Here we are! Ready with a new topic for our October’s #cucinaconversations.
How many things to talk about. October is the month I love best. For many reasons. Lots of family birthdays, new scents in the air, colors. Moods that, in this month more than the others, seem like always playing on a swing.
I’ve just come back from a great trip in the mountains of Serra San Bruno were my family an I join the third edition of the Festa del Fungo sagra, organized by the local Pro Loco – a wonderful experience that my children will remember for such a long time. I carry with me, in my mind a lots of emotions … and many, many mushrooms.
Serra San Bruno is a place where peace and love are in the air. Walking down the tree-lined avenue leading from the Certosa’s monastry, home of an ancient cloistered monastic order, founded by Saint Bruno of Cologne, to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Bosco, it feels in harmony with one’s life. A mystical and peaceful place just close my town. My place of thoughts. The tree lined avenue smells of undergrowth and cyclamen. Among the falling leaves, ideas bloom. The inhabitants of Serra have already lit stoves and fireplaces. Anywhere you can see people preparing wood stocks for the long and cold Serrese winter.
As soon as I came home the sun hits me with violence. It’s hot more than the summer. It’s hot like in August. And it suddenly saddens me a bit. Seasons, for those who live near sea areas, are always bizarre. Every day a seesaw of climate changing. And then there are those who call us meteorosensitivity.
But never mind the time. Last year, these days, we were in full olive harvest season . My family’s olive grove gave his best: a scented oil, with a delicate taste, and a golden color. Simply perfect. An Oil that we hadn’t seen since a while.
If, from one side I’m grateful to nature for the well-deserved rest, to the other I miss the smell of the days spent under the olive trees. My back that almost breaks at evening, but rest, what a joy.
I’m talking about olives because usually, days of intense harvesting coincide with the beginning of November. And precisely during Ognissanti week. If it rains in those days, it is a really mess. Given to the frenetic activity of the period, no one stay in his kitchen, cooking delicacies. In the oldest times, olive oil’s pickers started their working day, early in the morning. They only brought in their bags some bread, salami, cheese and brine’s olive.
Nowadays you can find a joy in harvesting olive with your family. Doing a great pic nic under a big olive tree, like an authentic Italian southern: Pasta Ripiena with meatball, the tablecloth on the grass and of course a great appetizer, which remained the same from years: salami, cheese and brine’s olive. Modern times you could say. Times of plenty and frivolity. But, how beautiful they are!
In my village, Maierato, therefore, we do not have a real traditional dish for these festivity days. But, in the neighboring Pizzo took place, and still takes place, the most important fair of the district: the All Saints Fair. Every year thousands of visitors are expected, and the whole city is in fest. From my village, people went to Pizzo mainly to buy or sell animals. If the sale went well, one would also do a little of old and healthy shopping. From the Fair, people never came back without a little package of sweets, called Ossa dei Morti, bones of the dead.
When I was a child, these sweets scared me. So much than I never ate them. A real delicacy, according to many. And I am sure of this, but eyes want their part. And this sweets are very realistic, they really seem bones.
To my October’s #CucinaConversations post I choose to write about a topic that is very common to the south of Italy, a kind of biscuits that has a name that sound quite the same, but that is different in taste and in the making and baking process.
Traditional of Serra San Bruno, during this period and throughout the winter season, are ‘NZULLI biscuits. In Sicily they make ‘Nzuddi biscuits during the All Saints day, but in Sicilian Pastry you can also find that kind of colorful marzapane fruit, named Frutta Martorana delicious and so beautiful. You can read something about this sicilian Marzapane fruit tradition on ViaggiArt blog by Eliana Iorfida.
In my village, Maierato, Nonna Mena made ‘NZUDI during all the year round, whenever she wanted.
The ‘Nzudi pronunciation is really special. Imagine a N which is a bit ‘hard to articulate, the Tongue is trying to push behind the teeth but without finding the vowel sound. Soon gives way to the affricate consonant Z.
Calabrian and Sicilian are very accustomed to this sounds.
To be honest my grandmother never did other sweets but ‘Nzudi. Nonna Mena didn’t love to put her hands in paste. She baked cookies and bread in her big wood-oven. Often, when she had done bread for the family she also did ‘Nzudi. Heating the wood-oven was an hard job and after have baked the bread it was half done. Nonna Mena doesn’t do ‘Nzudi right now, it’s too hard for her, but she still does a poor and fast cooking. Almost…Rude. With no long and pretentious preparations, and even less scrupulous. Decorations and recipes do not exist. Every time is a changing, something more or less, and that’s why none of us is able to replicate her dishes. And it is for the same reason that her cooking has the best taste of all time, the one of rare things.
‘Nzulli, ‘Nzuddi, ‘Nzudi preparing process might seem the same. Well, it is not. In Sicily, for example, they use almond paste. Serra San Bruno has a secret recipe made of only flour, sugar and almonds, no eggs, no butter; my Grandma has none at all.
To Establish mine it hasn’t been easy. I had to do many tests.
First of all, I used my grandmother’s recipe / method, as better I remember. Choppend almond and brown sugar are my personal touch.
300 g flour
150 g sugar
1 tablespoon of lard
50g chopped almonds
1 teaspoon of ammonia
1/2 glass of milk in which to dissolve ammonia
pinch of salt
handful of almonds
brown sugar for decoration
Preheat the oven to 180° for about 30 minutes
If you do not have a good mixer you can buy the ready chopped almonds.
Place in a large bowl the flour, sugar and chopped almond. Mix the powders and add the tablespoon of lard. My grandmother has never used butter in her cooking. In Maierato’s cooking traditions, lard and olive oil were the only fat used in cooking. My Grandma with lard fry slightly, prepare sauces and omelettes only in her terracotta tianeda. Try to fry potatoes in it. Lard has a high smoke point which makes it perfect for frying. My mom still prepare it with the old method, slowly melting the fat extracted from the rind of the pig. Since from the pig does not throw anything away, neither before nor after, from lard used for frying is obtained a wonderful home made soap. I think it is definitely an ingredient that has to be revalued in cooking. You can easily find it in the store. I often use Lard in pizza dough, instead of olive oil. It gives to the dough a wonderful texture and crunchiness, that my kids love.
Well, after talked about the Lard, come back to our ‘Nzudi. For those who don’t love lard, butter is also fine. I’m sure my grandmother does not complain. Now add an egg, the milk in which you melted ammonia. Be careful to its smell, it pinches the nose. Mix well to obtain a compact dough.
Classic Grandma ‘Nzudi do not have a perfect shape. She often made them of rectangular shapes. You can do as you prefer. I did some little balls like, Sicilian ones, and other rectangular. Take a baking tin and cover with some baking paper. With a fork make incisions on biscuits surface, like a scrape. Brush lightly with water and sprinkle with brown sugar. Put the almond, making a light pressure with the finger, so the almond will not come off during the baking. I did some biscuits without almonds, they dip better in milk.
Preheat the oven at 180° and bake for about 30 minutes.
Taste ‘Nzudi with a good Passito wine or dip them in milk for your breakfast, and if you have some mascarpone cream leftover from a tiramisù, you can create a cup with ‘Nzudi and mascarpone cheese. What a delight!
Other Cucina Conversations recipe:
Il Castagnaccio TurinMamma by Rosemarie
Savoiardi the Heirloom Chronicles by Carmen
Fave dei Morti Italian Kiwi By Lisa
Necci con la Ricotta La Dani Gourmet, by Daniela
Apple Torta Sbrisolona Flavia’s Flavors by Flavia
Fettuccine con Zucca e Porcini Pancakes and Biscotti by Francesca
Join and Share our monthly #CucinaConversations and enjoy with us in this special time of the year.
This post is also available in: English