Sunday, May 6, 2012
Ricotta Gelato for Small Bites Sunday
I have a three small bites for you this week but only one is edible. The other two are for your heart and mind.
- a peek into Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria by Mark Rotella
- a glance at the cookbook My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher
- ricotta gelato (so rich that you need to have it in small bites - you've been warned)
I like my recipes with history and my history with stories so both books filled me with yearning for places still to come.
Political prisoner Carlo Levi (doctor, lawyer, writer, painter anti-fascist) was sent as a prisoner to Basilicata from 1935-1936. He characterized Basilicata and neighboring Calabria as "that other world, hedged in by custom and sorrow." His account as a prisoner in Basilicata (formerly Lucania) is the basis for his book Christ Stopped At Eboli and was reviewed as "a starkly beautiful account of a place beyond hope and a people abandoned by history." "A kind of grey, El Greco beauty."
According to Mark Rotella in his 2004 book Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria, northern Italians do tend to think of both Calabria and Basilicata as "bereft of culture and economy - a burden on the rest of Italy." Having discovered his cousins in Calabria, Rotella spends months at a time visiting his family and getting to know Calabria from the inside out.
What he discovered was a land rich in rugged coastlines, mountains and forests. A terrain so wild that it only will yield if you have respect for it. Conquered over and over by Greeks, Arabs, the French, the Austrians, the Spanish and of course the Roman Empire itself, Calabria encompassed bits of their cultures and created a cuisine that gives a nod to their conquerors while at the same time celebrates what easily grows in their rugged terrain.
While the book sellers like to recount Rotella's lessons in how to make 'nduja, soppressata and how to steal a fig without committing a crime, Rotella's book is much more than a Tuscan sun travelogue. As Rotella grows to understand Calabria, he recounts bits of history, folklore and tales of humanity from the Calabrese that speak of sorrows mixed with joys. Pain and mirth co-exit side-by-side. Rotella recounts is beauties and its warts. There is generosity and slyness. (He even mentions the "M" word.) And there are figs and chestnuts and pasta and gelato.
He visits Cosena for a few days and eats at the recommended L'Arco Vecchio.
"My first course was an amazing fusilli, corkcrews tighter than even my grandmother had made with Calabrese sausage and tomato sauce.... the main course was pork fillets stuffed with zucchini and smoked scamorza cheese which tastes like a combination of provolone and mozzarella. An orange sauce had been drizzled over the stuffed pork and edible orange rinds garnished the plate. To finish the meal ... a tartufo di Pizzo, a chocolate and hazelnut gelato molded around a soft, syrupy chocolate fudge, then covered with a crunchy chocolate coating and surrounded by small, tart, fragole di bosco, wild strawberries."
When I closed the last page of Stolen Figs (reading every so slowly as I neared the end knowing my time in Calabria was ending), I picked up My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher and decided to cook. I needed a sweet for a family dinner. While I yearned for Rotella's Tartufo al Modo di Pizzo (ice cream truffle), simplicity won out and the ricotta ice cream would be made.
Gelato di Ricotta Stregata (Makes 1-1/2 quarts)
from My Calabria
(Ricotta Ice Cream with Strega)
(With no eggs but heavy cream this is almost more ice cream than gelato; this does not store for days so serve it the day you make it)
2-1/2 cups (560 grams) homemade ricotta or top-quality ricotta
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons Strega Liqueur (I had to do the alternative below - no Strega Liqueur to be found)*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 cup (250 milliliters) heavy cream
2 ounces (60 grams) Candied orange peel - chopped (optional) (How to make candied orange peels can be found here.)
In a food processor, blend the ricotta, sugar, Strega, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth. Scrape down ides of bowl and add the cream.Pulse to combine then scrape down the bowl and pulse again until completely blended.
If using, fold in orange peel. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions. Freeze until ready to serve.
Strega is an herbal Italian liqueur. If unable to find, make a cannoli-type ice cream with chopped bittersweet ice cream and chopped, toasted pistachios. If doing the cannoli-ice cream, omit the orange peel.
I have yet to find a cookbook from Basilicata! My Calabria with its emphasis on olive oil, spicy peppers, bitter greens, polenta and sheep's cheese has been the closest I could find to my grandmother's cooking. The lure of My Calabria is not just the recipes (once considered "poor cooking" is now lauded - what goes around... ) and the recipes do beckon - but the journey of how the Calabrese through mean circumstances and foraging developed a delicious cuisine that could not have happened anywhere else would draw in any food-lover. The recipes for jarring and canning are a bonus - in true form - they wasted nothing.
So there's a wee bit of irony that from the land of peperoncini and soppressata, I bring you ice cream. But look at it all melted and creamy and yielding in the sun. Imagine it in the hot Calabrese sun...
It's worth the calories.
You might also like: Goat Cheese Ice Cream