Blog / Diario Italiano | Al Dente Italian Cooking Classes & Events | Italian cooking classes, team buildings, hen parties
Search
  • Al Dente by Raffaela Delmonte / info@aldente.co.nz
  • +64 21 213 9111
Search Menu

Easter in Piedmont

& the singing of the eggs

The small village of Verduno, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, is situated on a cliff that dominates the large valley of the Tanaro River. In this region, the culture has been developed from the cultivation of the grapes. It is the changing of the seasons that marks the rhythm of life of its inhabitants.

Here at Easter, there is an ancient custom known as cantare le uova – ‘singing for the eggs’. Easter coincides with the beginning of spring, when work in the fields recommences slowly. The desire to remain outdoors after the winter torpor, arises once more. During the days preceding Easter, the local youth gather into groups and go from farm to farm in the hope of receiving fresh eggs in exchange for their songs. Spontaneous group bands together armed with unusual musical instruments (saucepans and lids), and with large baskets, plant themselves at the front door. Here, amongst the chickens scratching about in the courtyard and the dogs barking, they began to sing: ‘We have left our homes in the light of the fading day to come and greet you and wish you a good day’.


Il rito di questua delle uova, più spiccatamente pasquale è quello piemontese di CANTÈ J’OV – CANTÈ J’EUV.

Begging for eggs is just a pretext as the expected reward is the invitation to come in and brighten up the evening; maybe sharing a bottle of wine and something to eat. Tradition dictates that the bands are composed of the following set characters; the Viandante (traveller) with his flowing overcoat and his wide-brimmed hat, the Contadino (peasant) in raggedy work clothes, the Signore (nobleman) who patronise the shabby and lame Frate (monk). It is the latter who has the task of blessing the generous donors and looks after the egg basket, which aren’t so much donations as a repayment is due for the provided entertainment. The rhyming stanzas of the songs, which celebrate the most significant events of the family they are visiting, are not always well received. Thus, the egg seekers are not always invited in and this outcome can’t go unpunished.  When this occurs the Frate performs a lively curse along the lines of: che si secchi il culo delle tue galline – ‘may your hens’ arse dry up’. According to tradition, these eggs on the day of Pasquetta (Easter Monday), are used to prepare large frittata that will be eaten up during the celebrations in the piazza – the village square.  The now milder night carries sense of renewal in the air, and in the same way, the eggs, which symbolise rebirth and fertility, will bring baby chicks in the aia – farm courtyard – and something more to eat.

Try this Piemontese Easter recipe!

Salame di Papa

A typical piedmont easter treat:

Among the many sweets typical of the pasticcera of Piedmont that are prepared for Easter, we find the luscious Salame di Papa – ‘The Pope’s Salami’. It is a sweet chocolate salami that was once prepared by housewives, especially in the winter season. The dessert was served to guests in the afternoon and evening with a small glass of Moscatello or dry Marsala. Its name probably derives from the fact that when a dish is good it is called boccone del prete – ‘the priest’s bite of food’, and when you eat well it is said to ‘eat by God‘ or ‘by the Pope’.

The recipe

Ingredients:
– 200g butter
– 200g dry biscuits like Arnotts ‘Nice’ biscuits
– 300 g sweetened cocoa powder
– 300g hazelnuts
– 2 tbsp orange or mandarin liqueur
– 1 egg yolk

Method:
– Firstly, toast your hazelnuts in the oven, then grind them in a blender until chunky
– Add your biscuits to a bowl and with a rolling pin, crush them until they are crumbled
– Soften the butter and in a large bowl, incorporate all the ingredients one at a time; crushed biscuits, toasted hazelnuts, egg yolk, sweetened cocoa powder, and orange or mandarin liqueur
– Knead all the ingredients and note that if the dough is too hard, add a little more liqueur. If the dough is too soft and sticky, add more crushed biscuits
– Continue to knead the dough, trying to form it into a shape similar to that of a salami
– Once you’re happy with the shape, let your wonderful chocolate salami rest in the fridge overnight
– Finally, remove the salami from the fridge half an hour before serving, slice it thin and accompany it with a glass of Asti or Moscato Passito

NZ Road Trip – Part 2

Maruia Hot Springs Lodge

When I put my skis on, I am 16 again and, sometimes, speeding down the slopes, I feel the urge to compete again, even if it’s just with myself.

Me with my parents on my first set of skiis in Italy

Unfortunately, this time around, I wasn’t in my 16-year-old body (or mind) that would hit the ice-crusted snow at high speeds. I was in my much older body that laid on the slope to deal with a dislocated shoulder. As a result, we decide to hit the road early and drive along the West Coast. As we drove on SH7 along the inland route from Christchurch to the West Coast, the scenery changed dramatically. We left behind the open space of the Central Otago, with the snow-capped mountains that crowned the empty golden grasslands and the light turquoise colour of the lakes. We were now in the dense rain forest that dominated the steep valleys at the bottom of which lay out washed gravel deposited by the glacial action.

Photo from Maruia Hot Springs and Lodge website

Our stop for the evening was the ‘Maruia Hot Springs and Lodge’. Located on Lewis Pass, the complex was immersed in a lush beech trees forest, high above the river and surrounded by rugged mountains. According to the information leaflet, this site has been a place of relaxation and healing for centuries. It was firstly used by Maori as a place to heal battle wounds, recover from trauma and rest in the comfort of hot mineral springs.

In the late 1800’s European settlers built thermal health and rehabilitation bathhouses. The natural hot water is piped across the river and its temperature is reduced with cold water.

The water in the rock bathing pools is speckled with black algae of the same family as spirulina with a variety of health benefits. The bonus is that, in the middle of the winter, there are no sand-flies! The bathing complex includes a dry and a infra-red sauna, an indoor pool, and a relaxation area.  The rooms are simple but comfortable. Powered by their own hydroelectric power, with an almost 360-degree mountain view, each one fitting harmoniously into the surroundings.

Our evening bathing session is followed by their house-made ‘Heaven & Earth’ kombucha, home baked pizza and one of the best lamb stews I’ve had on this holiday.

Back at home, while recovering from the accident, I’ve comforted myself with one of my favourite Lamb recipes: Fricassea di Agnello. Lamb Stew with Egg and Lemon.

The term fricassee refers to the addition, just before serving, of lemon juice and egg to create a thick and creamy gravy.

Fricassea di Agnello

(This recipe serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo lamb shoulder (or other stew meat) cut into cubes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Flour (rice flour for a GF version)
  • White wine and water
  • Salt and pepper

For the egg and lemon finish:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
  • A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Begin with a soffritto, by gently sauteeing the onion in the olive oil.
  2. Then add the lightly floured cubes of lamb meat and turn up the heat a bit. Allow the meat to brown slightly, then add a glass of dry white wine and allow it to evaporate completely.
  3. Add enough water to almost cover the meat, lower the flame and cover. Let the lamb braise until tender, normally about 1 and ½ hours. Add a bit more water if needed, to have enough liquid for the final step.
  4. Cook until the meat is fork tender, then remove from the heat.

The trickiest part of this dish is the final addition of the lemon and egg mixture.

  • In a bowl, beat egg yolks with the lemon juice, then pour the mixture immediately over the lamb and stir, until well incorporated.
  • Return to the burner over very low heat and keep stirring gently, until the egg has thickened the cooking liquid into a smooth, silky consistency. Do not let it cook too long or the egg may curdle.
  • Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately

Note: You can prepare the stew in advance and reheat when you are ready to serve it

Winter roadie! (Part 1)

For almost 20 years, New Zealand winter season has been the perfect time to visit family in Italy and lie on the beach. But for the past few years, we have decided to turn to our childhood winter activity: skiing. As last year, we planned to drive down to the deep south (from Auckland), instead of flying. Four days to reach our favourite winter destination, Wanaka, and discovering some new exciting parts of NZ along the way.

Activities for our first day included strolling along the incredibly clear water at the blue springs, at Putaruru, and the Redwood Treewalk at night in Rotorua. Suspended high above the forest floor, we walked across bridges and platforms, illuminated by floating lanterns designed by sustainability champion David Trubridge.

The morning after, heavy rain along the desert road prevented us to appreciate the view of the majestic volcanoes of the Central Plateau, but as our ferry entered the Queen Charlotte Sound, we were welcomed by jumping dolphins and we were rewarded with a picture perfect; colourful and clear sunset. South Island was welcoming us.

The ocean road from Picton to Kaikoura was beaming with wild life. Marveling at the close encounter with the noisy, clumsy, smelly but nevertheless intriguing seals was a highlight. The fresh crayfish served at the roadside beach caravan was the perfect lunch spot.

Day four is the final leg, Christchurch to Wanaka. As we drove across the passes, the excitement escalated. Lunch on this day was at the ‘Fairlie Bakehouse’ to eat only the best pie in the South Canterbury region. It would be rude not to take a brief stop at Tekapo to admire the unreal colour of the lake. This is also the first encounter with the smell of snow and the vastity of the Mackenzie country.

The arrival to Wanaka feels like a warm welcome back to what we consider our winter home. Last year we have spent 3 entire months here and this has allowed us to live the town and its surrounding as the locals do. Adam and Eve’s breakfast croissants, the espresso at the Coffee Shack, the relaxed lunch at Federal diner, the fresh beer after a rewarding day of skiing at Treble Cone… But our favourite experience remains the freshly baked scones paired with a glass of mulled wine at the ‘Wineglass café’ of the Edgewater resort.

Mulled wine, vin brule’ in Italian, is very popular in almost every town of the Italian Alps and is part of my childhood memories. Although I never really drink it in Auckland, I have brought the recipes with me from Bormio, the ski area I used to go as a child in the Valtellina region.

Vin Brûlé

Ingredients:
– 1 litre of full-bodied red wine (the Italian Primitivo is my fave but Syrah works well)
– 7 cloves
– 2 cinnamon sticks
– 3 aniseed
– 1 lemon (for the zest)
– 1 orange
– A pinch of grated nutmeg
– 3/4 cup sugar

Method:
In a wide but low saucepan place the sugar, grated lemon rind, sliced orange, spices and then pour the wine. Bring the wine slowly to boiling point, stirring continuously.

Shortly before the boiling point, remove the pot from the stove and let it stand for approx. 2 hours or overnight so that the spices can infuse. Strain the spices, reheat and enjoy.

NOTE: For a non-alcohol version try the cherry juice!

Easy as pizza dough – what can go wrong??

The decision to move to New Zealand was the perfect opportunity to realize my dream of opening a cooking school to both share my love for cooking and at the same time to keep the link with my homeland. As I would later explain in the introduction of my book:

‘Cooking… is the subtle thread which united my diverse family, as well as the only proven method of communicating the continuity of our traditions to my daughters, by recreating that special atmosphere made possible only when you are seated around the table with those you love’.[1]

I completed the qualification at the Institute for the Promotion of Italian food Culture and I was very confident in my knowledge. Or so I thought.

On our way to New Zealand, on July 1998, while we were waiting for the container with all our material belonging to get to our new home, we stopped in Greece to farewell the Northern Hemisphere summer and then we arrived in Sydney. We booked a B&B in North Sydney where we intended to visit the area, but soon both Martha and Giulia got sick and we were forced to stay inside for a few days. Our lovely hosts were very intrigued with our choice of leaving Italy to move to New Zealand, a country they consider ‘20 years behind the rest of the world’ and very impressed with my plans of opening a cooking school. As it happens, they loved Italian food, so, they decided to host what would be my first ‘Italian cooking class’.

Making pizza in our outdoor pizza oven

What a perfect occasion to wear my ‘chef hat’ and test my ability to share a trick or two. Pizza and fresh pasta were the easier and most popular choice. In theory, these recipes do not require any special ingredients, even back in 1998. Our guests kindly agreed to take me to the grocery shop and even advised me on what type of flour to buy. The fresh pasta dough proved simple enough and my hosts managed to find a sort of antique pasta machine that egregiously did the job. Then it was time to make the pizza dough. Fresh from my course on elaborated brioche and bread variety, I felt that making pizza dough could pose no threat. Under my professional supervision, everyone began kneading the dough which, strangely, began to rise even before adding the yeast. Its consistency was different from what I was used to, but after all, we were cooking ‘down-under’ and minor differences were to be expected. No big deal. Little did I know that something called ‘self-raising flour’ existed, and that it already contains a raising agent. Instead of a thin and crusty pizza, the result was an Italian version of a British scone, topped with tomato mozzarella and basil.


[1] Raffaela Delmonte ‘The Fragrance of Basil – Food and Memories of my Italian Childhood’ – Penguin 2002.