Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sgute Calabresi

Plenty of eggs, thanks to Nonno's chickens.

Sgute are an Easter tradition in our family and we simply could not have Easter without them.  All of the neighbourhood kids, even the big ones, get one of these sweet breads.  

To make sgute, you need alot of eggs.  The dough is rich with egg and the finished bread nests an egg or two (or three) in each sguta.  If you are having a large gathering, you can bake an impressive form similar to some of those made in Siderno (where, of course there's a festival) by twisting two long lengths of dough into a large intertwined ring with about a dozen eggs embedded in the final baked sweet treat. Or you can attempt any of the more decorative and artistic shapes seen here. (Molte grazie a Cuore di Panna per le foto).

You will need a very large bowl (2 is more convenient) for dough, a big bowl for the sugar mixture, a large glass liquid measure for the yeast and at least two large baking sheets. A flexible dough scraper is also handy. Start the dough the night before.  Have all of your ingredients at room temperature (including the whole eggs that will be baked in the dough).  If you forget, they can be tempered in very warm water for several minutes beforehand. You will need about 18-24 eggs for placing into the dough.

For dough, proof yeast.

3oz of traditional yeast (I've used 2 oz with success)
250mL lukewarm water

Mix well, cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes until bubbly.

Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer) cream together 225g of lard or vegetable shortening with 4 scant cups of sugar until light.  Add 4 teaspoons of vanilla (or anise extract if you prefer).

Beat 10 eggs with 375mL water or milk and blend into fat and sugar mixture a little at a time.

Have your flour measured (the original recipe states q.b. of course..). I start with about 8 cups and ended up adding between 3-4c more.  Add all of your egg blend and yeast mixture to the initial 8c of flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add enough so that you get a dough that is still slightly tacky but not flowing.

Once the mixture comes together, I just use a dough scraper to fold the dough to get the above mentioned texture.  The dough should be manageable with lightly floured hands.

Place the dough into a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover with cling. Set somewhere at a slightly cool room temperature, not too warm or it may be overflowing in the morning.  Dough in my house (that is supposedly about 18C) likes 16 hours to rise but it is a slow moving dough so timing can be flexible. In these conditions it rises to fill the bowl by morning.

The dough after 16 hours proofing time.

When ready to bake, tip dough out onto lightly floured surface and cut in half.  Cover the section you are not using with cling.  Form the section you are using into a rough rectangle making sure the edges are as even as possible (not tapered). Slice lengths of dough about 3cm wide and 20-30cm long depending on how many eggs you wish to have per scuta. I like to use about 15-20cm per one egg and 25-30cm for 2 eggs.

The prep area. Keep the dough covered

For one egg, make a U-shape and place the egg in the bend, loop with the dough around the egg and fold/twist the leftover dough and make a cut at the bottom. It looks like the egg is wearing a scarf, it's a little tricky to describe - if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video is worth that and then some (Grazie Aurora Importing). Place the shaped dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Sgute like to be cozy - Proof under a teatowel or two.

Hundreds and thousands are essential.
Once the dough has proofed again on the backing tray for about an hour, brush with (what else?) an egg wash (whole egg) and, if you like, apply a liberal sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. My helpful 41/2 year old claims they are essential.  Bake in a 180C oven for about 30-40 minutes.  Dough will be lightly browned and the bottoms will sound hollow when tapped. The larger forms can be a little fragile when they first come out of the oven so they can set on the sheet for a minute or two and then moved gently to a cooling rack.   

The eggs should also be perfectly cooked (like hard boiled) and are a great protein breakfast before getting into the sweet bread with coffee or an espresso.  While the bread can be sliced and toasted, the sgute (and the eggs) are best the day they are made.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter.

Buona pasqua 2014 - Making sgute

Another Easter at La tavola.  Instead of providing the supporting cast of Easter goodies this year, we are making the main event, the sweet Paschal bread: sgute.  Easter sguta has long been a Calabrese tradition and Nonna makes then every year.  This year, she won't be baking but, thankfully, is still with us and recouperating remarkably after having an accident a little over a month ago.  We are counting our blessings. 

So, with a small, worn piece of paper from an old recipe box, a mountain of eggs and sweet dough that has taken all night to rise.. I'm up to my elbows and running out of places to set the large trays of proofing egg breads..

I'll let you know how it goes.  Two more recipes for variations here, with a video.

Buona Pasqua a tutti.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Smoke Part 1

My husband smokes.  I make him go outside, regardless of the weather.  But he insists. 

I don't object.  Afterall, I bought him the smoker.

Without a smoker, it's not impossible to recreate Kielbasa, a traditional and favourite sausage of our Polish neighbours, but having one makes the process easier.  At Christmas, while we are gearing up for January salami season, we are typically also planning some experiments.  A few years ago, kielbasa was one of them.  We shared it with our neighbours and a new tradition was born.

While I can only take credit for recipe development and some of the spicing and dicing, he does all the outside work.  So I have slices of this still warm ready with a baguette and a bottle conditioned belgian beer.  I find the spicy fruitiness in the brew compliments the smokey peppery sausage.  A great warming start to lunch after the tending in sub zero temperatures. 

Because baby, it's been polar vortex cold outside.

Keep warm Canada.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Calabrese zeppole, a lightly golden, tender, fried Christmas tradtion.
Fried dough goodness. That's zeppole.

Google 'zeppole' and you will find that fried dough is a treat in as many cultures as it is in regions in Italy. More commonly sweet, especially in Sicilia, the Calabrese version of my mother-in-law is not an addictive sugar dusted confection and the yeast risen dough always contains potatoes (initially added to stretch the wheat flour).

Potatoes make the dough a light airy affair and the plain fried dough itself is deliciously crisp. Already ideally made for beer, add the salty pungent nuggets of anchovy (or spicy bits of salami or 'ndjua), and you have an excuse for one more Peroni or Baladin. I'm happy to share a botttle of either but not the zeppole.  I can never have just one.

They signal Christmas and the days of family gatherings ahead.  Recipe to follow.

Buon Natale everyone!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Power of Sour - Sour Dough Bread Month

Elora Bread's Stonewell Spent Grain Loaf - specially baked for Taste Real

I'm all for bread.  I love it still warm from the oven in the form of rolls, a fresh loaf for sopping up sauce and toasted and drizzled with honey for breakfast.  And I waste neither crust nor crumb making custard bread puds and french toast and grateing oven dried slices for coating fish, chicken cutlets, veal chops, stuffed olives and other fried treats.

For plain old eating, the heel is my personal favourite.. 

The Italians in my life also have a thing for bread and what it represents.  From the shapes of traditional and celebratory loaves to the many expressions I hear on a regular basis 'A table without bread is like a day without sunshine..' or that the table is bare without it..

In the light of the upcoming month of sourdough in the UK and World Bread Day not long thereafter (October 16), I thought I'd pass along something I've discovered in my food science travels. The article addresses whether or not sour dough bread is really 'all that'.  In addition to supporting local bakeries that go through all the effort to maintain an age old art, turns out there are health merits afterall.

My local bakeries produce some absolutely stellar breads.  Before it's even in your gob, the colour and aroma of these deeply golden burnished and fragrant loaves is such that, you can't help but smile.  Regularly available in my neighbourhood are Polestar Hearth's gorgeous Country sour doughs and Superseed superbly seeded breads (check out their Vimeo posting).  You can join the CSA or purchase from a few retail outlets as well.  The Stone Store and Valeriote's Market on Yorkshire both carry the bread, you can call ahead for delivery dates/times.

However, if you live near or frequent the adorably vibrant Town of Elora, lucky you.  The Elora Bread Trading Co. will hopefully be opening it's doors in the coming months.  If you are among the few million FB inclined folks, you can follow the lovely ladies of the EBTC here.

A BIG thank you to the those artisans who keep loaves of sunshine in my life.

Happy Bread (however you choose to celebrate - baking, mopping and toasting) to all!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Parmigiano reggiano

Parmigiano Reggiano on display and for cutting at Le forme de latte, Bra, Italy 2011
Buying Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy has to be the best. Experience. Ever.  Always aged to perfection and chiseled from freshly opened wheels, each aging house is proud of its wares and they are on constant display and for tasting. 

These photos are of the action at G. Cravero's booth at Slow Cheese 2011, Le forme del latte. They specialise in Parmigiano reggiano and Grana Padano.

If there is an arguement for food as art.. the gentleman above is an artist!

Il forme de latte 2013 is happening soon!

Friday, June 28, 2013


Adler Sprats at Slow Cheese 2011.

Twelve and twenty, more than plenty, sprats, salted and packed.  Turned out to look like cake.

Aren't these cool?  

Mmm. Sprats (or saraghine) from Adler in Cesenatico (province of Forlì–Cesena) are (to quote Slowfish) "a classic example of a “poor” fish turned into an excellent product".  They are unique, delicious, and (as wonderful as they are) if you have access to fresh.. even better.

Adler, together with fishermen and seafood businesses from Emilia-Romagna who belong to the Prodotto Certificato Alto Adriatico” (PCAA) 'brand', promote the sustainable development of the fishing industry.  They also guarantee traceability, ecosystem protection and biodiversity conservation.

You can do you bit as well simply by using this guide when shopping for fish. 

I'll use the above as an example of the ideal compared to the current the situation, in particular, amendments to the Fisheries Act here in Canada.  Former Fisheries ministers, four of them, have written to our current Federal government in protest along with leading scientists in the field urging reconsideration.

I find it disturbing that any government would choose to ignore good advice.  Advice they would normally be willing to pay for (using taxpayer dollars) in the form of lengthy and expensive commissioned studies.  And judging from these closures, they also must believe that they don't need the information gathered by credible research stations.  Do they really believe that what you don't know won't hurt you?    

So what can I take from the Federal Tory government's actions?  Obviously, water isn't important. Send the PM and the Ministers to one of the many places on Earth where water is scarce and what is collected (rainwater) has to be boiled.  Send them to a country where the water is undrinkable.  We are fortunate and shouldn't allow those conditions to be created here. Shame.

Canadians, please let your MP know.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Il Battessimo: My Calabrese Baptism

Walking past the fountain on the morning of the Baptism.

Ordered from Polistena, by the kilo. Cake and cream perfection.

And what's a special occasion without Prosecco?
As spring has arrived and summer is approaching, we are thinking about vacations. And of course, in our house, Italy is ever present at the top of the list of possibilities.  It's technically a holiday but with family to visit, it is much more.  Emotionally, it's both difficult and wonderful.  Difficult because there have been loved ones pass on and there have been tragedies.  The wonderful comes in the form of happy endings, weddings and babies.

We were in Italy for two reasons during the summer of 2010: our cousin's wedding and our son's baptism.  Outside of his immediate family, one remaining uncle and a few cousins, my husband's entire extended paternal family resides in Calabria so it always feels like there are people missing at major events here in Canada.  I figured that since there would be so few of these occasions in the future that we could share with each and every one of them, the elderly that can't travel and the young, whose families are growing, the opportunity to share both these celebrations is one we should not miss. 

So we went. 

We arrived, not entirely certain that the Priest, Don Salvatore, would agree to baptise a child who would not be joining his parish.  But after a conversation with, first, his devout Godmother-to-be, and later myself, he agreed.  He wanted to be certain that this was not some sort of tourist novelty and that we were serious in our intent to bring a child to the church for such a sacrament.

With a baptism date set, we began planning the feast we would share with family and friends.  The venue was a given, at Zia's house under the vines and the menu, a simple country lunch.  Nearly everything that would be part of that meal would come from local purveyors and artisans and cooked with care.  We made the rounds to pre-order meats, pick up cheeses, buy copious quantities of prosecco and of course, arrange for the cake. 

The meal would start, of course, with antipasti of local cheeses, preserved vegetables and cured meats.  My favourite are the tiny mountain mushrooms packed under olive oil (funghi sott'olio), a specialty of our good friend's mother. The pasta course would be the typical maccheroni Calabrese with sugo made from young goat and followed by the tender goat meat, a mixed grill of sausages and chicken spiedini with salad.  In Canada, a home-made cake and various cookies would be dessert but not (and nor would I dream of it) in Italy.  Here the local artisans take pride in producing the most exquisite of sweets, both traditional and modern.  The finale would be an ethereal custard filled confection from Pasticceria "Millevoglie" in Polistena.   

On the day of, the earth was swept and evened slightly and long tables were brought out covered in stereotyical Italian tablecloths.  My mother-in-law and cousins had started the prep the evening before and were up early to finish the sauce and make sure everything was in order.  I tended to getting our little man ready.  It turned out to be a mission to get him into actual clothes since, in but a few short weeks, he'd gotten well accustomed to wearing little more than a nappy.             

The road into San Giorgio Morgeto winds up the side of the mountain to the edge of the old town.  There, at the foot of the fountain, you can either keep to the right continuing around the mountainside into the forest and further into the Aspromonte or take a sharp left and then, on foot (or only with a very small vehicle), manouvre your way through narrow streets to the church.  San Giorgio Morgeto is a classical example of an Italian hill town laid out in a medieval fashion with limited vehicular access in certain quarters.  Built over centuries, many 'streets' are a series of steps that seem to have been determined by the natural contours of the mountain.  Only the elderly, who are unable to manage the inclines, take advantage of the adventurous drivers willing to navigate the gauntlet (3 point turns and tucking in mirrors to barely miss curtains and geranium planters) to get to the church.  Most walk, dropping off their passengers at the fountain and parking at the foot of the hill.

The baptism service was held for several children that day and went well.  Unfortunately, I don't have too many family photographs because in the absence of a very stern photographer barking orders (usually me) it is difficult to corral the in-laws to 1) stand close enough together, 2) stop talking and gesturing, and 3) hold still and smile.  I have only ever seen ONE photo of my father-in-law where he doesn't look like he's standing for what one might think would be his last photo.  Photos of the after party abound and are all candid family shots that I will treasure.

To end the meal, the charming bakers at Pasticceria "Millevoglie" made the most divine cake layered with crema pasticcera that tasted just like the famous trifle-like dessert zuppa inglese. The flavouring is of course, was very similar to alchermes which is used in the making of traditional zuppa inglese, best described here at All Things Sicilian And More.

That cake, one of the most memorable for so many reasons, is simply one of the best things I have ever tasted and, judging by the amount of icing (or lack thereof) on a pair of wee hands and a little chubby face, someone else thought so too.  Flavour and texture perfection.

The day was also capped off with cups of espresso and lots of prosecco.

After a long warm day, the wee man (as with the rest of us) slept very well that night.

I am so grateful for our family, friends and the local artisans that made our son's day so special. 

We are so blessed.