I can’t think of a more appropriate season to post on this month’s Cucina Conversations topic – the ancient art and craft of preserving. Autumn is, after all, a time when many fruits and vegetables are in season. In the relatively mild climate of Italy, that bounty can even extend to remmants of summer. A case in point – there are still many tomatoes struggling to ripen on our staked vines in our garden in the Monferrato. Unable to bear the thought of leaving these green, ethylene-lacking specimens to rot, I’ve spent much of the past month making these into a exquisitely sweet and sour jam I love serving as part of a cheese course.
Corso Brunelleschi, on the other hand, currently abounds with vendors selling chestnuts from Piedmont’s Alpine woodlands. Some of their supersized counterparts, marroni, are on proudly on display in glass-domed stands in my local patisserie’s vetrina. Many passersby, including TP, balk at Alicino‘s asking price of 53.00 euro a kilo for their marrons glacés. Having recently tried my hand at the painstakingly long task of peeling, candying and drying their smaller cousins, I feel, however, that they are worth every centisimo. Finally, there are the floury red heirloom apples with an addictive, almost almond-like aftertaste the calabroni or hornets haven’t managed to gnaw their way through from my in-laws’ garden in the Val di Susa bordering France. Many of these have been given to TT as a snack. The rest have made their way into another wonderful accompaniment to cheese or, my current favourite breakfast spread, apple paste.
Last autumn, I posted about the more renowned quince paste or cotognata for Italy Magazine. Inspired by Domenica Marchetti’s recipe in her lovely book, Preserving Italy, I also tried my hand at making the same type of firm yet spreadable preserve with the quince’s smoother, less bulbous cousins during the same period. So, after my attempt at making marrons glacés fell through, I didn’t have to search hard for another preserving idea this roundtable. I simply revisited the process for making apple paste with my-laws’ fine specimens instead.
- 1.5 kg apples, preferably freshly harvested
- lemon juice
- vegetable oil, for coating moulds or baking tin
Wash, dry, quarter and remove the cores of the apples. Place in a large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan, cover with just enough water and bring to boil. Leave to simmer over low to medium heat until the fruit is tender. Remove fruit from saucepan, drain in a pasta colander and leave to until cool enough to handle. Pass the cooked fruit pulp through a food mill in small batches until obtaining a puree.
Weigh puree and add 60 percent of the amount of sugar (I generally get 900 g – 1 kg of puree from 1.5 kg of apples, so you’ll need about 540 – 600 g sugar) plus the juice of 1 lemon. Place in large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan and leave to apple puree and sugar macerate for two hours. Much of the sugar will dissolve during this time.
Cook on low to medium heat. Simmer and stir constantly, it will turn a darker hue as it boils down. The mixture is ready when the mixture has thickened noticeably and comes away from the sides of your saucepan as you stir (this could take half an hour to an 1 hour, depending on the pectin and sugar content of your apples) .
Pour apple paste into moulds lined with very lightly oiled baking paper to a depth not exceeding 1.5 cm. Smooth out the top of the paste with a spatula and place in an oven pre-heated to 80 ° C. Bake for 1 hour or until the paste is set and firm to touch. Turn paste around in mould so the other side can dry out, if need be, and bake for another hour at 80 ° C or until set and firm to touch. Cool to room temperature, cover and leave to sit overnight to complete the setting process.
Wrap pieces of apple paste in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. Consume within 6 months. Remove paste from the fridge 1 hour before serving. Serve as a sweet (cut into cubes rolled in sugar, if desired), as an appetiser to accompany cured meats and sharp cheeses or, my current personal favourite, spread on some fette biscottate for breakfast.
I’ve long wanted to make these Italian breakfast favourites, which are perfect for spreading the many jams and pastes I’ve made in this past few months. Strictly speaking, these dried slices of pan brioche are not a preserve that will get me through winter. Drying and lightly toasting them, does, however, extend their shelf life for about a week though. Since the procedure for making these is quite long, I’ve opted for a quick, one-proof brioche I learnt at cooking school last year.
Ingredients (for a 24 x 10 cm loaf tin; makes about 10-12 fette biscottate)
- 12 g fresh yeast
- 40 g sugar
- 100 mL milk, tepid
- 250 g strong bread flour plus extra for dusting loaf tin
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 40 g melted butter, at room temperature
- 5 g salt
- 1 more egg, lightly beaten, for the glaze
- butter, for greasing loaf tin
Pour tepid milk in a large mixing bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir and leave to sit until the yeast dissolves and foam rises to the surface (about 10 minutes). Add flour, lightly beaten egg and melted butter and mix until the ingredients come together. Add salt. The dough will be quite sticky, so use a round edged plastic dough scraper to assist with the kneading. The dough is ready when smooth and elastic. Transfer to a greased and dusted loaf tin. Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size (about 1 – 2 hours).
Brush top of the loaf with lightly beaten egg. Bake in an oven preheated to 180 º C for 30 minutes or until golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack until room temperature. Remove brioche from loaf tin and slice into 1 to 1.5 cm thick slices. Place slices on lined baking trays and bake at 125 º C for about an hour, or until the slices are golden brown and have dried out completely. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely before storing in a tightly-closed biscuit tin. Consume within about a week.
Still in search of preserving inspiration? Here’s what my fellow bloggers have been making to get them through winter:
- Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is back from her trip to the US. She immediately treated herself to the above-mentioned marroni and has made a lovely looking chestnut spread for us.
- It’s the end of winter in Melbourne where Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles lives. She has made a marmalade with mandarins from a very special tree and her family’s vincotto.
- Flavia of Flavia’s Flavors has another recipe inspired by Domenica Marchetti’s Preserving Italy for pesto abbruzzese.
- Marialuisa of Marmellata di Cipolle sun-dried some of her tomatoes and preserved them with anchovies in olive oil.
Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to subscribe to blog updates and my quarterly newsletter devoted to seasonal cooking either. I’ll be posting my recipe and photos for green tomato jam as part of the Autumn edition of The Season in Food. It, along with other autumnal recipes, will be an exclusive feature for email subscribers only.