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!

 

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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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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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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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