Like in most catholic countries, the start of lent is a big occasion in Italy. Carnival (carnivale) runs from “fat Thursday , giovedi grasso” until “fat Tuesday, martedi grasso”. Traditionally people dress up in masks and costumes, but outside of Venice, this is mostly only done by small children. However everybody uses it as an excuse to eat lots of sweet things. This is Italy after all 🙂 This recipe is for one of the most common biscuits. They have many regional names, bugie, cenci, crostoli, frappe, galani, sfrappole ,but here they are known as chiacchiere. A rough translation would be “chatty biscuits”. There are many variations on the basic recipe, some include grappa or wine, or lemon zest, but this is one of the simplest.
280g plain flour
70g potato starch (if you can’t find this, use all plain flour)
20g unsalted butter
20g icing sugar
3 medium eggs
A few drops of vanilla essence or a sachet of vanilla extract
1 tsp of baking powder
Oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients together to form a dough.
Chiacchere mixing dough
Knead it for a couple of minutes until it’s smooth.
Roll it out very thinly. If the dough is too sticky, dust with a little flour. You are aiming for about the thickness of lasagne. In fact, if you have a pasta rolling machine, that would be perfect.
Chiacchere ready to fry
Cut out rectangles of about 6×3 cm (2×1 inch) and make a slit in the middle. A pastry wheel is good for this.
Deep fry in hot oil (about 190°c 375°f) until they are puffed up and lightly golden.
Inspector Montalbano is a popular fictional Sicilian police detective, created by Andrea Camilleri. The stories are set in the small town of Vigata , and, being Italian, feature food quite prominently. In the story Inspector Montelbano’s Arancini (Gli arancini di Montalbano), the famous Sicilian dish is used as a plot device. Does the inspector want to leave Sicily to be with his girlfriend in Paris, or does he want to stay and eat his housekeeper Adelina’s arancini. I won’t tell you what he decides, but you can probably guess 😉 My father is a fan of the books, and he is fond of arancini when he visits me, so I decided to recreate this recipe from the book. The main differences between Adelina’s dish, and the more well known version is that she uses béchamel sauce instead of cheese. Also the ragù is made with whole pieces of meat, not mince.
For the ragù
150g of reasonably fatty beef in one piece
150g of reasonably fatty pork in one piece
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a few leaves of basil
250ml of passata
1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
For the risotto
500g risotto rice
1 small onion
oil and butter to taste
150g of shelled peas (use fresh or frozen depending on the season)
oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but you can use peanut oil or similar)
salt and pepper to taste
Arancini Ragù ingredients
Fry the onion and celery gently in a little oil. Add the two pieces of meat and brown them on all sides.
Add the passata and tomato purée diluted in a little hot water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if needed. Cook slowly for at least an hour and a half, longer if possible. Add the chopped parsley and basil, and cook for a further half an hour. This sauce can also be made in advance.
Arancini Ragù cooked
Make a classic risotto following the standard recipe, but without wine or cheese. It should be quite dry. Montalbano is quiet clear that it should be without saffron. (senza zaffirano, pi carità!)
Arancini cooking risotto
Tip the risotto out onto a marble slab (or a large tray), let it cool a little and then mix with a little of the tomato sauce and stir in the eggs. Let it cool completely. Put it into the fridge for about half an hour.
Arancini risotto cooling
Meanwhile, cook the peas in boiling salted water. Chop the meat with a mezzaluna or a knife. Montalbano forbids the use of a food processor (nenti frullatore, pi carità di Dio!) 🙂 Mix some of the béchamel sauce with the peas and salami cut into small cubes. Add enough of the tomato sauce from the meat to make a fairly thick mixture.
Arancini mixed filling
Slightly dampen your hands and take some of the rice and roll it in the palm of your hand trying to make a sort of bowl. Put a spoonful of the ragù mixture in the middle. Cover with a little more rice and form it into a ball.You are aiming for about tennis ball size. Continue until you run out of rice. You probably won’t need all of the filling.
Arancini ready for coating
Put them in the fridge again for half an hour or so to firm up. Coat with egg, and then roll in bread crumbs.
Arancini ready for cooking
Fry the arancini in hot oil (about 165°C) until they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels. They are best eaten hot, but are also good cold.
Fry the whole clove of garlic and the finely chopped onion gently in a little olive oil. After a few minutes, when the clove is lightly brown, remove it and discard. Add the chard and marjoram if used. Season with salt and pepper. Cook gently for a few minutes until the chard is completely wilted. You don’t have to add any water, the water left clinging to the leaves after washing should be enough.
Swiss chard frittata wilting chard
Allow to cool and squeeze out as much water as possible. Mix together the lightly beaten eggs, the chard and the cheese.
Swiss chard frittata ready to cook
Heat a large frying pan to a medium. Add a couple of table spoons of oil an add the egg mixture. Fry until the top has started to set.
Swiss chard frittata ready to turn
Flip the frittata by placing a large plate on top. Turn out onto the plate and then slide back into the pan. Finish off for a couple of minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.
Torta Pasqualina or Easter Monday pie is a very popular dish to have today that has its origins in Liguria. Easter Monday is traditionally a day for picnics and this is often one of the things taken along. This is a slightly simplified version as it uses pre prepared puff pastry. It’s good to know that doctors no longer say eating cholesterol is bad for you as it includes at least 10 eggs. Serves at least 6.
500g puff pastry
500g swiss chard or spinach, stalks removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
80g of parmesan or pecorino romano (or a mixture of both)
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or parsley
300g ricotta, passed through a sieve to remove lumps
1 tbsp of single cream
Torta pasqualina ingredients
Put the swiss chard, the onion and 2 tbsp of oil into a saucepan. Season with salt and people and cook over a medium heat until the chard is completely wilted. Allow to cool and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Torta pasqualina wilting chard
Chop finely and transfer to a bowl. Add an egg, 50g of cheese and the marjoram or parsley and mix well.
Torta pasqualina filling
In another bowl mix together the ricotta, the cream, 2 eggs and 30g of cheese.
Torta pasqualina assembling pie
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and use it to line an oiled cake tin. Make a layer with the chard. Cover with the ricotta. Crack 6 eggs, regularly spaced onto the surface.
Torta pasqualina ready for the oven
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the pastry and use it to close the pie. Trim off the excess pastry and fold over and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180 °c for 45 minutes.
Hard boiled eggs are of course an important symbol of Easter in Italy. They are often eaten as part of an Easter antipasto. This is one of the simplest, and in my opinion best recipes.
6 hardboiled eggs
6 anchovy fillets or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
4 tablespoons of olive oil
chopped parsley or chives
Eggs mimosa ingredients
Halve the eggs and put the yolks in a bowl along with the anchovies and pepper to taste. Blend with a blender, adding the olive oil little by little, until you have a smooth paste. Fill the empty halves of the eggs with the mixture, sprinkle with parsley or chives and serve.
Bagna caôda.From Piemonte. The rough translation of title is “hot bath” , which in my opinion is always preferable to a cold one 🙂 This dish is well known outside of Italy, but as is often the case it often is very different from the original. It is basically a warm anchovy and garlic dip for raw vegetables. These are two of my favourite things, so it’s one of my favourite antipasti. A lot of versions include milk or cream, but these are not found in the original Piemonte version
Bagna caoda ingredients
About 6 anchovy fillets per person. Salted are best, but tinned in oil will do. Soak them in a little white wine.
Garlic (from 2 or 3 cloves per person up to a whole head)
Olive oil, the best you can find, about 1/2 a wine glass per person. Only olive oil will do.
About 20 g of unsalted butter per person.
1 egg per person(optional)
To serve, dip vegetables into the mixture. The recipe I have is very prescriptive and says you can only use vegetables that are in season and grow in Piedmont. I think this is going a bit far though. Some suggestions on what to serve with the Bagna Cauda (raw unless otherwise stated):-
potatoes cooked in their skins and then peeled
Peppers roasted and peeled or raw
Onions boiled or baked
Jerusalem artichokes (raw or cooked))
Cauliflower (raw or cooked)
Small globe artichoke
Small whole mushrooms
Bagna caoda vegetables
Slice the garlic very thinly and soak it in cold water for a couple of hours. Some recipes call for it to be boiled in milk, but I think this is unnecessary.
Add all the ingredients to an earthenware pot along with a small ladle of oil and cook very slowly for about half an hour. Don’t let the garlic brown. Stir it constantly with a wooden spoon. When the anchovies and garlic have dissolved into the sauce, add the rest of the oil.
Bring the pot to the table and keep it warm with some kind heat source. You can buy special pots for this purpose, but fondue sets work well. Serve it with your selection of vegetables.
When you have had your fill of vegetables you can add a beaten egg to what’s left in the pot.
Plum Cake. You see this cake all over Italy. It is a type of sponge cake, baked in a loaf tin, similar to what is known as a loaf cake in the UK. In my opinion Italy does most things to do with food extremely well. One possible exception is breakfast. It is usually just coffee and some variety of cake. The coffee is very good though 🙂 This is a very common breakfast cake. I haven’t translated the name. It always appears in English, although the pronunciation is more ploomcake. It never, however, contains plums, or indeed any other kind of fruit. I have asked around, but nobody has any idea how it got its name. If anybody knows, please let me know.
200g icing sugar
4 eggs, seperated
200g unsalted butter
200g 00 flour
1 tsp baking powder
A few drops of vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
Plum Cake ingredients
Beat the butter together with the sugar using a wooden spoon.
Plum Cake butter and sugar
When they are combined, add the egg yolks and continue beating until you get a smooth mixture.
Plum Cake egg yolks
Whip the egg white, together with a pinch of salt, with an electric whisk until you get stiff peaks.
Plum Cake egg whites
Gently fold in the egg whites, into the egg yolk mixture.
Plum Cake flour
Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and the vanilla essence.
Plum Cake ready for the oven
Grease a large loaf tin with butter and dust with flour. Pour in the mixture.
Plum Cake finished dish
Bake at 170°c for 40-45 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it is ready.