Saturday, January 27, 2007

Baciocca Ligure

I am very found of savory torte from Liguria. From a search on internet have seen that there are so many versions of baciocca, with or without a "pasta matta" shell, with eggs, with pesto. Pasta matta is a dough made simlpy with flour, some tablespoons of oil, salt and enough water to form a dough. It is left to rest and then stretched very thin, a little bit like a strudel dough (see my recipe for apfelstrudel).

This baciocca was posted many years ago by A. Segreti, a lady from Chiavari, on the Cucina Italiana forum. The first time I tried it was because I had some extra cream and I was looking for a simple recipe to finish it up. I really didn't expect to turn out so good. Now, every time I have some extra cream I remember about this baciocca.

You will need

100 g of flour
100 g of very fine cornmeal flour (Italian fioretto or even a the finer flour sold at Indian or middleastern stores)
2 onions sliced very thin
2 big potatoes sliced very thin
a 200 ml heavy or double cream container
salt (about 2 teaspoons)
enough milk to have a soft dough (or if you don't mind the calories use cream all the way)
extra virgin oil

Preheat the oven at 180 Celsius. Sift the two flours, add the sliced onions and potatoes, salt, the cream and enough milk to reach a soft consistency. It should hold a spoon if you stick into it but it should be soft enough that you can spread with a spatula.
I use for baking a paellera, it's iron so it serves well the purpose but you can bake also in a pizza pan, the baciocca should not be too thick (a finger tall), for this quantity a 26-28 cm pan is fine. Oil the pan, spread the mixture, level it with a spatula and drizzle with oil. Bake for about 45 minutes. I like it warm, served with lardo or other salumi is a great appetizer.

A note on the cornmeal. I tried it also with coarser kind of polenta. It doesn't work as well, at least for me, because it requires more attention on the amount of liquid used. If it is not enough the grain will not swell properly and you'll find the grains dry and uncooked.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Strudel di mele or Apfelstrudel

Strudel is also a classic in the German speaking part of Italy, in Trentino Alto Adige.

I really like the strudel dough. I discovered that a lot of people are intimidated by this dough. When I was living in NY I was giving cooking classes to my collegues, I realized that the most of them had problems with it. They were too rigid. This dough is something to play around, it's really fun. It works great also for many savory strudels.

I use

150 g of flour 00 (or low protein)
half of a beaten egg
30 g of butter (or oil if you prefer)
a pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar
a couple drops of vinegar (to break down the gluten and make easier the rolling)
and enough warm water to get a soft dough (not sticky)

Make a hole in the flour, work with a fork the soft butter and the egg, salt and sugar, add the water a little by little, when a rough dough is done add just the water necessary to work together the flour on the sides. Then you need to work the dough vigorously, slamming and beating it on the pasta board. It should feel soft, silky but not sticky.

Like this

I cover the dough with a bowl and go on preparing the apples. This time I measured the weight of the final dough, was 250 grams.

For the filling:

4 big apples (I prefer using unripe golden, but a lot of people like the more sour cooking kind of apples)
butter to toast the crumbs+extra to brush the strudel, sorry I didn't measure it, for sure about more than one stick of butter, more than 100 grams
pine nuts (I add also walnuts because I like it)
lemon zest

I peel the apple, rub with a lemon and slice thin.
Toast some breadcrumbs with butter (maybe 50 grams of breadcrumbs more or less) and prepare some melted butter for brushing.

Now starts the fun part. The dough needs to rest for at least half an hour.
I take a pretty big towel, or a small tablecloth, dust with flour and start rolling the dough with the rolling pin. The dough is very easy to roll, it makes less resistance than a pasta dough. Only when you feel the dough is very thin and you cannot achieve much more with the rolling pin you can switch to your hands

Close your fists and gently, really gently start stretching the dough. If it was worked properly you will not have any problem with it! Rotate the dough and keep working all of it.
You will end up with something like this. It should be almost transparent. In any case, with a sharp knife I cut of the hedges of the dough, it is invitable that they are a little thicker than the center.

Brush the dough with melted butter, sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs, cover the 2/3 of it with apples, sprinkle with nuts, raisins and dust with cinnamon. If your apples are particularly sour you can sprinkle also some sugar on top, 4-5 tablespoons, I usually omit it. I fold slightly the shorter sides on the filling (about 3 cm) and then I start rolling the strudel on the long side closer to me with the help of the towel

When the strudel has been rolled, it should be at the top tip of the kitchen towel, that makes it easier to drop the strudel on a sheet pan. Make sure you have one buttered sheet pan already prepared. The pinch should be at the bottom of the strudel and try to give to it a horse shoes shape, it look nicer and it will fit also a smaller sheet pan.

Brush generously with melted butter and bake in a preheated oven at 200 Celsius for about 35 minutes or until nice an golden.

Dust with 10X sugar and serve with an emulsified whipping cream or with a creme anglaise or even plain.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Crescente or Tigelle

I have been away for long time and I have negletted my blog. It's time to recover the lost time.

In Emilia, more precisely in the Modena area, a very rustic meal can be prepared with le crescente, as they call these tiny disks of bread in the mountains of the Appennino around Modena. Elsewhere they are known as tigelle, from the tigelliera, the pan used for cooking.
The names here can get very confusing, I'll try to clarify:

La crescente (singular) is a focaccia from Bologna, usually enriched with chopped salumi and lard in the dough.
La crescenta, singular, le crescente plural are these disks of bread we are talking about. They are known elsewhere as tigelle.
Le crescentine, in Bologna, are tiny bit of dough, deep fried. Elsewhere also known as gnocco fritto. IL gnocco fritto, notice the wrong article, they are very sensitive about the use of IL.

I have seen many different recipes for crescente, going from a very simple dough: flour, salt, oil (or lard/butter), yeast and lukewarm milk, to the use of a good amount of cream instead of plain milk. In some trattorie they serve them pretty thin (this way they'll create a pocket in the middle that is good for stuffing with salumi), the original I heard are generally thicker and were served with sausages or stews, etc. Nowadays they are very often eaten with a pesto (don't think of the ligurian pesto, it's minced lardo with garlic and rosmary), with stracchino and rucola, with salumi or even nutella.

This is the tigelliera.
It's a very heavy cast-iron pan. This is a 7 disks tigelliera but you can buy a smaller 4 disks one. They are even electric tigelliere around. When the pan is pretty warm, on both sides, try with one tigella to test the temperature, adjust it if you need. Cook the crescente turning the pan. As soon as they are ready put them in a basket lined with a cloth to keep them warm. They don't keep very well and they are best eaten straight away, warm.

As you can see, with the tigelle in the pan I tried different thicknesses and I decided that I like them thinner, plus the cook better.
In this case the dough was
250 g of flour
2% salt
2 tablespoons of extra virgin oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
and enough warm milk to get a soft not sticky dough.
Let rise until double in bulk. Divide into little balls (I would do no more than 15-20 grams each) flatten with a rolling pin to fit the disks of tigelliera and let proof covered.