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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How to make Cappelletti

Once you have practiced a couple of times on making the phillo dough you can really begin to have fun. OHMYGOD this is so lame. Anyway, the first type of pasta shape I want to talk about is “cappelletti”, literally small hats, a type of stuffed pasta dumplings usually served in chicken broth during winter and a MUST of the Christmas meal. This type of pasta is a central Italian speciality , mainly from Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche, and it predates the most widely famously shaped tortellini. Grandma cooked it last sunday for the first time as, winter has arrived in Italy so we all needed a warm and cosy main course.Image

Let’s go back to the pasta dough sitting cling-filmed in a bowl. As we all know the pasta has to rest for at least an hour in the fridge, so what to do in the meanwhile? Have a bath? Have a chat with an old friend? Have a wank? Well if you want to make cappelletti just wait in the kitchen and prepare the filling for the cappelletti.                                                           Filling for 6 servings in a bowl mix:

  •  250gr beef mince                      100gr butter                         salt and pepper
  • 250gr pork mince                       100gr Parmesan                  1/2 spoon of cinnamon
  • 1 egg yolk                                  1/2 spoon of nutmeg            lemon peel

The filling is READY. Swear on your genitalia you won’t cook it separately from the pasta sheets as I have realised my people do. Brilliant, now let’s go back to the pasta. Divide the dough into pieces and start flattening one by one either using the rolling pin or the pasta machine, which should be set at the widest setting then feed the pasta through the rollers 3 or 4 times folding and turning the dough decreasing the setting one notch at the time. Now cut the sheets into 2 inch square and place a finger of the filling right into its centre as the images below show.

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Now fold the dough over the filling triangularly corner to corner, and seal (you may need to wet a finger in water and run it along the bottom edge of the dough to get it to stick together). Keeping the roounded edge facing down, take the two pointy corners, stretch them around the back until they meet and seal them one on the top of each other as shown below. Image

It is an almost mechanical movement which can’t be forgotten, therapeutically mindless and a very good way to spend a rainy afternoon. When last week I made cappelletti with my grandmother she assummed I could not remember how to make them, ohh how silly of you nonna, how have you even thought such a thing: all those sunday mornings of my young age spent over the pasta board practicing that simple movement and eating uncooked cappelletti. Opps I did it again! Sorry another romantic rant about my lost childhood. Now, if you like eating uncooked cappelletti like I do please carry on, I only want to warn you that raw meat can give stimulate the growth of tapeworm, like my grandmother used to tell me. Otherwise, if you feel more civilized bring the broth that you prepared beforehand, either made with chicken or vegetable as you prefer, to a low boil, avoid a rolling boil as this may cause the pasta to open up. It won’t take more than 4 minutes if the cappelletti are fresh, while a bit longer if they are frozen. Serve with a splash of lemon or topped with parmesan and your perfect winter main course is ready.

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