Sunday, 20 May 2012

Ferri di Cavallo. Buona fortuna! (Horse Shoe Shaped Italian Biscuits)

 Rossana on her wedding day, in Bari, Italy

My aunts all had daughters. I was the baby in the family, the youngest of the nieces, loved and cherished by all. When my big cousins got married, I always was chosen to be the "damigella": the bridesmaid! 

 I must have been just three or four, the first time I was a bridesmaid, with my light blond hair, dressed in a tutu` I hated, white shoes, bright red lips and a shy smile. I was four when I first smelt the fragrance of a traditional, old fashioned Italian bouquet of fiori d'arancio (orange blossom) and gardenias.
In an old photo, I'm standing next to my mother, at one of these weddings. Babbo, my dad, on her left, in his dark suit and tie, very slim, lovely, lovely smile. My mother is wearing her dark blue dress with printed green roses and matching bolero, I used to wear when I thought she wasn't looking, with her high heels.
I remember walking into the restaurant: live music, laughter and all the family in one place. What more could a child want? Wedding were and still are very beautiful, in Italy. City weddings, are very sophisticated, expensive affairs. Lots of lovely food is consumed, and expensive wine and spumante.  Everyone is dressed beautifully, in a kind of understated elegance, typical of a stylish wedding.

My niece Rossana's wedding reception (first dance)

When I was a little girl, at the end of the reception, every family would receive a bomboniera (wedding favour, a gift, with confetti, sugared almonds-has to be just 5... can't be more, can't be less!) and a tray of pasticcini, little cakes.
Strange enough, last year we went to a wedding in Campania (different to the weddings we have in our city) and... we were presented with an old fashioned small tray of pasticcini, just like the ones I remembered from my childhood. Amongst the pasticcini, a couple of  " Ferri di Cavallo" delicious little horse shoe shaped biscuits, which I remembered very well, as, when I was a child, I used to love them!
By the way! In case you are wondering: the beautiful bride in the photos is Rossana, my niece. The wedding took place in Bari, but we couldn't go...  What a shame! Look at the venue! Look at the cake ( above) ... look at that dress... look at the beautiful smile! I think my mum would have been very proud of her grand daughter!

I think she looks a bit like me!

Today I made Ferri di Cavallo. I was very pleased with the result and felt very nostalgic. I could hear music and voices in my head... the past never, ever goes away...
My recipe:
Ferri di Cavallo
(makes about 50 biscuits)
400g (14 oz) plain flour 
100g ( 3 1/2 oz) corn flour
250 g (8 1/2 oz) butter
4 egg yolks
some vanilla extract
100g (3 1/2oz) confectioner's sugar
(icing sugar)
plus some extra icing sugar
100g (3 1/2 oz) good plain chocolate 
This is very quick and easy: weigh all the ingredients and grate or chop the butter, ready to be used.
In a small bowl, separate the eggs and have the yolks ready to be used.
This is what I did: I sifted flour and corn flour onto a board, then made a well in the middle. I grated my butter, which was very cold and quite solid, and added it, with the sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  I combined these ingredients together, very quickly, till I got a mixture which resembled crumbs.

Next, I added all my egg yolks and quickly worked them into the mixture. Mine was a little bit dry, so I added a tiny bit of milk, till I got a silky, soft dough.

In order to make my horse shoe shaped biscuits, I took small pieces of dough, rolled them, till they became about 12cm long, then placed them onto a lined baking tray, giving them the shape I was after.

My Ferri di Cavallo then went into a hot oven ( 190C, 375F, Gas 5 ) for about 15-20 minutes, till they became pale golden and were cooked.
This mixture is very "short" and crumbly, so I didn't remove my cakes, till they felt cold and solid. A few of them broke, to my disappointment, but most looked delicious and became even more delicious after I dipped both ends of each in plain chocolate 75% solid cocoa, which I melted in my microwave (should have been done in a "bagnomaria," but... it worked!)


A gentle sprinkling of icing sugar made my little "pasticcini" look really pretty!

                                          And here they are!
                                           FERRI DI CAVALLO!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Delicious Pizza di Cipolle (Calzone di Cipolla Barese)

If she had been making my calzone, Pizza di Cipolle, today, the amount would have served 25! My mum's calzone (Pizza di Cipolle) was usually made in a very large black baking tray, which was hired from the local bakery. It needed to be very big, as my mum was in the habit of making this delicious pie for the whole extended family!

When the calzone was made, she would phone the bakery and someone would collect the masterpiece, and take it to the shop, to be baked and then bring it back, when it was cooked.  Our oven was just an ordinary one, the kind people have when they live in cities... certainly not big enough for a BFG sized pie!
As her family got smaller, the pies got smaller, too, but the taste... oh, so delicious never diminished!

In Springtime, my mum would sometimes buy these enormous, really long (about 80 or so cm, leeks... so long I was scared of them!) and  would use them for the filling. She then started using ordinary onions, which I actually prefer.
The dough she made was crunchy, tasted like fresh bread and home.

My home tastes like "home" today, as I made my very own Calzone (I call it: Pizza di Cipolle.) I used ordinary onions plus two or three leeks, as I like the green colour!
I want to share the recipe with you. My sisters have found new and wonderful ways to make the dough. I remember how my mum made her dough, as I was always there, watching the MASTER and I really don't care about using machines or new techniques. It's all made by hand, and I follow, step by step, my mum's way of doing it.

When the dough was made, she cut a cross on the top, and dusted with flour. I think she thought this was something to do with God helping your dough raise, as she would also make a cross with her hand, above the dough.

My mum always said that bread is precious. It should never be thrown away and that, like water, it should always be shared with those in need. Bless her!
And now... here is my mum's recipe:

Calzone (Pizza) di Cipolle
alla Barese
(Can serve up to 8)
For the dough:
600g (1 lb, 3oz) plain flour
(or 00 flour)
1 cup
warm water
1 punnet live yeast
(or 1 sachet dried yeast)
1/4 glass olive oil
some salt

For the onion filling:
1.200g onions
2lb, 6 oz)
(or a mix of leeks and onions)
olive oil
4 small tomatoes
1 glass milk
black pepper
grated cheese
(I use Pecorino)
handful olives
(pitted and sliced)
some pancetta
olive oil for the baking tray

I love onions. They look beautiful and taste fantastic! For my recipe, today, I bought onions and  three shiny, bright green leeks, because I thought they would add coulor and a different texture to my dish.
I cleaned the onions (If you cut the bottom part, with the roots, off, you won't cry!) and sliced each one thinly, by hand. I then washed my leeks and sliced vertically and then horizontally. I discarded the long leafy dark green bits, as they tend to be hard and are not really edible (you can use those in leek and potato soup, though! Delicious!)

I placed my vegetables, the oil, my tomatoes, halved, and the milk, in my lovely non stick pan and cooked, until the onions went a translucent golden shade of caramel, then added cheese, salt, lots of black pepper and finelly an egg. I mixed with a spatula, until the egg was well blended and cooked. The calzone filling was then placed outside, to cool down.

The dough...
I made this very simply... just the way my mum used to. She didn't weigh the ingredients, really. Neither do I, but this time I did, just for the purpose of writing the recipe.
Anyway: I put my flour onto a board, made a well in the centre and put my yeast, some warm water, acouple of pinches of salt and some olive oil, in it and made a dough , using just my hands. It didn't take long. At some point, I decided to add more water, as the dough felt a bit hard.

After kneading the dough for five or so minutes, I rolled it into a ball, then cut a cross in the middle of it, dusted with flour and placed in a warm place, till it almost doubled up in size.


Forty minutes later...

My dough was ready to be used. I decided to make my calzone in this lovely paella dish I have, as I knew that it would cook better in a metal tin. I cut the dough into two pieces, I rolled one out and placed in the tin, which I had generously oiled. 

Next, I put the onions over the dough and spread evenly. This was followed by: my handful of delicious olives ( sliced and pitted) the bacon (I also used some guanciale-a type of pancetta) previously fried in a little oil (I know... it's not a dish for the faint hearted, but it is traditional and I will respect that!) followed by lots of grated Pecorino cheeese and black pepper, which I love!

I put a lid on my pie, made holes in it, with a fork, glazed with olive oil and baked until golden and cooked (check top and bottom to see if it's ready!) in my lovely oven at a temperature of 190C (375F, Gas 5.)

With some of the left over dough, I made just a few small pizzelle ( fried pizzas) by making the dough into small balls, rolling each one out and then frying in olive oil.
I made a topping for them, by placing some tinned tomatoes a small amount of olive oil and lots of grated cheese and black pepper in a pan and reducing, over the heat. The sauce was then spread over the top of my fried pizzelle. No origano, please... it's a big NO No in Italian cookery, believe it or not! 

I just added some fresh basil and a selection of leaves with olives, to mine. Lots of cheese and black pepper made them delicious!