Italian New year and Christmas pudding: posted by Debby
Fristingo is Marchegiana christmas or new year pudding served cold. It goes by many different names all over the region and according to folklore there are at least 22 different recipes which can include nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, breadcrumbs, candied fruit, orange juice, lemon rind, olive oil, cinnamon, rum, cocoa, coffee white wine and grape juice.
The recipe in its most basic form goes back 2000 years to the Etruscans and via the Piceni. At it’s earliest time it was just a mixture of ground flours mixed with semi dried grapes. It has always been food ‘for the poor’ and that is reflected in the use of dried readily-available fruit to sweeten it rather than sugar which was only available to the rich.
The Romans called it Piceni bread and ate it with honey and the recipe has developed over the years depending on fashion and the availability of different ingredients such as chocolate and spices.
Traditionally it is mixed and left to rest for hours before being cooked in a wood oven. When ready it is eaten together with a nice glass of vino cotto.
Pasquina is my neighbour who has been making this traditional Le Marche cake for years and she presented me with the recipe she uses, written on a much treasured old scrap of paper. The main ingredient is figs and they grow abundantly in Le Marche. One can find large black figs with succulent purple centres and edible skins, large green figs with red centres and tougher skins and many other varieties, my personal favourite being the small black ones which taste like marzipan.
Eaten fresh, straight from the tree they are divine but Le Marche people have always wanted to preserve them for winter use. Pasquina picks them in early September and dries them very slowly in a wood oven over many hours, turning them and ensuring that they are thoroughly dry. Then she tells me they will keep all winter if there are any left by January!
1 kilo of figs
200g vino cotto ( a sherry like drink made in Le Marche)
150g raw almonds chopped
250g walnuts chopped ( if you prefer more almonds then reverse the nut amounts)
300g wholemeal flour
3 sweetened espressos
200g olive oil
zest of an orange and a lemon
tsp cinnamon and nutmeg
a glass of vino cotto
150g sugar (Pasquina’s family recipe didn’t add sugar as would have been an expensive commodity in days gone by, so this is optional depending on how sweet you want it)
It is also possible to add 100g melted chocolate plus 100g cocoa powder to the mixture. I halved the mixture and added chocolate to one half only.
The day before, roughly chop the figs and pour over the 200g vino cotto and allow to soak overnight. The figs take in the liquid and soften.
Then mix everything together. It’s a very rustic cake of the cucina povera tradition so no need to finely chop everything. Nowadays dried figs and nuts can be rather pricy but in Le Marche every farmer has a few fig and nut trees so they are simply using what is available for free!
Finally, spread the mixture over one large baking tin or use 2 loaf tins, drizzle some olive oil over the top and bake at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes.
Keeps for weeks in an airtight tin. Has a moist, crumbly texture and is very rich so you only need a small piece!