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XXX New This Month
Sunday, August 25th, 2013
Originated from: The Old Country
Occasion: The Feast Day of the Old and the Wonderful
Contributed by: Webmaster, Mary Melfi; image courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery

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What is Old is New Again

Sweet dried red peppers on a string
Sun dried tomatoes in oil
Home-made jams and marmalade


Call your Nonna and ask her how to string red peppers and dry tomatoes.

You could also ask her how to make jam or marmalade, but if she is too busy cooking up a storm in the kitchen and doesn't have the time to humor you (She knows you'll never get around to doing what you're asking about), you can always look up the information on the internet. As a bonus, you can also find out on the internet how Princess Kate does her home-made jams and marmalade and what she does with them (Apparently she uses locally-grown produce..... She offers her jams and marmalade as Christmas presents to the inner circle of the British royal family). A cynic might decide that Princess Kate's passion for home canning proves that the rich do have it better -- not only do they do whatever the rich do to have fun, they also do what the not-so-rich do. A non-cynic (Are there any?) will forgive the British aristocracy for usurping the not-so-rich's home-entertainment-production-methods and get on with business of enjoying life.

Everyone has the right (Even Princesses and Nonnas) to do as they please. Everyone (especially Nonnas) have the right to cry out: "I am old and I am wonderful!" or better yet, "I am that I am."

Cooks of the world unite. Rich cooks, poor cooks, bad cooks, indifferent cooks, great cooks (You know who you are!) do the right thing -- be generous, be kind, be loving. Be grateful. Easier said than done? Not in the kitchen! Well, not for Nonnas from the old country anyway.


Added to the PHOTO ARCHIVES this month are family photos taken in Boiano, Campobasso in the 1940s; they were contributed by Josephine Ward..... In the RECIPE ARCHIVES dozen of dessert recipes from Italy's most famous cookbook writer, Pellegrino Artusi, were added. Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook, "La Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene manuale Pratico per le Famiglie," was first published in 1891. Since then many Italian editions have been published. English editions have also appeared. In 1945 a selection of the Pelllegrino Artusi's recipes compiled by Olga Ragusa was published. This cookbook entitled, "Italian Cook Book," can be found in its entirety at www.archive.org. Presently the dessert recipes are also available on this website, "Italy Revisited." Olga Ragusa took a lot of liberties with the recipes, changing proportions and adopting the recipes as she saw fit. Generally her recipes are as good as the original. However, as the book was published over half a century ago, the style in which the directions are given for each recipe is somewhat dated. Recently the Toronto of University published a translation of Pellegrino Artusi's original book under the title, "Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well." Some of the recipes can be found at www.books.google.ca.... The North American publishers are calling Artusi's cookbook a classic, which it is, and showing reverence to the man who complied from various sources over 700 traditional Italian recipes. As the book was first published in 1891, over 120 years ago, Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook is now in the public domain.... Much has been written about Pellegrino Artusi. He was born in Forlimpopoli, Tuscany in 1820. He was part of a large family; he had 12 siblings. His father was a wealthy pharmacist; after Pellegrino Artusi finished his university studies he took over the family business. Everything continued as expected, until in 1851 a group of bandits took a number of wealthy families from the town of Forlimpopoli hostage, including Pellegrini Artusi's. The event traumatized the community; Pellegrini Artusi's sister suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum. Pellegrino Artusi's family moved their business to Florence. Here Pellegrino Artusi worked in finance; he dedicated his free time to his two favorite hobbies: literature and cooking. He never married, he lived with his butler and a Tuscan cook. During his lifetime he was unable to find a publisher for his now famous cookbook; when he was 71 years old, he had it privately printed. Despite the self-publishing, the book quickly became a commercial success. The reason the book became so popular is because he managed to demystify "the art" of cooking. Actually, he suggested it wasn't an art but a science, and as such anyone could learn to do it. What was needed, of course, were good recipes, with exact proportions. And that's what he did in his now famous cookbook -- he gave detailed instructions on how to make some of Italy's most beloved dishes. He put Italian cuisine on the world map. Most of Artusi's recipes can be found on the internet, including on this website. Its webmaster, i.e., me, Mary Melfi (Rambler & Home Cook) personally made an attempt to try out some of Artusi's dessert recipes. Quite a few were easy to do, but others were quite beyond my skill, or my patience. It's possible to do a complicated recipe, but if one doesn't have the patience to carry it out, then the challenge is lost from the outset. What was most of interest to me was how the names of classic recipes have changed over the years. Nowadays, everyone thinks of a "pizza" as a flat bread, but back in the 19th century the word "pizza" often described a double crust cheese pie, or some other kind of sweet pie. A "pizza pie" was just that -- a pie!. Nowadays the word, "foccacia," generally refers to a "white" pizza or one that doesn't include a tomato-based topping. Back in the 19th century a "foccacia" could be a flat bread or a cake! If that weren't odd enough I learned this month that back in the 19th century some cakes were made with ciccioli -- grieves or pork cracklings. Using pork cracklings in bread or pizza is not unusual in Italian cuisine, but to see them used in cakes was rather shocking. At least it was to me. Two dessert recipes that use pork cracklings added this month are: "STIACCIATA UNTA" and "STIACCIATA CON SICCIOLI [Ciccioli]" (See Italy Revisited/X Italian Pizzas and Breads).... Nowadays, one assumes the word, "biscotto," means a cookie, but back in the 19th century the word could describe either a cookie, a cake or a tart. Even more surprisingly, back then the word, "Pasta" didn't necessarily have anything to do with "pasta" as we know it today. For example, "Pasta Genovese," was not the name of a pasta dish, but rather the name of a cake from the Genoa region. Because the Italian language has changed so much over the years, it makes it very challenging to figure out what a recipe looks like simply by reading its name in Artusi's cookbook. Often, what sounds like a cake isn't a cake but a pizza, and what sounds like a pizza isn't a pizza but a cake. Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook should come illustrated, that would be a great help. In a small way I am gradually doing this on this website, affixing Artusi's recipes with their respective photos, but while it is economically feasible to do his dessert recipes, doing his main dishes would take the budget of a millionaire which I do not have. This month the recipes I tried out and found of interest from Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook are: BOCCA DI DAME, an almond sponge cake (see Italy Revisited/"Cakes"), PIZZA IN NEAPOLITAN STYLE, a ricotta cheese pie (see Pies and Tars), PIZZA GRAVIDA, a custard pie (See Pies and Tarts), TORTA CON PINOLI, a pine seed tart (See Pies and Tarts), STACCIATA ALLA LIVORNESE, a Tuscan Easter bread (See Holiday Breads), PASTA MADDALENA, little Madeleine cakes (sees Cakes), BRIOCHES, yeast dough French buns (See Pastries), CIALDONI, cookies made with a waffle iron (See Cookies without Nuts), BRIGIDINI, very thin TUSCAN cookies also made with a waffle iron (See Cookies without Nuts), and FOCACCIA ALLA PORTOGHESE, a GLUTEN-FREE cake using potato flour (See Cakes) and PASTA DI FARINA GIALLA II, cookies/small buns made with cornmeal (See Cookies without Nuts). Quite a few sweets in Artusi's cookbook are gluten-free. In the late 19th century using potato flour, cornmeal flour and/or rice flour was more economical than using wheat flour, so it was normal and natural for home cooks to make use of them. I have done a number of recipes with rice flour, and succeeded, meaning I liked their taste, but those recipes using potato flour and/or cornmeal failed -- either the look of the sweet was awful or the taste was awful (to my mind). If someone is looking for an alternative to wheat flour, I would recommend rice flour recipes. Lots of people seem to be looking for gluten-free recipes, and there are many excellent websites that specialize in this. For those interested in looking for "traditional" Italian gluten-free recipes Artusi's cookbook is a good place to start. I attempted a few other recipes from Artusi's cookbook this month as well, but they don't come to my mind at this particular moment........ Also, this month, searching for an inexpensive but attractive Italian cookie to bring to a "bake sale" I tried my hand making traditional Italian orange cookies. After trying a couple of times I did come up with my own variation on the famous recipe. Oddly enough I had imagined "traditional Italian orange cookies" were easy to do until I tried making them, and then all kinds of problems crept up. Most traditional Italian orange cookie recipes use lard which has to be cut into the dough -- a cumbersome activity. Some traditional Italian orange cookie recipes do use vegetable oil, and that's what I went with. Still, a traditional Italian orange cookie dough, whatever shortening one uses, is supposed to be on the soft side, making it hard to work with. Making "traditional Italian orange cookies" that look pretty, have uniform sizes and so on, is difficult, but not impossible. It's worth the effort. These cookies are relatively cheap, and being nut-free can be sold at bake sales and brought to children's parties. My take on the recipe is titled, not unsurprisingly, "MARY'S TRADITIONAL ITALIAN ORANGE COOKIES" (See Cookies without Nuts). Hopefully this recipe as are others on this website will be enjoyed. One can live without joy, but one can't live without food (So why not make it pleasing to the palate?). When there is enough food to go around, and it's nicely prepared by one's Nonna (Or by someone else's Nonna) then "It's a wonderful life."

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