Tagliatelle
  1. The process of making fresh tagliatella is very simple but at the same time its preparation needs attention and much love. Start by putting 200g of “00” flour on a wooden board, make a hole in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into the hole, add a drop of olive oil and a pinch of salt and with a fork then break up the eggs slowly pulling down the flour a bit at a time. Once this step is complete we move on to the “massage” phase. Work the dough with your hands until the dough becomes soft and compact and stretches when pulled, once it reaches the right consistency leave it to rest for around 30 min in a cool place.
  2. Now comes the most delicate phase of the creation of the pasta (in the local “Cossignanese” dialect this is called the “pannella”) it is made by steadily using a long wooden pasta rolling pin to stretch out the dough until it becomes 2mm thin. Use a little more four to prevent the dough sticking to the board or rolling pin. It is important to keep all areas of the dough at a similar thickness as it thins out, put your hands near the centre of the rolling pin when you start and move them to the ends of the pin as you roll so as to keep an even pressure over the whole area of the dough. Occasionally lift the dough carefully and dust with flour underneath to ensure it does not stick to the board. A long thin rolling pin is required to avoid creating flat spots on the pasta as the area of the dough increases.
  3. At this point the dough can lightly rolled up and cut with a knife to creat thin strips 3/4m for “maccheroncino” and 7/8mm for “tagliatella” strips. This pasta is now ready to use, since it is fresh it takes only a couple of minutes in boiling water to reach the “al dente” (to the tooth) stage and can be topped with any suitable sauce, perfect is a “ragu” meat sauce but equally a good mushroom or fish sauce will work well.
Ragu
  1. Here in Cossignano the sauce is usually made with ground beef and pork. This is not “mince” that you might buy in a supermarket. In Italy we buy a piece of meat and ask the butcher to mince it for us so we know exactly what we are eating. Fry a finely sliced onion in a little olive oil, when it becomes soft and translucent add a diced carrot and a chopped stick of celery and cook together for a few minutes. Add 200 grams ground beef and 100 grams of minced pork, brown it with the addition of a drop of red wine. As soon as the meat is browned add salt and pepper to taste pop in a parmesan rind and pour about a quart of passata di pomodoro – pureed tomatoes. Cook for about two hours covered over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom.
Cooking Holidays Italy http://www.italianfoodandflavours.com/
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Presepe: Porchia

Italian Food and Flavours


drinks
Loosely translated, the Italian word Presepe means crib, as in nativity scene. As with many aspects of christianity you might expect the devout Italian to take a nativity tableau slightly more seriously than the perhaps more secular, certainly less flamboyant Northern European. Germans have their christmas markets, the English their carol services but cribs, well aren’t they for kids? Not in Italy. There is a tradition in Italy for creating life size scenes from the bible that predates the renaissance.

inside

From at least the early middle ages right across central Italy a traveller would not be surprised to come across live size painted terracotta figures arranged to recreate a significant moment from the new testament, dotted around the countryside. This tradition has quite literally come to life in a few places in modern Italy.

lace

What has to be one of the most spectacular incarnations of this age old tradition takes place in the small town of Porchia, close by Cossignano. For two evenings each January the entire town is closed off from the rest of Italy, armed Roman centurions bar the entrance with fearsome looking spears and, wearing full ceremonial armour and grim demeanours they grant entry to small groups of gawking visitors at a time.

candle

We wait patiently in the throng, Italians are not known for queueing etiquette, but the Roman guards do a good job of keeping us inline. At last it is our groups turn to pass under the arch of spears and walk back in time 2000 years and as many kilometres t0 the small Nazarethan town of Bethlehem.

street

For two nights only this remarkable tiny central Italian town and its entire population transform themselves, their town and their homes into a glorious, living, breathing, technicolour, nativity scene. Not just the manger, not just the stable, not just the Inn, not just the street with the Inn in it, but the whole kit and caboodle; bakers, candlestick makers (I must have missed the butchers) potter, artist, stone mason, Roman garrison, High Temple, tavern, spinners , weavers, cloth makers, threshers, millers, blacksmith, scribes, school and too many more to list, plus of course the manger itself.

artists

Though in the theatre that Porchia has become, the site of the virgin birth holds little more prominence than the humble abode it represents, well perhaps a little less humble, it is sited in a delightfully frescoed ancient crypt. Like virtual all buildings in the town both public and – mostly – private, it has been lovingly transformed into a scene from the year 0.*

stone

To the cynical eye it may have overtones of a Disneyland, without the rides, but if this is the case it also lacks the gift shops, the paid actors in absurd costumes, the giant mice, the choreographed parades, the forced smiles and best of all the entrance fee. Our street theatre is free, as is the vino cotto and the paper cones of fried savoury treats to sustain you on a cool January evening, the actors are real people giving their time and skills, opening and decorating their homes, and turning their town into a spectacular time machine, all for the joy of it.

potter

The Porchia presepe is one small town showing a quite remarkable communal spirit, a collective social will to create a piece of living theatre for the wider community to enjoy and to wonder at.

temple

This year’s Porchia presepe was held on the 4th and 6th of January.

*(pedants will point out that there was no year 0, but they have no romance)

 

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castagnaccio: chestnut flour cake

Italian Food and Flavours

In poor Italian households this cake is one of the oldest of all, traditionally children would take a hot slice wrapped in paper to nibble on the way to school. Chestnuts are plentiful in Italy and so the flour is cheap, or free if you collect dry and grind the chestnuts yourself. Chestnut flour is a useful alternative to wheat flour as it is gluten free and therefore suitable for celiacs. This recipe has no added sugar and so is also very healthy.

Unlike a traditional fruitcake the fruit and nuts are added to the top of the cake rather than mixed with the dough, which is simply chestnut flour and water.

Being quite heavy and dry to modern tastes I have modified the recipe and instead of water I use milk. I also add 100g of sugar, an egg, a couple of tbs of sunflower oil and half the fruit to the batter mix. This helps it rise and give the base a bit more taste and I am afraid I do prefer the sweetness a little sugar adds!

chestnut-cake-ingingredients (six servings)

100g sultanas

450g chestnut flour

cold water to mix

olive oil

1 tbs caraway seeds

3 tbs chopped pinenuts (or almonds)

pinch of salt

method

Soak the sultanas in cold water 15 minutes, drain and dry on kitchen roll. Sieve together chestnut flour and salt, stir in enough cold water to make a stiffish batter, slightly stiffer than a pancake batter.

Oil a shallow cake tin (I use a skillet – frying pan with a metal handle) and pour in the batter, smooth with the back of a spoon and scatter with caraway seeds, remaining sultanas and almonds

Bake in reasonably hot oven around 190c, for 20 minutes or until surface is crispy. serve straight from the oven or cold with a glass of dry white wine suitably chilled.

chestnutcake2

 

 

 

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Cauliflower risotto Risotto, ai Cavolfiore Romanesco

Italian Food and Flavours

Cauliflower risotto, ai Cavolfiore Romanesco

A  cauliflower risotto is the ultimate comfort food on a winter’s day.

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The pointy, bright green Romanesco cauliflower is ready to crop from the orto now and is filling the shelves of  greengrocers all over Le Marche. It is much tastier than the white cauliflower and a typical Le Marche style of preparing it is to cover the florets in a tempora type batter and deep frying before adding to an antipasti platter. Making a risotto with it sounds a little odd but really makes the most of this vegetable. I use grated mature Pecorino cheese from Cossignano market in the risotto as it has a lovely rich taste. So here is my Le Marche version of Cauliflower Cheese!

Ingredients

400g risotto rice

1 Romanesco cauliflower

a large onion, few sticks of celery and 2 cloves garlic

1.5 litres of vegetable stock

2 tbs olive oil

2 wine glasses of white wine

100g freshly grated Pecorino or Parmezan  cheese

one handful of bread

small jar of anchovies

 

Chop the cauliflower, parting the florets from the stalk. Place the florets in the hot stock. Finely chop the stalk, onion, garlic and celery and with the olive oil make a soffrito (gently fry for 15 minutes or so)

Then turn up the heat and add the rice for a minute, then the wine. Stir continuously until the alcohol evaporates.

Add the stock a little at a time with the cauliflower florets and stir, stir, stir! It normally takes me at least 20 minutes until all the stock and cauliflower is incorporated and then taste the rice to see if it is cooked, but still al dente.

Take the pan off the heat and add the cheese and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, stir and leave for 2 minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The bread and anchovies are blitzed, then fried to present as a crunchy topping for the risotto.

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fava e piselli

Italian Food and Flavours

fava e piselli

fava1

A few weeks ago we posted “A herald of spring in deepest November” a blog about Fabio’s dish of fresh spring peas with artichokes. Here is a variation on the theme using anchovies with the Fava beans. Not quite “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti” but tasty none the less!

This Le Marche recipe, inspired by the wish to make a healthy, green dish for lunch and by looking through my freezer to discover: freshly frozen fava and peas from my summer orto  (vegetable garden) which can be briefly cooked from frozen to create a healthy, speedy salad.

Ingredients

two handfuls of frozen fava beans

two handfuls of peas

anchovies

extra virgin olive oil

white wine vinegar

a garlic clove

Pecorino cheese ( a local Le Marche sheep’s cheese )

Method

Boil the fava beans for 5 minutes, then run under the cold tap. They they pop out of their dull outer skins easily to reveal a fresh green inner bean. Boil the peas from frozen for three minutes and allow to cool.

Meanwhile make a dressing with 4/5 crushed anchovies, a garlic clove, olive oil and vinegar (with a ratio of 1:5 vinegar to oil) with some freshly milled black pepper. No salt required as the anchovies provide a lovely kick to the dressing.

Simply mix the beans, peas and dressing together. arrange on a serving dish and garnish with shavings of pecorino cheese.

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