Category Archives: Other food

Acciuleddi – Sardinian deep-fried sweet pasta

Acciuleddi, drizzled with honey

We first encountered acciuleddi on our holiday in Sardinia a few weeks ago. They’re a form of sweet, deep-fried pasta and as such are a cousin to frappe, which are found on the Italian mainland. I ate a lot of frappe in Rome, when they would appear in shops for Carnevale – the blow-out before the fasting period of Lent, the run-up to Easter in the Christian calendar.

Pasta, deep-fried then sweetened? What’s not to like? Well, perhaps such things aren’t brilliant for your arteries so it’s good they’re just eaten for Carnevale. Except of course it wasn’t Carnevale in June for our holiday, so I think the proprietress of the Gallurese (northern Sardinian) bakery we bought them, La Panetteria del Porto in La Maddalena, from was bending the rules slightly.

If she can do it, so can I. Though I wouldn’t normally endorse eating celebratory seasonal or feast-day foods at the wrong time of year. It’s as obnoxious as British supermarkets stocking hot cross buns all year round. They cease to be special if they’re on the shelves all the time.

Sweet pasta
The very concept of sweet pasta may be a bit weird for staid Brits, but I just couldn’t resist a crack at these, given my love of frappe.

Looking at Italian – and Sardi – recipes, the pasta generally seems to be made with semola rimacinata di grano duro – that is fine, “re-milled” semolina (Triticum durum) flour. That’s not something it’s terribly easy to source here in the UK, so I went for a mixture of 00 flour for the fineness, and normal (ie medium milled) semolina for some robustness.

Also, the pasta does seem to have been traditionally made with strutto – lard. Now, I don’t have a problem with lard in principle, as I do eat some meat and as it was a key ingredient for older, traditional British baking (such lardy johns, or the more well-known lardy cake). The thing is, I try to only eat meat where I know the provenance, and generally that means from people we trust who have a farm nearby. I hoped they’d do some lard, but they just don’t have the demand. Instead, the only readily available lard in small-town England is foul crap spat out by the grotesque industrial meat machine, and I don’t want to use that. Instead, I’m going for all eggs, which some of the Italian recipes I researched also did.

So really, it’s just a pretty basic egg pasta – with the familiar ratio of 1 egg to 100g flour. Though with a little added sugar and some lemon zest.

Then deep-fried.

Surface & tension
The best surface for making fresh pasta is marble, the next best is stainless steel. I don’t have either, so I just used my bamboo worktop, rubbed with a bit of oil, as I do when making bread. It worked fine.

150g 00 flour
50g semolina
20g icing sugar (or caster)
Pinch salt
Zest of half a lemon (optional), finely chopped
2 medium eggs (about 110g total yolk & white)
Extra water, or egg, if mixture is too dry
Oil for frying

1. Sieve together the flours and icing sugar, add the pinch of salt and lemon zest.
2. Form a mound on your work surface.
3. Create a hole in the middle of the mound, much like the gaping mouth of a miniature volcano. Or like when you’re making concrete by hand.
4. Crack the eggs and put in the hole. You can of course do all this in a bowl, but there’s something very satisfying about eggs in a mound of flour..

Making acciuleddi pasta 1Making acciuleddi pasta 2
5. Using a fork, whisk up the egg, then starting combining the flour. Try to keep that wall around the edge intact, and add the flour bit by bit.
6. When the dough is starting to get quite thick, bring the rest of the flour into it by hand.

Making acciuleddi pasta 3Making acciuleddi pasta 4

7. Knead the dough until smooth, then form a ball, wrap in plastic and rest in the fridge for about half an hour.
8. Take the dough out and cut off small pieces. Mine weighed in at about 15g.

Acciuleddi pasta ballAcciuleddi cutting pasta
9. Take a piece and roll it out to form a long snake. Mine were about 300mm long, 5mm wide.

Acciuleddi, roll outAcciuleddi, roll out
Shaping acciuleddi 2Shaping acciuleddi 3

10. This is the tricky bit, so I’ve also made a video. It’s my first video and it’s not exactly slick, focus is an issue, going out of frame is an issue, and it is entirely un-edited, sorry. But it might help.


11. Anyway, you take the snake and join the two ends together.
12. Gently roll one end, while holding the other end still, to form a spiral. There will be some tension in the spiral – retain it.
13. Now, join the ends together again and that tension should cause it to spiral around itself again – creating a kind of double helix. Help it on its way as needs be.
14. Squeeze together the join.

Acciuleddi ready for frying
15. Put the acciuleddi on a tray or plate, lightly dusted with flour or semolina, and cover while you make the rest so they don’t dry out.
16. Heat oil for frying. I used sunflower oil, though I imagine the most authentic, original ones were fried in lard too. You want it at 180C or thereabouts, if you have a thermometer or fryer with a dial. If not, throw a small piece of dough in. If it bubbles, bobs to the surface and browns within a few minutes, you’re good to go.
17. Fry the acciuleddi in batches until browned.
18. Drain and put on some absorbent paper.

Acciuleddi, drizzle with honey
19. While they’re still warm, pile them up and drizzle them liberally with honey. I used some from our friends’ hives, from when they were in south London. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. This seemed like one.

The results were good. Sweet, crunchy and simultaneously indulgent and undemonstrative. They were a bit chunkier than the ones we bought from La Panetteria del Porto, so if you want to make more refined, smaller ones, use pieces of dough weighing about 10g and roll that snake even thinner!

I want to go back to Sardinia now.

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Filed under Feasts, Misc, Other food, Recipes

Marzipan

This is something I’ve been wondering about for a while: what’s the difference between almond paste and marzipan? Both are made with sugar and ground almonds and some sort of binding agent – usually egg, possibly oil.

I would say that marzipan is a form of almond paste, and indeed Alan Davidson calls it “a paste of crushed almonds and sugar” in his essential Oxford Companion to Food. If you’re being thoroughly pedantic, however, one distinction seems to be that almond paste has a higher proportion of almond to sugar, whereas with marzipan the proportions are more or less equal.

In Britain, marzipan is mostly used as a covering for cakes – notably on top of our traditional heavy fruit Christmas and wedding cakes, with a layer of royal icing on top. It’s also used for as a filling for things like the German Christmas cake stollen, or as a kind of sculptural medium. It’s not something I do very often, but I’ve used it to make, for example, decorative fake pebbles (below, alongside the real ones).

Marzipan stones

In parts of Italy, Spain and Portugal, meanwhile, they’re big on using it to make imitation fruit, a sort of sweetmeat.

An older English name is “marchpane” and this referred to large sculptural sweets that would decorate feast day tables, right up until the 18th century. These showstoppers were the ancestors of our modern wedding cakes. The word marchpane may also relate to the Italian marzapane, which can be translated as “March bread” – but the etymology is confused. Indeed the Latin root marci panis, Davidson says, means “the bread of St Mark”, (the Latin for the month of March is Martius). While one dictionary says it’s “perhaps” from the Arabic mawthabān meaninga seated king”.

Davidson also talks about a distinction between French and German marzipan, with the production of the former involving a sugar syrup and the latter a mixture that is “dried over heat, cooked for a short time then poured onto a slab to cool”. The English version, however, generally isn’t cooked.

I’ve found one Delia Smith recipe that cooks it, but otherwise it’s a more basic concoction that relies on raw egg, one of those things we’re quite squeamish about these days. If, however, you do have a reliable source of eggs and aren’t squeamish – being unafraid of say, real mayonnaise – this is a great basic recipe that’s so easy you’ll wonder why you ever bothered to buy ready-made marzipan.

Sugar is a natural antibacterial, so the high level present is a preservative. The fresh mazipan will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, probably longer – but I’ve not done a controlled experiment.

175g ground almonds
175 g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten (approx. 60g of beaten egg)

Makes about 400g

Marzipan mix 1Marzipan mix 2

1. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and bring together, with a fork, palette knife or dough scraper.

Marzipan 3
2. Lightly dust the work surface with icing sugar and turn out the mixture.

Marzipan ball
3. Completely bring together and knead slightly, to achieve a homogenous dough. Do not overwork or it can become greasy.

Marzipan block
4. Form into a ball or block and wrap in plastic.
5. Store in the fridge.

Anyway, I’m blogging this as I seem to be using marzipan fairly regularly at the moment. It was in the semlor I made a while back, and I’m also using it for a simnel cake recipe, which I’ll post next.

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An evening with Dan Lepard at The Hearth, Lewes

Intro

Dan Lepard is my baking hero. If you know my blog(s) you’ll know I mention him a fair amount. His book The Handmade Loaf was the encouragment I needed to take my baking to the next level, and I had a great run making his reliable recipes from The Guardian, now collected in Short and Sweet. So I had some fanboy excitment when I heard he was doing a day at The Hearth pizzeria and bakehouse in Lewes, arranged by proprietor Michael Hanson.

Taking place on Tuesday 30 September, this was surely one of the biggest days of Lewes Octoberfeast, and indeed The Hearth has been at the heart of the 2014 festival. Dan had three events over the course of the day: classes Bread Made Simple and The Big (Cake) Bang Theory, then an evening meal, prepared in The Hearth’s wood-fired oven.

Heads down

As Michael said in his introduction, a hearth is “where people are around a fire, sharing stories, in each other’s company” and you can’t argue with the warmth, literal and metaphorical, that comes from a wood-fired oven. It also gives a remarkable depth and richness to any food cooked in it – both in flavour terms but also in more rarified, almost spiritual terms. This is real cooking: wood, smoke, oven walls with serious mass, ancient technology.

Desserts on hearth

For the meal itself, Dan, aided by Michael, food and travel writer Andy Lynes and The Hearth team, prepared a series of hearty dishes that carried on this theme of warmth, real food, depth of flavour, all eminently suitable for the last day of September, where our Indian summer is finally giving way to a change of seasons and the food cravings that accompany cooler weather.

Bagna cauda

First up flatbreads with a bagna cauda. I’d not encountered the latter before, but it’s a hot dip originally from Piedmont/Piemonte, northwest Italy. Dan’s version was an intense, thick, oily and salty, as only serious anchovy-based dishes can be, and was served with flatbread. It included oregano brought back by Emilio and Diane, who we shared a table with, from Emilio’s Sicilian hometown of Pachino (of tomato fame).

Chopping pork

The main course was shoulder of pork, with sage, lemon and garlic. The woodfired oven is perfect for proper, slow-cooked pork, and Dan said they cooked this for about four hours. It was served with crisped-up polenta slice, roasted celeriac and potato, and mushroom and borlotti bean stew. I hope Fran isn’t reading this as she’ll be really sad she wasn’t able to make it, as these are some of her favourite things, excellently done.

Apple crumble cake with gelato

The desert was one an apple and pine nut cake served with Amaretto and raisin gelato. It was a delicious, surprisingly delicate desert. The cake is based on one of Dan’s recipes for the Sydney Morning Herald, and he explained how cooking apple in orange utilises the ascorbic acid to preserve the natural sweetness, resulting in a need for less added refined sugar. And cakes with some form crumble on the top are always a winner in my book (cf toscakaka, streusel cake).

Last bit of cake

All in all, a great evening, hosted by two men who combine experience with enthusiasm, to paraphrase Dan quoting Forbes. An evening that played to the strengths of a wood-fired oven, which isn’t just for pizza – though The Hearth remains one of the few places I’ve had a decent pizza in England. Let’s hope Dan Lepard comes back to The Hearth more in future, to spread knowledge – and cook great food.

(Oh, and usual apologies about the photography. I’m really not a photographer, despite being the only one wielding a DSLR yesterday evening. Not only was Dan a professional photographer, I also met Susan Bell that evening, which throws these bodges in a very sorry light.)

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Filed under Misc, Other food, Restaurants etc

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua… Sort of.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua, sliced

You could say pizza cresciuta is an Easter (Pasqua*) equivalent of the traditional north Italian Christmas cake panettone. Pizza cresciuta is one the many distinctive Italian baked products I saw during our two years in Rome. I mentioned it last year in a round-up of Easter baked goods and baking, saying that the verb crescere means “to rise”, as in the word crescendo. I also mentioned that the word pizza means a lot more than just a topped dough disc in Italy. So this is a “risen pizza” (it’s also called pizza ricresciuta – “re-risen pizza”). I believe a cresciuta is also term for what we’d call a sponge or pre-ferment – yeast, water and some of the recipe’s flour mixed ahead of time to get the leavening going nicely. It’s a term that’s also applied, in Naples I think, for a yeasted batter. Anyone with more knowledge about this, please do comment!

In shape the pizza cresciuta di Pasqua I saw in Rome was more like a tall round cake – that is, like panettone. Except when it’s savoury. Looking at recipes online, most of them are an enriched dough with some spices, but there are even recipes online in Italian for cheesy versions.

As the ones I’d seen in Rome were always sweet, I wanted to try that this Easter. Though I’ll say now that this is one of those experiments that didn’t really quite exactly work. Blogging it anyway, as a record. If I do try to perfect it, I don’t think it’ll be until next Easter.

A lot of the recipes I found used spices – notably anise seed and cinnamon. Most of them also used some liquor, notably spiced or herbal liquers like Alchermes (aka Alkermes) and Strega. One recipe I saw even contained 100ml each of rum, vermouth, alchermes, cognac, and cointreau! But I thought this much strong liquor was sure to bugger things up with the yeast (I note now that that recipe uses “lievito paneangeli” – I think this is a kind of vanilla flavoured baking powder).

I couldn’t hope to get Alchermes and Strega, but was able to source a bottle of the latter from TwentyOne Wines in Brighton (thanks Philip, who opened up for me during his Easter holiday last week). I was also finally able to track down some aniseed – something I’ve not been able to source in smalltown Lewes, and really want for several other Italian recipes, notably aniseed-flavoured ciambelline al vino (ring biscuits often eaten with a digestivo after dinner).

So here’s my recipe. Tweaked slightly from the weekend’s effort, but to really work I think it’ll need more tweaking. If you do have a try yourself, or have a better recipe, again, please let me know.

Some ingredients

Liqueur
50g Strega
2 t aniseed

Sponge / pre-ferment, or cresciuta
100g strong white flour
100g water
10g fresh yeast

Dough
250g strong white flour
300g plain, all-purpose or type ‘0’ flour
6g salt
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
5 medium eggs
2 t vanilla
300g caster sugar (seems a lot but vabé)
50g lard
50g butter

Aniseed in Strega

1. Put the aniseed in the liqeur and leave to macerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Make a sponge with the yeast, the water and 100g of the the strong white flour.

Lively sponge
3. Leave the sponge to ferment, covered, in a cool, draft-free place overnight.
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, vanilla, zests, sugar, booze and other spices.
6. Melt together the lard and butter then allow to cool.
7. Add the melted fat to the egg and liqeur mix.
5. Put the rest of the flour in a large bowl, along with the salt, then add the wet mixture.

Slightly strange sticky pizza cresciuta dough action shot
6. Make a dough – a nice soft, wet, tricky-to-handle dough.
8. Give the dough three short kneads every 10 minutes over half an hour or so, forming a ball, returning it to the bowl and covering between each knead. (This is the very handy Dan Lepard method.)
9. After the final knead, put the ball back in the bowl, cover again, then leave to prove until doubled in size.
10. Form a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
11. Tighten up the ball, then put it in a tall, deep tin (it could be an old food tin, which is what I did when I made panettone, though note – not one with plastic lining), or in a paper panettone case. I used the latter, which are available from Bakery Bits.
12. Leave to prove up again. Ideally you want it to double in size and feel nicely inflated. Hm. See discussion below.
13. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan oven).
14. Brush the top of the dough beaten egg. I didn’t bother as, frankly, my dough didn’t look great.
15. Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes, then turn down the oven by 20C.
16. Test to see if it’s done with a knock on the bottom. Hm. See discussion below.
17. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua. Sort of.

Eat for your Easter Sunday breakfast. In Rome, the pizza cresciuta is eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast with corallina salami. We had this one for breakfast, even though I was disappointed with the results. And couldn’t get corallina.

I knew it was going wrong when the dough seemed sluggish for the final prove. There was some (very irregular) oven spring, but I knew it was going even wronger when I first took it out of the oven – it just felt hefty, not light like a panettone. I had the oven set too low originally, and it baked too slowly, and ended up both dense and thick-crusted.

Easter Sunday breakfast - Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua

The taste was interesting though, thanks to the Strega, which features saffron, mint and fennel among its many ingredients, and the aniseed. Though I do wonder about the Strega. Certainly yeast produces alcohol alongside CO2 when it’s active in the dough, but not too much alcohol, or the presence of strong alcohol retards the action. Scratching my head about this today, I found one comment at Delia Online (here) that says “Baker’s yeast is tolerant to alcohol to about 3%. That’s 3% C2H5OH [ethanol] by mass. Brandy is about 40% C2H5OH.” I’m not sure my 50g Strega could really retard the yeast quite so much, but clearly something was awry. My proving times were quite possibly problematic too. And  I suspect all that sugar might have been a factor in affecting the activity of the yeast too.

Anyway, next time I try it, I might adapt my attempt at panettone a few years ago, which was much more successful, and go easier on the strong liquor too. Fun experiment anyway even if the result is slighty heavy duty. We had a load more for Easter Monday breakfast earlier, and it was pretty good toasted.

 

 

 

* While the English word for Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddesses – the Anglo-Saxon Ēostre – the Italian word relates to the word Passover, which comes from Pesach and the Hebrew pesah and pasah.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baking, Other food, Pizza, Recipes, Rome

Frappe, chiacchiere, cenci, angel wings – sweet deep-fried pasta treats

Plateful of frappe

One of the many things I’m missing about Rome is the pasticcerie – pastry bakeries, patisseries. Our old neighbourhood alone had four within about a hundred metres of each other, all independent, selling wonderful selections of handmade pastries. And what made these places a particular joy – for a baked goods geek like me – was watching their wares change over the seasons.

Particularly fun was the period of Carnevale, equivalent to our word carnival, and from the Latin to “take the meat away”. That is, stop eating meat for Lent, the period of Christian abstinence before Easter. In the Roman pasticcerie, Carnevale seemed to start pretty much immediately after Christmas and was heralded by the appearance of frappe and castagnole. For the two Carnevales we were in Rome, we indulged in these goodies extensively (check out here, here and here).

Plateful 2

Angelic chit-chat
I never tried making them though – there was little incentive when they were easily available. But now I’m home in Blighty, where proper handmade pastries aren’t quite so readily available. Plus, I was browsing Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow and found her recipe for bugne ­– which are pretty much identical to frappe but from Lyon, France and take their name from the word beignet, another kind of sweet, dough fritter variable.

Bugne and frappe are simply deep-fried pieces of enriched, sweetened pastry or pasta dough* served dusted with icing sugar. Indeed, good ol’ Wikipedia – the dream of the internet incarnate – lumps bugne and frappe and may other similar international treats under the entry for “Angel wings”, which is presumably the US American English term, as I’ve not heard it in British English.

For me they’ll always be frappe as that was the name used in Rome, but even Italian has several other names for them, including cenci (“rags”) and chiacchiere (“chit-chat”).

So anyway, it’s technically Lent now, so I should have done this recipe a few weeks ago. But, well, I’m not religious and I just felt like some. Apologies to any devout Catholics who treat their seasonal gluttony proper seriously.

Frappe recipe

250g plain flour
1/2 t baking powder
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of half a lemon
25g butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla essence
1/2 T of liquor – grappa, brandy, rum, or whatever depending on your inclinations and what’s in your cabinet. We didn’t really have anything so I added a dash of vodka.
Oil for deep-frying (sunflower or similar)
Icing sugar for dusting

1. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
2. Add the pinch of salt.
3. Add the sugar and lemon zest.

Eggs
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, add the vanilla essence and liquor.
5. I could say “make a well in the centre….” but I’m not convinced you really need to worry about that unless you’re working directly on a work surface so simply add the egg mix into the flour mix.

Added together
6. Likewise add the melted butter.
Mixing

7. Bring together a dough. (You could do all this in a food processor, like making short-crust pastry, or in a mixer.)

Ready to roll
8. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and well integrated.
9. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least half an hour in a cool, draught-free place.
Rolled
10. Pin out the dough to about 1mm thick, maximum 2mm. You want them thin so they cook through and crisp up evenly. Ideally, roll it out with a pasta machine. We don’t have one.

Cut CU
11. Cut rectangles about 5 x 10cm. If you have one of those little pastry wheels that gives a crimpedety** cut, perfect.

Cuts
12. Cut two slices within the rectangle. The difference between frappe and bugne is in the cut, nominally. With the bugne, you cut one slice and fold the piece of dough in on itself.

Frying
13. Heat the oil (to about 170C) then deep-fry the dough pieces a few at a time, until golden.

Cooling
14. Take out and put on some kitchen paper to absorb some of the fat.
15. When cool, arrange on a plate and dust liberally with icing sugar.

With hot choc
16. Enjoy, perhaps with a nice rich cup of quality hot chocolate.

After our record winter rains, we had a warm, sunny, dry March, very much spring. But now it’s turned cool and wet again, so I think we can do a bit more hot chocolate drinking before it gets too balmy to really enjoy that most delightful of hot drink. Current hot chocolate of choice is still Montezuma’s Dark, but local coffee-grinders Jaju also sell a very fine Columbia hot chocolate.

I found it very hard to stop eating these last night. So it’s probably better if I don’t make them too frequently.

* This dish really highlights the fine line between pastry and pasta.
** I am aware this is not a real word.

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Buckwheat pancakes with rhubarb maple compote

Buckwheat pancakes with rhubarb compote

This is one of those dishes that’s pleasing on a number of levels: it tastes good, it’s a take on a feast day speciality, it features seasonal produce, and the two principle components are even botanically related.

In fact, it was delicious, the compote featuring a variety of sharp and sweet flavours, which I tempered with some vanilla ice cream (though clotted cream, or crème fraîche, or mascarpone, or even custard, wouldn’t have been bad either), while the pancakes were satisfying and simple. The buckwheat flour I used from Dove’s farm was surprisingly pale and the pancake batter was not unlike one made with a plain white wheat flour.

Pancakes

Pancake Day
So yes, it was Pancake Day (aka Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Martedi Grasso etc, the start of Lent). Fran wanted buckwheat pancakes, and her usual filling of ham and gruyere. I wanted something meat-free, so did a kind of celeriac and cauliflower cheese (as both veg are in season).

The past few springs, I occasionally saw rhubarb on the market in Rome, where it was an expensive imported delicacy. Being back in Blighty, I fancied some for dessert pancakes – and it’s in in season at the moment. Sort of. It’s forced rhubarb that’s available, with the growers in Yorkshire enticing the pink stalks out of the nutritious soils of their dark sheds. Heated sheds, so it’s not like it’s the most eco of crops, but traditionally it was important as a means of providing some “fruit” in British markets in an otherwise lean period. It’s certainly wonderful stuff, with its pink palette and sharp flavours. And forced has the edge on outdoor grown rhubarb, which comes into season in April and lacks the delicacy, with its tougher, weathered hide.

Rhubarb isn’t a fruit of course, it’s the stems of the plant Rheum rhabarbarum (its italian name is rabarbaro), a member of the polygonaceae family. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is another member of this family; its starchy seeds being so grain-like they’re treated very similarly – though it lacks gluten, so presents challenges for those who want to use it for bread-making. It’s much more commonly used for noodles (such as Japanese soba, or even north Italy’s delicious but heavy duty pizzoccheri) and pancakes. The latter exist in various national cuisines, most famously Russia’s blinis and France’s galettes. These are a speciality of Brittany, where Fran lived for a while in her youth – hence her passion for them.

Anyway, some recipes. You need to make the pancake batter ahead of time, and ditto the compote can be made in advance.

Buckwheat pancakes

Buckwheat pancakes
Makes about 6 large (22cm ) pancakes. Double or triple the quantities if you’re hungry or have a large family.

100g buckwheat flour
Pinch salt
1 egg
300g milk
50g butter
Oil or butter for frying

1. Whisk together the egg and milk.
3. Put the flour and salt in a bowl, and pour in the liquid, whisking constantly.
4. Leave the batter to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
[Now make your compote, below]
5. When you’re ready to make the pancakes, melt the 50g butter and whisk this into the batter. (I also added 1 extra egg white, just cos I had one hanging around.)
6. Heat oil or butter in frying pan and when it’s hot, add ladlefuls of the mixture (about 80ml each).

Buckwheat pancakes
7. Fry until browning nicely then flip over.
8. Keep warm on a plate in a low oven.

Rhubarb maple compote

800g rhubarb
2cm fresh ginger, finely grated
1 orange, juice and fine zest
50g soft brown sugar
50g maple syrup
1 t cinnamon
1 vanilla pod

Compote

1. Chop the rhubarb into pieces about 2cm long. (Cut skinnier stalks slightly longer and fatter stalks slightly shorter, so they’re all about the same size and cook evenly).
2. Put in a large bowl with all the other ingredients and toss or stir to combine and coat. (We tend to keep our ginger root in the freezer, then just grate it on a Microplane/fine grater. Easy.)
3. Put the mixture in a roasting tray and cook for about 30-40 minutes at a low temperature, 150C (130C fan).
4. When the rhubarb pieces are tender remove from oven.
5. Strain, keeping the juices.
6. Boil the juices to thicken it. Don’t boil it all away though!

Assembly

To assemble the pancakes, keep your frying pan warm after making them, then put one back in the pan, add a good dollop of rhubarb in the centre, and fold over the sides, like an envelope. Cook a little and flip over, to seal slightly. Or don’t bother. You could roll the pancakes with the filling if you prefer that form.

Put on a plate, with another dollop of compote, some of the juices and a good drizzle of maple syrup.  I was wondering if I’d overdone it with too many flavours here – orange, maple, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla – but they all actually slot together nicely. Serve with your indulgent dairy product of choice.

We had salad with our savoury pancakes for our main course and that contained some common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) – which is another member of the polygonaceae family. So our Pancake Day dinner was a real polygonaceae feast. Truly a versatile element of the plant kingdom.

Buckwheat pancakes with rhubarb compote

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Fine apples, rotten consumerism

Pie with cream

When we got back from our travels just before Christmas, we travelled back and forth across the south of England on the train visting family. I’ve got a vivid memory of looking out of the window into gardens backing onto the train line, and seeing numerous apple trees, leafless in the winter cold, and surrounded by a carpet of rotting fruit.

When we finally moved back into our own house in Sussex, a similar sight met us with a tree in our garden. Clearly our tenants hadn’t been into apples. Or maybe they had – but like so many people, were inclined to buy plastic bags of New Zealand or South African or French (!!!!*) apples from the supermarket and ignore the free fruit growing just outside their own door.

Britain has been going this way for decades now. And it’s a great tragedy. Britain, especially the south of England, has an ancient history of apple growing. Cider is synonymous with Devon and Somerset, for starters. Yet I’ve got another strong memory of driving through Devon and stopping for a picnic – beside an orchard of mature apple trees, one of them vast like an oak, all of them dropping their fruit into a rotting carpet in the grass.

Rotten to the core
It’s not just the fruit that’s rotten though, it’s the supermarket-dominated system that somehow believes it makes more business sense – which is different to actual sense, common sense, or future-of-the-human-race sense – to waste or neglect or our produce that is.

Or, as Paul Waddington says in Seasonal Food, “… if a kilo of apples has made the flight from New Zealand in March, are they really going to taste as good as the stored British variety?  … are the New Zealand apples really worth the kilo of CO2 they will produce compared to the 50g if the same kilo were sourced locally. Despite the fact that we grow perhaps the best apples in the world, Britain has lost 60 per cent of its apple orchards since 1970,  thanks in part of the bureaucratic madness that paid growers to dig them up.”

The past few years we’ve at least been discussing the waste that goes into supermarkets only selling standardised fruit and veg (apples and tomatoes of ruthlessly controlled sizes and colours, carrots without protrusions and nobbles, bananas with very specific curves,  etc). But is it already too late? Most of us have already forgotten what it’s like to eat seasonally, never mind the brainwashing that arrises from only ever encountering these cosmetically “perfect” supermarket products. We’re so out of touch with food production. I mean, when was the last time Britons en masse grew their own fruit and veg? Probably during the Second World War’s Dig for Victory, with perhaps some efforts in the 1970s inspired by The Good Life.

Apples, Lewes Friday market

World leaders in apples
As with most things in life, all it needs is a little more education, and if people are better informed that can have a bearing on market forces. After all, as Waddington says, “We should be world leaders in apples. With judicious use of varieties and good storage, we can east our own produce almost all year round, with perhaps a brief gap in July.”

Now, it’s January, and the apple harvest here in England, usually August to October, is fading into a distant memory on the far side of Christmas. And yet, my local farmers’ market has one stall, Greenway Fruit Farm, that has a wonderful selection of apples. All are priced at £1.50 a kilo – which isn’t bad, as a quick scoot round mysupermarket.co.uk indicates all the UK supermarkets are selling apples at around £1.75 -£1.99 a kilo.

Last year, Britain had a “bumper apple harvest” after a dry summer, so there really is no excuse to not be eating home-grown apples his year. Not all of these apples will necessarily be cosmetically so shiny shiny, but then real apples, grown through traditional means without gallons of toxic sprays and without a wax-job, will never look like those silly massive red things you see in American movies.

Sheer variety
We have 2,300 varieties here (listed in The National Fruit Collection in Kent; there 2,500 grown in the US, for comparison, and 7,500 worldwide) and they vary remarkably in appearance, flavour and use. Some great for eating, some for juicing, some for cider, some for cooking.

Last week, I bought a good selection of Braeburns for eating. This variety is synonymous with NZ, where is was emerged in the 1950s near Motueka (a great place for fruit and hops), a Granny Smith-Lady Hamilton cross. It’s been grown here since the 1990s though, really coming into its own in the 2000s. Its popularity is understandable as it’s a medium-large, green and russet colour fruit with a crisp bite and taste that somehow blends sweet and tart, and can be a dessert apple and a cooking apple.

For cooking, however, I also stocked up Bramleys. This variety was, perhaps surprisingly, developed from a seed planted only in 1809 by a girl in Nottinghamshire. They were first sold commercially in 1862, soon becoming established as a significant crop. The original tree is still bearing fruit.

These are the quintessential British cooking  variety, accounting for 95% of our cooking apples. Usually I get mine from my folks, who have a very handsome mid-sized tree in their garden that really cranks out bright green, occasionally pumpkin-sized fruit. The ones I bought on the market were a bit different though – the Greenway lady was excited about them as they had an unusual amount of red on their skins. They certainly worked wonderfully for an apple pie.

Pie with ice cream

As English as apple pie
The recipe I used this time was from Andy Bates and his Street Feasts TV shows, which we’ve been enjoying on Freesat since we got home, got settled and got a telly. It features a slightly unusual pastry that eschews the more typical necessity for cold, cubed butter. Instead, butter and sugar are creamed together, egg is added, then self-raising flour – as such it’s more like a cake batter, though drier. The final results are more cakey too, with a more spongy crumbliness than a traditional short crumbliness. It’s rather good.

His recipe also uses a filling that’s not too sweet. In the show, he explained that’s because he’s pairing it with an ice cream made with condensed milk and hokey pokey (aka honeycomb, you know, like the stuff inside a Crunchie bar). I did make the ice cream – it’s easy, with no custards, no churning, but it is insanely sweet, and his quantities are weird, there’s way too much honeycomb. You can find his original recipe here; if you do fancy making the ice cream, I’d recommend halving the quantities of honeycomb.

Here’s the pie recipe:

Pastry
200g butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg
1 yolk
325g self-raising flour

1. Cream together the sugar and butter. The latter can be at room temp, or even warmed a little to make it easier to cream. I tend to nuke cold butter for a  few seconds in the microwave, or if I’m using a metal mixing bowl, put in a low heat on the hob briefly.
2. Beat together the whole egg and egg yolk.
3. Cream the egg into the sugar-butter mixture.
4. Sieve the flour into the creamed mixture, combine and bring it together as a dough.
5. Wrap up the ball of dough in plastic and put it in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.
6. Make the filling.

Filling
1kg Bramley apples (about 5 or 6 medium-large ones)
50g butter
50g dark soft brown sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Peel, core and chop the apples into 2cm-ish cubes.
2. Warm the butter, sugar, cinnamon and juice together in a saucepan.
3. Add the apple pieces to the sugar mix and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly to soften the chunks equally.
4. Cool the apple mixture.

Assembly
Water
Milk
Caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Cut a third of the pastry off the ball.
3. Roll the two-thirds chunk and use it to line a tin – in the show he used a 23cm loose-bottom cake tin, but Fran’s colleague in Rome lost mine (grrrr. Still annoyed about that, can’t find a non-non-stick replacement), so I used a 25cm loose-bottomed flan tin. You could use any sort of tin, around the same size (9-10 inches for you olde fashioned types).
4. This doesn’t need blind baking, so just add the cooled apple mixture.
5. Roll out the remaining pastry and cover, sealing the edge with water. It’s not the easiest pastry to roll, but don’t worry too much, it’s so cakey, it bakes fine even if you bodge the pastry case together in pieces.
6. Crimp the edge.
7. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
8. Bake for about 45 minutes, until nice and golden.
9. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
10. Serve with his crazy sweet ice cream (seriously, I’ve got a sweet tooth, but that stuff was too much even for me), or some plain vanilla ice cream, or cream, or custard – whatever you fancy.

Most importantly, make it using local apples.

I urge you to track down local apples, support your local economy, support local producers, support your national economy, reduce the pollution of absurd food transportation.

If you don’t have an apple tree, family or friends may have one they don’t harvest. Or you could politely scrump some by asking a neighbour. Even if the fruit looks ugly, it could be very tasty – and great for cooking up. And it’s free.

Alternatively, stock up at a farmers’ market or farm shop. Failing that, ask for British apples in your supermarket. You should at least be able to find Bramleys as they store well and are available all year round.

China already produces 40% of the world’s apples. Britons, I ask you: in ten years, wouldn’t you rather the apples available to you in your local shop or market were actually from our own once great apple-growing nation than from the country whose incredible industrial drive and growth is rapidly taking over pretty much everything?**

* I’m using the !!!! to indicate a “For flipping flip’s sake” moment as this country is not only just across a thin stretch of water from us, it’s in the same hemisphere with the same flipping seasons.

** Don’t get me started on pine nuts – I can’t find any pine nuts in Britain that are grow in Europe. Or even the US. They’re all from China. It’s boggles me, yet most people don’t even seem to notice.

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Filed under Misc, Other food, Pies & tarts, Puddings & desserts

On granary row

Harbour Street Oamaru

As readers of this blog will know, I’m somewhat obsessed with humanity’s relationship with grain. So it was a great pleasure to discover a single street (more or less) in the old Tyne-Harbour Street historic district of Oamaru, a town on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island that had not just an excellent bakery, but also a shop selling NZ whisky, and, just across the way, a craft brewery.

We had arrived in Oamaru on a wet and miserable Wednesday night. Our hosts at the excellent Oamaru Creek B&B warned us that it might be hard to find much open on a Wednesday, but had told us about the brewery, Scotts, which had a tasting bar (and, like so many names, seems to have lost its possessive apostrophe).

Soggy ghost town
Dashing under the Christmas decorations, which in the 12-ish C temperatures and rain felt very much like a familiar south of England take on seasonal festivities, over the railway line, which goes all the way from Picton in the north to Invercargill in the south but steadfastly refuses to run any environmentally pragmatic passenger services, then past the steampunk museum, with its steam engine lurching skyward, we went down Harbour Street, with its handsome 19th century whitestone warehouses – and found Scotts… just closed.

Scotts brewery, Oamaru

They gave us a few tips about where to find their wares, but the wine bar they mentioned was closed and the nearby Criterion Hotel only carried one, Nineteen 05, a kolsch – a lager-like ale style that, not being a lager drinker, I’m not a big fan of. Otherwise, the Criterion had an Emerson’s ‘Bookbinder’, but Emerson’s is one of NZ’s many breweries (Macs, Speight’s, Monteith’s) that’s been bought out by Lion – that is Kirin, that is Mitsubishi. So really not very NZ any more at all.

On this mission (and always) I’m much more keen to drink beer from independently NZ owned, smaller breweries. Like the decidedly rustic Brew Moon in Amberley, just north of Christchurch, which we visited while driving south.

Brew Moon, Amberley

Kiwi cuisine
We did however, have a decent dinner in a new, nominally Italian restaurant round the corner on Itchen Street. Oamaru is a place of streets named after British rivers, but this one was perfect for me as I grew up playing by, on or in the Itchen, in Hampshire.

The restaurant, Cucina, presented its menu in approximately Italian meal-structure terms (antipasti, primi, secondi, as well as pizza), but they didn’t have any Italian staff and much of the food was basically Kiwi. NZ seems to have confidence problems with its cuisine. Many places call themselves “French” or “Italian” but with a few tweaks, they could assert their food as proudly, distinctly Kiwi. Especially as NZ has such varied climate zones and is surrounded by relatively rich seas, so much good produce is available here.

Here comes the sun
The following morning, the sun, and the summer, revived itself somewhat, and we returned to Harbour Street. At number 4, there’s Harbour Street Bakery (site – may not be working), a small artisan bakery run by Dutch expat Ed Balsink.

Master baker Ed Balsink at Harbour Street Bakery, Oamaru

Ed’s been in here around a decade, arriving at a point when bakers were among the skilled professions the NZ government was keen to encourage to immigrate. After a fairly frustrating sounding experience in a small town north of Auckland, he made his way south.

NZ, like the UK and US, is dominated by the industrialisation of the food chain, but people like Ed are exponents of and envoys for quality food made using traditional skills and no-nonsense ingredients. “Everything is available here,” Ed said. NZ grows a great selection of grains for flours (and brewing), and imports other stuff from Australia. He says his bosses up north just wouldn’t believe people would be interested in naturally fermented products, but that’s an argument his current success is disproving. Indeed, I’ve talked to other people who’ve faced similar prejudice and ignorance – like a north Devon publican who was told his clients only wanted industrial lager, but then they embraced his real ales, and his pub won awards.

Ed, who trained in a special Dutch school that focussed on baking, cheffing and waiting, and became a master baker, provides a great array of naturally leavened breads, breads made with fresh (aka cake, aka bakers’) yeast, in various European styles, as well as pastries and biscuits, including speculaas. This is a Dutch spiced almond biscuit, and Ed uses a 1742 recipe from Delft.

Speculaas at Harbour Street Bakery, Oamaru

It contains cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and “a special mix”, and comes from that medieval tradition when such spices were worth a literal fortune. Indeed, Ed said the Netherlands had “the first stock exchange in the world because of the spices” and mariners returning from Indonesia would be searched much like contemporary diamond miners.

It was great chatting with Ed, and I’ve just very much enjoyed one of his almond tarts and some of his multiseed sourdough.

Cake and coffee at Housekeepers, in the Loan and Mercantile, Oamaru

Southern hemisphere prohibition
Afterwards, we blundered into a whisky shop, New Zealand Whisky Company, down the street at number 14 in the 1882 Loan and Mercantile warehouse building, which also houses Housekeepers, a new café and design shop with some decent coffee and chocolate cake (“award-winning” apparently).Despite my love of beer and bread, I can’t really handle whisky, so am totally ignorant about it.

It’s an interesting place though – they have the last remaining stock, around 600 barrels, from the Willowbank Distilllery, in Dunedin, just down the coast from Oamaru. One of the world’s most southerly distilleries. It was bought out by the Canadian Seagrams in the 1980s, then later sold to Fosters (before that Austrailian brand itself became part of SABMiller). Fosters “mothballed the company in 2000, and sent the silent stills to Fiji to make rum!”

We learned a lot more about the history of boozing in this part of the world when we went back to Scotts – now open. Phil Scott, the director and head brewer, served us a taster of their three new beers. They have four currently (including a gluten-free beer), but are developing a new range, including a Vienna lager. Phil explained how they’d operated in Auckland for seven years but have moved back to his hometown, opened “last Sunday”, and are going to be fully licensed “hopefully by tomorrow”.

The brewery is something of a landmark for Oamaru, as it represents the first beer being brewed (openly) since 1905. The town was apparently the fastest-growing in the southern hemisphere, with four breweries (and sundry brothels), until an unfortunate election saw prohibitionists take power in Northern Otago. They killed the breweries and effectively put paid to the port as sailors really did have certain very specific requirements. Amazingly, the prohibition was only ended in the 1960s.

Phil Scott of Scotts Brewery, Oamaru

The three, very bright and direct, Scotts beers we tried were the kolsch Nineteen 05, which suits the Kiwi taste for cold, easy lagers but is top-fermented like an ale and doesn’t require lagering (cold maturation): “it’s grain to glass in a week and a half” Phil says, unlike the six-eight weeks for lager. Then the Boulder Pale Ale, which uses five malts and four hops, and is a mild balance between citrus, gooseberry fruitiness and a subtle maltiness. And finally the B10 Steam Porter, named after a local steam train. This is a sweet, fairly carbonated dark ale that’s much lighter than many porters.

All were served a bit cold, but Phil explains this is really just a requirement of the Kiwi taste for cold beer. Despite how much such beer-consumers are be depriving themselves of the full organoleptic smell and taste sensation!

Real Kiwi cuisine
Phil gave us some tips for other beer venues to visit, and we headed off down the coast, to the little seaside village of Moeraki, famous for a clutch of spherical boulders on its beach. And for Fleurs Place, another place that’s lost its apostrophe, but not its character. This is a great example of a place that does a uniquely NZ style of cuisine with a quiet pride.

Giant biscotto and creme brulee at Fleurs Place, Moeraki

They’re right beside the old jetty, and get their seafood fresh from a small cluster of boats that land their catch mere metres away every day. They also use local produce, such as asparagus from just down the road in Palmerston. They seemed to have a good local wine list, though their beer list was strangely at odds with the local, quality ethos, featuring no good local brews, only generic international tosh or Mitsubishi-owned formerly NZ brands. They really should start stocking Scotts, from 40km up the highway!

Our seafood tasting plate was stupendous – simply cooked, no nonsense, nice sauces, and couldn’t be fresher. The crème brulée and huge biscotto wasn’t half bad too. All in all a great day.

Now if only our hostel in Dunedin could include genuine WiFi I could finish this post a bit more damned easily. Honestly, internet in NZ really is like going back 10 years. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about that though, as when I first came to NZ in the 1980s it did indeed frequently conform to the old joke that said it resembled 1950s Britain. It doesn’t any more, at all, but the internet thing is frustrating, especially after the ease we’d experienced across most of the USA.

[It’s now the following morning, and we’re on the WiFi in the Octagon in the centre of Dunedin. It’s infuriating hit and miss, at times as slow as dial-up, but at least it’s genuinely free.]

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Filed under Bakeries, Breweries, New Zealand beer, Other food, Restaurants etc, Travelling

Garbatella Farmers’ Market and the new Ponte della Scienza

Ponte della scienza and gasometer, Rome

Rome hosts two large-scale weekend farmers’ markets: one near Circo Massimo (Via di San Teodoro 74) and one that used to be in the Ex-Mattatoio (former slaughterhouse) in Testaccio. In April 2013, however, the latter was relocated further south, away from the centre, to Via Francesco Passino in Garbatella.

We were kinda gutted when this happened, as going to the Ex-Mattatoio market had become a weekend routine. Garbatella, however, is just too far away to be practical when we do everything on foot or by bike. There is still a market and organic shop at the Ex-Mattatoio, with its Città dell’Altra Economia (“Alternative economy city”) so we continued going there, as it’s a great spot. Though it lacks the range now.

This weekend, however, we decided to venture down to Garbatella, to check out the new market and see what baked goods, etc, are available. En route, we wanted to check out the Ponte della Scienza, a new pedestrian and bike bridge that’s been built across the Tiber here. Last time we tried to check it out, it looked finished, but wasn’t open. Now it’s finally open: but it doesn’t really go anywhere or connect to anything.

Ex-industry 2

It took them five years to built it, but, in classic Roman fashion where bickering extremist politicians, corruption, and piss-poor-to-non-existent communication between departments seem to be the norm, there just isn’t any infrastructure on the east side, and there’s very little on the west. There’s no promotion, no information, no signage, and just the usual Roman garbage building up-on the new stairways. Great job, Comune di Roma!

Yet, the bridge is still a great opportunity. You can access it from the foot and bike track along the west bank of the river, and it takes you across to the wonderful old industrial area that includes gasometers, hoppers, water towers and, best of all, Rome’s finest museum. This is the Centrale Montemartini, an annex to the Capitoline museums where ancient statuary is sited among turn of the 19th century turbines and generators in a very handsome art nouveau power station.

Gasometro

We were very bemused when we crossed the bridge, turned right (south) down a promising new stretch of asphalt, thinking it would take us towards the museum, but instead met another cyclist who said “It’s blocked”. So we turned around, went north, and found ourselves leaving the small stretch of new road, cycling through a building site, and emerging onto Via del Porto Fluviale. This is the location of the kinda-cool, kinda hit-and-miss Porto Fluviale, a beer bar and pizzeria that exemplifies the redevelopment going on in this area of Ostiense.

It looks like the Ponte della Scienza work isn’t quite finished yet, but I’m not holding my breath for any rapid progress.

Still, we crossed Via Ostiense, passed Eataly, and headed on into the charismatic Garbatella. This is a very distinctive quartiere, developed in the 1920s and in part inspired the garden city movement: the late 19th century urban planning philosophy based on creating environments that nurtured community through open spaces, greenery and self-sufficiency.

Garbatella Farmers' Market

The farmers’ market is now located in the building previously occupied by the daily market. As well as spending a load on a new bridge that doesn’t go anywhere, Rome’s planners seem to enjoy moving markets around too (cf Testaccio; Piazza Vittorio/Esquilino). It’s a handsome building, though I can’t find any historical info about it. I’d guess it was either 1930s or 1950s, but the interior’s been renovated.

Garbatella Farmers' Market - interior of building Garbatella Farmers' Market - interior of building

Anyway, it’s not a bad site, with each stall having more space. And compared to the Ex-Mattatoio, there are no low-level metal beams or hooks for us tall types to brain ourselves on.

Most importantly, however, it’s packed with good quality, locally produced food. If you’re at all interested in, you know, a viable future for human civilisation, find your local farmers’ market! There you can buy food with a smaller carbon footprint than the contents of your local supermarket, which will mostly have been driven, shipped or flown hundreds or thousands of miles, so every mouthful comes with a climate-change puff of burned hydrocarbons.

Some food then

Pictures of mostly bread, cakes, biscuits. They do sell veg, fruit, dairy products and meat here too, but hey, this is Bread, Cakes and Ale.

Garbatella Farmers' Market

A ciambella is a ring-shaped cake or bun. Ciociara is a region of central Italy. No idea what’s entertaining the geezer though.

Boh

Not such a jolly guy. Selling, among other things, ciambelline – ring-shaped cookies. Bigger than those in my previous recipe.

Garbatella Farmers' Market

Some great looking bread. Love the giant loaf to the right of the insanely cheery looking cartoon chap.

Giant maritozzi at Garbatella Farmers' Market

The biggest maritozzi con la panna I’ve ever seen. These bad boys are least twice the size of the ones you normally see.

Our transportation

Transportation, Brompton folding bikes

Our transportation: the Brompton folding bike, which exerts a fair amount of fascinating in Rome, despite them not being uncommon here.

Info
Garbatella Farmers’ Market, Via Francesco Passino, 00154 Rome
Metro: line B, Garbatella; bus: 673 (Rho)

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Birrificio Italiano Bibock at Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Trastevere, Rome

Bibock from Birrificio Italiano at Antica Foccaceria di San Francesco, Trastevere, Rome

Unless it’s a curry or a kebab, we don’t normally eat in Trastevere. If you want Italian, or more specifically Roman food, it’s about the worst neighbourhood, as so many of the dense thicket of restaurants – in our experience – are lazy and mediocre. However, a friend drew our attention to the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, part of a Sicilian micro-chain whose management has apparently taken a stand against the Mafia.

As much as I’m aware of the big corporations of the (Sicilian) Mafia aka Cosa Nostra, (Calabrese) ʼNdrangheta and (Neopolitan) Camorra, as well as the other immigrant mafias that operate in Italy (Filipino, Chinese, etc), I naively assumed that the touristy Roman restaurant scene would be better protected. Ho ho. Another friend who’s lived in Italy for decades says most places – cafés, restaurants, shops – have to pay the pizzo (protection money), which is what makes Antica Focacceria San Francesco’s stand notable: they said no. The New York Times gives more of the story here (though it gets the address wrong, which makes me question its fact-checking slightly).

So anyway, we headed down to the Trastevere branch on a Friday evening. It’s set in one of this cute quartiere‘s cute piazze, just round the corner from Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? and the strip of boozers that’s generally heaving on a summer weekend evening.

When our group all assembled and some menus arrived, I was pleased to see the Slow Food symbol. I was also pleased to see the wine menu had two pages dedicated to Italian birre artigianali (craft beers).

So while we ordered a tonne of Sicilian snacks (schiticchi), antipasti and secondi, I also ordered a beer. I got a Bibock from Birrificio Italiano, a brewery located in Lombardia, south of Lake Como. What a name – they’re just called “Italian Brewery”. Though they probably have a right to wield such a grand name: the brewery was founded in 1996, the same year as the renowned Baladin, and as such can be considered, in the words of the Guide alle birre d’Italia 2013, “one of the principle players in the affirmation of the craft beer scene in our country”.

The warmly copper-brown Bibock smells of raspberries, toffee, rose. It’s got a reasonably frothy head. Its taste also has notes of caramel and toffee, along with a very nicely balanced cereal-maltiness and bitter-hoppiness and a fairly dry mouthfeel. It’s bottom-fermented (as befits its roots in German, bock brewing), 6.2% ABV and has a medium body. Very nice.

I’ve no idea if it was a good choice to accompany the food though. I really, really need to learn more about food and beer matching. I’m sorry. But I’ve never made any bones about my beer blogging here being anything but a learning process.

Antica Foccaceria San Franciso, Trastevere, Rome

As for said food, it was pretty good. The Sicilian street food pre-antipasti nibbles were tasty, especially the chickpea fritters (panelle). And the sardines balls were pleasant too. Who’d have thunk it? One flaw in the experience, though, was that pretty much everyone seemed to involve caponata.

Now I love this slightly sour Sicilian dish made with aubergines (/eggplant/ melanzane), tomatoes, capers etc. I like it so much I’d made it the day previously at home, and had it for two days running. Now I found myself eating more; it was getting to the point of OD. The Antica Focacceria must have had a giant cauldron of the stuff in their kitchen.

The only other flaw with the meal came later on when the very sweet and entertaining waitress tried to sell us some desserts. We were already pretty full (of caponata) so had our doubts, but when she said they were sent in every day from Palermo I had even more. She was so excited to tell us this (“And the fish!”) but for me it was like a red rag to a bull. Sent in? “In aero?” I asked. “In a plane?” Really? Really?

How in the blazes does this carbon puddingprint fit in with the place’s nominal Slow Food ethos, of local and sustainable? Even a short hop flight is toxic, particularly as in aviation a lot of the fuel is used getting the beast off the ground in the first place.

If you want Sicilian pastries in Rome, have a Sicilian pastry chef make them on site in Rome. The products won’t just be fresher and better as they’ll only travel a few metres, the whole package will also be more credible in sustainability and environment terms.

The beer was good, the food was good, even the caponata was good (albeit excessive) but I’m sorry, flying in your desserts is just fucking insane. Especially if your menu is plastered with the Slow Food snail symbol. Reality check please!

Info
Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva 14, Trastevere, Rome
(+39) 06 581 9503 | roma.lamalva@afsf.it | afsf.it

Birrificio Italiano
(+39) 031 895 450 | info@birrificio.it | birrificio.it

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Filed under Ale, beer, Italian beer, Other food, Restaurants etc