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I did a random survey on my foodie friends, acquaintances, chefs even some italians, “What does Porchetta mean to you?”

Some said a pork loin rolled up and roasted with some salt, pepper and garlic. Others didn’t have a clue or said the restaurant chain with the same name!

If visiting a market day in any little village or city in Italy you would find a porchetta stall, serving freshly roasted pork with stuffing. But it is how it is cooked and what it is stuffed with that actually makes it a porchetta. Just because it is pork it can be the only food called porchetta – WRONG. Porchetta actually refers to anything roasted over a WOOD fire with WILD FENNEL. You can make any piece of meat that is porchetta along as you have roasted it in a wood fire oven and stuffed or even marinated or cooked with fennel (preferably wild). So you can actually find rabbit porchetta, duck porchetta etc, etc.

Now in Australia we are in fennel season, and also getting a bit colder, I think it is time to make Coniglio in Porchetta – Rabbit Porchetta or a Porchetta of your choice.

Ciao, ciao. Alla prossima.

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Preserves

Yes it is that time of year that we are surround by ripe and in seasoned vegetables and fruit. Of course many of us will be making our lots of bottles of passata or other preserves that we like.

Some of mine are eggplant, capsicum & zucchini, but the King for me will always be the tomatoes and what better way to keep them is to make your own passata to enjoy in the winter months when tomatoes shouldn’t be bought let alone consumed fresh.

What are some of the important things about preserving vegetables apart from the tomatoes. Most Italians will generally pickle their eggplants, capsicums and zucchini plus many other vegetables. Of course preserving has been around for years.

Passata, melanzane sott'olio, peperoni sott'olio, zucchine sott'olio & corn relish

Salting and Pickling

Salting, especially of meat, is an ancient preservation technique. The salt draws out moisture and creates an environment inhospitable to bacteria.

Pickling was widely used to preserve meats, fruits and vegetables in the past, but today is used almost exclusively to produce “pickles”. Pickling uses the preservative qualities of salt (see above) combined with the preservative qualities of acid, such as acetic acid (vinegar).

Acid environments inhibit bacteria.

One of the dangers of not preserving food properly is bacteria. These tiny, hidden microbes can wreak havoc in improperly prepared food, leading to sickness and botulism.

If you want to join me in preserving and making passata, I will be running a Public workshop this Saturday 25th February at Collingwood College for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foudation.

http://www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/workshops-training/public-workshops/view/701A00000002sF8IAI/italian-summer-preserving-saturday-25-february

Hope to see you there.!

Ciao all,

Something different this time. I’ve teamed up with the Chefs Toolbox, a great quality range of Cookware/Kitchenware. I highly recommend this product to everyone. Even if you have already lots of cookware you will be surprised by the efficiency, effortless, compact products they have. Straight from oven to freeze. Cold water in hot pans. The list goes on.

If you are in Australia, you can even get to try the products out before you buy. If you would like to know more please contact me. Or if you would just like to purchase please go my website and click on “Shop” or please click on the link below:

http://www.chefstoolbox.com/my/Lamiciacooking/Products/Default.aspx

I hope you enjoy cooking as much as I do with the Chefs Toolbox range.

Even though I might be considered too old, I still await eagerly for the 6th January to arrive, as La Befana has been the night before and on many occasions has left me with a bottle of nice red wine and dark chocolate, only because I’ve been good the past year!!

What you might ask is La Befana, well she is very similar to Santa Clause. Arrives the night of the 5th January, and the children or adults like me, wake up in the morning to find presents (if you have been good) or coal (if you have been bad) in their stockings/socks that they/we have left out the night before.

La Befana – 6th January is celebrated throughout all of Italy and has become a national icon. In the regions of Le Marche, Umbria and Lazio her figure is associated with the Papal States, where the Ephipany is held with the upmost importance.

In Italian folklore La Befana is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick (like a witch) through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney, who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Ephipany Eve (5th January) to fill their socks with sweets and presents if they are good or a lump of coal “carbone”, onions or garlic or dark sweets made to look like coal if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper she will sweep the floor before she leaves, which is now associated with the taking down of all the Christmas decorations. And the children will leave out a small glass of wine and a plate of food.

Urbania (which is just down the road from Piandimeleto) in Le Marche is said to be her official home, where the national La Befana festival is held each year, usually from 2nd to 6th January. The post office also has a mail box reserved for letters addressed to La Befana.

How did La Befana originate – note this is one of many stories;

According to Christian legend had it that Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men a few days before the birth of the baby Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework.

Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the magi and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby that is why she leaves all the good children toys and sweets (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic.

La Befana - 6th January

Auguri a tutti! Della Befana

Panettone

Panettone- Christmas bread- cake from Milan, is a typical dome-shaped cake made with flour, yeast, eggs, butter, sugar, sultanas and mixed candied fruit. The panettone has an ancestor large and round, rich with fruit, raisins, candied fruit, spices and honey which was used in christian rituals (the women to help with the rising traced a cross with the wedding ring in the dough).

The Panettone is said to originate from Milan and from the court of Ludovico il Moro, It was the evening of Christmas, while everyone was committed to serving the numerous courses of Christmas dinner, left alone to monitor the oven was Toni, the youngest and bumbling servant.

“Watch the buns that are baking”, barked the head baker to Toni. But Toni who was tired became sleepy from the warmth of the oven, dozed off. After a few minutes he woke up and pouring out of the oven was smoke.

“Dear me, what a mess!” Toni was desperate tearing his hair from his head. Thinking what to do now? How to fix it? Fortunately on the wooden counter was still a bit of bread dough. Without wasting time, Toni grabbed the dough, mixed in eggs & butter. Then to sweeten it he added, honey, candied fruit, raisins and dried fruit. Finally he put the dough in the oven.

“ Where are the buns?” rang the voice of the head baker. “They are all burnt” said Toni, “but we can serve this bread-cake that I’ve just prepared.”

The head baker agreed to take the improvised dish to the table of the lords of Milan, who enjoyed it immensely. Since then, the “pane di Toni” was always requested for Christmas dinner.

Panettone is now one of the most popular Christmas cakes, in the early 20th century, two enterprising Milanese bakers began to produce panettone in large quantities to the rest of Italy (Motta & Alemagna). In 1919, Angelo Motta who revolutionised the traditional panettone by giving its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, or almost 20 hours, before cooking, giving it its now-familiar light texture.

Panettone

Fresh egg pasta dough- resting

Lately in my cooking classes, I’ve been asked : do you leave the pasta to rest in the fridge after you’ve made the dough? At first I thought it was a one off, then nearly every class since they’ve all asked the same question. So I started asking them where did they hear that they had to put the fresh pasta dough to rest in the fridge. Most responses said from recipe books, but I soon discovered again a cooking show on TV they tell them to rest the pasta dough in the fridge. I’m not sure why this is other than to let it rest.

I’d been taught by Nonna (who had been making pasta since she was 8 years old now she is 95 years old) to always leave the dough to rest out of the fridge, but make sure it is covered or wrapped up with glad wrap as this stops the dough from drying out. If you have time to leave it up to 1 hour the dough will be even easier to handle and work with. The Chef that I worked with in Italy also left the dough just covered in glad wrap but never in the fridge.

But since Italy cooking is regional cooking, I thought maybe somewhere else in Italy puts it in the fridge. So I did some research  and asked all my Italian friends, what they do or what their nonna or mothers do. The response was unanimous, no-one puts the fresh pasta dough in the fridge to rest. However as I teach in all my classes, people will say their method is the right way and I tell the students this is what the Italians say and this what the cookbooks or TV shows say. Then they can decide for themselves which method to follow.

Since Le Marche is one of the traditional egg pasta making regions and having responses from friends of the Emilia Romagna region which is the “Queen” of the fresh egg pasta dough that they leave their dough out of the fridge, I’m going to stick with them.

Footnote:  I was taught that the egg dough to be rested only needs 20 minutes but can be left up to one hour (as stated above). Due to the fact it has raw egg in, obviously if you live in really hot places you shouldn’t let it rest in the sun or hot area, the idea of leaving it out of the fridge is to let the glutens in the dough to relax to allow it to become a soft pliable dough to work with, because if you are like me it makes it much easier to roll it out via a rolling pin (not pasta machine) and of course it tastes so much better as Nonna would say. If people do put it in the fridge I don’t agree on letting it rest overnight, I prefer the old Italian way – just like Nonna – who has now passed away 😦 – make straight away and cook straight way that is why their food  tastes so good it is made fresh and eaten straight away the way it is meant to be.

“Coffee or Dirty Water” – it seems that is what we get sometimes when we go out to Cafes for our cup of coffee. When you really feel like a nice coffee, particularly an espresso you just want that nice coffee taste with the crema of the coffee on top. Not too much bitterness and coffee is a bitter product, a nice smooth finish to digest that big meal you have just eaten. Just when you start to dream of the taste you take one sip and almost spit it out. The nice enjoyment of the lunch has just gone out the window. Did they just bring a cup of dirty water to me? How much did I have to pay for it?  If you are in QLD or WA $4. And of course we won’t go into which state actually should make the best coffee (Victoria), however I’m stumped as to why QLD and WA have to charge so much, there are a few good baristas in QLD but I don’t think that can extend to every establishment. But the problem really lies with the general public as they are the ones who should speak up and tell the Cafes what they really think of the dirty water that they are paying for. In Italy not only would you get abused if you served such a thing to the customers but you’d close up shop in a few months. Why are we here so more accepting of things that really lets face it, are “crap” and pay for it???

Next time, are you drinking a Caffe’ o Acqua Sporca?

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