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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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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Beat it bitch

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What else but fresh egg pasta could have inaugurated this section? At the end of the day I am a pasta-land citizen and even though PASTA IS NOT ALL WE EAT, differently from what many foreigners think, it is undoubtedly the most important player of the Italian culinary culture. I think I won’t make a huge mistake if I say that every Italian family eats dried pasta at least once a day; pasta dishes are mainly served for lunch as they are incredibly easy to make and can be prepared between 12.30, when mamas get out of their offices or  go to pick up their kids from school, and 13.00 when papas come back from work and the meal is served. On the contrary fresh egg pasta is something made only for specific family meals and occasions; in my personal family experience the making of fresh pasta is related to sunday meals. When I was younger I used to love sleeping at my grandma’s on a saturday night and what I remember most vividly of those sunday mornings is walking into the kitchen around 9.00 am for breakfast and seeing my grandma bent over the pastry board, already half covered with tortellini, kneading more dough. Oh the beautiful smell of fresh pasta mixed with my grandma’s cold coffee is something that cannot be descried with words. I apologise, concision has never been my forte; let’s go back to this precious recipe and discover how to make sheets of pasta -also called phyllo dough-  in my grandma’s words typed in italics

Ingredients:  

  • 1 egg per serving/person
  • 4 spoons of flours per each egg
  • salt
  • time
  • arms strength

Primarily, in order to make good pasta you need a wooden pastry board as only its roughness will give pasta a strong character; I don’t really understand what this means but if you don’t have one go and buy it before continue reading! Now, as showed in the pictures below, begin by making a fountain of flour with a deep wide crater where you will break and beat your eggs with a fork. Make sure to keep the flour piled as to contain eggs and  when the eggs have homogeneously mixed start bringing the flour little by little into the eggs. When the eggs have been completely absorbed by the flour it begins the most delicate phase of the pasta-making in which you have to literally beat the pasta with your hands as the pasta needs the heat of your palms. This is also the last moment in which the dough can be rectified by either adding water if the dough is too hard or flour if the dough is too soft. Immagine1-1

It took me a while to understand what beat the pasta meant. Essentially: place the palms of your hands on top of the dough, now pinch its edge with your fingertips and apply a perpendicular pressure with the bottom part of your hand, the one closest to the wrist, while you keep pinching the pasta. If that is too complicated or for some reasons you skipped geometry classes at school imagine to be fucking someone hard, and with your hands placed on its shoulders nerves you slide forward and backward as you are about to reach the orgasm.Immagine6-2Well if you manage to beat the pasta with the pre-orgasm intensity and pressure for about 20 minutes you are done; while if you get stucked or if you stop as you get tired it might take a bit longer but the pasta itself will tell you when it’s ready as the  dough will get hot in your hands and when cut in half it will show none or very little bubbles. Now place the pasta in a bowl, cling film it and leave it in the fridge for at least an hour before shaping it as you like.

Immagine3e-1What are you waiting for now?  BEAT IT BITCH.

Le Marche in da Kitchen

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If you didn’t get it I am from Le Marche: a region in the central part of Italy, an almost mystical territory, a peaceful area which you would never hear on the news: a proper middle-earth. In many ways it is the mirror image of its more internationally renowned neighbour Tuscany especially  for its cuisine and landscape; nevertheless it has remained an hidden jewel, rustic and a bit backward. I am totally in love with my region: its gentle hills that always welcome me home like a mother’s arms, its ploughed fields that always remind me of the diligence of my people, and its coastal cliffs  severe like a father and haughty like the fashionable girls from our area. 

 

Anyway, sorry I am done with this rant. Do not worry, the “from mama with love” section won’t include chapters of any epic poem, but it will surprise you with recipes about the cuisine of my lovely region or more precisely of my family culinary traditions carefully handed down by my grandmother. Our cuisine is a mix between the sophisticated delicacies of northern Italy combined with the more rustic and almost craggy southern peasant food, which creates a disparate magnificent culinary heritage; from meat to fish dishes, from liver salami to the finest truffle, from vincisgrassi (a local type of lasagne) to brodetto (a very particular fish soup) each of which will be presented with its own personal and family story.

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mama or not mama this is the matter

The word “mama”, which is a spelling variant of mamma, means mother; however it does not refer to any female figure bearing progeny and capable of cooking but it depicts the strongest ruling matriarch of Italian families. These legendary female creatures with one fist rule the Family, and with capital F-family I mean that kind of extended-intruding family you have seen in The Sopranos, and with the other feeds her sons, grandchildren, family friends’ kids, kids from the neighborhood or anyone else under the age of 16 happens to be in the house.  Image

There are numerous samples of mamas immortalised by media: from the hot-blodded and provocative MILF, a mix between Sophia Loren and “Stacey’s mum” lookalike, the kind of mama that comes with hordes of schoolmates that finds her house the best place ever to study; to the short, old, bitter and superstitious kind of mama, the one that lights a candle for you when she goes to church and thinks that all men are created equals but she always prays that her daughters may not pop out a mixed race kid. Then there is the most stereotypical image of mama: the sweet, blessed, gentle and voluptuous nonna that wears  24/7 sensible thick black oxford and homey aprons which partially pictures my family’s model of mama: my grandmother. She is a robust blonde-and-blue eye lady dressed with expensive clothes always shielded by colourful aprons with pouchy bottomless pocket filled with dirty napkins, not with candies as you might have imagined, as she suffers from chronic cold. She is a mix between the gentle, elegant mama of the American 50’s adverts and the wicked stepmother of Walt Disney that always complains because she never has time for her.

While being a mama is always a choice sometimes being a mother is not an option, well at least until 1920 when the Soviet Union first legalised abortion. A mama knows that  she will always be the last step of the family ladder, that she would never cook  her favourite dish if someone in the family dislikes it, she knows that she will be the one that has to find compromises in an argument, that most of the time her opinion won’t be even heard and that it does not matter if she hasn’t bought a new coat since 1987 as long as the kids can buy the schoolbag of the latest TV little idol. Being a mama is a choice of social and personal annihilation and as any other choice can be regretted: there will be days in which she will cry on her own while waiting for the laundry to be ready, days in which she wished she did not delete the numbers of her pre-marriagge drug dealers and other in which she will give thank for all of that. Some time ago I was talking with my grandma about tattoos as I am planning to expand my selection of body scarification, and she told me that she wanted to get one as well; when I asked what she replied:

“Grazie”

“Thanks to what grandma?”

“Thanks to life for all of this, my darling”

Maybe it only happens after years of self-mama-domestication, or it only occurred in the past when being a mama seemed to be the only acceptable career girls could have taken or maybe is a matter of personality I don’t know, but according to me the happiness of living for someone else and be the guardian of the family traditions is what really distinguish mothers from mamas.