Tuesday, September 2, 2014

pizza sfoglia

Pizza Sfoglia
Zia Vincenza and I made a pizza sfoglia in my grandmother's old house. The house was locked up ever since 2009 when the earthquake took place in l'Aquila. It hasn't fallen apart, but nearly. Its kitchen, reign of the women in our family, strangely remained intact. It felt good to open the window and welcome the light back in.

After so many years, stepping into nonna's house touched me with a profound sense of emptiness that I still carry with me today.  Certainly not what we were used to when each summer, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents filled the house with laughs and good hearty meals. Nonetheless, in all its empitness, those memories are still there. Alive. Echoing across the walls, and now cracks of a home that was once our little kingdom of happy summer days.  

The women I've lost in my life, including my dear mother, were all there, in that very kitchen and in that very moment when zia Vincenza and I were making the pizza sfoglia.  I don't know why, but I felt they were there. Had it been the nostalgic feeling, or the consciousness of how time flies so quickly, I felt, in a moment of bliss, that they were all there.  I like to believe it's true.  I feel good if I believe it's true. I hope I'm not a lunatic :)
Pizza Sfoglia
Pizza Sfoglia
So this summer, I convinced my 92 year old aunt to teach me how to make pizza sfoglia in the kitchen where my nonna used to make hers  The task wasn't as easy as you may think. She doesn't go by the book, forget about the dose, it will never be the exact same. It's all by the eye, with the exception of a handful of this, a little bit of that, accompanied by a brief comment of encouragement "with some practice you'll get it right".  

If there's a food I can say that marks a memory in my childhood, this is probably it.  I grew up with this pizza sfoglia, first in Toronto with Zia Angelina's version, my grandmother's sister. Then, when I moved to Italy, it was my grandmother's version, and when she passed away, it was Zia Vincenza's version, my grandmother's cousin.  That's the history.  

All versions were good but also different at the same time.  I think it's that "handful of this and that" thing that gave the personal touch.
Pizza Sfoglia
Pizza SfogliaPizza Sfoglia
This traditional pizza sfoglia has origins in Campotosto, far back in time.  Nonna Elvira, my grandmother, always said, that her grandmother used to make it, so I'm guessing waaaaay back in time.  It's something you can't buy in a store, you need to have a grandmother from Campotosto that makes one for you. Uh!...or a friend like me, that can teach you how  :))

It was nice to see this little 92 years old lady, knead the dough with all her strength, just to show me how to make a pizza sfoglia. Thank you zia.  Pizza Sfoglia
What makes this pizza sfoglia so good is the use of lard, it can't be substituted in any way, it won't have the same flakiness and crispiness  It will lose fragrance and the aroma will change.  I tried to make a healthier version using olive oil, it was a waste of time.  

Serve when it is warm, not hot, not cold.  It needs to rest about 10 minutes from when it is removed from the oven.

Don't cut it with a knife, break it with your hands.  Don't ask why.

Serve with anything that's cheese and cold cuts.  Typically it's served with pecorino cheese and mortadella from Campotosto.

Recipe - Pizza Sfoglia di Zia Vincenza 

500g flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup of melted lard (shortening)
1 tbsp olive oil
a cup of cold water

Make a well in the flour and add the salt, olive oil, baking powder and a few tablespoons of cold water, add the water a little at a time, enough to gather the flour and form a dough similar to a pasta dough.  Knead until elastic and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in 8 pieces and roll out each piece with a pasta machine. Make 8 thin strips.

Lay the each strip on the your working surface, slightly overlapping the edges of each so to form one full sheet.  Pour the melted lard on the dough and with a pastry brush cover the whole surface.

Longwise, start from the edge closer to you and roll the dough to form a cylinder shape, like a long snake.  Hold the cylinder shaped dough on each end and twist. Roll it once again to form a flat spiral. Lightly poke with a fork, brush some more lard on the surface.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for approx. 30 minutes or until lightly golden.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Vegetables in a tray


Vegetables in a Tray
A courgette, an aubergine, an onion, a ripe tomato…then some thyme and basil.  

Rub the herbs in your hands. Inhale.

Let the aroma inspire you.  Let go to an unreflective desire and create.   

Slice, trickle a thin stream of good olive oil, season to taste. 

Use your rubbed-herbed flavored hands like two big spoons.  

Toss and turn. 

Line them in a tray, nice and neat.  


Seven, eight, lay them straight.

Make good food. Eat good food.  

Use passion.

It always works well this way.

Senza titolo

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

from garden to table

zucchine blossoms
A flower which really is a blossom and that looks like a lily has grown in my vegetable garden, finally our zucchini (correctly in Italian, zucchine) have arrived.  From garden to table they go and there's nothing better than that!

Here they are, my little babies are born, they come from a world made of simple things.
What happened once they were brought to the kitchen was an easy concept of gathering ingredients, gathering the family and making pasta con le zucchine and fiori fritti.

Welcome summer, we've been waiting for you!
homemade pasta with zucchine and their blossoms
The recipe is straightforward.  Simply chop the zucchini, either in rounds or long wise.  I chose to give them a 3 cm long wise shape, more or less.  Add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the surface of a large preheated pan, add some roughly chopped spring onions, one or two, and the zucchini.  Saute the onions and zucchini together until they are covered with oil.  Let them cook for no more than 15 minutes.  Keep them intact and firm, don't over cook.

Split the blossoms in 4, start from the bottom of the flower moving upwards, use your hands. Set aside.

Once the pasta is cooked, retain some of it's drained water.  Add the pasta in the pan with the zucchini, saute the pasta and the zucchini on a high flame, add some of the pasta water you have set aside so to form a creamy sauce that maintains the pasta humid and not dry.

Remove the pasta and zucchini from the heat, add the blossoms, toss, sprinkle with some grated parmesan cheese.  Serve.

For this dish, I recommend homemade pasta.

Now, the fiori fritti, zucchini blossoms.
fiori fritti
Fiori Fritti
zucchini blossoms
mozzarella cheese

For the batter,
plain white flour
fridge cold beer

olive oil for frying

To make a really good batter you need ice cold beer, this is what will make these blossoms perfect.  You can't go wrong.  

The quantities of the ingredients may vary depending on how many blossoms you will fry.  

Stuff the blossoms with a small piece of mozzarella, and an anchovy fillet. Set aside.

In a bowl add some flour, some salt e some beer, whisk with a fork to form a smooth foamy and dense batter. Add more beer until you've reach the right consistency but don't over whisk or you will deflate the batter.  You want to reach the consistency of a runny batter, something like a crepes batter.

Dip the prepared blossoms, one by one in the batter, shaking off the excess.  Gently place them in the pan with hot oil.  Don't overcrowd with too many at the same time. Remove when they are golden brown. Transfer on an absorbent paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and serve hot.
zucchine blossoms