Tag Archives: cinnamon

Pistachio-cinnamon pastries and memories of Nadia

Cinnamon-pistachio pastries with Maghrebi type tea

This time last year, my wonderful old friend Nadia was hospitalised. A few days later she died, surrounded by her family. It was her birthday too, so the end of October is double memorial to Nadia. She is much-missed and I think of her often, especially when I’m cooking.

I lived with Nadia and her family in the mid-1990s, in a kind of long-term WWOOFer role on a farm called Old Man Mountain in the verdant, wild Buller Gorge on New Zealand’s South Island. Although I worked on the farm for its owner, Susie, I spent a lot of time with Nadia in the kitchen of her yellow house, talking about and making food. She was one of the key cookery mentors in my life.

During my year there, Nadia and I went through phases. We obsessed over French patisserie, and I made my first croissants in her oven. We made samosas and curries and south Asian feasts; Nadia was part-Indian, but hadn’t travelled, so my experience of growing up in a country with a huge South Asian food scene were a useful source of information for her. Then we obsessed over Middle Eastern food. I’ve always been more inclined to sweets, cakes and pastries, so I dug out recipes along those lines. Some made it into my journals.

After Nadia’s death, I revisited those journals and transcribed more of the recipes. This is one of them. It’s called cinnamon pistachio crescents in my notes and it says it’s of Middle Eastern origin. I’ve no idea if it is a genuinely Middle Eastern recipe either, or the Arabic name of these pastries. They may well be related to croissants though, given the shape and the high butter content, so perhaps they’re a hybrid of Arabic food heritage and French imperialism. A terrible lack of information, I know. All I know is that they’re a bit like croissants, but there’s no lamination here, so they’re a lot easier to master. Perhaps they’re related to the Jewish rugelach. If anyone does know the name of Arabic pastries like this, please do enlighten me!*

The recipe, now somewhat tweaked by me, may well be from a Middle Eastern cookbook my mother sent out to me in 1994. I saw it last, in October 2013, just after we’d left Rome and had gone travelling to see international friends and family: on a shelf in Nadia’s house in the Marlborough Sounds. Perhaps it’s still there. One day I may be able to check it, when we next visit NZ. Who knows? With the recent eleventh hour failure of our adoption match, I don’t really know what life holds next. While we nurse our bruised dreams I know at least there will be more baking.

Baking of things like these. I’m making them thinking of Nadia, bustling around her kitchen at Old Man Mountain, twenty years ago. I wish I could email her to ask her to look in that old recipe book. It’d take her a week to find the time away from her precious, precarious garden and connect to her agonisingly slow dial-up, but I miss her communiqués, her snatches of life, her ardent discussion of food.

48 cinnamon pistachio pastries, with Nadia

Dough
10g ADY or 15g fresh yeast
60g water
25g caster sugar
125g strong white flour
125g plain flour
4g fine sea salt
200g unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten (that is, 120g beaten egg)

Filling
6-8g cinnamon (to taste)
80g caster sugar
50g pistachios, roughly chopped or quickly broken up in food processor.

Roughly chop pistachios

Makes 48

1. Mix the yeast with the water. You can use tepid water to get the yeast going if you like, but as these have a long prove in the fridge it doesn’t really matter.
2. Stir in sugar.
3. Combine the flours in a bowl, add the salt, then mix in yeasty water, melted butter and egg.

Mix the damp doughFirm up the dough in fridge
4. Mix up to a dough. It’s very moist from all the egg and melted butter so it really is a case of mixing, with a spatula. Cool the dough in the fridge a bit to firm up the butter then you can give it a knead, just to make sure everything is nicely homogenised.
5. Return the dough to a clean bowl, greased with a little oil, cover, then put in the fridge and leave for at least three hours, or even overnight.
6. Take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to come back to room temperature. (The butter will have set hard again, so it’ll be difficult to handle until it’s warmed up a bit again.)
Cinnamon and pistachio filling mix
7. Combine the cinnamon, sugar and chopped pistachios to make the filling.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare several baking sheets, lining them with parchment or silicone sheets.
Cut the dough into 6 piecesForm 6 balls
9. Divide the dough into six balls, each weight about 111g, then cover and let them rest for 10 minutes.
Disc 20cm in diameterSprinkle filling
10. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball into a disc, keeping them moving to avoid sticking. Roll to about 20cm in diameter.
Divide into 8 segmentsRoll up the segments and form crescents
11. Sprinkle the filling onto the discs, then cut each one into eight segments.
12. Roll up the wedges, starting from the wide end, and shape into crescents.
Place on lined traysBake until browned
13. Place on baking sheets, cover and prove for about 20 minutes until slightly risen.
14. Bake for around 12 minutes, until nicely browned.
15. Cool on a wire rack.

Pistachio cinnamon crescents

I imagine these would go very well with a nice strong, short cup of coffee, but as I don’t drink it, I can’t say! I can say they also go nicely with tea, black or green. But the ideal drink to have them with would be that sweetened blend of black and mint tea, served in glasses, as drunk in Arabic world, especially the Maghreb. I like to think that whewn I first made them at Old Man Mountain in 1994, me and Nadia sat down to try them with a with a cuppa, critiquing them. Nadia probably said they were good, but she preferred savouries.

 

 

 

* Since writing this, I’ve done a little more research. In Arabic countries, such a pastry might be referred to as a sanbusaj, sambusak, sambosak. It’s the same in Hebrew. And similar in many other languages across the Middle East, western and southern Asia. Indeed, they’re probably all from the same Persian root word: sanbosag. A more familiar related word here in the UK is the Indian Subcontinent samosa.

But, you may be wondering, what’s a usually savoury, deep-fried parcel got in common with a crescent, yeasted dough, buttery pastry? Well, broadly, there’s all just variation on a theme of filled pastries. This recipe, for example, is savoury, but uses a similar technique to mine here, and as such nicely bridges the gap.

 

15 Comments

Filed under Baking, Pastry, Recipes

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

Cinnamon and ricotta pizza

Ricotta. Generally, I don’t know what to do with this classic Italian “recooked” whey cheese. I’ve used it in cheesecakes before, and it is delicious eaten for breakfast with a drizzle of honey. But the sheer scale of its presence in Rome, where fresh stuff arrives by the tonne every day, indicates it’s used very widely indeed.

Shops like the likeable Antica Caciara in Trastevere have an entire window dedicated to baskets of the stuff. Farmers markets’ also tend to have several stalls selling bucketloads of the stuff. Since our farmers’ market was shifted out of Testaccio, and as it’s August and most of Rome’s markets are closed anyway, we’ve been frequenting our new Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop) near Ponte Testaccio. (Actually, it’s three outlets in one venue. See Info, below). They have a lot too, and on a couple of occasions when we’ve been stocking up on other goodies, they’ve given us some. It’s all about the freshness with Roman ricotta, so I suppose they just don’t want it hanging about – and they want to encourage our loyalty.

So what else do people do with the stuff? Well, I’m slowly discovering.

Fresh ricotta

It’s used in a few classic, simple pasta dishes, but to be honest, I don’t much like them; even with excellent quality ricotta such dishes seem oddly bitter to me. There’s a kind of cappuccino di ricotta according to ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli1, but I’ve never seen that. Manuelli also gives a recipe for ricotta condita that just involves the cheese, egg, sugar, cocoa and some booze. It sounds like a kind of trifle or tiramisu, but without any sponge. Other versions, such as in Oretta Zanini di Vita’s ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’2 use finely ground coffee instead of cocoa.

When I got the cookbook ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’3, one thing that caught my eye straight away was the budino di ricotta (ricotta pudding, or ricotta cake), which they make in a handsome ring form. So I gave it a go. It seemed simple – just ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, a little booze and some eggs, some separated, with the whites whisked to give the pudding some lightness.

Ingredients for ricotta and cinnamon pizza. Ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, dough. Basta.

It all seemed to go well. Until I turned it out of the tin. It deflated a bit. Okay, fine. But then I ate some. Really not my bag. I’m sorry to say I found it oddly nauseating, just unpleasantly whey-y, so I won’t be repeating the recipe here. I should have known really, as I’d made a baked ricotta pudding before, using ‘Cooking Apicius’ – recipes based on a collection from the late classical period4. That one involved lots of bay leaves and at first bite was amazing, but at second bite was exotically disgusting.

So I was back to square one with my slightly vexed question of what to do with ricotta.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza, before baking

And then Azienda Agricola Fratelli Nesta, one of the abovementioned three outlets, went and gave us another couple of etti5 of ricotta.

Luckily, ‘La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ has several other ricotta-based recipes. One of which is so absurdly simple I had to give it a try. It’s a sweet pizza, and would you know, I had some spare pizza dough.

According to authors Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré this is a “super-simple sweet that you can often find in the bakeries of Tuscia”. Tuscia is the historical region of the Etruscans (the Tusci in Latin), a large area of central and western Italy that now corresponds with most of Tuscany, northern Lazio and parts of Umbria. The recipe in is specifically called “Pizza ricotta e cannella di Tarquinia”. Tarquinia is an ancient Etruscan town near Viterbo, north of Rome.

I can’t find any mention of a ricotta and cinnamon pizza from Tarquinia or Tuscia,  or anywhere for that matter, online, but then, Italy hasn’t poured all of its vast and varied (food) culture onto the internet. So I’ll just give the two Maries the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, I’m not going to mess about trying to put it in grams or whatever as it really is simple and flexible. It’s all about the “qb”, the quanta basta, the “how much is enough”. That is, the right amount according to your intuition and inclination.

You just need to make some basic white bread or pizza dough; I won’t give a recipe here, as there are numerous recipes in other sources. Just find one that suits you. I’d recommend one with a nice long fermentation.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

The ricotta and cinnamon pizza recipe isn’t even a recipe per se, it just says:

Bread dough
Ricotta
Sugar and cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil

Then mentions the bakeries of Tuscia, where “the bread dough often comes in a thin form, covered with ricotta, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You bake it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.”

And you know what? It’s delicious. I especially like the way the oily, sugary mix caramellises on the crust. Sure, it’s an example of those Medieval flavour mixes of sweet, spice and savoury that us Brits don’t use so much these days and, sure, perhaps it’s slightly confusing quite when you might want to eat it. Is it a main course, is it a dessert, is it for afternoon tea, or even a breakfast snack? But frankly, it’s so simple and satisfying, you can eat it whenever you want. I scoffed most of mine at 5.15pm as the hangry hour was approaching.

Info
Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop), Via Bernadino Passeri 8, 00154 Rome.
Open Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 8.00-19.00,  Sun 8.00-14.00

Footnotes and stuff
1 ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli appears to be out of print. The copy I’m referring to was published in 2005 by Conran Octopus, ISBN 1 84091 407 6.
2 ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’ by Oretta Zanini di Vita also appears to be out of print. The book I’m referring to is translatedby Maureen B Fant, and is listed on her website. First published 1993 by Alphabyte di Maureen Brown SAS, ISBN 88 86128 02 9. I’m not sure, but it may have been reprinted in 2003 by the University of California Press as ‘Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio’.
3 ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ (“The cooking/cuisine of Rome and Lazio”) by Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré is, so far, only available in Italian. Published 2012 by Guido Tommasi Editore-Datanova, ISBN 978 88 96621 844.
4 ‘Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today’ by Sally Grainger. More information here from the publisher, Prospect Books, along with a PDF download with ” the preliminary matter, the introduction, the list of recipes and the opening historical discussion of Cooking Apicius”.
5 An etto (plural: etti), or ettogrammo is a commonly used measure in Italy, especially for buying market produce. It’s a hectogram/hectogramme – that is 100g, 0.1kg, or about 3 and a half ounces.

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion, Misc, Other food, Pizza, Recipes

Almond and candied peel cookies

Almond and peel cookies

A few weeks ago, I made some cookies using almonds and candied peel (ideally homemade, or at least handmade). The flavour was great, but the cookie wasn’t quite right. So I thought I’d try similar flavourings again, but with a much more basic cookie recipe. It’s v simple.

So here it is.

125g butter
100g caster sugar
75g soft brown or demerara sugar
1 egg (with the white and yolk weighing about 50g)
1 t vanilla essence
1 t almond essence
100g plain flour
80g ground almonds
1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon powder
50g candied peel, roughly chopped
50g plain almonds, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Melt the butter, then combine with the sugar in a bowl.
3. Add the egg and essences and beat.
4. Sieve in the flour, ground almonds, cinnamon and baking powder. The ground almonds probably won’t go through the sieve entirely – don’t worry, just dunk the rest into the mix.
5. Add the chopped peel and nuts, and combine to form a fairly loose cookie dough.
6. Put desertspoonfuls on baking sheets lined with parchment.
7. Bake the cookies for around 10-12 minutes, until browning nicely.
8. Cool on a wire rack.
9. Enjoy.

1 Comment

Filed under Biscuits, cookies, Recipes