Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Odds and Ends

Seems appropriate to wrap up a short week by tidying up the desk and cleaning out the pictures I've kind of wanted to post but just didn't get organized enough to do.
A few weeks ago we stumbled on a quince tree - no one knows what to do with quince anymore, they're so old fashioned and definintely not available for instant gratification, but I love them - the smell is divine, they keep forever, and with a little sugar and some heat they get all soft and sweet and pink.

I poached mine until they were tender, pushed them through a sieve because they are a little stringy, and then made a crostata, the perfect Italian word to describe a lattice-topped jam tart. Since they don't really have pie this is as close as it gets - and as close as it needs to get as far as I'm concerned - nothing against pie, but I love these - kind of the foodie version of a pop-tart! Tender pastry, sweet fruit jam - mmm, perfect with a cup of coffee, healthy enough for breakfast (ok, my standards on that are admittedly not high) and fantastic with a bit of whipped cream.

The yellow Vespa - almost time for its first check up - I love this scooter! Over 400 miles so far.
And this pic from September - girls' weekend/lunch in the market - the shot just arranged itself and looked so pretty.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Back from Italy with Fabulous Pastry

So I spent the last 10 days of October in Florence with my mom. We went with several missions in mind, most of them having to do with food, but also involving silk scarves, leather gloves, patio umbrellas, chocolate, - oh right, that's food again - and wine bottle stoppers with beautiful Murano glass tops. More to come on all of those things - there are great buys in Florence even with the dollar at a terrible exchange for the Euro. Did I mention the chocolate? Here's one sweet place -
But, the one thing I went over there for above all others was to figure out the secret behind the Sfoglia di Riso. This pastry is an Italian staple - at least in Florence. Sfoglia (plural - sfoglie) means folder. The folder in this case is an envelop of sweet puff pastry, folded over a filling and baked until the puff pastry is shattering and golden and the filling spreads out inside and marries with the pastry in a sublime and fabulous way. There are folders filled with pastry cream, sweet rice custard, apricot, ricotta, chocolate, and other things as well - apple, pineapple, blackberry - the list goes on. Anyway, I had happily eaten my weight in these, both in 2005 and earlier this year when we were there in June. But I couldn't turn up anything on the internet or in cookbooks - apparently it is SO easy or intuitive that no recipe is required. OR, it's simply something that no one makes at home - I mean why would you? you can go into any caffe or bar and get one, warm, freshly baked every morning, for about $1.10 (Euro 0.85). Either way, they were a mystery to me, so this trip I resolved to figure them out.

After several false starts, I managed to talk my way into a pastry shop near the central market - even though they thought I was a little deranged, they agreed to let me watch the production - so from 6:00 AM until 7:30 AM one moring of the vacation, that's exactly what I did.

Oh my god - it was possibly the most fun I had on the whole trip! A tiny little kitchen with one long marble table, a dough sheeter, a proofing cabinet, some ovens and some cooling racks - the mixers looked to be in the small room next door. I watched the sfoglie go together, as well as the morning croissants, which they call brioche - go figure. Matteo, the pastry chef, was very nice, stopping his lightening-speed assembly long enough for me to get one picture of the filling going in.

This weekend, I tried it myself. The results, while not perfect because the dough distorted a little on me, were completely authentic in taste and texture - I made a double large batch of puff pastry from Rose Levy Bernabaum's cookbook, which turned out to be about 4 times too much! But nevermind, it freezes. I made 7 pastries - 6 with pastry cream and one, the best by far, with a mix of pastry cream and dad's apricot preserves. I have the rounds cut out for 27 more in the freezer! Perhaps I will be throwing a breakfast party one of these weekends . . . . More to come on Italy later on.