Italians don’t need much of an excuse to get together and share good food – they do it most days – but 2nd June is significant in the modern history of Italy as it commemorates when, in 1946, after the second world war and the downfall of fascism, Italians went to the polls to vote to either retain the monarchy or to abolish it and form a republic. Festa della Repubblica, a national holiday held every year 2nd June, celebrates the formation of the republic of Italy. It also marks the start of summer and families get together all over Italy to enjoy the day, if only for the good food. It’s certainly so with my Italian family!
This weekend in New Zealand we have our own holiday to commemorate the Queen’s birthday. No, it’s not summer, but it’s a great time to cook and gather friends and families. So I’m posting some of my favourite Italian recipes to enjoy this weekend. Kids? Reel them in for a long lunch. Old rellies you haven’t seen in a hundred years? Invite them over, they’ll be thrilled. Bunch of friends you owe a meal? Ring them up and have them at yours. A long weekend mid-winter is the perfect time to be in the kitchen cooking up a storm and filling the house with tempting aromas.
One thing I love about good recipes is that they never die. They might undergo a few tweaks here and there over the years, but they don’t lose their heart. And so it is with erbazzone. I could write an ode to it, such is its captivation. Basically it is just onion, spinach, parmesan and pastry, simple stuff, but it’s the way it is put together that turns it into magic. If you tried the recipe for rag noodles posted last week (What? You mean you haven’t?) you will appreciate how Italian dishes often consist of few ingredients but how every one is in there for a reason, and you can taste it. Same thing with erbazzone. Serve it in small squares with glasses of bubbly and watch for the smiles.
I also love how the Italians sort of ‘stew’ vegetables in white wine and olive oil, rather than drowning them in water as we tend to do, thereby retaining all the flavour instead of half it being washed off in the water and going down the sink when the vegetables are drained. Try the witloof. My god it’s good.
I’ve also included a polenta pie. This combines our classic puttanesca sauce (every Italian family has their own way of making it) with layers of polenta and fried eggplant and handfuls of parmesan. It’s rich and satisfying and just the thing for chilly nights. Earmark the sauce for regular pasta meals, too.
The chocolate cake from Capri is one of those recipes that was discovered, then lost, then discovered again. During the summer of 1975, fresh off the boat from New Zealand, I traipsed around Italy on my own and had a mixed bag of experiences. Naples was thrilling, scary, mind-blowing, and damn it, I ran out of money. I often wonder how different my life would have been had I taken a job offered to me on the island of Capri. I didn’t take it because I didn’t want to get stuck in one place. Ha! That was a joke as I got stuck in Naples instead, staying at a hostel while I waited for money to come through. Clichéd it may sound, but the food on Capri was astonishingly good: glisteningly fresh fish, the reddest tomatoes, the creamiest mozzarella, and cakes sweet enough to find cavities you didn’t know you had. And that’s where I discovered this almond cake, sweet, nutty, chocolatey with a fresh note of lemon, an ingredient which the island is famous for. I’ve been making it a lot lately and thought it was time to share it.
So a handful of great recipes to enjoy which have been going on in my family for years and are good enough to carry on for a whole lot more. Drink to the Queen, or lack of one, to family and friends, life and love, this weekend.