Posts tagged ‘Germany’

November 23, 2011

Apple strudel

Apple strudel

A while ago, Sigrid asked her readers to share a grandmother’s recipe for an apple cake or pie. Adding the link, I realized it was quite a while ago, much longer than what I intended; on the other hand, this is just the best period ever for making apple cakes. I actually have two of those recipes that are part of my tradition; they both are recipes my mother regularly made for me. One of them is a simple, moist apple cake, perfect for dunking in milk. I think the recipe comes from my grandmother, but who knows where she took it.

The other recipe is a more challenging and ‘grown up’ dessert: strudel di mele. Strudel is a thin layer of dough rolled with something in it; it can be savoury, or more often sweet. Most people are accustomed to the variety made with puff pastry, quite greasy and sugary, which I don’t particularly like. The original has a thinner, less fat dough, quite common in the (also) German-speaking part of Italy and in Austria. In the regions where Austria met the Balkans, like Slovenia, an even thinner version is wide-spread, with almost no fat in it: actually, given that Wikipedia traces the origin of strudel to Levantine pastries like baklava, this is probably the most faithful version. The recipe we use in my family definitely belongs to the latter group; it comes straight from a lady who ran from the occupied Istria to Italy at some point. She was Italian – or rather, she spoke Italian as a first language, but her hair was blonde, almost white, and her eyes were blue; I’m not sure whether she would have considered herself being Italian, since these otherwise straightforward adjectives can be quite unaccurate and very dangerous  when applied to some sensitive parts of the world.  Her granddaughter is my mom’s best friend. She too is blond, in a way very few Italians are.

August 16, 2011

Ode to objects

Shallots and knife

I don’t think of myself as a particularly material person. I know money is important to make life easier, and to provide security, but I don’t like possession per se. I find objects burden me: move a couple of times and you’ll understand how literal this phrase is meant to be. I deeply dislike the process of ‘going shopping’. I do, on the other hand, develop an affection to some objects, a bit insane sometimes. (Let us agree that books, and especially cookbooks, don’t count as objects, right?). We have fixed our vacuum cleaner more times than I can remember. It is an old model and it is easy to dismantle, which means there are fewer parts that can break and  we are able to fix it by ourselves. I actually cried when we eventually had to give up our first, beloved car, a trustworthy companion of so many adventures throughout Europe and the first car I ever seriously drove.

Good objects, working objects, can make life so much easier: they can be trusted to be there for you when you need them. And when you think about it, there is such a high degree of intelligence in an object performing the purpose it was built for, and performing it gloriously.

When I moved to Germany I wanted to buy a knife. I was moving close to Solingen, where some of the best knifes in the world are forged.  It took me two years to win my shopping laziness and actually buy one. I regret each and every single day of me not possessing this knife. Before that, I owned a set of small serrated knives that were on my grandfather’s house, used by my parents as a spare set for the summer holidays. An Ikea bread knife, awful. A big white-handled cheap supermarket knife, bought on a hot day together with too big a slice of watermelon, in Trieste; light and unbalanced. A small, decent knife, not very expensive but still bought in a shop selling knives only, that fell and broke its tip after two days of using it. Not bad, but too small and without its most useful part.

Now I have this gorgeous, sharp, perfectly balanced piece of German steel. I have to recognize that Germans can make great products, an ability I find totally fascinating. I have a soft spot for the idea of manufacturing objects, putting research and passion and care in it. It is somehow opposed to the not-so-solid marketing babble we are constantly exposed to, dressing up most of the items we can actually buy. These are products so good, that they’d sell themselves: no need for advertisement.

Anyway, I did spend a relative high amount of money in this knife. Money well spent, every cent of it – and still cheap compared to some of the Japanese knives I’ve seen on sale in Düsseldorf . If I manage not to make it fall, I know this knife will last me a lifetime and then some more. I actually find myself looking forward to the opportunity to go and chop something. The first time I cut a tomato with it, I understood that so far I’ve just been smashing tomatoes, not cutting them.

No recipe today, but please, go and buy a good knife if you don’t have one. I wish I had given myself this piece of advice years ago. By the way, the shallots and mushrooms in the pictures were for a filling of cannelloni, together with some ricotta and spinach. Yummy!

The pictures are in black and white – still a total beginner with it, but Black and White Wednesdays is  tempting me week after week, and some of the work there is just amazing.
New knife, mushrooms

September 7, 2010

Fusion food, or maybe not

Gulash

Unfortunately, it looks like summery really is over. The weather is so chilly and rainy and grey that I feel like warmth and comfort dishes. This is exactly what I want to tuck into when I am so cold and in need of energy. I have always eaten it, I have always cooked it. It is one of the few meat based food I prepare regularly and I often fall back on it when I have to feed the crowds. It is surprisingly adaptable to different occasions, from the home meal to the formal dinner. Everyone seems to like it.

I had never realized just how widespread this dish is. It is probably one of the staples in central Europe. Funny enough, outside its ‘natural’ area of diffusion, it is not an easy dish to come by.

Goulash is a soup or stew with hungarian origin, or at least, solidly, a Hungarian name. I was vaguely aware it does not classify as ‘standard Italian cooking’, but  it was quite common at my home.  But actually my mother is quite an adventurous cook, who was preparing chinese food in Milan in the eighties way before it was a common thing to do, and is now perfecting her okonomiyaki making skills. Anyway, at that time goulash did not sound adventurous. It is  one of my childhood flavours.

July 18, 2010

Red fruits

Red fruit compote

Whenever I travel back to Italy, I gorge on fruit. My favourite season is the beginning of summer. In June you’ll get apricots and the first peaches and figs, but also cherries and the last strawberries. Don’t forget the not very popular abroad nespole. Also melons are present, even though not at their best yet. Autumn brings its share of pleasures: the end of the summer usually means the best figs, pears, prunes and peaches. The season evolves into grapes, apples and mandarins, and also in winter you can find comfort in oranges.

When I moved abroad I was disheartened. Fruit was almost all imported, which means expensive and flavorless. It is true that I could find rhubarb, but there is only that much rhubarb that a girl can enjoy. Spring arrived and went  and no cherries made their appearance. I was ready to face a gloomy cherry-less summer. Also for strawberries,  possibly my favourite fruit, I was ready for the season to come and go in a blink of eyes.

But how wrong I was. How wrong.

May 27, 2010

Shopping in Düsseldorf

Matcha Creme brulee ingredientsOne of the benefits of the place I currently live in, is that it is very near to Düsseldorf. The city is not know for its beauty, and for what I have seen so far, it is rightfully so (but I’m always open to surprises, especially pleasant ones, so if you are of different advice, please do leave whatever suggestion you have).  On the other hand,  Düsseldorf  is well-known for being a shopping heaven. I’m not exactly a fashion addict: I tend to get really attached to my clothes, and use them until they fall literally to pieces and sometimes beyond that, and I am able to wear only what I feel comfortable with; foodwise, though, I am the ‘shop-till-you-drop’ girl type, ready to fork out for a new ingredient. Düsseldorf hosts a big Japanese community, with a whole street where writing in Japanese is actually more common than writing in German.

May 14, 2010

Spargel und Schinken

spargel und schinkenGerman food is most of the times very simple and quite hearty. At least in this region, the simpler, the better. Local ingredients are superlative and they don’t really need much more than a simple cooking. Germans know that and they love to eat tons of their best ingredients when they are in season. It is hard to describe the obsession around asparagus right now. I mean, also in other countries you see asparagus everywhere when the season comes, but you don’t see ‘Hier Deutsche Spargel’ on the windows of every shop remotely related to food. Remotely. If they sell something edible, you can bet they’d offer you asparagus right now.

December 5, 2009

Christmas Markets

Marzipan from the marketGermany is famous for its Christmas Markets. It is not very clear to me how touristic they are:  many similar occasions are totally tourist oriented in Italy. Not that this is always a bad thing – tourism brings money and contanct with people from other places, and it is often a great opportunity to save traditions that are just too clumsy or overpriced for the locals.

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October 6, 2009

Confined!

So i left, in the end. There are things I know I’ll miss enormously, but for now, the obvious thing I do miss is … guess what? And now well, also Melissa, she gets in a new home and she bakes, and wow! thank you, I know, nothing like the smell of apple pie makes you feel at home, or if you really are Italian, smell of lasagne in the oven, or at most pastiera, but what if you have no oven? If you barely have a kitchen?

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