As you may have seen from this week’s video, on Saturday I attended the annual white truffle festival in Città di Castello, the area around which is renowned for the quality of its truffles. A facebook friend of mine recently asked me ‘Why are mouldy old lumps scrabbled from the autumn ground the source of ecstasy for some?’ and indeed this is some people’s view of truffles. However, there has to be a reason why they have become such prized and valuable commodities, and that reason is the taste.
These almond biscuits from Umbria are traditionally served on November 2, the feast of All Souls day, hence the name which means beans of the dead.
Fave dei Morti
250g (2 2./3 cups) ground almonds
250g (1 1/8 cups) granulated sugar
175g (1 1/4 cups) plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 lemon zest
10g (2/3 tablespoon) butter, melted
3 egg whites
- Mix the almonds, sugar, flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, and lemon zest together in a bowl.
- Add the egg and melted butter and stir to combine.
- Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and then combine with the rest of the ingredients to make a dough.
- Knead the dough until it becomes firm.
- Shape the dough into bean shapes and place on a baking tray.
- Bake at 150–160°C (300–320°C) for 25 minutes. Leave to cool completely before serving.
In 1439, a council of the Greek and Roman churches was called at Florence. According to legend, during the meeting, the Bishop of Florence proudly served his local communion wine to one of the Greek bishops who proclaimed, ‘What lovely wine! It’s xantho! (yellow)’. The Florentines, mishearing the greek adjective as santo (holy), took this as a pronouncement of quality rather than colour, and the wine has been known as vin santo ever since.
When I started this blog, I decided to call it Chestnuts and Truffles because these are the two major local products here in this corner of Tuscany. In fact the name Marrone di Caprese Michelangelo, (marrone being a cultivated chestnut) is protected in Italy with a DOP status. I could easily have called it Chestnuts and Mushrooms, or Chestnuts and Wild Boar, because those things are in abundance here too: but I also had in mind a signature soup recipe that I developed a while back and which I am going to share with you today.
Summer in Italy is a time for festivals. Up and down the peninsula, the sun brings communities out of their houses to join together in celebration of the many fine things Italian culture has to offer. How and what they celebrate is as varied as Italian cuisine, and just as regional. In the south of Italy, many of the festivals centre around the church, with saintly statues carried carefully through the streets to ancient music, usually culminating in massive firework displays. The streets themselves become like churches, filled with flowers, brocades, and more statues, bringing the inside out in an expression of faith.