Last year, you may remember, I was in Padua searching for its most famous traditional cake whilst waiting for the rain to stop. It was almost impossible to find the pazientina but a long search led me to one of the last patisseries still making it and the only one I could find. Imagine my surprise then when a few days ago I came across the cake in Venice.
This weekend I had some friends from out of town visiting and wanted to cook something typically Venetian. I planned to serve the mazzancolle in saor from the last post, a risotto al nero di seppia—more about that in a later post—but what about the dessert? Everyone loves tiramisù it’s true, but I am a little bored making it. So I decided to come up with a completely original dessert. Something within the Venetian tradition and connected with the city’s rich history and culture. And so the Tintoretto was born.
See Naples and … well, eat! As well as having the reputation for being one of the most lively and naturally beautiful cities in Italy, Naples is also considered by Italians to be one of the foodie centers of the peninsula. I recently spent a weekend in the shadow of Vesuvius and here are my top five must eats if you are visiting the city.
It has become one of my fundamental beliefs that you cannot find croissants in Italy. There are things that look like croissants, usually called brioche or cornetti, served up and down the country for breakfast in bars, but buy one and you will soon discover the difference between these sweetmeats and the traditional salt-and-butter French classics. And by croissant, I mean the full-fat, full-French version.
Italian brioche are sweet, with sugar in the pastry and usually a glaze of apricot jam on top. To satisfy the Italian sweet tooth they often come with crema pasticcera or apricot jam inside: to have a plain one you need to ask for an empty one, or una vuota. French croissants are slightly salty and made with lashings of fresh butter which means that they melt in your mouth and don’t stick to the roof of it. Having spent two years living in Paris, for me the Italian ones just don’t cut the butter and croissants are one of the very few things I miss.
Last week I was invited by Eating Italy Food Tours to take part in their new guided tour, The Other Side of Florence. The tour covers two quarters of the Oltrarno area, San Frediano and Santo Spirito on the southern side of the river, and area not usually visited by tourists despite their proximity to the city centre. Most people cross the river only to visit the Pitti Palace, or Brancacci Chapel before returning to the bright lights of the northern side of the river. But in the Oltrarno area you find the real Florence: an area which has surprisingly managed to avoid gentrification to retain its character.
As I said in the last post, the name of this cake, Pazientina or ‘little patience’ possibly derives from the fact that it takes a little while to make. So, as it was my mother’s birthday this weekend, I thought it was an appropriate item to make as her birthday cake.