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Domenica Marchetti’s “Preserving Italy”

Domenica Marchetti’s “Preserving Italy”

I was predisposed to love this book as soon as I heard the title. “Preserving Italy” speaks not only to the time-honored methods of putting foods by that Italians have done for centuries — but to holding on to traditions that face extinction if it weren’t for people like Domenica Marchetti.

I grew up in a family that foraged for wild asparagus and broccoli rabe in the spring, that canned summer’s bounty of peaches and tomatoes, that made its own wine in the fall and that mixed its own spicy sausages to hang and cure during the winter. Those, and other traditions to preserve food are deeply engrained in my genes and I try to not only maintain those traditions, but to enrich them with newfound ways of preserving my heritage and passing it onto younger family members and friends. So I was thrilled when Domenica’s book arrived, (including my family’s recipe for salt-preserved green tomatoes) bringing these old customs to a whole new audience.

photo from “Preserving Italy”
Aside from her wonderful recipes, Domenica leaves her imprint with her beautiful writing. Her first sentence grabbed me right away:
“When my grandmother passed away in 1971, she left behind four grieving daughters and a large jar of her liquor-soaked cherries.”

photo from “Preserving Italy”
That sentence evoked my own memories of loved ones passed on, who had left behind their own culinary mementos: the foods my father ate for weeks after my mother died — peppers and tomatoes she had prepared and stored in the freezer and cupboards; and the grappa-soaked cherries and salted green tomatoes my late husband had made – another bittersweet and tangible reminder of his absence in the months following his death.
With every bite of those cherries, roasted peppers, or canned tomatoes, we bring back past memories and at the same time, expose a younger generation to a taste they might pass onto future generations.

“We’re seeing more and more of these traditional methods being used today,” Domenica said. “Some people are putting modern spins on it and putting in new flavors.”
Italy has long been a country where people, especially those living in the country with substantial gardens, put up their own food for the leaner winter months, but there are a lot more artisanal items on store shelves in Italy now too, she said.
“It’s a way for regions to stand out in terms of culinary trends and I feel like we are in some ways going back. You see it not just with preserves, but in interest in old traditional recipes, like the sour dough bread baking movement, for example. These techniques that were in danger of being lost, are finding a new audience. I also try to find recipes that are in danger of being lost. I don’t want these traditional recipes to fall by the wayside.”

photo from “Preserving Italy”

The book contains instructions not only on the techniques of making and preserving vegetables, meats and fruits, jams and liqueurs, but also many ideas on how to use those items in various recipes.

From foods preserved in oil, like eggplants, zucchini and butternut squash; to foods preserved in vinegar, like cauliflower, carrots and fennel; to sweet jams and jellies; to tomatoes and sauce; to cheeses, cured meats; liqueurs and syrups, the book provides a step-by-step guide to creating a bountiful pantry.

photo from “Preserving Italy”
After you’ve finished seasoning and curing that guanciale, you can use it to flavor the pasta alla gricia recipe from the book; or try your hand at making mint syrup, then incorporate it in the book’s recipe for mint chocolate chip cake.

photo from “Preserving Italy”
There’s something for even the busiest working man or woman, including easy-to-make porchetta salt that will elevate your next pork shoulder to new heights. Domenica also includes the recipe for making a simplified home version of porchetta that anyone can make.
“The porchetta is simple because it’s just a matter of making the salt, rubbing it into the meat and then it’s hands off while the roast is in the oven.

from “Preserving Italy”

Most of the recipes in the book are “small batch” and just enough for a small family, she said.
“They
don’t produce quarts and quarts of food – just enough for you to have
something on hand. I like the feeling of having a larder with jars of
food stocked in it. If you do a little bit of work on the front end,
then you can just open a jar of tomato sauce and have a quick and easy
great pasta dinner for example,” she said.
Although Domenica has been making
limoncello and other liqueurs for years, as well as jams, fresh cheeses
and yogurt, many of the techniques in the book were new to her. “There
was definitely a learning curve, which made the book all the more fun,”
she said.

photo from “Preserving Italy”

Writing a cookbook where you are first preserving the raw
ingredients does takes a bit longer than just creating a recipe alone,
but it was a labor of love, Domenica said.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the
process,” she said, although the tight deadline imposed by Houghton
Mifflin presented a challenge. The original six months stretched to a
year in order to include ingredients from all four seasons of the year.
“I
had a lot of fun sourcing the different things,” she said including
finding wine grapes she could use to create the syrupy liquid called
mosto cotto in her kitchen in Virginia.
photo from “Preserving Italy”
“I put out a tweet asking winemakers to share some fresh grape must and I got a reply from one of Virginia’s oldest winemakers – Horton Vineyards – who gave me a few jars.”
Winemakers in general are the most generous people, she said, but “As I started working on this book, it became clear to me that there are so many talented and hard-working food artisans in Italy.”
As a result, the book includes essays on many of the people she met while conducting research for the book.

photo from “Preserving Italy”
“They do what they do because it’s their livelihood and they love it and maybe they’re doing it to bring back those traditions. I really wanted to showcase the work they are doing. But it doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the whole country and the number of food artisans there.”

photo from “Preserving Italy”
Domenica will be promoting “Preserving Italy” in the next few months, starting with a book launch and dinner at Le Virtù restaurant in Philadelphia on June 15. She continues through the summer with appearances at bookstores, cooking schools and other sites throughout Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maine and North Carolina. For more details, click here.

Below is a recipe from Domenica’s book – a beautiful and delicious crostata using homemade jam:

photo from “Preserving Italy”

 

Favorite Jam Crostata
from Domenica Marchetti’s “Preserving Italy”
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting the crostata
finely grated zest of 1 orange
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 to 2 cups rustic grape Jam, strawberry-apricot preserves, green tomato preserves (recipes in the book); or any favorite jam.
-Measure the flour, sugar, zests and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with at the metal blade. Process briefly to combine. Distribute the butter pieces around the bowl and process until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolks and process just until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Rewrap the smaller piece and set it aside. Roll the larger piece into an 11-or 12-inch circle. Carefully wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
-Spoon the jam into the prepared hell and smooth it out with the back of your spoon. Roll out the remaining dough and cut it into 3/4-inch thick strips or use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes such as flowers or stars. Place the strips in a lattice pattern on top of the jam or arrange the cutouts on top. (Save any excess dough to roll out later; you can cut out shapes and bake cookies) Fold the edge of the crust over the jam and lattice.
-Bake until the crust is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Let the crostata cool in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature. To serve, remove the rim of the pan, transfer the crostata to a decorative serving platter, and dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar.
Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

At this time of year, in every Italian family, there’s a decision to be made. Will it be panettone, or pandoro at the table? There are those who stand by their fruit-studded panettone, and those who swear by its plainer cousin, the golden pandoro. Me? I love both of these rich, yeasty cakes, and can’t do without a panettone at Christmas. I love to eat it warmed up for breakfast on Christmas morning, but it also makes the best bread pudding on the planet.

Pandoro may be panettone’s plain Jane cousin, although its star-shape is anything but.
What’s really great about its plainness though, is that you can refashion it in many different and delicious ways, including this dessert that’s perfect for Christmas.
I’ve already made this pandora “tree” twice so far this holiday season, using a chocolate mousse filling.

Last year, I made it with a filling of mascarpone and lemon curd, as shown in the first photo of this post. Try it with whipped cream, vanilla pastry cream, or a combination of vanilla and chocolate. Pandoro is like a beautiful blank slate, so you’re limited only by your imagination.

Start by slicing the cake horizontally into six to seven layers.

Make a simple syrup and add some liqueur – anything you like, from rum, to limoncello, to Grand Marnier. For the chocolate mousse version, I used rum. Drizzle (ok, drench is more like it) each layer with some of the liquid, before spreading the mousse on top. As you add a new layer of cake, swivel the layer so that the points don’t line up. You want it to resemble a Christmas tree shape.

When I was finished, I sprinkled it with some powdered sugar, but it quickly gets absorbed by the cake. I also added some small holly leaves and a star on top made from melted chocolate, using a cookie cutter to get the shapes.

In this chocolate version, I also added pomegranate seeds as decoration, but in last year’s version, raspberries and blueberries worked well too.

It’s easy to serve too, slicing from the top. One of these cakes serves a crowd of about twenty.
Once you see how delicious and versatile pandoro is, you’ll wish you had a couple stashed away in your pantry to pull out for special occasions.
I’ve also used pandoro for making zuppa inglese, (an Italian version of English trifle) a recipe I’ll post early next year.
Where I live, pandoro cakes are easily available at supermarkets or specialty food stores. If you can’t find them in stores near you, you can order them online.
But hurry, because they disappear right after Christmas.
Even though they contain no preservatives, they last for months, so buy a few for pandoro “emergencies.”

Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.





Pandoro “Christmas Tree”
printable recipe here

You can make this a day or two ahead of time. In fact, I think it tastes better if you make it ahead, giving the rum a chance to permeate the cake. The hardest part is finding a large enough space in your refrigerator.

Chocolate Mousse Version
1 large Pandoro
1 recipe chocolate mousse 
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rum

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Make the chocolate mousse recipe.
Slice the cake horizontally into five or six layers, and starting from the largest slice, take the simple syrup mixture and evenly pour some on the layer of the cake, then spread some of the mousse on top.
Take a second slice and place over the mousse, rotating the cake so the points are not in alignment with the first layer. Sprinkle with more of the simple syrup, then add more of the mousse. Continue doing this until you have used all layers, then spread a little more mousse on top. You’ll probably have some mousse leftover (not a bad thing).
Decorate as you like, with chocolate leaves, stars, berries, pomegranate arils.

Chocolate Mousse recipe

 

9 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 tsps. instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 T. hot water
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave oven at 1 minute intervals, stirring after each interval so it doesn’t burn. (If you don’t have a microwave, use a double boiler or place the ingredients in a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl set inside a saucepan filled halfway with water, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat; stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted. While the chocolate is melting, use a mixer to whip the espresso and cream in a large bowl until you have whipped cream, but don’t overwhip. Set it aside. In a separate bowl, use the mixer (with clean beaters) to whip the egg whites until they start to look white and creamy. Then add the sugar and whip just to combine. Again, do not over whip. When the chocolate is fully melted, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add a scoop of the whipped cream and a scoop of the egg whites, and stir them thoroughly into the chocolate. In small alternating batches, fold the remaining whipped cream and egg whites into the chocolate until the mousse is smooth and even.

Lemon Version
1 large Pandoro
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar
11 oz. lemon curd
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup limoncello

Mix the mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and lemon curd together. Whip the cream, then add to the mixture.
Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Slice the cake into five or six horizontal layers. Spread some of the simple syrup on each slice, then cover with some of the mascarpone/lemon curd/cream mixture. Continue adding layers in this fashion, rotating each one so the points don’t match up. Decorate with berries or other items, as you like.