Authentic & Traditional & Labour Intensive 19th Century Neapolitan Biscotti
1/2 pound refined sugar
4 egg yolks
8 egg whites
3 ounces of flour
Finely grated zest of lemon or citrus fruit
Cream the sugar and egg yolks, add the flour and lemon zest and then fold in the beaten egg whites. Bake in a moderate oven.... *
*Be forewarned: if you don't spend half an hour creaming the egg yolks and three quarters of an hour beating the egg whites to a mountain peak you'll end up with flat bread, not cake or cookies! O.K. if you have an electric egg beater, you can cut down the time substantially -- the egg beater can do the job in four to six minutes, but if you don't have one, well, then you just have to do it manually. Of course, if you have baking powder, then that too will decrease the amount of time needed to make the cookie dough just the right consistency (The heat in the oven will release the baking powder's magic properties and the dough will surely rise and look as good as it should). Baking powder can turn any mediocre sweet dough into a lovely cake and/or Neapolitan biscotti but unfortunately it was not commercially available till 1903! Home cooks in Italy or in any other country in Europe (or North America) had to beat their eggs long and hard to get that pleasing "light" texture sweets are known for. The rich had kitchen maids to help them out, but if you weren't rich, you had to call in your aunts, cousins and in-laws. Back then extended family members had important roles.... Enough already.
This month hundreds of Italian folk sayings were added to this website. The folk sayings were taken from the lovely little book, "Proverbi Italiani, ordinati e illustrate," compiled by Francesco D'Ambra and published in Florence in 1886 (for the complete copyright-free text see www.archive.org). As an English translation of the book is not yet available, trying to figure out what the folk sayings meant was challenging for this webmaster, Mary Melfi, whose Italian is not as good as it should be..... This month many new recipes were added to this website.
They include: PASTICCIOTTI, Neapolitan small-sized sweet ricotta pies using pasta frolla (for the recipe see Italy Revisited/Calconi), PIZZA DOCE CO LA PASTA NFROLLA, Neapolitan Sweet Ricotta Pie using pasta frolla (for the recipe see Italy Revisited/Pies and Tarts), LA PASTIERA, Neapolitan ricotta Easter pie (see Pies and Tarts), JANCOMAGNA, pudding made with egg yolks and milk (see Puddings and Creams), BISCOTTINI DI MANDORLE DOLCE, (Neapolitan sweet almond cookies (see Cookies with Nuts), BISCOTTI PER LI LIQUORI (see Cookies without Nuts), LA PASTIERA DI GRANA, Neapolitan ricotta pie using cracked wheat, pine nuts, raisins, lemon and orange zest (see Pies and Tarts), MARY'S CHESTNUT CALCIUNI, fried pastry envelops using honey and cocoa (see Calconi), CANNARICUILI, Calabrian rolled sweet fritters using flour, wine and sugar (see Fritters), MARY'S ITALIAN RICE AND RICOTTA EASTER PIE (see Pies and Tarts), PIZZA DI PASQUA, savory Umbrian Easter bread flavored with Pecorino and Parmesan cheese (see Italian Breads and Pizzas), CASSATINE DI RICOTTA, baked Sicilian ricotta tarts (see Pies and Tarts), CALZONI PUGLIESI, baked yeast dough envelops filled with onions, anchovy fillets and black olives (see Calconi), PITA INCHIUSA CALABRESE, stuffed vegetable pizza pie using spinach, tomatoes and onions (see Italian Breads and Pizzas), MUSTAZZOLI DI ERICE, Sicilian vegan cookies flavored with almonds and cinnamon (see Cookies with Nuts), PAGNOTTINE BRUSCHE CALABRESE, Bread buns made without yeast, flavored with diced salami and cheese (see Italian Breads and Pizzas, SUSPIRUS, Sardinian sugared almond balls flavored with Marashino liqueur (see Nougats), BICCOLANI DI VERCELLI, 4-inch long ribbed spice cookies using wheat and corn flour, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg (see Cookies without nuts), PIZZA PUGLIESI CON UOVA E CIPPOLE, double crust pizza pie stuffed with onions and hard boiled eggs (see Italian Breads and Pizzas), PANZAROTTI, savory cheese-filled fritters using Parmesan cheese and mozzarella (see Italian Breads and Pizzas), BOCCONOTTI, Puglian baked sweet ravioli filled with crema pasticcera and black cherry jam (See Calconi), PIGNOLATA, Neapolitan pine clusters (see Nougats) and last but not least, FRUGAL MAN'S FIADONE CON FORMAGGIO, savory sharp cheese baked half-moon Molisani pastries, using Caciocavallo cheese and Parmesan.... Luckily, playing in the kitchen for this webmaster is more fun than playing with words, numbers or any other kind of game on the planet earth. Because it's fun and work is not involved (No money is exchanged -- am living in a dream factory or a fool's paradise, hard to say which it is when everything is "free," or at least, it should be!) I have the liberty to do as I please. Being smitten with Ippolito Cavalcanti's invaluable cookbook (a historical document!), "Cucina Teorico-pratica" published in Naples in 1839, I made a concerted effort to try out his recipes. This magnificent book includes many of Campania's famous traditional dishes and desserts such as: PIZZA DOCE CO LA PASTA NFROLLA and PASTIERA. As these recipes (as are others) in the book were deliberately penned in Neapolitan dialect (The author had an obvious fondness for his mother tongue) trying to understand their directions took a great deal of time and effort. Some times I succeeded in understanding what to do, and sometimes I did not. For example, finding the translation for the word, "pasema," took a lot of time searching on the internet. The word doesn't appear in any of the Italian-English dictionaries. I didn't figure out what it meant until I googled images for the word, and then there it was -- starch. As I truly love Neapolitan cuisine and all things old, I muddled through Cavalcanti's cookbook, excited by the idea that history can happen anywhere -- even in the kitchen. Other recipes from this book that I attempted were: PIZZA RUSTICA, JANCOMAGNA, BISCOTTI PER LI LIGUORI and BISCOTTINI DI MANDORLE DOLCE. I also tried out his PIGNOLATA, which are pine nut clusters, presented on host sheets. I found this recipe expensive to do and not worth the trouble. It's interesting to note that some North American cookbooks describe Italian-style "host" sheets as "rice paper" -- but it's anything but. Using edible oriental-style rice paper for Italian recipes will prove disastrous. If the rice paper isn't first soaked in water, it will break up and taste like broken glass and if it is soaked in water it will not be of any use, as it will kind of disappear and not provide any decorative benefit. The problem is that Italian "host" sheets are not sold in most supermarkets, or Italian specialty shops for that matter. Wafers are easy enough to find, many Italian shops as well as Middle Eastern ones, have them, but the paper thin white-colored "host sheets" that are used for torrone might be available around Christmas time in Little Italy but that's about it. Apparently it might be possible to get "HOST SHEETS" on line at: WWW.BERCHICCI.CA. I myself never used this service so I can't say if the company is any good or not. All I know is that as much as I enjoyed the challenge of trying to duplicate Cavalcanti's recipes, I also found it frustrating because the instructions given on how to do the recipes were often quite vague. In the 19th century Cavalcanti and everyone else in the edible-feast-business simply assumed that home cooks knew what they were doing and didn't require detailed instructions. In 1839 when Cavalcanti's cookbook was first published, his readers probably did. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Nowadays cookbook publishers assume that their readers don't know much, and more often than not, they're right.... As I myself I am always learning something or other, and trying my hand to simplify recipes as well as decreasing their cost (Food is not cheap!) this month I came up with three personalized versions of three traditional recipes. I did my own variation of Campania's "Rice and Ricotta Easter pie," Molise's savory cheese pie, "fiadone" as well as Molise's sweet ravioli, calciuni. I did so because these traditional recipes are labour-intensive, and as I don't like spending a lot of time in the kitchen (Well I do, but how much is too much?), nor do I like spending a lot of money (A little is too much!), I tried to look for ways to cut costs and speed up the cooking process. Actually, I prefer following cookbook directions to writing them. Luckily I found quite a few traditional recipes this month that I enjoyed making. My favorite recipes were those that included ricotta and lemon zest (Found a couple of Sicilian recipes with these beloved ingredients). My least favorite recipes to try out are those that include yeast dough as I don't like working with yeast in any form, fresh, dry or "instant" (Is there such a thing?). Even when I use store-bought fresh pizza dough (rather than make it myself) I have difficulties. Many of Southern Italy's double crust pizza pies include yeast dough and they're incredibly hard to do. I suppose I'm not the only one who has difficulties because Italian pastry shops are charging a fortune for these delicacies. Those who can learn to make them at home can save a lot of money, but baking skills are needed. Blessed are those who have what it takes. In the kitchen you can be an angel or a devil and do a good job, but if you don't have patience (I don't) you'll never be a good baker, a cook, maybe, but a baker, no way. Still, if I could manage to make Umbria's PIZZA DI PASQUA, a savory bread flavored with Pecorino and Parmesan cheese, anyone can. So there is hope.