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Apple Strudel

  • March 6, 2009

Apple strudel is a specialty that’s made and eaten not just in Southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary, but all over the the Northeastern mountains of the Italian Alps called the Dolomites. Everyone has a favorite recipe and some are partial to the dough that’s rolled so thin you could read a recipe through it. I once watched a cooking demonstration in the kitchen at Vienna’s Schonbrunn Palace where the cook stretched the dough so finely that she did that exact thing.

But the other type of strudel – and my favorite – has more bite to it. It’s made with what is called “pasta frolla” in Italy – a rich, buttery pastry made with an egg that’s also used to make a crostata. After a bit of experimenting, I think I’ve succeeded in coming close to what became my daily afternoon snack break on the slopes. Oh, to be skiing down those glorious mountains again and stopping for a break at a little refugio instead of stuck home with a sore throat and cold. Well, even if those Alpine peaks are just a memory, I’ve still got the snow here in New Jersey, and now the strudel too.


Apple Strudel

Pastry:

3 1/4 cups flour
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cups sugar
rind of one lemon, grated
pinch of salt
one large egg, lightly beaten

Filling:

6 apples
3/4 cup finely grated breadcrumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup white raisins, soaked in rum
1/2 t. cinnamon
pinch of cloves
pinch of grated nutmeg

Place flour and sugar in mixer with grated lemon rind and salt. Add cold butter in small pieces, mixing until butter breaks down into small bits. Add egg and mix just until mixture holds together in a ball. Remove from bowl and roll out in a rectangle over a floured surface until the rectangle is about 18 inches x 9 inches.

Peel and core apples, then slice finely. Mix together with 3/4 fine breadcrumbs, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup pine nuts and 1/2 cup white raisins that have been soaked in a little rum and drained. Add 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Place the apple mixture in the center of the rectangle. Using a spatula or a scraper, gently fold the pastry on one side over the apples. Moisten the other long end with water and roll the strudel over on itself until the pastry covers the apples. It helps to have another person helping. If there are some tears in the pastry, it’s no big deal. Seal both ends.

In order to carry the strudel to the cookie sheet without breaking in two (or more pieces), I used a long French chef’s knife and slid it under most of the strudel, in a way that most of the strudel would rest on the knife. With my other hand, I took a kitchen scraper and shoved that under the part I couldn’t reach with the knife. (Where is l’ingeniere when I need him?) Then I picked up both the scraper and the knife and transferred the strudel to a greased cookie sheet. (Gosh, that cookie sheet is a mess.)

Brush the strudel with beaten egg and bake at 425 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown, turning it once in the oven.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired. It’s also frequently served sitting in a puddle of vanilla sauce. (You’ll just have to imagine the vanilla sauce.)

Herein lie the reasons she gained two pounds on vacation

  • March 4, 2009

It’s not my fault the food is so good in Italy.
I mean, mamma mia, who can you resist all these delectable dishes?
A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Consequently, this girl gained two pounds on her trip. It’s back to the gym in a big way this month.
Here are some random photos from my many food adventures during my recent trip to Italy. I’ve got many others, but I’m saving a few for later posts, with recipes.

Ortisei – Pappardelle with a creamy porcini sauce. It’s not the season for porcini so where did they get these delicious morsels of fresh mushrooms? Of course the pasta was homemade and sensational.

Ortisei – Filet of beef with green and red peppercorns, served with potato galettes.

Val di Siusi – Apple strudel – our mid-afternoon slope-side break. They serve two different kinds – one is the traditional kind that you probably know, made with paper-thin pastry. The other kind, pictured here – and my favorite – is made with a more cakey-dough. I am planning to hunt down a recipe and post it later.

Venice – Lots of great cheeses to savor – including a new one for me called Casatella, made in the Veneto region. It’s very white, creamy and mild like a triple-creme brie, but runnier.

Padova – No sanitized, unidentifiable chicken pieces for sale here. You know what you’re getting when you buy poultry here, complete with head and feet.


Padova – Polenta reigns supreme here, and in this case it’s served with a veal stew.

Padova – Gratineed crepes filled with squash and porcini mushrooms.

Padova – Fried chiacchiere for Carnevale, all wrapped up from the pasticcieria.


Padova – Both the white and long red variety of radicchio are specialties of the area, and are grown commercially in nearby Treviso.


Padova – Baked custard topped with caramel as rich and thick as a chocolate sauce.

Soragna – Parmigiano Reggiano – The king of cheeses. I’ll be writing a separate post about this later.

Castell’Arquato – Sbrisolona – a crunchy tart that resembles a rich, almondy shortbread.

Vigolo Marchese – Tortelli, a specialty of the area around Piacenza. They’re filled with spinach, ricotta and parmesan cheese, and are sealed shut in the shape of a little tail. Sometimes they’re twisted at both ends like a salt-water taffy candy. Traditionally served with butter and cheese.

Milan – Our friend Valerio, who is a BIG Nutella lover. We’ll have to get him to participate in World Nutella Day next year.

Padova – Whole menus of nothing but hot chocolate – Page after page of hot chocolate with chestnuts, with cinnamon, with berries, with pistachio, etc. etc.

Bombardino Time and Giveaway Winner

  • March 2, 2009

I’m back …. and we have a winner chosen at random from the responses to my query about the name of the drink.
The winner is Katie of Summertree Cafe, but Katie, you don’t list your email address on your blog. So please contact me so I can send you the chocolates in the photo. Email me at mirandasmother@gmail.com with your full name and address.

I’ll be posting some recipes in the coming weeks from my visit to relatives and friends, and a week of skiing in the Italy’s Dolomite mountains.

I’ll start with the drink that several of you guessed correctly from the picture, even though naming it correctly wasn’t a requirement to winning. It’s a bombardino – great for steadying the nerves when you’re a little apprehensive about that next mogul. The drink is most popular in the winter at ski resorts and it’s made using Vov, a liqueur made with eggs, and rum or brandy or whisky, plus whipped cream on top. It’s almost like drinking a warm (and highly spiked) eggnog with whipped cream. In Italy, you can also find bottles of bombardino already mixed and ready to warm up. It’s always served in clear glass cups, sometimes with a straw and a spoon.

For those of you unable to get to Italy and enjoy a bombardino, I’m posting a recipe for the drink adapted from “Italian Kitchen Secrets.”
My aunt used to make her own Vov and stored it in a cabinet. But just to be safe, I’d recommend keeping it in the refrigerator until ready to consume.

With a foot of snow forecast here today in Central New Jersey, it might be just what you need to spur you to shovel that driveway or sidewalk.

Bombardino:
3 cups of non-skimmed milk
29 ounces sugar
6 egg yolks
1 cup alcohol (brandy or whisky) and
1 cup rum
(or 2 cups of either brandy, whisky or rum)
1 tablespoon vanilla

Boil the milk with half of the sugar, gently mixing occasionally. Lower to a simmer and cook a couple of minutes, then turn off heat and keep warm.
In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until creamy and frothy. Add the warm milk in a slow stream, mixing well to avoid lumps. Filter through a strainer if necessary. Add the vanilla, alcohol and rum, mix again and pour into bottles. Wait one week before drinking (if you can), shaking the bottles occasionally.

In our opinion, bombardini are best enjoyed with a slice of apple strudel, ever prevalent on the slopes in the Val Gardena, a beautiful area of three small villages in the Dolomites. The Dolomites are the mountains in the eastern part of the Italian Alps, close to Austria, and are noted for their unique, almost-stalagtite formation and rosy color. The area at one time was below sea level, and many marine fossils are still found today. So we were actually skiing in what once was a barrier reef, hard as it seems to imagine.

Recipe for strudel to follow later.

Time Out for Research and a Give-Away

  • February 12, 2009

If you don’t hear from me for a couple of weeks, it’s not because I’m not thinking of you. It’s because I’m heading off to Italy and won’t be toting along my computer.

I’ll spend some time visiting family and friends near Piacenza, then on to Padova for a few days. The last week I’ll be skiing in the Italian Alps in the beautiful Val Gardena, a scenic valley in the mighty Dolomites, close to the Austrian border.

I’d love to be able to send you posts of the food I’ll be eating, especially at my relatives in the Emilia-Romagna region (Did I ever tell you my cousin Lucia was Miss Tagliatella last year? Really!) but it will have to wait until I get back. I may get a chance to do a bit of blogspotting here and there, but computer connections are few and far between in the places where I’ll be.

I’ll have a lot of catching up to do when I get back but I look forward to tuning in as soon as I can. So many of you have fantastic blogs and it’s been a pleasure to read your posts, try your recipes and get to know you through the blogosphere. You really are a creative, talented and helpful group of people.

So I’ve decided to have my first give-away. Since I won’t be here for Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d make it something chocolate. I don’t know exactly what yet, since I plan to buy it in Italy, but you should be thinking chocolate candy.

The winner will be chosen at random, but the idea is to post a comment on what you think is the name of the drink in this picture. It’s one of the reasons that makes skiing in Italy a unique and delicious experience.

Even if you don’t know what it is, take a stab. You’ll be included in the drawing even you come up with the wrong name. Winner will be announced when I come back in early March, so you can post comments for a couple of weeks. Until then, Happy Valentine’s Day and happy blogging!

Carnevale and Chiacchiere

  • February 10, 2009

These fried treats – also called frappe, cenci, crostoli, galani or other names depending on the region – are typically made at Carnevale time in Italy.
Carnevale is celebrated all over Italy, with parties and costume parades leading up to the solemn 40-day lenten period that starts on Ash Wednesday. While the word Carnevale means a farewell to meat, similarly “Mardi Gras” which is celebrated most famously in New Orleans, translates to “Fat Tuesday.” It’s a time when anything goes, including decadent desserts and bawdy behavior. It’s amazing how raucous some people behave when they don a mask!

Chiacchiere or other fried sweets such as castagnole, are available in bakery shops all over Italy during the Carnevale period. This recipe comes to you via my friend Titty, who made them recently for a meeting of my Italian chit-chat group called “Le Matte” (the crazy ladies). Since the word chiacchiere literally means “chit-chat,” it was most apropos.

Chiacchiere

1 cup flour, or more if needed
1 T. softened butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 shotglass of either grappa or dry white wine
pinch of salt
powdered sugar or honey

Put the flour on a board and make a well – or put the flour in a bowl. Add the eggs, butter, grappa or wine, and salt and start mixing with a fork or by hand. Knead until you get a soft and smooth dough. Let it rest for at least 1/2 hour and stretch out with a rolling pin to the thickness of a coin. Cut into strips or desired shape and deep fry in vegetable oil. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle when cool with powdered sugar or honey.

Scroll down the photos below to get a glimpse of Carnevale in Venice, where I shot these pictures two years ago. They’ll give you some idea of why it’s the most well-known Carnevale in Europe.

Poster Announcing “Carnevale IS Venice”

 

Amazing Peacock Lady

Even the Little Ones Join in the Merriment


A Poignant Couple in Piazza San Marco

A Jester and Tetrarchs near the Doge’s Palace

Visions in Purple and Red

A Tranquil Tableau

Peachy 17th C. couple

Golden Duo

Klimt wannabe

Ciaochowlinda and husband (l’ingeniere) and friends Ellen and Albert in Venice

(I’m laughing to myself just thinking of the fun time we had together that year with our crazy husbands and their fifty-cent makeshift masks)

Lana and tagliatelle with truffles

  • February 8, 2009

This is a lagotto puppy. For those of you wondering why this dog belongs on a blog about food, trust me, there is a culinary connection. The lagotto is a breed that hails from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, and was originally used as a hunter for water fowl. Today it is more commonly associated with truffle hunting.

I can’t say my brother and sister-in-law had truffle hunting in mind when they got their very own lagotto yesterday. They just fell in love with the gentle temperament, curly hair and hypo-allergenic tendencies of the breed. The fact that lagotti (plural of lagotto) also originated in Italy, in the same region where my mother was born, made them even more appealing.

After months of waiting, Lana (Italian for wool) was ready for pickup in Connecticut yesterday. Fortunately, my house in New Jersey made a nice way station for them en route home to Pennsylvania, so I got to have a sneak peak at Lana before anybody else. And now you’ve seen her too. Isn’t she adorable?

OK, Lana may never be a truffle-hunter here in the states. So I’m glad I’ve already tasted truffles, both in restaurants and in the home of people we know. That includes our friends Tony and Vanda, who own a beautiful second home in a small village in the region of Molise, where we were lucky enough to enjoy this wonderful pasta of tagliatelle and a generous helping of shaved truffles. Don’t even think of topping with parmesan cheese or you’ll blunt the fragrant aroma of the truffles.

The recipe is simple. Start with some fresh homemade pasta. Melt some butter or olive oil in a saucepan while the pasta is cooking. Drain the pasta, toss it in the butter or olive oil, and top with shaved truffles. That’s it.
Yes, truffles are expensive and yes, they’re hard to find in the states. But think of all the enjoyment you’d have received if you had invested in truffles instead of the stock market.

Endive Stuffed with blood oranges, goat cheese and candied walnuts

  • February 7, 2009

There once was a woman from Princeton
Who ate too much brie cheese and Stilton.
The time had drawn near
For a purge – it was clear.
Or else jog each day for a long run.

Ban cheese from her diet she could not
So she just tried to eat not a whole lot.
It was always a strain,
She’d be wracking her brain.
All this dieting is just so much bad rot!

Then “Cooking Light” printed this good one.
Which she made with delight – it was so fun!
Candied walnuts, goat cheese
And blood oranges, jeez!
In a recipe that’s a real home run.

The walnuts are sugared, I know this
But you can use plain. (Oh yea, boo hiss.)
Either way it’s tastes great
And looks nice on the plate.
So serve to your guests dear, you can’t miss.

OK, so Robert Frost I’m not. Here’s the important part – the recipe:

Endive leaves
goat cheese
blood orange sections (or regular orange sections or even canned mandarin orange sections)
candied walnuts (purchased or home made)
balsamic vinegar reduction (see below)
chopped chives

Separate endive leaves. Break up goat cheese into bits and put a little inside each endive leaf. Next take some candied walnuts broken into bits and blood orange sections and place inside endive leaves. Drizzle with a balsamic vinegar reduction (take some balsamic vinegar – about 1/2 cup – add 2 T. honey and cook until reduced and syrupy) Sprinkle chopped chives over all and serve.

World Nutella Day – Nutella Pizzelle Sandwich

  • February 5, 2009

It’s World Nutella Day! Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso started this holiday two years ago for all Nutella lovers out there. The celebration takes place today, when tons of new Nutella recipes, stories, art and other adventures will be posted on the blogosphere. They’ll be sharing all the recipes on Monday, February 9 on the World Nutella Day site.

For those of you who haven’t posted, the day is young. Get going. For those of you who haven’t tried Nutella yet, get thee to a Nutella-selling store anon. Procure spoon. Open Jar. Indulge.

Here’s my slightly gussied-up alternative to spreading on toast: a pizzelle sandwich smeared with warmed Nutella on the inside.

The pizzelle recipe is thanks to my husband’s Aunt Alice, who at 94, is still going strong and making her spaghetti and meatballs every Sunday for her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Several years ago, she invited me to her home to show me how she makes her pizzelle. I’m passing on her basic recipe to you, minus the Nutella, which is simply a matter of microwaving for about 20 seconds or until it reaches the right consistency, then slathering it between two pizzelle. My advice though, is if you plan to sandwich the pizzelle with Nutella, use vanilla extract and omit the anise flavoring, which is too strong to pair with Nutella.

3 eggs
1/2 tsp. anise seed or anise oil
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter, vanilla and anise. Sift flour, baking powder. Add to egg mixture. Let batter rest a half hour, then drop by small spoonfuls onto pizzelle iron, following manufacturer’s instructions.

Related Post: Chocolate Nutella Rice Pudding

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy AND a wafering iron

  • February 3, 2009

One of the exhibits on display until Feb. 16th at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is called “Art and Love in Renaissance Italy,” and it’s well worth a visit. I loved the artwork, but even made a culinary discovery that I’ll tell you about in a sec.

First let me recommend the show. It’s a real treat to see all these beautiful works of art – from ceramic plates to dowry chests to paintings and drawings – that were created during the 15th and 16th centuries as expressions of love.

Expect to see typical depictions of “Venus and Cupid,” as in the detail above by Lorenzo Lotto, as well as other less controversial paintings and art objects. But don’t say I didn’t warn you when you come across quite a few pieces of art featuring phalluses (phalli?)- including an engraving that must be four feet wide, with enough appendages to satisfy a brothel.

OK, so this is a family blog – onto the culinary part.

One of the items in the exhibit looked exactly like something my husband found when we were living in Rome. There it was, this cast iron implement with two rectangular plates that closed shut via two long long handles. It was leaning against a street post outside the church of San Sabino in the Aventine neighborhood. Intriqued, and an intrepid scavenger, my husband schlepped it back to our apartment, and then back to the U.S. at the end of our stay.

It was sort of reminiscent of a pizzelle iron, but the space between the two plates was too slight to accommodate a batter. Engraved on one part of the inside were the intertwined initials “C” & “R”. The year “1939” was engraved on the other half. We just weren’t sure what it was used for.

My husband experimented, slathering the iron with some olive oil and placing a piece of crustless Wonder Bread sprinkled with some minced rosemary in the middle. He squeezed the two halves together and cooked them for a few minutes over an open flame. What emerged was a crusty, crispy cracker that made a nice accompaniment to a glass of wine. But somehow we didn’t think they had Wonder Bread in the Renaissance.

We finally found out what it really was when we saw a nearly identical one dating from the 16th century in the Met’s exhibit. The one at the Met has round plates, not rectangular. We learned that such implements are called “wafering irons,” and were used for making wafers that were served at the end of festive meals. Recipes for them are found as early as the late fourteenth century, according to the exhibit’s catalog. The wafering iron in the show was used to provide personalized wafers for a wedding feast, and then kept to commemorate the event.

I just had to try a pizzelle recipe on my own wafering iron, even though my gut feeling was that the batter would indeed squirt out when I pressed the two plates together. As a backup, I had my REAL pizzelle iron warming up in case this didn’t work. Well, guess what? It worked, but not so well that I’ll be churning these out for the next ceremony held by C & R. The plates really have no space in between, so all the batter kept squeezing out, leaving me with a very thin and very crispy, easy to break pizzelle. No complaints, they tasted great. But I’ll leave the wafering iron by the fireplace, where it makes a nice conversation piece. I’ll continue to use my pizzelle iron and will post a recipe shortly.
It’s hard to see the imprint in the center where the initials C&R are intertwined on one side, and the date of 1939 on the other.

Now the question remains. Who was C? Who was R? Did Carlo marry Rita in 1939? Or Riccardo wed Camilla? Or did Carlotta Ruspoli become a nun in 1939? I guess we’ll never know.

Chicken Marbella

  • February 1, 2009

What – no pizza? no nachos? no ribs? no guacamole? On Superbowl Sunday?
You got that right. I’ll leave those foods to the real football aficionados, while I head off to the movies tonight.

This recipe however, is an old favorite that would satisfy all foodies – whether they claim football, film, or anything else as their passion. It’s adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook, and it is a great party dish since it can (and should) be prepared the night before to marinate.

If you’ve never had it and are glancing over the ingredient list and cringing at the thought of mixing prunes, olives and capers, my advice is: “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
I have served this plenty of times, to people who claimed they didn’t like either prunes, olives or capers. After tasting this dish, they became converts and were licking their fingers and asking for seconds. I’ll bet you will too.

Chicken Marbella

The original recipe calls for using 4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered.
I like to buy chicken parts (thighs, legs and breasts WITH the bone) that have the skin removed. Otherwise, there’s just too much grease. I also increased the amount of prunes and olives and blend the marinade in the food processor, to homogenize everything.

chicken parts, about 6-7 pounds
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 – 2 cups cups pitted prunes
1 1/2 – 2 cups olives (whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

  1. Place chicken parts in a large casserole (or two if you don’t have one large enough).
  2. Place the following ingredients in a food processor and mix until emulsified: garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, olive oil.
  3. Pour the mixture over the chicken, and add the prunes, olives, capers and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
  4. Remove the casserole(s) from the refrigerator at least one hour before cooking.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 and pour white wine around chicken parts. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
  6. Bake the chicken 50 minutes to one hour, basting frequently with pan juices.
  7. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top.

Serve with polenta, rice or mashed potatoes to sop up the juices.