Viva Viva Sant’Antonio!

You might have understood that being a mama to me means being able to pass down my family and regional traditions. So here you go, this is another Italian tradition my family has never failed to honour: the day of Saint Anthony, which is celebrated on the 17th of January. This guy is considered the father of modern monasticism, the first abbot and also patron saint of domestic animals. This special relation to animals, which is the reason why is super famous in my area, is not directly related to the Christian tradition, but it stems from the XIII century Germany where communities used to provide pigs to their local hospitals where the monks of the order of St. Anthony used to serve. The implementation of pork into these hospitals’ kitchens led to the discovery of the excellent nutritional properties of this meat, which is said to have really carried a Christian medieval Europe into the modern era. For this reason the Saint with the long and white beard started to be associated and represented with a piglet and other domestic animals. This guy is one of my favourite Christian celebrities, maybe because I feel more like a beast, a wild animal too often obliged to respect human’ stupid moral more than that beautiful natural instinct, but I have always kept a small picture of him, like the one below, in my wallet as mean of protection

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This patron saint had many devotees especially in the last century when Italy went through one of its most profound economic crisis, the industrial revolution had not started yet and farming represented the only food-assuring kind of trade. The saint’s picture was often put up outside stables’ and barns’ doors to protect animals and on the 17th of January local churches used to bless animals and  loaves of bread which were distributed to devotees for them and their livestock. In popular folklore St. Anthony was translated into an old dude with a long beard; he is called vecchiò, a pejorative term that literally means old and robust men. During the evening of the 17th one or more men used to dress up with a long monk’s robe, used to knock on the neighborhood’s doors to scare the household’s kids and ask for a little sausage, a slice of lard, pork chops or anything else that tastes meaty. He was followed by a procession of old and young men that in front of each door sang what we call Pasquella. This song goes like:

Se ce dai na sargiccetta                           You can give us a sausage,

non importa se piccoletta                         it does not matter if it is a small one

ma che faccia lo sugo vono                      but it has to make a good gravy

viva viva Sant’Antonio!                             long live to Saint Anthony!

Ahh this is incredible; we also had a small musical interlude, amazing. Anyway, after these guys had sang, scared the shit out of the kids and collected enough meat they would have all gone to the nearest cantina – a wine cellar that also serves as a locals’ hangout- to devour all that delicious meat and get absolutely hammered on the wine, as my granddad remembers. Even though during the 50’s in my area started a drastic industrial revolution that has profoundly influenced the lifestyle of Le Marche, our regional and most rural traditions have never really vanished and the cult of St. Anthony is still very popular nowadays. . As I already said this day has always been part of my family weird heritage; first of all because parents have a good reason to tell off their kids and scare them, “if you are not good lo vecchiò will take you away with him”, for fuck’s sake if they’d told me it was all about getting smashed with a bunch of funny chaps at the cantina I would have gone straight away without shedding a tear. Second, it has always been a special day because my granddad allows us to ride into the town and take the horses literally in front of the town church for the blessing of the animals; this has always been my favorite part as I love showing off my equestrian skills in front of people I know; yes i am slightly egocentric so what?! And finally for the ritual of the blessed bread, which my great-grandad Mario Mamao initiated. On the 17th of January, he used to wake up super early to go to the “blessing of the bread” mass and then go to the church oratory to collect enough blessed bread for our animals and for us . But my granddad died almost two years ago and last year for the first time we did not have any blessed bread, there was something missing hence this year my grandmother decided to call all her grand-kids to attend this tradition and go with her to the collection of the blessed bread just before we’d ride away for the horses blessing mass.

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This year felt right, it was as it should have been, we had our blessed bread, our little ride through the town and at dinner my grandmother surprised us with another culinary traditional gem: la frittata sbrozzolosa, scrambled eggs with big chunks of sausages that used to be eaten on this day. Bring on Saint Anthony 2015!

 

Fresca: li Frascarelli

Frascarelli is one of our most famous regional dish and one of those that best represents the peasant and rustic cuisine of Le Marche. Allegedly the name seems to stem from its original method of preparation, which consisted of splashing water on flour scattered on the pastry board with a twig, called in our dialect frasca from which derives the word frascarelli. Nevertheless this is a super old method of preparation and my grandmother would never allow me to cook with a twig nowadays. When I told her that I wanted to learn how to make frascarelli she looked at me a bit puzzled: “why on earth have you even thought about it?”. As this question might suggest a) my grandmother does not like frascarelli and b) they are not prepared that often in my house. I don’t know the exact reasons why they aren’t as appreciated as they used to be back in the days, but I reckon it has to do with the fact that it tastes cheap, it smell like hardship and it reminds my grandparents the fact that they had to eat it three or four times a week as they could not afford anything but flour and water: the two main ingredients of this recipe. This sort of fake polentaflour mush- was in fact called frascarelli pe li poritti frascarelli for the poor people- and it used to taste like glue when they could not even afford to buy cheese for the topping. A more tasty kind of frascarelli is frascarelli de riso corgo (coricato),which is a recipe more in vogue in the province of Macerata and involved the addition of rice. When my grandmother agreed to teach me how to make frascarelli shealso said: “let’s do it, but I am only making frascarelli de li signori“; this used to be the frascareli eaten only by rich people as it involved the addition of eggs in the mixture and a tasty relish as topping. There are plenty of recipes on the web and most of these claim to be the real and original one; remember there is nothing as such, for any dish  every province, every town and every family will have a different recipe. Hence this is my family version of  frascarelli.

Ingredient for 4 people

  • 500 gr. of flour
  • 3 eggs

On a pastry board break and whisk the eggs, then gradually add the flour. However, you won’t be mixing the flour to the eggs as if you want to make a soft phyllo dough, but you will be mixing the two ingredients and simoultaneously crumble the dough into small grains, as if you are trying to remove some liquid glue from your hands by rubbing them, and then making them smaller with the aid of a knife.

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Once this mix is ready, boil and salt some water and start to slowly place the frascarelli into the pan. There is a specific movent to do so, which I don’t even know if it is necessary or not but I reckon it helps the frascarelli to cook more homogenously.  As the pictures below shows, you will have to throw the mix of flour and eggs into the water as if you are sieving it through your fingers and with the other hands quickly and constantly stir it into the hot water.After max 5 minutes of continuous stirring the frascarelli will be ready; as shown below this should be a liquid mix, but not as liquid as a soup as the small piece of flour and eggs will be cooked.

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If you want to try and make frascarelli with rice,  the method of preparation does not change much; before adding the mix of flour and eggs cook the rice for 8/10 minutes and when is half cooked add the frascarelli as explained above. Go crazy with the topping, the day me and my grandmother made it, we decided to simply grate some Parmesanon top and add some fresh sausage separetely cooked. Nevertheless, you could top it with tomato sauce, ragù sauce, meatballs, wild boar sauce; really be creative as much as you wish for the topping  you palate will appreciate it.

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Happy-phany

Oh my great Shiva I made it, I am alive, I survived to another Christmas yeaaaaa.I have always kind of liked Christmas but this year I could not wait for it to be over. I have been at my mum’s home almost permanently since October hence there was not any excitement about “going back home”, my parents did not even bother commenting on my bizarre Christmas dress, my friends did not criticize my attitude towards the consumption of everything made with alcohol and my sister simply gave up scolding me when at the Christmas party she found sitting on some random guys’ lap who was definitely not Santa Claus. In other words it was a bit dull.

But hey there is no point to be sad as the best festivity of the Christmas holidays, the one that really put an end to the Christmas celebration has yet to come; this is the Epiphany a super cool central Italian tradition celebrated on the 6th of January. During the Epiphany fest an old lady called Befana delivers gifts to children throughout Italy. She is usually portrayed as an old and ugly lady riding a broomstick through the air; in popular folklore Befana fill the children’s socks with candy and presents if they have been good or a lump of coal if they have been bad. As the majority of modern celebration the festivity of Befana is also linked to pagan traditions later adapted to the Christian culture. Back in the days the twelfth night after the winter solstice, the 6th of January, the Romans used to celebrate the death and rebirth of mother earth and during this night semi-divine women characters used to fly over the fields to bless the new harvest. This tradition was heavily condemned by the Roman Church and the pagan cult started to be personified as an old, ugly lady who resembles a witch more than a fertility goddess. According to a Christianised version of the story the name Befana derives from the Christian Feast of Epiphany that celebrates the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Magi, the three Wise men or kings that brought gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts for Jesus. The popular tradition tells that the Three Wise Men during their journey got lost and knocked on an old lady’s door who showed them the way to Bethlelem but did not want to join the expedition even though the men asked her repeatedly. A while after they left the old lady felt that she made the wrong decision, went out and look for them without success hence she started knocking on everyone’s door, bringing a small present to every kid hoping that one of them would have been the Jesus Christ.

In my family the day of Befana is a much more important event than Christmas; I have never understood why to be honest but I guess is because my grandmother loves dressing up as Befana, threaten my youngest cousins and being child again. She enjoys it to the point that every year she dresses up as a different character; one year she plays the part of the old, ugly and sick lady and the year after she pretends that the old, ugly and sick lady had to send her young, sluttydaughter, who weirdly resembled Pippi Longstocking, as she was too unwell.

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This year she decided that she wanted to dress up as the English governess Mary Poppins and for the last week we have gone crazy trying to assemble the perfect outfit and now it is finally ready to go on stage tonight.In reality the curtains opens at luch when at the dinner table we read the letter that Befana mailed us; this had obviously been previously written by my grandmother and she uses it to comment on the behavior of every member of the family with a special focus on the kids’. Even though we all get told off we also receive present: they range from bathrobes to pajamas to books; I swear I have never been given anything sexier than that. The present are carried inside a big stocking along with sweets, chocolate and fruit; chocolate is really the Befana’s present par excellence and my grandfather every year likes telling that back in his days they did not receive anything but oranges and biscotti, a traditional and very simple kind of cookie that me, my grandmother and my oldest cousins still make every year on the Epiphany day. Well it is time to start preparing my grandmother’s outfit. Happyphania everyone!

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Pastarelle of the Epiphany

There is a variety of cakes that are made for the Epiphany fest, nevertheless all around Italy they tend to be biscotti, cookies made with short pastry and baked. In my region, Le Marche, they are called pastarelle and they are the simplest cookies recipe you could ever find. They are also super cheap as they were made by the poor Italian mamas of the last century, poorer than the current ones, and given to kids in place of chocolate, sweets and presents on the Ephiphany day. The recipe involves the use of strutto: pig fat, commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or spread similar to butter; for this recipe you will also use baker’s ammonia, which you could find in any drug-store, which I swear is not an instrument of death but only a culinary mystery. I don’t really know why they used to use ammonia for the leavening instead of baking soda but I know that the main advantage of using it is that the mix can stand unbaked for long hours without losing its leavening power.

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Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 300gr of sugar
  • 250ml of milk
  • 100gr of “strutto”
  • 30gr of ammonia
  • grated lemon
  • vanillin flavoring

Before beginning switch the oven on to 180°C and line baking trays with baking paper. Break the eggs and mix the sugar, when is well combined grate the lemon, as much as you like, and add the vanillin flavoring. Then add the milk in which you had previously mixed the ammonia and don’t worry if the mix looks a bit weird.

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Finally add the flour and knead until the dough is smooth enough, but remember to not over-beat it otherwise it will become too hard. Once you are done, roll out small pieces, shape and decorate as you wish. Happy sweet Ephiphany.

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I say potato You say wild herbs

DRUMS ROLL: trrururuururururur.                                                                                           I am proud to present to your attention the only “Erbe troate co patate” recipe you could ever find on the web. Admittedly it is not such a famous recipe and in fact I think it is mainly prepared in my hometown, Montegranaro, and the neighboring area. If I have to be honest I don’t even know how to find an appropriate Italian translation to the its dialectical name “erbe troate co le patate”. Erbe troate means erbe spontanee di campo literally wild herbs, that spontaneously grows in the fields and on the side of countryside’s roads, with potatoes. The herbs involved belong to the family of wild chicory and according to their availability you can use them all or just one; they mainly are: cime di rapa (turnip tops), wild spinach, chadsgrugni (chicory) and crespigne- name of which I don’t even know the Italian correspondent. They used to be a staple on families’ tables before WWII as they were free, tasty and really good to give to husbands as leftover packed lunch, as my great-grandfather used to tell me. This recipe is in fact his; my great-grandpa was a brilliant chef and he used to make it often as a rich side to winter dinners when wild herbs grow faster. This dish used to be and still is one of my favourite dish ever.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg of wild herbs
  •  3 potatoes
  •  oil
  • salt

Now remove the yellow and damaged leaves and cut the bone of the stalk before rinsing them. The only kind of herb that you have to clean a bit more carefully is the wild turnip as you will have to check that it does not bear the turnip’s worm, as my grandmother called it,by cutting a cross across the stem itself.

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Now wash them carefully and place a big pan of water with salt on the cooker. Immediately place the intact peeled potatoes, 3 for each kilos of herbs, into the water and only when the water boils place the rinsed herbs. Do stir them with a wooden spoon every now and then otherwise the still water will make them  go yellowish. After around 15 minutes the herbs will be soft enough to be drained and be S-mashed with the potatoes. Now, follow carefully the description of this technique: firstly mash the potato with a proper potato-mashing movement then mix the potatoes to the herbs with a more this-food-is disgusting-i-am-just-playing-with-it gesture, which involves stubbing the vegetarian mixture repeatedly with the edge of your utensil as if you are literally digging on the ground.

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When your tray of herbs and potato looks smoothly enough dress with salt and oil and you are done. However if you feel naughtier peel a sausage and cook it in small pieces on a fraying pan, when they are crunchy mix them to the herbs and potato and just  fucking enjoy it.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

HAPPY FATTY HOLIDAYS MY FRIENDS.

May the New Year bring you olive oil, good wine and friends.

May the New Year bring you pasta, salami and happiness.

May the New Year bring you good nights, good sex and peace at home.

photo (1)                           (from right: myself, my grandmother and my sister)

Remember Remember the 8th of December

Yesterday was the 8th of December: the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, one of the many Italian national day to be spent at home with your family and closest friends. It is the day in which one should decorate the Christmas tree: the day which officially sanctions the beginning of the most beautiful time of the year in which overindulging oneself with food is kind of allowed.  This year the 8th of December was a Sunday, so on Saturday I went and bought a big Christmas tree for my grandma’s house and on the 8th, after lunch, me and my cousins decorated it; well I decorated the tree, Marta broke 3 glass ornaments, Anna damaged one lights wire by stepping on it, Rocco scattered every single ornament on the sofa and Luca simply fell off the ladder for trying to place a colorful angel on the top of the tree.  But that is normal, that is how should be when you have 6 kids between 3 and 16 years old running around.

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Anyway the Christmas-tree-decoration-moment was just the beginning of the celebration of the Immaculate Conception day. Me and some of my friends decided to meet up in the evening to have some food and play board and card games. However this time, before stuffing our stomachs with delicious deli meats and cheeses, we lit the fire or as we say we made LO FOCARO’ DE LA MADONNA – THE BONFIRE FOR THE VIRGIN MARY a regional and very cool tradition of which I will now talk you about. Local lore recounts that in 1291 the house in which the Holy Family lived was miraculously flown from Palestine to Le Marche by four angels just before the final expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land. According to the story the House was first placed in Croatia by the city of Rijeka, the old Fiume, and then transferred on the 10th of December across the Adriatic Sea to near Ancona in Le Marche on an hill shielded by bushes of bay trees; on that place nowadays appears the sanctuary of Loreto whose name in fact stems from the Latin word lauretum meaning bay tree. To commemorate this paradisiac light that the people saw flying in the sky before the angels deposited it and to illuminate the journey of pilgrimages on the night between the 8th and 9th of December every family used to make a big bonfire.  As an old saying tells: tutta la campagna se ‘ncennea de focarò in focarò e se ‘ncennea li cori d’un calore che non era solo quello de li fochi. Era lu calore  de senti che non ce stai solo tu a pena su ‘sta terra, che soffre e che crede (the countryside was a big bonfire, from fire to fire every heart warms up. It was the warmth of the people that suffer and believe like you).

Blah Blah Blah Blah…anyway after having payed homage to the tradition by lighting up an indoor fire, which was also very helpful in warming up the freezing countryside lodge living room, we attacked the food; you really thought we made fire, waved at Lady Mary flying in the sky and went home? Oh don’t be silly there had to be some form of food related activities we are Italian at the end of  the day! In fact…on the charcoal fire we cooked MARRONI, a particular type of large chestnuts, then we had CIAUSCOLO, a very soft pork salami typical of our region which by accident I bought flavoured with truffle- what a disaster-, then we had a wheel of PECORINO DI COLFIORITO, a fresh cheese with hard and cooked texture obtained from sheep’s milk and finally we ate CIAMMELLOTTO or ciambellone, a giant soft ring cake.

I personally did not know much about the whole thing but as the good story-telling mama I want to become when my friends told me about this feast that puts together family and friends, traditions, food and a pinch of magic I immediately went and investigated on it. From now on I will definitely REMEMBER REMEMBER THE 8th OF DECEMBER.

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