While we're on the subject of About.Com, I wanted to note that Barbara Rolek, our Guide to Eastern European foods, has put together a nice collection of Christmas breads from around the world. Check it out, because you're certain to find something of interest.
Turning to Cosa Bolle, last spring we spent a weekend around lake Garda (and enjoyed some excellent Bardolino) and, since Elisabetta and the kids were going home by train while I was going on to Alba for Nebbiolo Prima, had lunch at the Calmiere in Verona. The bollito misto was -- as always -- wonderful even if it was warm out, and afterwords E and I opted for Sbrisolona Veronese, which is a thin, crisp almondy shortbread liberally sprinkled with grappa,
E wondered how it was made. Our waiter smiled, and a few minutes later returned with a sheet of paper that says:
- 1 k (2 1/4 pounds) unsalted butter
- 1 k (2 1/4 pounds) cake flour
- 1 k (2 1/4 pounds) fairly finely ground (but not powdery) cornmeal
- 1 k (2 1/4 pounds) sugar
- 1 k (2 1/4 pounds) blanched peeled almonds, coarsely chopped or crushed (they should be fragmented)
- 2 eggs
- 100g (about 100 ml, or 2/5 cup) plain white grappa (as opposed to barique-aged grappa, which is tawny)
- 175 C (350 F) oven for 15 minutes
It's bare-bones, but quite sufficient, and reveals its professional origins by the way it calls for everything, even the liquid, by weight. And it is quite easy, though as is it makes enough to feed a multitude -- if you decide to prepare it for just your immediate family you can safely halve the ingredients.
How to proceed? Have the butter at room temperature. Cream it with the sugar, then add the flours, almonds, grappa, and egg. Work the mixture quickly until it forms a uniform dough that holds together, but not further.
While you are doing this, preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C). Lightly grease several cookie sheets (or cover them with oven parchment) and spread the dough out on them to a thickness of a little less than a half inch (1 cm). Bake the sbrisolona for 15 minutes; it should turn pale gold, but not brown.
When the sbrisolona has cooled break it into 3-4 inch (7-10 cm) pieces. To serve it, put a couple of pieces on a dessert plate, sprinkle them with grappa, and enjoy.
Store what you don't eat in a cookie box that seals well.
Well, here you have it, and the only addition I make to the recipe is a couple of pinches of salt, to contrast the sweetness of the sugar and the almonds.
Moving in a different direction, when I said I was going to the Salone del Gusto, a friend suggested I stop by Enrico Bernard's stand and taste his liqueurs. I'm glad I did, because his liqueurs are extraordinary. He lives in Pomaretto, a town nestled in the Valle Germanasca, southwest of Torino, and hikes up into the Alpi Cozie to gather the richly aromatic herbs he uses to make his liqueurs.
His flagship liqueur is Amaro Barathier, an infusion of seven herbs whose formula has been handed down from generation to generation. It's about 20% alcohol, and though it is an amaro is fairly sweet, intentionally, because sweetness balances the bitterness of the herbs and also provides fullness and mouthfeel, and he notes that this is why many home-made liqueurs are fairly sweet.
He makes a number of other liqueurs as well, including two versions of Gennepi, the region's signature liqueur, which is an infusion of the blossoms of the artemisia plant -- Gennepi Des Alpes is an infusion of Artemisia mutellina blossoms picked at elevations ranging between 1600 and 3400 meters, and Gennepi Bianco, which is, as its name suggests, colorless, and is made by suspending the blossoms in a basket over the alcohol, whose vapors extract the essences and flavor the alcohol when they recondense back into it.
Genzianella is made from Genziana (Gentiana in English) blossoms gathered above 1500 meters, and he also makes an astonishingly aromatic liqueur called Sërpoul from the blossoms of timo serpillo (Breckland Thyme, Wild Thyme or Creeping Thyme in English), a thyme found at elevations between 1500 and 2500 meters.
They are among the finest liqueurs I have ever tasted, and their quality is entirely dependent upon the herbs and blossoms, which, because of the elevations at which they grow, have extremely high concentrations of aromatic compounds. Enrico doesn't use anything else in his liqueurs, aside from spring water and sugar, and says that if the ingredients list on the back of a liqueur includes "aromi naturali," it was made with something else in addition to the blossoms that he uses to flavor his liqueurs.
It was a very pleasant, instructive stop, and I found myself wishing I was more familiar with floral scents, because I don't know enough to be able to identify the individual blossoms and their components, and therefore couldn't write much, either about the initial sips or about how the liqueurs developed in the glass, because they did, revealing a tremendous variety of facets.
Drawbacks? One, related to the Salone: there were hundreds of people milling about in front of the stand, and since I had individual glasses of the liqueurs, people kept reaching for them, and a couple did disappear. If you want to know more about Enrico and his liqueurs, check his site, http://www.barathier.it/
A couple more recipes
Winding down, Christmas is soon going to be upon us. In many parts of Italy it is custom to eat fish on Christmas Eve, and though there is no set menu, Capitone, or eel, is extremely popular. This recipe for lemony fried eel is Neapolitan.
- 2 1/2 pounds (1.2 k) cleaned capitone (eel), cleaned
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 2 cups oil for frying
- Lemon wedges
Rub the fish with a cloth to remove the mucus eel secrete, wash the fish under cool running water, and pat it dry inside and out with paper towels.
Cut the fish into 4-inch (10 cm) lengths and flour them, shaking the pieces briskly to remove excess flour.
Heat the oil in a pot or fryer, add the bay leaves, and when the oil is hot nut not terrifically hot, fry the fish, a few pieces at a time lest the oil cool, until they are golden.
Drain the fish on absorbent paper, salt it, and serve it at once with lemon wedges.
On Christmas Day it is instead custom to eat meat, and this rich golden sformato di riso will be quite nice. If you set it in a ring mold, it could also double as a container for a thick stew, though you may want to just leave it as a ring, because it is pretty.
- 3 cups (600 g, or 1 1/3 pounds) carnaroli or other short-grained rice, for example arborio or vialone nano
- 1/2 pound (212 g) smoked scamorza cheese (scamorza is similar to young caciocavallo, but a touch creamier), diced
- 1/2 pound (212 g) sliced speck
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 cups (120 g) freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano
- 1 healthy pinch of saffron, steeped in a quarter cup of the hot broth
- 1 quart (1 l) vegetable broth, simmering
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the butter in a broad pot and toast the rice for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Gradually add the saffron to the rice, and when the rice has absorbed the liquid add the remaining broth and simmer for 10 minutes, without stirring.
Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).
The rice will probably not absorb all the liquid; drain away most of it, and put the rice into a fairly large bowl. Season it with the diced scamorza, the grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.
Line a ring mold whose size is proportionate to that of the rice (ideally a springform pan) with the speck, arranging the pieces so they make a spiraling pattern. Fill the mold with the rice, pressing down to compact it well, and bake it for 15 minutes.
Upon removing the rice from the oven, cover the mold with a serving plate, and flip the mod and the plate together. Lift away the mold, leaving the corona on the serving plate, and serve at once.
This time's proverb is from Molise: Acqua passata nen macina muline - the water that has already flowed past the mill will not turn the wheel.
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com
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