Monday, February 18, 2013

The importance of flour (farina)

Flour is something most people buy without much thought. I discovered some of my Italian recipes, such as ravioli and pizza dough, didn't look or feel exactly like those I had made in CremonaMarina, my cooking mentor, suggested I take some farina (flour) home with me.  From her own cupboard, she gave me a 1kg bag of il Molino Farina 00 to test.

Of course she was right!  And now thankfully, I can buy farina in Santa Monica from Guidi Marcello.

I don't buy bread at the grocery store. I can't bear to eat it.  We don't have wonderful bakeries in every neighborhood, as they do in Italy.

About a year ago, Trader Joe's stopped selling my favorite dense Whole Wheat Honey Bread.  Out of desperation, I began making bread again, weekly. With some experimentation, I now know that Organic whole wheat flour does make a difference. (see recipe at the end)

This morning I read this article in "The American In Italia": Umbria's B-side:

Umbria's B-side

The Granarium's local shop, where all is homemade.

By Letizia Mattiacci

Published: 2013-02-17

Umbria is a land of practical people. They're mostly down-to-earth, modest country-folk who generally prefer tradition to innovation. They dislike risks, large enterprises and sushi. They think they live in the best place on earth and there's no need to change it.

True enough — at least the part about living in the best place — but the rest is rather maddening. I admit I don't like sushi, but I could occasionally do with a green curry and a bit of curiosity.

But this is the B-side of slow life in Umbria. If you are motivated to do something — create a project or generate an enterprise — it takes forever.

I know from personal experience. I moved here and started a business after a decade of working in ├╝ber-efficient North Europe. There were times when I thought we'd never make it.

That's why I admire people who start something new, and who do so against all odds and against the never-ending bureaucracy; people who overcome the many delays and get past the mistrust of locals.

I recently met someone who fits that mold, Patrizia Lucarelli. Along with brother Gian Piero she's built Granarium, a stone granary dedicated to the wheat their family produces. It is a Herculean effort and a totally novel way to preserve tradition. Artisan mills have almost disappeared in Italy. Hers is one of the very few national farms that actually grow the wheat they grind.

Not only that, the family also cultivates the wheat organically in local fields surrounding the mill and stores it without chemical preservatives, using ventilation and the summer sun to avoid fermentation and spoiling.

Then they grind it using antique machinery that they bought on eBay (yes), restored, and brought back to operational life. If that weren't enough, they also make breads and cakes in a wood oven that they sell in their little shop and at various markets throughout the province.

And should I wax lyrical about the flavor? Come see and taste for yourself. The word flour takes on a completely different dimension. I might never find the courage to buy supermarket flour again. 


Whole Wheat Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 C warm water
½ C milk
3 t dried yeast
¼ C honey
1 C white whole wheat flour (Trader Joe's)


¼ C olive oil
1 C O Organics Whole wheat flour
½-1 C whole wheat flour (you may not use it all)

Prepare sponge. Scrape down sides with rubber spatula. Cover and set in warm place for one hour.

Sprinkle oil and add 1 cup of flour over the sponge. Hard beat by hand for 1 minute.

Add remaining flour, 1/4 C at a time with a wooden spoon. Until a soft dough is formed. May be done in a heavy duty mixer.

Turn dough onto board. Knead, but do not add too much flour. Dough will be slightly sticky. Add 2 t olive oil to a large bowl. Place bread ball into bowl and turn to coat with a veil of oil. Cover with clean towel and let rise 1-2 hours or until doubled.  Punch down.  Let rise again.

Place into buttered metal pan. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes. When it has risen enough, put it into a hot oven. (It may fall a little if it rises too far.)

Preheat oven. Bake 375 for 35-45 minutes.

Saturday, Feb 16 Cooking at the Istituto

I love Saturday morning Italian class, held in Westwood Village at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Los Angeles.  It's a 10-week conversation course.  Michele our instructor is from Rome.  We spend two heavenly hours only hearing and speaking (trying our best) Italian.  Twice during the course, we have a cooking contest. In the past we split $20 for cost of materials.

This semester, we divided the class into two cooking teams the week before our kitchen experience.  We played the Italian version of Hasbro's board game TABOO.  The object of the game is to have your teammates guess as many words as possible, within two minutes. Every guessed word advances the team token by one step.  Each card contains a top word, with five taboo words. One cannot use any of these words to describe the target word.

The winning team won a $15 giftcard for Trader Joe's.  It was a close win!

Our team:  Giorgio, Maria, Francesca
Francesca, cook
Giorgio, prep man
Maria, presentation of the dish, with historical notes

I arrived 30 minutes early with all ingredients in two baskets.  Michele dislikes 'confusione'.   Saturday morning I made a torta for dessert. 

Our meal was well received and given Michele's approval, which I strive for.

When he saw my Voiello Pasta, he said, "You brought that from Italy!"  Yes, I come home each trip with a suitcase full of my favorite products.  How can I cook authenically without them?

Michele commented that any sauce made with "panna" (cream) is from Northern Italy, because of its proximity to France.

Nitrate free Pancetta and Guanciale from McCall's


Pasta with Proscuitto Cotto and Pancetta
(Adapted from the Italian magazine "Alice")

serves 4 (Ingredienti per 4 persone)

320 g pennette lisce (g pennette lisce)
250 g half and half (di panna)
1 small red onion (1 cipolla)
100 g ham, nitrate free (di Prosciutto cotto)
100 g pancetta, nitrate free (di pancetta coppata)
100 g crushed canned tomatoes (di pomodori pelati)
½ c white wine (1/2 bicchiere di vino bianco)
2 handfuls fresh cleaned parsley, chopped (2 ciuffi di prezzemolo)
½ dried pepperoncino (1/2 peperoncino)
Olive oil (olio extravergine di oliva)

Affettate sottilmente la cipolla e fatela appassire in una padella con 1 cucchiaio di olio e il peperoncino tritato. Unite le fette di pancetta coppata e di proscuitto, tagliate a listerelle, e fate insaporire per 2-3 minuti; bagnate con il vino e fate ridurre della meta’.

Begin boiling the water for the pasta, making sure the water is properly salted.

Saute the diced onion until translucent in 1 t olive oil.  Add 1/2 dried hot pepper, crushed. Add the diced ham and cook for 2-3 minutes.  In a separate pan, saute the diced pancetta until nicely browned, then drain on a paper towel. Add white wine to onion mixture and cook it down to half.

Aggiungete i pomodori pelati, schiacciateli con una forchetta e proseguite la cottura per 5 minuti. Versate la panna e fate cuocere per altri 10-15 minuti, fino a attenere una salsa morbida ma densa.

Add half the dice parsley and the crushed tomatoes, breaking them up with a fork.  Cook 5 minutes. Add the half and half and cook another 10-15 minutes.  Begin cooking pasta at the appropriate time for it to be done when the sauce is done.  Add the drained pasta to the sauce, add the pancetta and toss on a low flame for 1 minute.  Serve at once, topping with Parmigiano and parsley flakes.

Mentre il sugo e’ in cottura, lessate la pasta in abbondante acqua bollente salata. Scolatela al dente, trasferitela nella padella con il sugo alla panna e spolverizzate con il parmigiano. Mescolate, padellate un minuto e servite.


Torta di Cioccolata, Ricotta e Lamponi
(Chocolate Cake with Ricotta & Raspberries)

From:  Lucullian Delights

4 eggs
2 ½ dl / 1.057 cup sugar
125 g / 4.4 oz fresh ricotta
75 g butter / 2.6 oz butter
200 g / 7 oz powdered cacao
3 ½ dl / 1.5 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
125 g / 4.4 oz fresh raspberries (or drained frozen)

Wisk eggs and sugar in a bowl and then add the mashed ricotta. Mix until smooth.

Melt the butter and add the chocolate.

Pour butter into the egg mixture and stir.

Sift flour, baking powder into a bowl and stir well.

Butter the cake pan. Pour half of the batter into the cake tin, distribute the raspberries over it and cover with the rest of the batter.

Bake in 175° centigrade (350F) for about 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out almost dry.  Do not overcook.

Dust lightly with powered sugar.

The BEST powered chocolate in the world, I think.  I bought mine at the Perugina Factory outlet in Perugia

Buon Appetito!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saturday, Feb 2, 2013 Torta Nicciola at Istituto Italiano di Cultura Los Angeles

To celebrate a birthday for Saturday morning's Italian lesson, I made this Italian cake. It was delicious! Buonissima!!

Torta di Nicciola
(Hazel Nut/Almond Cake with Orange Glaze) (Adapted from Tastes of Italia 4/2011)


4 eggs
½ C granulated sugar
1 C hazel nuts, toasted and ground into flour (or almonds, toasted)
½ C flour
1 t baking powder
2 T orange zest
1 T fresh orange juice
1 t vanilla

1 C powdered sugar
2 ½ T fresh orange juice (add only what is needed)
½ t almond extract
½ C chopped or slivered almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 F

Butter a 10 inch spring form pan and dust with flour.

Beat egg whites with the orange juice and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together egg yolks and sugar until almost foamy. Add ground hazelnuts, flour, baking powder and orange zest. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack.

Make frosting: Combine ingredients and frost top of cake. Frosting should drizzle down sides of cake.
To toast Hazel nuts: Preheat oven to 350F. Place nuts in a single layer on a baking pan. Bake 10-15 minutes or until skins are blistered. Remove from oven and immediately wrap the nuts in a wet kitchen towel. Let steam for 1 minute. Rub nuts in the towel to remove loose skins. Don’t worry if not all skins come off. Discard skin debris. Cool nuts and chop until like flour.