As spring and summer approach, my schedule gets increasingly busy. I have a number of projects that go on during the summer, plus events, the garden, etc things can get a bit stressful and I’m a stress eater. I’m trying desperately to cut down on my sugar intake and am searching for alternatives to my stress cravings to wean me off the sugar hits. (If you ever want to get rid of a bag of chocolate-covered almonds quickly, just put it near me.)
Not all desserts are meant to be tooth-achingly sweet. And old Italian recipes are prime examples of slightly sweet treats that meet the sweet tooth craving without going clowingly over the edge. As a matter of necessity of course, many of the old recipes are sweetened by nothing more than grape must or honey, like this family favourite is. Mostaccioli were made by my grandmother and great aunts regularly and while they look like biscotti, they are soft and moist as they don’t go through the second baking process.
The word “mostaccioli” can refer to cookies, although you may find a few recipes for it that include a chocolate covering, but also pasta that is commonly referred to as “penne.” For me the name refers just to these simple Calabrese cookies that have always been on our table.
1 kg honey
1 kg of flour (or just under)
6 egg yolks
1 tsp baking soda
There’s been a little pause in the blog…mostly because I had a little excitement: I co-hosted the Italian morning radio show Amici on CHIN Radio here in Toronto yesterday! More about that tomorrow…but first we need to get to a recipe! The last recipe of All Food February is a big one. Firstly, it’s about sausages, which is a request I get a lot. But secondly, it’s for a sausage recipe I can’t find anywhere else. Have you ever made potato and pork sausages?
This recipe comes from my husband’s family. He fondly remembers eating these as a kid on family road trips. They would pack the sausages, straight from the freezer, into tin foil and place them in the back windshield of the car to warm up in the summer sun as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years ago).
Last year my husband decided he wanted to make these sausage that he hadn’t had in years and we searched desperately for a recipe. We found nothing: not on food recipe sites, not in books, not even on blogs. I started to doubt that it was possible to even make these sausages (wouldn’t the potato go bad?) and only came around when I was watching an episode of Lidia’s Italy and she was mentioning different types of sausages found in Italy. Potato and pork were mentioned – so they do exist! Too bad she didn’t give a recipe for them! We ended up inviting over the Nonni and got to work putting this old recipe back together and making some mighty fine dried sausages.
The recipe is approximate, you’ll need to gauge your needs based on the amount of pork you use and the flavours you want. As always, before you dive into recipes that preserve meat be sure to read up on proper meat handling and curing techniques.
Potato & Pork Sausage
1 pork shoulder, ground
Equal part boiled potatoes (Yukon Gold preferred)
1 liter of red pepper sauce
2 handfuls of salt
1/2 a handful of fennel
2 tablespoons dried hot pepper flakes
May was a whirlwind of family events and weddings of friends. The weekends were taken up with presents and cakes and dancing and while I was really exhausted as this month came to an end, I didn’t mind it a bit. But I did want some time to ourselves to get the house back in order. We had also, in cooking quickly all month, emptied some containers of food in the freezer including our fresh pasta (even the spelt pasta). So we finally carved out some time to make fresh homemade pasta.
But we wouldn’t be Italian if we didn’t over do it a little bit. And since my husband’s parents have a farm full of chickens, ducks and geese, we had all sorts of eggs in our fridge. Put the two together and we made “Papara Pasta” (papara meaning duck in Calabrese dialect).
15 cups of flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
One goose egg, six duck eggs, four chicken eggs
You can see from the picture just how large that goose egg is (it’s about equal to three normal chicken eggs). The smaller, darker six eggs are from the ducks, the remainder are Andalusian chicken eggs. The eggs are so fresh, and free range, that the yolks were nearly orange and the pasta turned out a dark yellow. Ingredients for a “normal” batch is also included below. No matter the quantity you set out to make, the process is the same. Although be warned, if you’re crazy enough to make a big batch like us, make sure you have someone with serious arm muscles on hand for the kneading part.
One of the best snacks any Italian can have around the house are taralli, a crispy bread stick. At the store you’ll usually find them in small circles flavoured with hot peppers, sun-dried tomatoes or fennel. My Calabrese side makes them much longer, in loops you need to snap in half, and using black anice seeds from Italy. This is a large recipe, if you are going to make taralli, you might as well make a lot, but if you decide to halve the recipe, use 2 eggs instead of 3. A word of warning: these are addictive.
Today’s picture is one of my favourite things in my house – my chestillu or crivu. I’ve mentioned this Calabrese tool before in my recipe for turdilli. “Chestillu” is decidedly the name of this from my dialect, but I’ve also found them online called a “crivu.” Another blogger’s recipe for turdilli mentions them here or you can find a short description on the Italian Wikipedia here. While I’ve only ever seen this used to make gnocchi and turdilli, apparently it was originally for sifting flour, and is also used for drying tomatoes or olives.
Turdilli are a Christmas treat in our house. From my Calabrese side, they are indicative of the recipes from harder times – using what they had in the house for sweetness and flavour. In this case ,wine, coffee and honey for example. My grandparents would make these every Christmas, using a woven tool from their home town, a chestillu (I’m guessing here on spelling) to roll out the texture into the turdilli. It makes the same groves you would find on gnocchi and, in fact, that was the other thing we used a chestillu for. The end result is a sweet and savoury cookie (for lack of a better description) that is crispy fried on the outside, soft in the middle and coated in honey.